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The "Starting a Web Community" thread addresses what to do after everything is up and running. But what about before?
I'll admit, I'm being lazy just posting the question out instead of doing my homework. But since this is a new forum, I thought it might give one of you more knowledgable people the chance to start explaining from the bottom.
What are the nuts and bolts steps involved in creating a forum website?
One step I take when choosing just about any software is checking the support forum. (Is there a support forum? Is it active, and do the software authors/publishers play an major role in solving problems? Are there an excessive number of bug reports or issues that don't seem to be resolved?)
Early in the process, you'll want to decide on your site architecture, i.e., how the forum will fit into your site. In some cases, the forum IS the site. One thing that I'm seeing more of is the use of portal add-ons, where a site's home page is integrated with the forum and able to display selected forum content, recent posts, user login/welcome, etc.
Most forums require a little bit of configuration - you'll have to set some paths to your database, your forum directory, your database name & password, etc. Usually, the installation guide walks you through this. The normal software installation tasks apply, like uploading files, setting permissions, etc.
Once the software is running, you'll have additional steps - tweaking the appearance, setting up main topics, deciding on user groups and moderator powers, etc. The major packages let you do a lot of customization right through their control panels.
For a starter forum, you probably won't have to hack the code except, perhaps, for SEO reasons. Many forums still have bad titles and descriptions, or use session IDs in their URLs - a little tweaking here will help you get your forum pages indexed properly for their page content.
When picking software, pay particular attention to security and tools for dealing with problem users. If you achieve any measure of success, you'll attract visitors who want to hack you or spam you - be sure you've got the tools to deal with these problems efficiently.
Don't be intimidated by all the bells & whistles. If you've installed other software, like a blog, a CMS, or other web app, installing a forum won't be any more difficult.
If you have to scroll and scroll to read just 2 or 3 posts of one or two lines...forget it.
Go light on graphics and colors. Keep the focus on the community and less on the look and feel. The forum should be transparent. If the first look is, "WOW, cool looking!"....it probably is not going to work in the long run. It will be too noisy.
Keep it simple...forget most of the bells and whistles. They typically aren't needed and MOST (90%) won't even know they exist.
Example: I removed the "profile" link from one of my forums. It was nearly 2 months before I got one email asking how they could change something.
I think it's best to have a community in place first before you start the forum. That community can be created through a mailing list, a blog that invites reader comments, etc.
And the other thing, of course, is to plan for success -- what if your forum really takes off? Are you ready to keep a close eye on it? These are things that should all be considered before starting/building a forum.