Archive for April, 2010

Interview with forum-software.org

Forum Software Reviews

Today, I have the fortune of publishing an interview with Nicolas Ternisien who runs the very popular Forum Software Reviews site, forum-software.org. Nicolas is a professional Java/JEE developer with strong interests in Open Source (mainly the KDE desktop) and web technologies.  He lives in Brussels, Belgium with his wife and three cats.  In addition to running Forum Software Reviews, which keeps him quite busy with a backlog of forums to review, he works at the European Commision as an JEE consultant.  Nick does an excellent job of walking through dozens of different forum software packages and comparing them on a whole range of features.  All of this infomration is compiled into comparison charts, individual write-ups of each forum, and dozens of screenshots.  It’s a great reference website for any forum admin looking to start a new forum.

Stats:

  • Started May 2006
  • Reviewed over 43 types of forum software!  From phpbb, to zoho, to lefora, to google groups
  • Has over 10,000 admins visit each month!

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Why did you start forum-software.org?

I started Forum-Software.org (“Forum Software Reviews” name has been chosen after while, because Forum-Software.org was looking to the name of a the template website used in DNS squatting 😉 in 2006, because I noticed at this period that no websites were comparing, listing and testing forum softwares – or at least, I did not googled correctly. Obviously, some big communities around each softwares were really dynamic, but it was hard to find an unbiaised opinion in such community, that would of course promote the one they support.

I mainly develop and review softwares on my hobby time, so it could therefore explain why you could find intervals of time (the worst was maybe two months!) without any news. It is based on PHP and the famous – and awesome – Drupal CMS. It was my first experimentation of this CMS, and I must admit that still today, I could spend hours to fix my first misusages of it.

The first goal of Forum Software Reviews was to regularly review forum softwares (of any kind, well known, or not, classic or exotic, …), let the users be able to test them directly with live demonstrations, and try to be as objective as possible. At the beginning I did not want to give rating, to do not disappoint developer teams that work hard to implement such softwares, and because it is hard to judge in several hours the work of several months. But, finally, I added them because of a global needs from my readers, that want to be guided in the forum software jungle.

The Forum Comparator came later, and is really used now, even if it is of course oriented in a technical way (the comparator will not help you to know if the ergonomics or the appearance of a software are well suited for you.

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What are some interesting trends you are seeing in forum software?

The two main trends I noticed in the last years is the increasing power of open source, that really levels up the quality of free forum softwares. It is sometimes really sad, because some great projects have been given up, but finally, this Darwin’s natural selection in softwares is really good for final users. The other really important trend is the services oriented way to provide and distribute softwares. Lefora is a perfect example of this, as now, community managers do not longer want to install, upgrade and administrate a software, and prefer spending time to improve and manage their community. This is, in my opinion, the logical way from which the “cloud-computing” is coming from.

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What are some important features you like to see in forum software?

In my opinion, one of the most important thing is the ease of use of a software. You see too much often forums with thousand of buttons, to watch, quote, change the appearance, report a problem, create a new topic, rate an answer, register… for each topic pages where the only important action is, actually, to reply. This also requires a simple and clear layout and theme, not overloaded with images and so on.

One of the future important feature is the integration with social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. Users are tired to create a new account, upload their avatar, and describe themselves in each community they register. This is probably one of the reason why so many Groups are created in Facebook: one account to rule them all. Fortunately, many solutions exist, like Gravatar, Openid and Google Friends, and more and more softwares are implementing (often via plugins) such integration.

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What are your future goals with forum-software.org?

I plan to create a new module, in the next months (remember the “hobby time” in my first answer) to let users register the forum website they manage or administrate. This would be a good way to gather some statistics about type of softwares used, community size average, number of posts and topics,… I hope it will bring additional information about, for example, what is the general forum software used for an expected community of, let’s say, 2000 users, percentage of usage of a specific forum software, most used forum software in biggest communities…

Those information would be integrated through charts and inside of each forum software reviews. Obviously, this would be also a good way to create a directory of existing forum, and let users promoting what they were able to do with one software (theme used, list of plugins, local customization,…). This is in my opinion, a good way to see how much a software is flexible or not. I will keep you informed of such new improvements.

Thank you for this interview, it was really interesting, and please excuse my french way of speaking english 😉

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Author’s Comments: Nicolas made some really insightful point here, especially on the direction that forum software is taking.  I personally agree with his statement that ‘ease of use’ is one of the most important things in forum software.  When you have too many options, it just becomes overwhelming.  Tying in with social networks also hits on another pain point that we hear alot – people don’t want to create yet another membership account.  So if they can choose to login with their existing facebook or twitter account, many times they will choose that option – and from other hosting sites we’ve talked to, we’ve really seen this ‘third-party login’ usage take off in the past year.  It’s something we plan to add to Lefora in the future.


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