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Which is the best "low maintenance" bulletin board script?

5:45 am on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

After doing extensive research on which bulletin board to install, I'm more confused than ever! I'm somewhat handy with basic website maintenance but I am by no means a programmer. So, the simpler, the better. Essentially, I'd like to just "set it and forget it" when it comes to a bulletin board (aside from posting content and promoting the board).

I've considered:

- bbpress: I don't really need a Wordpress site with an attached forum, though that would be nice. But it seems bbpress requires a bit of manual installation and is fairly basic and no-frills. A lot of people recommend Simple:Press as an alternative, especially since it's a plugin, but worry about ongoing support and the future of it, plus potential integration issues. However, since having a blog or regular website along with the forum isn't 100% crucial, I'm willing to forgo this option. Plus both have potential issues with the username being active on Wordpress as well as the bulletin board.

- SMF: there seem to be a lot of people in favor of SMF bulletin boards due to ease of use and less vulnerable to security issues. However, (and this is subjective), some people are concerned that its appearance is too bland and themes aren't that good. Plus, potentially a bit less support than phpbb, though still pretty decent.

- PHPBB: the undisputed long term leader in free bulletin boards. Might be more familiar to the general public, though rumor has it that it's less secure than other bulletin boards. Potentially more support and many good themes.

- VBulletin: good, but you pay for it. At this point, I'm not prepared to spend money on the bulletin board. Perhaps in future, if/when the community builds up and can justify the cost, I may consider switching a paid bulletin board.

My hosting includes Fantastico, so it will install SMF and PHPBB, hence that part is easy. Not sure if I'd need to customize much, but if it's too far beyond my level of expertise, I'd have to outsource the work, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a free bulletin board. It's a toss-up between SMF (potentially more stable) and PHPBB (more common and easier to get support and themes). In the past, I've set up both of these bulletin boards and they both got overrun with spam from automated bots, so neither one is immune to this.

The community I'm setting this up for will be mostly for a small group of people. Of course it's hard to estimate how many users there will be, but it's for a niche topic that will apply to apply to a narrow range of people. I estimate it will start slowly, but could have a few hundred members in a year or two. And if I'm lucky, maybe a few thousand. Again, I want to just set it and forget (as much as possible) as far as installation and maintenance. For my situation, which do you think is best?

If possible, I'd prefer to be able to set this up myself and not need to outsource any of the work, though if needed, I may consider doing so for an otherwise great all around bulletin board.

Thanks! :)
6:53 am on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member dreamcatcher is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I quite like MyBB. Plenty of customisation options and a pretty feature rich board:

7:46 am on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

E-Blah has served me well for a number of years...
1:58 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks for the replies. I was hoping to do a simple Cpanel installation of something. MyBB and E-Blah look like good bulletin boards, but they are not available as a simple Cpanel install. I'm not that technical, so I'm willing to forgo some nice features in exchange for ease of installation and use. Should I need help, it looks like there's more support available for phpBB and also quite a bit for SMF.

With Cpanel, I can install either SMF or phpBB. I hadn't considered Drupal, but I noticed that they have a simple forum. My only concerns with Drupal is a high learning curve (tried using it before when I needed a CMS website, ended switching to Wordpress). Also, I think many site visitors will be familiar with the layout and functionality of phpBB and to a lesser degree, SMF.

But, I'm still open to suggestions and will continue researching, just not for too much longer as I need to get this forum up and running soon.
3:11 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

can't talk about the others because i dont know them, but phpbb has always been good to me. mine is pretty much hacked from the ground up with a billion mods and a new template, and that's whats good about it. if you want to change something about the way it works or the way it looks, its easy-peasy. it's easy to export bits of it onto the rest of your site as well... like having the login on all your pages.
4:24 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

londrum, thanks for the info on phpbb. I've always liked phpbb, though I have more experience with it as a site visitor. I used to frequent a forum that used phpbb2 back in the day.

I'm not much of a programmer though, so any mods or hacks would have to be easy (like if I could find a tutorial online), or outsource it if the cost wouldn't be too prohibitive.

SMF seems better out of the box and seems to have a lot of praise from people who have used it. I also get the impression that it might be more user-friendly for me, as the admin, to set up and use.

But, everything has a learning curve, and no product is perfect. I've narrowed it down to either SMF or phpbb. But I'm still on the fence with this. Both seem to have just as many positives outweighed by potential negatives that (for me, anyways), it's such a close tie. Had I not researched, I'd have just gone with phpbb, since I'm more familiar with it (more as a forum member). But I hear SMF may be more secure. I've set up both an SMF forum and a phpbb forum and both got badly spammed. Neither is live anymore.

I'm going to try to make a decision today. With the click of a mouse I can have either one set up through Fantastico via Cpanel.
4:24 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I've been using phpBB for 9 years now. It's first version or two were kind of behind-the-times. But the current version is really great.

