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A Practical Podcast…

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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • Have you considered phpbb?

  • Yea, I love them. They are so simple and sleek. Takes so much less time than other major ones to load on the browser. I highly recommend it.

  • yep they are an option brem.

    I’ve heard mixed reviews though – some people rave about them but others are saying that they have security issues and their coding is rather messy.

    i’ve also heard that vB is the best for security and reliability but that they are less ‘fun’ to theme and adapt.

    Of course everyone has their own opinion and I’m sure each option would work well – but I want to find something that ‘fits’ with what I’m doing here and at first impression Vanilla seems to be quite innovative, clean and simple. Of course its still at version 0.9.something…

  • Jesse

    they look pretty fab

  • I’ve used Vanilla, and while it didn’t immediately grab my attention it does exactly what it needs to do… phpBB is pretty bloated these days, whereas Vanilla is a forum app…

    I’d probably choose Vanilla over phpBB for your purposes… Although if you want a feature rich forum go for phpBB… I’m not even convincing myself here… Sorry :o)

  • there are two classes of bulletin boards:

    1. vbulletin
    2. everybody else that sucks a lot more than vbulletin.

  • Vanilla looks really nice, I’m installing it for a new site I am working on. I also recommend PunBB for a similarly lightweight and attractive forum.


    It’s lightweight and XHTML compliant. A little stripped down as far as features go, but looks great.

    You can see it in action at the HaveAMint Forums

  • Since you are running WordPress you could always try bbPress, not sure how reliable it is though.

  • I used to use phpBB about 5 years ago and it was actually quite awesome IMO. I haven’t used it or any other prebuilt package since then and I’m sure phpBB has changed a lot, but back then it was definitely robust and useful.

  • I installed and tested a number of forum applications when I was opening up my own. I decided not to use Vanilla (even though I really wanted to) because it was too different from all the other forum apps. I think most internet users are familiar with the basic structure and layout of a forum so I didn’t want to discourage or turn away anyone simply because they were uncomfortable with the somewhat radical approach Vanilla takes.

    In the end, it’s up to your users and what they would enjoy…perhaps another poll?

  • Good point Thame – my only initial reservation with it is that it is ‘different’ and that it does take users a little extra time to work out what’s going on with it in terms of layout and the way it displays all discussions on the front page and only by category if that option is selected.

    Having said this – this is one of the reasons I also like it. I don’t want ‘just another forum’ – I like the idea of having something a little innovative and ‘different’.

    Of course this means some risk in that perhaps some users might not take it up as a tool.

    interesting advice so far…

  • I haven’t used this thing at all, but there is a wordpress forum plugin found at . Like I said, I haven’t used it and don’t know much at all about it but it does sound like it integrates with your existing wordpress blog much better than pretty much all other forums out there.

    That is something to keep in mind, do you want it completely integrated or is it ok (maybe even preferable) to have it totally separate with a separate user system?

  • I really don’t understand why people would say that vBulletin is unflexable or hard to template. Its very fexable and IMO not hard to template at all. There are also a lot of good hacks out there for it and its plug in system rocks.

    Want to see how flexable it is? Check out this site . It’s totally vbulletin based. BTW, its not my site and it is safe for viewing.

  • Vanilla looks interesting. I tagged it and will probably use it for own projects in the future. Thanks for the hint.

    I used phpBB and if you are looking for a free forum I would probably recommend it, but for own projects I am using only vBulletin now. Mostly because of security issues, but also because it has nice features without modding.

  • Darren:

    I too figured that a novel structure would be a good thing, but there are a few other things that kept me away (although it was a very close second to the application I chose: PunBB), namely it’s somewhat discouraging “Application” process. I encourage you to set up (or at least find) and try each of the applications you are considering so you can get a feel for the entire process from initial registration to posting to management.

    Good luck with the search.

  • I am unable to visit any Vanilla discussion forum using Firefox Do you also notice this?

  • thats the version i use Seun and it works fine here.

  • I think Vanilla’s ready for the big time. I’ve been trying to modify PHPBB to make it search engine friendly, but ended up with so many problems. I tried
    vanilla on a domain and it ended being spidered without a single mod.

  • Its a nice and different forum, but I think the layout is too clean.
    It can be confusing to seperate the main thread from comments.

    Just my first impression.

  • Vanilla is very easy to install and use, but it may not have all the features you may want. For a decent free one, you may want to go with SMF/phpBB or Phorum. Om Malik used to have a Vanilla powered forum on his blog.

  • I didn’t know vanilla until someone commented about it in the other post. I decided to give it a try since I intend to have one at one of my sites.
    So far it went very ustable working with extensions and I didn’t find it soo flexible. I had fewer problems installing phpBB, even in large portal sites.
    I’m still trying it but I’m not sure…seems somewhat limited and with a forum you can’t afford to realize this matter later, migrating it can be a pain in the a** (I auto-censured me here, don’t know the offensive levels of this expression :P )

  • Choosing a forum should be an easy process – vBulletin.

    Once you use vB (as an admin), you’ll never want to go back to any bb software. Until Brett Tabke releases BestBBS (like that will ever happen ;-) ), vBulletin will be my choice for any forum I make.

  • Only 326Kb. People with small space hosting maybe like this.

  • I use phpBB and have it heavily modded, as the niche I’m using it for allows for it. Problem is, when bad things happen out of the blue, the best programmers in the world can’t figure out what happened to fix it.
    Vanilla looks awfully bloggy to me.
    There are better tools available for that kind of function, while staying in blog format.
    Despite some troubles with extensive modifications clashing- I would reccomend a fresh phpBB over anything else.

    Have you looked at Simple Machine Forums?
    They do look interesting.

