If you have a pursuit or hobby that you’re really passionate about, starting an Internet forum site about it is a great way to interact with other people who share your interest.
You may wish to set up and administer a forum just for the fun of it, but if you have more lofty ambitions there’s nothing to say that you can’t make money from your endeavour. If your forum becomes popular, you could sell advertising space, do a little affiliate marketing, or perhaps even charge a nominal fee for membership.
In this article, we’re going to take you step by step through creating a brand new forum site using the popular, open source phpBB platform.
phpBB is a hugely popular forum platform. It’s used to power thousands of active forum sites that millions of people interact with daily. There’s every chance you’re already a member of one or more forums that use it.
Another big plus point is that phpBB is a completely free solution, so you can get your new forum off the ground with just a nominal investment in domain registration and hosting.
phpBB boasts an impressive range of features, including:
1. A customisable registration process for your users.
2. Built in private messaging functionality.
3. Built in anti-spam and a host of security features.
4. Customisable forum styles.
5. An advanced post moderation system.
A Commercial Alternative
If you have ambitious goals for your forum site, you may wish to consider using the commercial vBulletin product instead.
While phpBB has extensive functionality, vBulletin is a premium choice and (arguably) allows you to create sites that look more up to date. vBulletin also offers more integration with social networking platforms and a greater level of control of the overall appearance of your site.
Also, as vBulletin is a commercial product, you have a fast support department to fall back on in the event of any problems.
However, don’t let the existence of vBulletin as an alternative put you off the immense potential that phpBB offers. It’s good enough to power the forums of Ars Technica, Fujitsu and Open Office, so you’re in esteemed company if you choose to use it.
How we will help you
The team here at Make A Website have built hundreds of websites over the years, and forum functionality has formed all or part of several of them. We know exactly how to help you through the process.
There ARE limitations to what we can show you in a tutorial article. phpBB offers a huge level of customisation, so a guide that covered every feature would run to tens of thousands of words.
However, we intend to take you from your initial idea to the launch of your basic forum site. We’ll even provide some hints on promoting your forum. Should you wish to add more functionality, you’ll find some great supplementary documentation at the phpBB site. There are even community forums there where you’ll find answers to some very obscure questions.
What You’ll Need
There are several things you will need to get your new phpBB forum site up and running. You’ll find a list of them below. Don’t be intimidated by this short list – we’re going to take you step-by-step through every part of the process.
- A credit card or PayPal account to pay for your domain registration and hosting
- A Web hosting account with your own domain
- A Web browser of your choice (we prefer Google Chrome or Firefox)
- Passion for your chosen subject
- Regular time in your schedule to interact with forum members and get conversations going
- A few good ideas for your initial content
Getting a domain and hosting
Before you can do anything, you need an address for your website (a domain), and a place to host your website (Web hosting service). We recommend HostGator as your Web host.
We have produced a very detailed step by step guide to registering your domain and setting up your hosting. You should visit the page now via this link. (The links will open in a new window or tab, so you can easily return to this guide at any time – see you shortly!)
In this section, we will get you up and running with a basic phpBB site, and we’ll then move on to a bit of customisation. Here, we make the assumption that you have chosen HostGator as your Web host, but you should find the guide is equally valid for the installation of phpBB with other hosts, provided that they use QuickInstall or Fantastico for software installation.
1. Go to your cPanel login link and enter your username and password. This information is provided to you by your hosting service provider in an email when you first sign up.
Even though the wealth of cPanel options can seem initially daunting to novices, it is actually very easy to use.
2. Locate the “Software/Services” group of icons on the right. You will have to scroll down a fair way to find it.
3. Look for QuickInstall and Fantastico De Luxe, both of which are excellent automated installers for Web applications. phpBB is available via both installers (at HostGator at least), but we are going to use QuickInstall for the purposes of this tutorial.
4. Click the “QuickInstall” icon, and then locate phpBB – you will find it in the “Forum Software” section on the left. Select it, and then click “continue.”
5. If you have set up your domain properly, you will see it in the drop down list. The blank field afterwards lets you specify a subdirectory in which to install phpBB (i.e. www.yourdomain.com/forum).
We will assume for the purposes of this guide that you want to place your phpBB forum in the root directory, so it appears as soon as people visit your Web address. For this reason, we will leave this field blank. However, if you are building a forum as a new section of an existing site, you will need to use this option to place it in a subdirectory.
6. Fill in the requested information, ensuring you use a valid email address. Once you are done, click ”Install Now.”
7. When the installation is complete, you will be given a login URL to administer your phpBB-powered forum, along with confirmation of your admin username and password. You should keep a note of these. You should also receive an email containing the details.
If you’ve installed phpBB very shortly after arranging your registration and hosting, and receive a “page not found” error when you try to access the site, don’t be alarmed. Your domain registration needs time to propagate across all the global DNS servers. The process can take anything from few hours to 48 hours. If you want to learn more about this, click on this link.
