I have been running my own forums since 2006. I have owned sites running vBulletin and recently Xenforo. Regardless of the forum software the same needs and frustrations always surface. So I write this blog post to see who is listening and I also hope to hear from other forum owners who may share the same opinion.
Before I jump into the details let me set the stage for why these features need to be built into the core solution. Every forum software company touts how great their community of plug-ins and extensions are. I agree… they are great yet the reality of it is that when you run a big board there is too much risk in placing your trust in third party plug-ins developed by who knows who and from who knows where. Eventually the developer decides not to continue the plug-in. Now you have trained 20,000 members how to use a certain feature that is no longer developed.
More important, forum software is constantly being updated regardless of the brand solution. Often you will find yourself unable to update your core software because a plug-in you are running first has to be updated and made compatible with the latest software release. So you miss out on providing new core features to your members until the plug-ins are compatible.
If you ever run into any technical issues on your forum the first response is ALWAYS the same from support… disable all third-party plugins. It delays support response by 1 day because you have to respond to that and tell them that you have already disabled them.
There are some basic needs that while from a software development point of view may not be “core” to forum development, but I bet that the majority of active and large forums could benefit massively from these same needs that we have struggled with for over five years now. And to the software company listening and willing to include these features… we would be glad to provide detailed requirements.
Here you go… the top 3 forum needs that would make a forum awesome:
- Classifieds: ALL large car forums, gaming forums, and many others have very active Buy/Sell/Trade sections. It would be awesome if the feedback and user rating features baked into the “core” platform would provide feedback functionality (like eBay) and there was a native option to turn it on and off. While trophies and all are cool as well as the ‘likes’ on posts… a native feedback would be AWESOME. Why? Because while there is a marketplace for 3rd party add-ons we have had three instances where these feedback systems stop getting developed. We could not upgrade to the latest version of vBulletin. Maybe it takes the developer a few months to update the plugin, etc. We had this happen twice on vBulletin, and I ended up modifying the native ‘Reputation’ system to get around it. However, there are often times when our members would then lose some of their feedback and it makes for a poor user experience. These guys really value their feedback reputation. I think with all the car forums and game forums where this buy sell activity is very high… if built it would receive huge interest.
- Advertising Management: The ad placements are already baked into the forum templates. You have the ability for users to upgrade their memberships to a paid option and receive more benefits on the forum. Not only is this a good revenue generator for any forum owner… it’s already there. What lacks is the ability for a user to become a ‘Sponsor’ and upgrade that through the core software. We have a sponsor group that we have to manually keep synced in our forum with who is an active sponsor from our Adpeeps software. It would be AWESOME if we could offer Sponsor Upgrade packages, they pay, upload the correct sized banner, and it shows in the correct template for the duration of their ad time. The option to auto renew on a monthly or annual basis. And when they purchase advertising it promotes them to the Sponsors User Group with the appropriate user title and forum permissions. Also when they expire, the ad dies and they fall back to the ‘Registered’ member group. Again, 75% of this functionality is already in Xenforo… with a bit of development it would be an incredible offer. Every forum owner hopes to sell ads and make money. If this was easier to manage… BINGO, you would have a winner.
- WordPress: with literally MILLIONS of WordPress users and sites along with it being the powerful CMS that it is… a native option for WordPress integration with the core forum software that would allow the same user database and comment posting with their native forum account would be amazing. WordPress offers BBPress as a forum plugin on the WordPress platform but it sucks. The corporate potential for this type of feature could give the most competitive advantage among any forum software developed today. Many corporate sites are built on WordPress and being able to add a support forum or build a corporate forum community would be POWERFUL. It doesn’t exist today in the market. Most forum software tries to create their own CMS frontend or again there are plugins that attempt it… but there are millions of WordPress blogs out there that would love to offer a forum. I would HIGHLY consider tapping into that community. As simple as making it easy for them to frame a WordPress frontend into the forum header and footer to provide a consistent user look and feel along with pulling in the members, their avatar, and links back to their forum member pages would ROCK. My bet would be by tapping into the WordPress community a forum solution that offered this would sell like crazy.
So that is my forum rant after running our forum for over 5 years now. If there is a way some forum software company could offer these seemingly basic things in the core and when there is an update, users could update their forums the same day. Not introduce amateur and hobby coded plugins to weigh down the performance of the platform. It would be phenomenal.
Lastly, I’m a professional digital marketer by day. I am not sure if you guys have an advisory board or anything like that, but if so I would love to be involved and serve on it.
Thanks for hearing me out and I would love to hear what you think. I know it is hard to consider things that are at a glance seemingly outside the scope of forum software… but the majority of forum owners I imagine have the same needs. I would strongly consider the possibilities.