Update December 2012: wp-united has been fixed to address some of the issues I had identified.
Situation: I had a wordpress site which was getting so many comments on it (pwnwear, this one), notably including conversations between commenters, as opposed to just conversation between me and the readers, I wanted to add forums. I had some design constraints which I set myself to do this properly, and a context in which I was making the decision.
- I wanted a single sign-on so that users could be in the forums as registered users then comment on blog posts without having to enter the name/email.
- I wanted the simplest graphical integration between the wordpress look-and-feel and the forums, so the users felt the forums were a visual extension of the blog, and not some tacked-on bodgy shed
- I'd predicted during Cataclysm itself, when there might be less theory and more levelling, it'd be nice to have a more open community mechanism to chat (forums) than the blog presented
- I needed a place to put my longer tweets, to record cool little things I find from time to time, but which are more valuable and permanent than twitter allows.
- the forum community I was active in was failing (dkinfo).
Key challenge: however, right now I want to talk about the geek challenge in it all, which is selecting forum software which satisfied my key requirements: - to look good and integrate with wordpress.
I knew I was making a long-term decision too, because, and this is key, it can be very complicated to exit from one forum system and import into a new one. In many cases there are no automated importer tools, which can leave you stranded on the system you've got or required to script your own full-on extraction/normalising code.
I also did not want to pay, if possible, since this is a non-profit website, with no ads, which I do for my passion of world of warcraft. I didn't want to pay $100 - $200 for a licence for a forum. Thus, open source was my absolute preference.
Forum software to integrate with wordpress
These were the candidates at the time that I remember considering. Unless I state otherwise I have installed it and tested it.
When reading this, bear in mind whether you want these features or not:
- user integration, for single-sign-on, so forums members can post on wordpress comments (most likely, this is why you want integration)
- cross-posting from wordpress blog into forums, and then the handling of comments against that blog post as if it's a single entity, so that you get a single conversation of comments and forum replies, and not two conversations; one on the blog side, one in forums.
- theme integration, so the forum is automatically (or easily coded) to visually fit within the graphics and style of your wordpress forum.
Visually clean, nice user interface. Flagging and inactive development, though. It's pathetic really, which is a shame because the final forum is really neat. A lead addon developer _ck_ had gone inactive because of frustration with it. His wrote most of the addons which you needed to use to make the forums work in a fully-feature way, like image attachment and so on. He also published a guide on how to integrate wordpess and bbpress.Today, it's only at v1.02 and this is about nine months after I looked at it last. It's gathering dust.
Integration with wordpress is possible, and another developer realised a bridge which looked very promising. He's recently abandoned it but says it has been updated for wordpress 3.0. This was a top candidate for me at the time, and I even paid a young geek to help me integrate it with wordpress as a proof of concept. Example integrated site from someone else and discussion on it.
Avoid bbpress, it's dying.
At the time, I had to discount simple:press because it was shit-ugly and its template system did not allow me to make it look polished. It had too many boxes and lines around everything which I simply could not disable, even with template editing. The decision was based on that factor.On its positives, there a lot. Beautiful integration with wordpress. It's actually a wordpress plugin. It is quite scalable and fast. It has rich moderation and permissions. It's a good forum system. I liked it.. but it was too ugly.
The latest version is compatible with wordpress 3.x and in fact the development team got some commits into the wordpress 3.0 release for changes they'd made (pretty cool really).
Plus, the new version of simplepress looks better, they've improved the default theme a lot. I haven't assessed it again, but the test you'd do is whether you can remove all the extraneous boxes around things, if you can disable completely some features and then hide the box that feature used to be in (like RSS, or reply boxes at the top and bottom).
Good option if you can get the design to look good. Has serious risk of lock-in though because I don't know how you'd get data out of it into another forum system if you needed to leave.
vbulletin and invision boards
I did not consider these because they're commercial. Both are good, but I have not assessed their integration with wordpress. vbulletin looks a bit ugly to me (MMOC use it) and IP Board is more advanced, I prefer its features (World of Raids use it).That said, vBulletin has a superior content publishing system which could replace wordpress, but it's wordpress importer isn't very good apparently, and Jerry, the importer's lead developer of several years has left the company. It's useful to know about though because if I wanted to exit wordpress and phpbb at the same time, for pwnwear, I could possibly migrate to vbulletins forums and CMS.
IP Board, on the other hand, has a complicated technical content publishing system which requires css/html skills to really get the most out of, so whilst it can technically replace wordpress it might not be feasible for a lot of people.
Update October 2010: IP Board v3.1 (and soon to be released v3.2) are very good forums, and IP Content v2.1 coming out soon will be easier to use and allow forum posts to be promoted to CMS articles. If you have a budget to spend, I would seriously consider Invision; it looks like the top candidate now.
Both have phbb importers for forums.
Drupal is a top-tier content management system. It's not as good at forums. Its main forum system was developed by Michelle, god bless her, whose done a great job. But it's not from a team. It's an extensible forum system, but doesn't have features and whistles coming out its ass like full-fledged dedicated forum systems do, so it wouldn't scale, and would lack moderation features that larger boards require.It also looked ugly. Drupal is pretty kick-ass, but overkill for my purposes. I couldn't get the forums to look good and felt like I was tweaking the toes of a machine which was designed for a totally different purpose.
