Recently I was looking to add a forum to a website of mine (www.classicalweekly.com). In the past I’ve used vBulletin and phpBB but I didn’t want to use either in this case. Briefly, I was a vBulletin customer but I was not happy with the way they handled their upgrade to VB4 in regards to how they treated their existing VB3 customers. And while I’ve had success getting phpBB to do what I wanted it to do, I find customizing and maintaining phpBB to be a bit of a bear. So I took a quick look at Vanilla, bbPress and SMF. Here, quickly, is what I found:
I like the fact that you can embed the forum on a page (e.g on a page within your blog) and I like that you have the flexibility of changing what your home page will look like to visitors (e.g. category list, discussion list). But I had the following problems:
– It is very difficult to get email to work and to test if your email is working (e.g. to have the system email you when someone registers). One could argue that it’s my server settings, but with a different board installed, emailing worked find with no additional configuration.
-At the current time I couldn’t find any stable plugins for spam prevention. Such a plugin, IMHO, is critical.
-Vanilla does an interesting job of having a social-network like profile. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any way to limit the display of this information to registered users only.
Overall I think Vanilla is on a great course and with some time and improvement, will be a great product.
I’ve heard a lot about bbPress over the years and I figured I’d try the board. Installation was easy but after that I didn’t find bbPress to be too powerful. Emailing was functional right out of the box, and there is a human-anti-spam plugin that people do seem to like.
The major issue I had with bbPress, other than the very limited # of available plugins, was the lack of an ability to adjust forum permissions. On almost every board I’ve every worked with, having some control over forum access has been critical. For example, I don’t want people posting in my “Rules and Announcements” forum and I do sometimes like to limit posting in certain forums to certain types of users (e.g. having premium forums).
So while bbPress was a breeze to get up and running, I didn’t find it had what I needed out of the box. And while I know that there are some large websites running their forums on bbPress, I just don’t have the coding team in place that I need to get bbPress where I need it to be.
I’d only dabbled in SMF before, but I finally installed it and so far I’m happy. There is an anti-spam plugin and you are able to create specific forum permissions. Of the threee products mentioned here I find SMF closest to vBulletin and phpBB in terms of robustness and configuration options. You have the option of easily customizing the registration text, and I also like the features.
So at this point, in comparing these three products, I found SMF to be my choice at this time.