I have used vB before but found it hard to figure out how to update the template to give it my look and feel, plus installing updates seemed difficult.

My vote is phpBB because I have been using it for a long time and I find it easy to update the templates, easy to update when patches come out, etc. The fact that it's free is a bonus ;-)
5:53 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes, free is the way to go with this forum. Once it picks up and can justify the expense, I may consider switching to VBulletin, but for now, it needs to be a free solution.

Sounds like you guys are quite happy with phpbb. I've been reading other reviews and debates on this topic online (unfortunately many discussions are at least 2 or more years old, and things could have changed a lot since then). Back then, SMF seemed to be the more favored choice (maybe because it had a few more features and is supposedly easier to use). Now it looks like phpbb might be winning.

Aaaah, such a tough choice. Neither one is perfect, but honestly, I don't think I'd go wrong with either one.
6:47 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I still like SMF in spite of what could be its somewhat uncertain future. There was a severe dispute in the development team several months ago. I haven't followed it lately and don't know how it stands currently. SMF's security history was much better than the others for a long time. phpBB had many problems, but maybe they've got those ironed out more recently.

Secunia.com has a searchable database of historical and current vulnerability reports that you can use for comparison and making judgments.

Don't expect to set it and forget it, with any bb software. It is absolutely essential to install every update as soon as it is released. That suggests that ease of version upgrades is an important selling point. SMF is very easy if you don't make a million mods to it. I have no experience with the others.

myBB is one that seemed to get numerous positive comments from people who were looking for something to replace SMF.
7:25 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

maybe you can look if any of these packages have converters, where you can transfer the threads from one type of forum into the other one.

if you start with the one that can convert into the other, then it won't matter if you change your mind later.
8:43 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hmmm.... decisions, decisions. On one hand, I like SMF but not its uncertain future. Phpbb seems more popular but would require me to learn a bit more of the backend admin stuff. It's a bit unclear as to whether or not phpbb is more secure these days.

If only there was a forum that had the features of SMF and the support and familiarity of phpbb all wrapped into one.

I guess I won't really be able to "set it and forget it" but I'd like the closest thing to it. Right now, I need something I can get up quickly. MyBB might be good, but I'm not sure my skills are up to installing it from scratch. I could try, and if not, then use of the bulletin boards that Cpanel can install. In the end, looks like I'll have to learn a bit more about the backend than I was hoping to get into.

Ideally, it would be great to get one of these and be able to stick with it indefinitely. If it weren't for the cost, I'd get Vbulletin right away. If this bulletin board really takes off, I might regret that decision as it could be a real pain to transfer threads over later on.

I'm kind of leaning towards phpbb, despite some of its shortcomings. Once I get past the learning curve it might just be all right. Hopefully I can get it set up and configured myself, or at least for a low cost by outsourcing that aspect of it.
9:33 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Unless things have changed, the E-Blah folks will (for a very slight fee) install the software for you (the software itself is free).

There are quite a few good ones out there, the list above contains some very well-liked and commonly used forum softwares.

Usually it is not the software that is the chore, it is the management and community building that takes both time and decision making.

[edited by: tangor at 9:54 pm (utc) on Sep 17, 2010]

9:48 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

...Once it picks up and can justify the expense, I may consider switching to VBulletin, but for now, it needs to be a free solution...

I thought that too years ago. Really there's not much difference between phpBB and vB in my opinion. Not worth the additional cost even though I can afford it. Sure, vB fan boys will give you a big list of features and why it's great but I think a lot of it is unnecessary. I see no need to add a pile of things into my forums.

By far the best and first thing you should do after installing a forum is to put in place an anti-spam mod. There's a good one that I've been using on phpBB that asks the user a question when they sign up. They have a multiple choice drop-down box with the potential answers. Pick the wrong item and you don't get registered. Humans have no problem picking the right answer, bots have a heck of a time ;-)
10:00 pm on Sep 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I just found out the my Cpanel hosting also has Softaculous, which will do an automatic install of MyBB and BBpress. At this point I have ruled out BBpress, but had been shying away from MyBB because I didn't want to install it myself, despite the forum itself having many good reviews and features.

I called my hosting company and they use phpbb for their own forum and admitted it's the biggest, oldest but also most prone to spam and it's the most bloated forum. I've also had an SMF forum badly spammed, but MyBB, perhaps due to it's lower popularity, isn't such a target for spamming, according to what I've read. So, now that I know I can do a 1 click install of MyBB, I might just go for that. Whichever forum I get, I'll have to get a new theme for it, so there might be a bit of a cash outlay for it.

I was almost ready to install phpbb, but now that MyBB can be installed just as easily, I think it's going to win me over.
12:30 am on Sep 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

PHP is a very popular language. It is targeted by the "bad kiddies"...

Hence my choice of PERL based. Perhaps as susceptible to script kiddie interest, but not targeted just as the Apple OS is not (at the moment).

