I often come across people asking how to create a community which would grow easily. They ask me to recommend free, open source and of course easily manageable forum software.
Google can give the best answer but people still don’t get what they look for and then they ask others to recommend them a good platform to start their community.
What I have experienced since last years is that the articles ranking on google do not give appropriate answers. They either mislead or recommend third class softwares. Here are some examples (when I search “best open source forum software”. Let us discuss them separately.
This site appears in features snippet and claims to cover the all the best community softwares. However, as I expect, they have just put some names for the sake of creating the article. The first in the list is phpBB.
Let us be honest, I do not like this type of interface because it is old, not user friendly and lacks minimalistic look. How it can be the best forum software?
Similarly, MyBB also has somewhat the same loo. As far as WordPress, Joomla & Drupal are concerned, they are CMS & not optimised for community until you go for a proper forum theme.Moreover, Joomla & Drupal are difficult to handle for a non-technical person like me.
And finally, the other platforms on the list of this site are Simple Machines Forum & FluxBB which I also hate for their outdated looks.
The whole article is thus a waste for me because it discourages a person who desires to build a community like quora or like platforms.
Let us look at some other search results
These results talks about Free & Paid forum softwares. And when you open them, you find the same material like phpBB, MyBB, bbPress, BuddyPress etc. Finally, we have to close the laptop and reach our friends for recommendations.
So, what are the best community forum platforms which are free, modern & easy enough for users to engage easily. The success of any community depends on its minimal features, modern UI & easy of navigating or doing some action.
In this article, I am going to list those forums which I think are good, free (except one), easy to install & modern in looks.
I have come across many open source platforms. However I have never seen any other forum having minimal UI like Vanilla Forums. We use Vanilla Forums for our community. It has all the necessary features which any modern community platform would require.
It is free, open source & can be easily installed from cPanel. If you are really serious for growing an online community for your niche, Vanilla Forums should be your first choice. I will write a detailed post on basics of Vanilla Forums.
- Easy to use dashboard
- Social Login can be easily setup using pre-installed plugin
- All basic features of community available
- Easy to manage
- Strong anti-spam & DoS attack protection
You may hire a developer for some additions (ads, custom footer & css).
Discourse is my favourite community platform after Vanilla. I have never used it but I find it very engaging. It is free, open source & easy to manage. I have seen many big brands using it. e.g. english.best, ezoic community etc.
The reason why I never used is that it does not come with default mail system. So you gave to rely on 3rd party mail services for using it.
Another reason why I do not like it is that it is limited to Digital Ocean hosting. So, a beginner has no option but to purchase $10 plan at DigitalOcean & also a mail service.
However if you are really interested in great platform, it should be your first choice. Elegant Themes has created a nice tutorial for beginners who are interested in using Discourse. You can read the post to learn about it
DWQA or DW Questions & Answers is a WordPress Plugin which you can use to build a proper forum for your website.
If you run a WordPress website and think of creating a community, DWQA would be the best option because it is free and easy to use. I have used it some years back. Englicist uses this platform for Questions-Answers section and drive large amount of traffic.
However, keep in mind that you would require to turn on Sign Up option for new users and also install a social login plugin (like Nextend Social Login) for new users to register easily.
The plugin also has a pro version which you may buy later on for more features. But for beginners, free version is enough
Discy is one of my favourite WordPress themes. My site englishnotes.com uses Discy theme and the following graph shows how this theme made my site a big success.
I came across this theme last year while searching for good community platforms and I was lucky enough to find it. You can create a great community site like Quora with this plugin.
Of course it is not free but it is worth investing $59 if you need to go for a big idea on WordPress
Another best thing about this plugin is its ability to insert Rich Snippets. Google recognises the questions & answers put on the site using this plugin.
My friends also use Discy for their sites bengaliforum.com & commercenotes.org.
For any beginner, this theme would surely prove to be an ideal choice if he desires to remain on the WordPress platform.
You may use Envato’s plugin for automatic update feature as Discy charges for automatic updates.
The last forum software on my list is Flarum. The worst part of this software is that it is in Beta version (the developer team expects to release a stable version in upcoming months) and a little bit difficult to install.
But, in spite of this, I love it for its elegant design and features. It is built in php so you can hire any normal php developer to help you set it up.
It requires a php dependency called Composer to run. So, you need to opt for a hosting which either gives you SSH access or has Composer preinstalled, like NameCheap.
So, these were the community softwares which I think are the best. You may suggest others which you like in the comment box