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Anyway I want a forum for this site too. The CMS style stuff is all hand coded. So the question I have really is -
How easy are the phpBB/invision/vbulletin etc to customise and is there a cost? Has anyone had any experience of this?
Based on the above would I be better off writing something myself? I think that I could come up with something however things that worry me are the ammount of time it would take, how secure i could make it and would it match up to one of the above feature for feature.
Thats alot for your input people!
How easy are the phpBB/invision/vbulletin etc to customise and is there a cost?
Pretty easy once you have the hang of the format of code and location of scripts.
Cost is minimal - you can hire PHP developers these days pretty cheaply. Or you can do it yourself. Styling can be outsourced if you prefer.
Has anyone had any experience of this?
Many times with phpBB.
Based on the above would I be better off writing something myself
Almost certainly not. For security reasons though, a decent level of customisation is recommended. Change all script names, use mod_rewrite etc etc.
The downside with a popular open-source package is that many bots will crawl search engine results for common URL formats like:-
Losing these obvious giveaways saves a lot of heartache. That takes time of course, but still a lot less than building something from the ground up.
I hear very good things about vBulletin these days. You have to buy it, but it's cheap.
how easy it is to integrate my already in place user/permission system in to said forums?
You'd have to build a script to populate the user DB table.
How easy it is will depend on what you have as your user table already, but scripts to do this type of work, even if the tables are wildly different, can usually be knocked up in a couple of hours.
Dealing with spammers and problem users is one example - the more successful your forum, the more you'll have to contend with this. A few of the tools I use more or less daily (on other forums, this forum runs BestBBS which isn't yet commercially available) are image verification for registration, user banning (timed and permanent, PMs or no PMs), global ignore ("Coventry"), mass or selective post delete, IP tracking, cookie-based multiple ID detection, member warning, problem post reporting, miserable users (simulated server issues to slow down problem users and their IPs), and more. Sure, you could code all this stuff if you have enough time, but why bother when you can get if for free or less than a couple of hundred bucks? Spend the time building the community instead of coding.