  • Darren – I understand your desire to consider cool, new stuff … but really, what are you trying to achieve here ? Do you really want to experiment ? Or do you want to run forums and just get on with the discusison with a minimum of administrative overhead holding you back !?!?!

  • Steve

    I think when it comes down to which forum to choose, functionality and ‘being different’ are not the only factors that should be considered.
    It has been said before that phpBB is unsafe and messy. This may be true to some extent, however one also needs to keep in mind that it’s one of the most popular forum platform and thus receives a lot of attention.
    This is a good thing on the one hand because it’s got a large active developper community and a very active help forum. On the other hand of course lots of people deliberately try to break it, which is why it’s been called ‘unsafe’.

    With the Vanilla forum, ask yourself: is it really that much safer or is it just that it hasn’t gotten that much attention yet and less people have tried to find a security hole? What’s the support forum like, are you likely to have your questions answered or is there simply not enough activity. And finally how many people work on this open source project and is it likely that there will still be ongoing development and feature improvements in a few years?
    Switching forum platforms because the open source developper community is not longer supporting it is labour intensive….


  • Tim

    Darren, try aswell. See it in action at (not mine).

  • Vanilla is fast and lightweight, but it lacks many features you want when you run larger communities / boards. The plugin architecture promises a great future – but it simply isn’t there yet. Sure – it’s not even version 1.0 … but it will be great.

    For a production enviroment: vB or phpBB.

  • George

    I say go for vB and pay for a template.

  • Definitely go with VB as it’s the BEST one out there! If you rather want a free one, phpBB is quite good and they’re tons of themes for it.

  • Carl

    It depends on whether you want something that is feature rich or just simple… None of those are a bad thing unless it becomes full of useless features or none at all which I feel neither Vanilla or PHPBB/VB has done.

    What i’ve seen of it, I like Vb… I’ve used it a bit behind the scenes and I loved it! Just the cost that kept me away

    As for vanilla, I love the looks and for a community like this you just want a place to chat and share knowledge without all the added features, it should work!

    PHPBB was good as well, it was definatly one of the most feature FREE forum softwares I used…

  • Carl

    Sorry about the typo, that was surposed to say free feature rich not feature free…

  • One big boo is that vanilla isn’t optimized for search engines yet and i haven’t found a plugin some months ago…

  • Darren: I remember the guys at Performancing saying that they run their blog off a system called Drupal, which is actually open source forum software. I’ve no direct experience with it, but it might also be worth a look.

  • Hey you’re a Mac user Darren – you’re different :)

    I think if people want to participate in your forum they’ll learn the system it uses. I’ve not seen Vanilla but there must be something about it you like. I think you have to be comfortable with it as an administrator, particularly if there will be a large volume of users and posts. I don’t like the way phpBB (at least the version I use) handles user admin – too time-consuming to search for a user, do some admin, search for another, etc. – no global options for when a bunch of idiots sign up 20 spam accounts that need taking down.

    A lot of the forums do seem to use bloated, 1990s-style coding – you know, loads of tables, fonts, rubbish like that. Not only does it look bad but it’s bad for SEO and your bandwidth. I’d go for whatever gives you the cleanest, most easily maintainable code base. IMO phpBB is not it. Maybe Vanilla is?

  • I have set the brandnew version of my Dutch forum for weblog related items up with this Vanilla forum software and i like it.
    It is much more intuïve in use then the ‘old’ fora like phpbb etc.

    Vanilla is an forum in the web 2.0 style.

  • I have set the brandnew version of my Dutch forum for weblog related items up with this Vanilla forum software and i like it.
    It is much more intuïve in use then the ‘old’ fora like phpbb etc.

    Vanilla is an forum in the web 2.0 style.

  • Darren. I tried it on UrbanSkaters and nearly all my visitors found it confusing (they aren’t forum users, or they were used to PHPBB etc). In my opinion it loses to much by trying to be to simple. Stick with the other forums, Vanilla should only be used by small closed groups, in my humble opinion.

  • I use it in, and its really great but i suggest you to wait till the 0.9.3 will be released and become more stable. There is lot of compatibilities problems and stability of the soft, othewise you may consider installing the latest stable.

  • I installed vanilla recently. i had used phpbb and smforums on some other sites. Vanilla was easy to setup. I haven’t customized it yet (or announced to my readres that it’s online yet, but you can look here:


  • In general, Mac users tend to *love* vanilla. I personally can’t stand it. ;) Many of my non-Mac friends don’t like it either…

  • I’m a Mac user but for some reason, I just don’t like Vanilla forums. Yeah, they look really pretty, but I guess I’m so used to the traditional layout of message boards that I just don’t “connect” with Vanilla for some reason. Most of the time when I hit a Vanilla forum, I think “Ooh, cool, pretty” scan the headlines then end up surfing somewhere else. Not sure why that is, but that’s my ongoing reaction to it.

  • While I’m not a PHP guy, I have to admit vBulletin is largely the best in its class, and the code is a lot tighter than I’ve seen elsewhere. phpBB is a bloated and risky app by most popular accounts. That Vanilla app is interesting. Simple is good.

    I ended up writing my own forum app years ago (, and started giving it away a few years ago. I haven’t revised it in two years, but I’m getting there. The ASP.NET folks aren’t quite as nutty as the PHP people, so the demand isn’t as high. :)

  • Darren, I’ve not run Vanilla, but I have installed and administrated many PHPbb and co-administered a few vBulletin. Personally, I feel PHPbb is the better system, though it does have more security issues. For the most part, though, keeping on top of security fixes is relatively easy, and fixes are usually issued within a day or so of a new bug being reported (depending on how bad the bug).