Basically the same experience as Drupal, but there were more forum choices, like three or four and they were solid. I liked this option a lot. I could have used it instead of wordpress and picked one of its forum candidates, but found its CMS a little overbearing compared to the elegant simplicity of wordpress.This suite would be worth looking at again if someone was in a similar situation to me, ideally without much content to migrate into Joomla, since that's just not much fun.
phpbb with wp-united
This is the combination I chose in the end. phpbb is a very well regarded, stable, scalable, extremely supportable, extensible forum system with a geek-universe of thousands.wp-united is a mod for phpbb which provides user integration and visual integration, out of the box, plus allows cross-posting of wordpress content into new forums posts, and optionally can then handle all the comments against that blog post as forum comments. I've recently stopped using wp-united though, and I'll talk about it in more detail shortly.
Update December 2012: wp-united has been fixed to address some of the issues I had identified.
simple machines forum
Its wordpress integration didn't seem to work, and looked unsupported. I didn't even try it.
I really liked the visual appeal of vanilla. It did require a lot of addons before it would work as the kind of technical forum I needed for the community, to allow features like tables, attachments, latex mathematics and so on.I was very keen to try to get it working though, since it just looked so elegant and its design aesthetic suited wordpress. However, there was no fully-working wordpress integration at the time so I decided against it. I did install it and try modding it.
Vanilla is still around, and is forum software you should investigate if doing this now. Its wordpress integration is more mature, too.
More about wp-united
I have uninstalled wp-united now. It might still suit you, though.
v0.85 is incompatible with W3 Total Cache and Super Cache. This is a serious limitation. It means you cannot use this software on a high-traffic site. pwnwear gets 10K hits a day and at that level, which isn't much in web-terms, I should have been using caching. Caching lets you stay on a shared host since your CPU usage is lowered, and that's one of the reasons I have had to change shared hosts a few times. I kept blowing the CPU ceiling.
It's also incompatible with all-in-one SEO pack and Section Widget, two very good plugins. I am using Section Widget again now, it gives the tabbed navigation on the sidebar.
Its visual template integration slows down your forums. When I manually coded phpbb into my wordpress design, the forum loaded 0.5s faster, down from about 6s.
Many other plugins don't work when theme integration is on. You can turn it off (I did, I had to), but then some still do not work. Section Widget, as an example, looked like it worked but caused a fatal php error when a forum user logged out or in. Others cause a more obvious failure, your entire blog stops working.
It's not compatible with most mobile agent wordpress plugins. It does work with Wapple mobile architect, which I'm still using at time of writing. Quite good mobile suite in its own right, so this issue just limits your choices.
You can't have guest/unregistered comments on and have a single conversation of comments and forum replies. You need to have wp-united controlling your comments by disallowing unregistered users to comment on your blog post, which in my mind is a very bad thing. You'll find a forum thread from me in the wp-united support forums asking about this specific question. If you do enable wp-united to handle your blog comments, it was not clear to me what would happen to those comments written prior to integration; I think they would disappear (go invisible), which is also a bad thing.
The sole developer (Jhong) does an excellent job, he works for free (although myself and other have made some kind of voluntary donations), but that in itself is a risk. There are long periods of time when he goes AFK and provides no support, which is fair enough, he has a life, but it can leave you with zero expertise to answer questions about integration or problems you're having.
It works (caveat, the limitations on wordpress plugins I mentioned). It can cause formatting conflicts and other little issues which are annoying but go away when you stop trying to change whatever it was you tinkered with. Keep a good change log.
It cleverly handles theme integration with a huge number of wordpress themes, automatically. It worked reasonably with Atahualpa, which I use too, and it's a dynamic CSS system. You might need to play with its CSS magic and "voodoo" settings to get it working. You might need to disable a lot of wordpress plugins. It doesn't seem to have conflicts with phpbb mods, though.
It works with phpbb, which is a great forum system that you can stick with forever, and safely migrate from to other forums packages like vbulletin or invision, or hopefully future awesome contenders like Xenforo (check it out, it's in alpha, and really gruddamn neat). phpbb is excellent, and you do not need commercial offerings, but if you ever need to leave it for some reason all the commercial guys offer importers for phpbb.
I used wp-united from March until this week, and it did the job. Uninstalled recently and now have use a manually-coded theme integration, and manually cross-post from blog to forums, and there is no integration of blog comments and forum replies on those cross-posted entries. However, for the community I have here this is now fine, since all the previous commenter discussions between one another on the blog have moved to the forums.
phpbb resources and questions
I've been posting a lot of the world of warcraft bbcodes and tweaks for phpbb here in Gravity's Garage. Feel free to join there to chat geek stuff.
To comment, without registering on forums (might help if you have trouble answering my Captcha, it's got WoW questions), then comment on the blog post I made on this topic (no registration required).