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Starting and Running an Online Message Forum

Updated on March 10, 2012

Creating and maintaining message forums (also referred to as message boards) can be a daunting task for the light-hearted. It takes a lot of time, work, and dedication to run one. As social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook reshaped the way the average internet user spends their time online, message forums lost their appeal. However, some users still love traditional message forums and some social networking users are getting bored or even annoyed with the set-up and structure and crave something different. Message forums may not be as grand and popular as they once were, but they are far from dead. The following is some brief information to help you get started in creating a message forum of your own.

Which of these forum hosts do you prefer?

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Choose a Host

This could be the hardest part of the message forum creation. Many great hosts are out there, and if you are willing to pay for them, you have a ton more options. If this is your first venture into message forums, however, a free host is best to start with. Consider what the purpose of your message forums is. Is it primarily for discussions and/or sharing knowledge? Will there be role-play? Do you have a specific theme such as a particular Hollywood star, TV show, religion, or hobby? Or will the forum be a hodge-podge of subjects and information?

Once you know what your vision is, this will help you decide which host can help you turn that vision into a reality. Here are a few suggestions:

  • setbb This host offers free phpBB. They pride themselves on their solid server and bandwidth, meaning that you will not have to worry about server downtime or members being unable to log-in during high-volume hours. This is great for a vision that involves a very large and highly active community who will check in regularly. They also offer unlimited space, postings, and members as well as more than 85 themes (also called skins).
  • Forumotion This one offers a lot to free accounts including image hosting, over 1,000 skins, and emails. A nice feature to this host is that you can switch your forum type among phpBB2, phpBB3, punBB, and Invision. If you have less time to devote to your message forum, you may find this host will help a lot with a more varied selection of skins and image hosting.
  • ProBoards A personal favorite, this is a popular forum host. Although the forum does not come with a selection of free skins, you can completely customize your forum and have multiple skins saved (which members can select from their profiles). This is great for setting yourself apart from competition and differentiates you from all those forums out there using the same pre-made skins. Although some features may be a little confusing at first, they have the best support community in form of a forum. You will receive individualized help from real people, both fellow ProBoards users and the actual support staff. You can also seek feedback and advice on how to improve your forum.

Consider the different categories and topic areas you want in your forums. If you will have a specific forum, be sure to include some areas for general discussion to encourage more participation.
Consider the different categories and topic areas you want in your forums. If you will have a specific forum, be sure to include some areas for general discussion to encourage more participation.
Also consider adding sub-boards for subtopics that may be more popular than others. These can always be added in later.
Also consider adding sub-boards for subtopics that may be more popular than others. These can always be added in later.

Plan Initial Layout

After you have chosen your host, be sure to keep your message forum in maintenance mode and refrain from advertising until you have everything all set up. You can announce that a new message forum is in the works to build anticipation, if you like, but be sure you can work on your new forum without someone else watching. It is a bit embarrassing when you are moving around boards and playing with template colors and someone is taking that as an indicator of what the forum will be like regularly.

Start with your theme. Do you have one? Try to consider the topics in your chosen subject area and be sure to include general discussion areas. It is highly important that you include an area where members can post if they run into problems using your forum. You can also post an FAQ or other help-related information there. For example, the screen shot to the right features several boards outside of its theme. The theme is Wicca and Witchcraft, yet the forums include a general discussion area for general topics, entertainment, news, etc. The main boards of the forum are few, but include sub-boards to help organize the subtopics of the theme. Finally, the board includes a few extras like links and classifieds that are partly general, but not huge discussion starters. You may choose to have your layout organized differently by having the main boards before the general boards or having only a few boards with many sub-boards to organize topics.

Although tempting when you first create your new message board, do not be tempted to leave everything at the default. Strive for some level of originality so you stand out against similar message boards.
Although tempting when you first create your new message board, do not be tempted to leave everything at the default. Strive for some level of originality so you stand out against similar message boards.

Make Your Forum Original

This is more important than many realize at first. With hosts that offer free skins, forum administrators are often tempted to use one and leave it at that. Although starting with a skin may help considerably, it is important that you customize it in some way. Imagine: You create a message forum and choose a skin from the host's selection of 1,000 skins. The other 10,000 administrators using the host do the same thing. Chances are good you picked the skin that looked most appealing and fitting for your theme. The other administrators will do the same and many of them will have chosen the exact same one you did. Instead of your forum looking like 1/10,000, it's more like 1/1,000, 1/100, or even less. Customizing even partially will help dramatically in differentiating your forum from the next. It also shows the amount of dedication and work you put into your forum.

Advertise!

Once you have your message forum all set-up and ready to present to the internet world, get out there and make announcements. You will not gain members if no one knows your forum exists! Be sure you are posting announcements in appropriate places. Going to a website about football and posting about your video game message forum may not be appropriate. However, if your forum offers a board or sub-board specific to football video games, that same football website may have an interest. When in doubt, check the FAQ of the website or database or email the webmaster. Most webmasters will be delighted that you asked first and saved them time and headaches.

Get a few friends to help you out by signing up and posting on occasion. Even if they are uninterested in the specific theme, they can still discuss topics in your general discussion boards. Likewise, get on there and start discussions, reply to others posts, and do what you have to do to be as active as possible. As your member count grows, look into hiring on moderators to help you track discussions and watch out for inappropriate content or TOS violations.

Hub #9/30 for March Challenge.

© 2012 Evylyn Rose

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    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      You're welcome and thanks for the comment. :)

    • one2get2no profile image

      Philip Cooper 5 years ago from Olney

      Interesting hub. Thank you.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
      Author

      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      homesteadbound, happy to help you learn something new! Thanks for the comment.

      AEvans, Thanks for the vote and share! There are quite a few of message forum hosts out there. While I was researching the current hosts, I was surprised that all the ones I used to know about I couldn't find whereas the ones I came across were totally new to me. It's been something like 7 or 8 years since I came across ProBoards and have been so happy with them since, I haven't needed to keep up with all the changes of other hosts. I felt so left out of the loop! Hopefully the three I mentioned here will be a good starting point for those looking into creating a message forum.

      TheKitchenGeeks, thanks for comment and compliment. :)

    • TheKitchenGeeks profile image

      TheKitchenGeeks 5 years ago

      A very useful, well-written and informative article.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 5 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I have never heard of any of these sites, until now. I will definitely have to check it out. Rated up and shared! :)

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      There is alot of good information here. I learned something new, and that is always good! Thanks!

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
      Author

      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Thanks. :)

    • EinderDarkwolf profile image

      Sean Bradbury 5 years ago from Tempe, A.Z.

      Very Nicely written. Congrats.