8. Once access is available, the new front page of your forum site should appear when you visit the URL. Click “Login” and enter your details. You will again be directed to the forum homepage, but this time you will see “Administration Control Panel” below the copyright texts. Click there, and you will be prompted for your password once more before gaining access to the phpBB administration panel.
There’s certainly plenty to take in when you first start to look at the phpBB admin page, but the learning curve is actually quite gradual. As stated earlier, we won’t show you every feature of the platform in this tutorial, but we’ll now go through some basic steps to get your forum off the ground.
1. First, let’s put our own stamp on the appearance of the forum site. Click the “Styles” tab at the top of the admin interface.
2. You will see that a style called “prosilver” is active by default, and that another style is available for use called “subsilver2.” We’re going to switch to that for the purposes of this tutorial. Simply click the large “install” button to the right of the style, as shown in the screenshot below, and then click “submit” on the screen that follows.
3. Once you’re done, you can click the “board index” link near the top right of the admin panel to look at how your site looks so far. To get back to the admin panel, click the “Administration Control Panel” link at the bottom of the screen.
4. Next, we’re going to change the name of your forum. You probably noticed it just says “yourdomain.com” to start with?
From the admin panel, click on the “general” tab, then click “board settings” in the “board configuration” section.
5. Change the details in the top two fields as shown in the image above. While you’re on this page, take a glance at all the other general settings, as they are mainly self-explanatory and there may be a few you wish to alter. Once you are done, click the small “submit” button at the bottom of the page.
You will see in the image below that our own changes were reflected when we switched back to the “board index” view.
6. If you wish to change the logo on your forum from the default phpBB logo, you can upload one of your own via FTP. Full details of how to do this are available here.
If you’re going to run an active forum you need some topics for people to talk about. phpBB makes it easy to create categories for different topics.
For the purposes of this guide, we will show you how to start a new forum thread. You can then start as many as you like using the same procedure. As you are logged in as your admin user, your new threads will show you as the author.
1. Go back to the Board Index, using the link to the top right of the admin panel.
2. Click into the “Your first forum” category on the main list.
3. Next, click the “New Topic” button. Fill in your topic subject, and then whatever else you want to add within the post content. You’ll notice plenty of options for colours, text formatting and emoticons.
Once you’ve finished, click the “Submit” button. It’s just like contributing to any forum you are a member of!
4. You will notice that your new forum thread now shows up on the category list. In the screenshot below, we’ve added three distinct threads. When you start your forum, you’ll want to add a number of different threads to get people talking. Once the forum builds some momentum, you should find that people begin to add threads of their own.
There is plenty more you can do to add and control content. If you go back to the admin panel, you will find a “forums” section, where you can easily add, delete and reorder categories.
Congratulations! Your basic forum site is now ready to go. If you publicise the URL, people will be able to register on the site, and phpBB will deal with all of that side of the administration.
Managing the site
As the owner of a forum site, you have certain responsibilities. You should keep an eye on new topics or posts and be quick to clamp down on spamming or illegal activity.
As the site administrator, you have considerable control over your members. You can ban specific users, email accounts and IP addresses (see the “users and groups” section in the admin panel). You can also exercise fine control over what each user is allowed to do. Thankfully most of the options are fairly self-explanatory, but there is always the phpBB support section to fall back on if you get stuck.
Above all, you should make sure that you remain an active member of the forum community. It’s up to you to keep conversations going and build up a community feel – but first you’re going to need some users!
Promoting your forum
Unfortunately, the mere existence of your forum site isn’t going to generate any traffic! You will have to drive people in the direction of your site if it’s going to be a success.
If your forum is intended to support an offline activity, then you have a bit of a head start, as you can promote the forum in the “real world” first, and supply people with the Web address.
However, if you want a big, lively forum, you’re going to have to try to create a global following.
Essentially, promoting a forum site is no different to promoting any other website. Here are a few ideas you may wish to try out:
Social Networking: Promoting your site via Facebook and Twitter may get you some members, but be careful to attack this subtly so you are not accused of spamming.
Other Forums: Most forums allow you to display a signature under your own posts, so if you are already active on others, consider adding your new Web link to your signature.
Advertising: If your site is commercial, you may wish to consider paid Web advertising, such as Google AdWords, to start a flow of traffic.
The key to effective promotion is to make sure people find great content once they arrive at the site. This can make the early stages of running a forum seem like a steep uphill battle: you need users to create new posts, but you also need enough posts to make users remain on the site in the first place. For this reason, you must take a really active role in keeping content interesting and fresh, so as to ensure your first few users keep returning to the site.
The good news is that as the level of content increases, the search engines will find more information to index. Gradually, you should start to see people arriving courtesy of Web searches.
So, with that it mind, hopefully (in time) the site will gain momentum of its own – until then, it’s all on you. Good luck!