I'd take a look at "ease of install" v long term upkeep/patching. Sometimes the easy way is not the best way.

PS: There is no EASY WAY or LOW MAINTENANCE forum. Forums are NOT a "set and forget" project. Oodles of time involved to make it work, and more oodles of time to grow it.

If one just wants to give folks a "shout out" then Wordpress and the comment reply makes more sense...
12:49 am on Sep 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

MyBB looks pretty good, I might have to try it out. Between MyBB and phpBB my pick would be phpBB due to it being a more mature product and has a larger team behind it (think support & development). However that's not as big an issue if the site will stay smaller such as yours.
1:23 am on Sep 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I put up a copy of MyBB through the installation wizard. The admin interface looks pretty intuitive, but like anything new, there will be a learning curve. I'm going to tinker around with it for a few days, and if it doesn't look like it's going to work out, I'll take it down and put up a phpbb forum (despite its shortcomings). At least there's a larger support community for it.

By low maintenance, I was referring to me not needing to crack open the source code and edit it or modifying code on a regular basis. I'm not that good at that sort of thing. I'd rather spend my time driving visitors to the site and participating in the discussions. I already have a "sister site" that I did in Wordpress, but disabled commenting (and put up a "submit your question/comment" page), so it's more like a newspaper or magazine. I did that to keep it clean and free of spamming, flame wars, etc. This bulletin board/forum I'm putting up now (on a separate URL) is to encourage members in this niche to talk amongst themselves and express themselves freely without tainting my other site or potentially posting incorrect information on it. This way, it's all contained on my forum on its own URL.

So, for now I'll play around with MyBB and see how it goes. There is a support community, though much smaller than phpbb or SMF. I think it's big enough that any issues can be addressed and taken care, yet it's not too popular that it's a popular target for hackers and spammers like the leading phpbb forums. Having said that, if MyBB doesn't work out, I'm going to use phpbb instead and brace myself for spammers and hackers and everything else that goes with it (good and bad). Hey, none of these can be THAT bad - there are lots of these forums in use all over the Internet.
7:39 am on Sep 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hacking and spamming are two separate issues.

The protection against hacking is to always upgrade the program promptly when a new version is released.

Two defenses against spamming (spam posts) are
1) Don't allow guests to post. Require registration first.
2) Use a CAPTCHA on the registration form so robots can't register.
12:34 pm on Sep 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes, for sure. I definitely want people to register in order to post. That will eliminate bots from posting and hopefully some spammers. The Captcha on the registration page is a good idea. I like how it automates the process so manual approval is not needed.

Hopefully program updates will be easy. If not I'll be learning something new!

So far I'm really liking myBB.
9:32 am on Sep 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

- PHPBB: the undisputed long term leader in free bulletin boards. Might be more familiar to the general public, though rumor has it that it's less secure than other bulletin boards. Potentially more support and many good themes.

First the disclaimer, I'm a moderator on phpBB.com. Having said that since the release of phpBB3 the many security issues commonly associated with phpBB2 no longer apply. Before it's final release it went through an independent security audit with no major problems discovered. There's only one issue I'm aware of since the release of 3.0.0 and that would be a permission bug for feeds in 3.0.7 that might allow someone to view a forum they aren't supposed to be able to see.

Instead of installing through fantastico I'd suggest manual install, it's not that hard and you'll familiarize yourself with some basic tasks.

As far as maintenance if you make no modifications it takes a few minutes. Download the changed files zip, ftp to overwrite the existing files and then run the database update script.

If you begin to make modifications I haven't used it but the autoupdate feature gets a lot of good reviews. This will work it's way through the updated files and will give you options where a conflict might occur with a modification.
4:21 pm on Sep 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

thecoalman, thanks for the extra info and advice. I already installed myBB. It looks pretty good, but no product is perfect. Believe me, I was torn on which bulletin board to install. Afterward, I was almost wondering if I should have installed phpbb after all. I didn't mention it, but I like how phpbb is table-less, a big bonus. Good to hear about the tighter security.

I plan on setting up some other bulletin boards in the near future for other niches. It would be a bit more of a learning curve, but I'm thinking of setting up the next 2 future forums with phpbb for one and SMF for the other. I'm not sure about the added expense of Vbulletin at this time - not for a brand new forum anyways. I'm kind of new to forums and forum marketing, so I'm still learning.

And hey, if Mybb doesn't work out, I'm definitely going for phpbb next. I was a bit unsure about phpbb at first, but I'm quite reassured now that it will work fine.
1:06 am on Sep 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

If you change your mind in the future there should be a conversion script. ;)

Good luck.
10:30 am on Sep 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have a board running on SMF for more then 4-5 years now. It's a nice script, but if you don't update it regularly then it can be a big pain to update skipping a few version. But again, if you constantly back up your board then there shouldn't be a problem.
Oh and I never had a problem with spammers..

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