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Author Topic: Need Advice on Forum Software  (Read 4691 times)
brahman
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« on: December 10, 2009, 08:12:16 AM »

Hi everybody,

when I attended a conference about physiological research over the weekend in Holland, the attendants agreed to stay in touch and continue collaborating through the internet.

So it fell into my lap to start a forum on the net, something I have never done before.

Therefore I hope that with the combined brain power of our dear Donationcoder members, I will be able to whip something up in a jiffy.

Now in contrast to the "jiffy" thing is my tendency to be overly thorough and perfectionist as well as forward looking smiley.

So here are my thoughts/questions/requirements:

1.) Could you recommend free forum software which is

a.) Easy to use and administer, while still having an (overly) full feature set and which is rock solid.

b.) Preferably it should be able to handle HTTPS, be strong on privacy/security features (no search robots access, invitational password to sign up, if possible for a certain board only), and have fine permission granularity (childboards and even subchildboards with different permissions). F.e. one group of researchers working on a particular project has access to a certain childboard, but not to another one which deals with another topic.

c.) Some aspects of "Social Networking" should be incorporated into the board, so that every member can in some way have there own little space and a list of friends or something like that. I want the members to be at home and not feel the necessity to go to one of those evil places on the net, where the dignity of their personal privacy is compromised even before they signed up for their service (by already profiling non-members on the basis of invitations they received -- sorry I am getting OT  Wink).

d.) Multimedia should be easily incorporated: f.e. a movie of physiological measurements in a subject over a period of several minutes as shown on the computer screen of the researcher - or help screen casts on using complicated medical software.

e.) Download repository

f.) Oh - and did I mention free and open source?


2.) Beside being a collaboration ground, I also would like to have companion/integrated Wiki- or Knowledge-Base software with the forum. Again, that software (which I hope you can also recommend) needs to have granular access rights. If a common password facility could be used it would be perfect (am I dreaming???), so that people only need to sign up once for the forum and then have access to the corresponding wiki or knwledge base.


3.) Another possiblity/(dream?) should be integration with mumble, so that voice chats for collaborating groups may be possible in the future, if the bard takes off. I think it would be too  much for me to install murmur or integrate a murmur server right now, but I think it would be nice to have in the future.

So that's it for now, I hope more considerations will become clear in the lively (I hope  smiley) ensuing discussion.

Thanks in advance for your comments.

Kind regards,

Brahman

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Regards, Brahman
sri
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2009, 10:34:47 AM »

Try http://elgg.org/
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40hz
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2009, 12:01:53 PM »

Hi everybody,

when I attended a conference about physiological research over the weekend in Holland, the attendants agreed to stay in touch and continue collaborating through the internet.

So it fell into my lap to start a forum on the net, something I have never done before.

Therefore I hope that with the combined brain power of our dear Donationcoder members, I will be able to whip something up in a jiffy.

Now in contrast to the "jiffy" thing is my tendency to be overly thorough and perfectionist as well as forward looking smiley.

It's good that you want to be thorough, but I'd advise getting something up on the web as quickly as possible while the memories of the conference are still fresh in everyone's mind. Once you have a basic web presence, your membership and you will gain a better understanding of what it actually wants, as opposed to what merely looks good on paper.

The reason I mention this is because of an experience I had helping set up a specialist website.

When it was originally conceived, one of the "most important" features was going to be providing file downloads. During the development stage, a huge amount of effort went into the design and implementation of a secure download server. However, once the site was launched, it became obvious that most of the membership was not interested in file downloads. So virtually all of the time and effort that went into providing that capability went to waste.

Oddly enough, the one thing that was not planned for - but was very much wanted - was an advanced member profile feature. This group passed a lot of grant, client, and job referrals back and forth between its members. So having detailed profile information for each member was extremely beneficial when deciding who to pass a referral to.

So I'd suggest prototyping. This would allow you and your fellow conferees to stay in touch with each other while interest is still high; while still giving you time to adequately evaluate other products and services.

You could try using something like  Ning to set up a test space before you go and scratch-build your own. It's a remarkably good "starter environment" for community building. More than a few Ning users originally intended to do nothing more than set up a temporary site only to end up staying there permanently once they realized it was all they needed.

Info on Ning can be found here: http://about.ning.com/product.php

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brahman
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« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2009, 12:19:43 PM »

Thank you for your advice, Sri and 40hz. smiley

I agree: Time is of the essence. There needs to be something up for the weekend. Right now I did an SMF install on x10hosting. Can't get the email notification system to work though. SMF just does not want to send emails. Angry

But I just found something very interesting that sounds like it would exactly fit the bill: www.liferay.com

Though I am not sure if I won't be in over my head with liferay. huh

Anybody has experiences with it? Can I install on a free x10hosting account?

About Ning: Looks interesting - can I migrate users to another system if I decide to change the platform?

Thanks,

B.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 12:23:06 PM by brahman » Logged

Regards, Brahman
mouser
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« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2009, 12:26:47 PM »

Regarding suitability of SMF (Simple Machines Forum) -- the forum software we use here on DonationCoder:

I think SMF implements one of the best combinations of hardcore forum features while remaining easy to administer and manage.  Full stop.
It's free and while not technically open source, is close enough for most people.



However, it does not excel in some of the areas you mention, including the c,d,e,2,3 areas you listed above regarding multimedia, social networking, download repository, and ancillary stuff like wiki.  It has no CMS features to speak of, and it sounds to me like you might be better off with a CMS that includes forum functionality as part of it.

There are a lot of modifications for SMF, but the mechanism for extending SMF is pretty messy and i'd avoid it as much as I could if i were you, and instead look for something that includes all the features you already know you need.
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brahman
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« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2009, 12:31:37 PM »

Thank you Mouser for your input.

Can I not handle d.) Multimedia by incorporating AEVA mod?

So you would choose SMF again, if you would start from scratch and start a forum forgetting about your familiarity with administering SMF?
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2009, 12:43:08 PM »

There is a lot about SMF to love -- I think my aesthetics and design/administration sensibilities line up very well with the smf coders.

However, one thing that i did not appreciate in 2005 when we set up the forum, is just how important having a less invasive system for incorporating modifications could be.

I'll explain.

In the current generation of modern CMS systems (and more modern forum systems i imagine though i have not kept up with them), a huge amount of effort has gone into letting people build extension modules for the systems that do not involve modifying any core code in the base software.  This actually requires a great deal of work and planning, involves tradeoffs in speed, and requires a lot more documentation.  Essentially a modern cms provides a library of hooks and functions that can be used to allow a module to interface with and modify the functionality of the system in a way that makes it easy to add and remove modules and combine them with little fear of conflicts.  And most importantly of all, it makes it easy to update the core code without interfering with any module code.

SMF unfortunately belongs to the previous generation of systems, where "modifications" quite literally involve modifying the core code or writing replacement files.  Over the years i have made many modifications to the smf forum software, some big, some small.  I find the SMF code (php) relatively logical and well organized, and it's been in many ways fun to modify it.  BUT.. because of the way code modifications work, it means that when a new SMF release comes out, i need to go through a semi-panicked process of reconciling and merging in my modifications into the new updated code base.  Often this is easy, sometimes it's a pain and prone to error.

So that's why I would be happy to recommend SMF to someone who has little need for modifications and addons to the core code, but would be hesitant recommending it to a coder who wants to add features or someone who is hoping to extend the system with lots of addons.
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brahman
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2009, 01:10:56 PM »

Hmm... thanks for the comment.

MyBB seems to work with hooks. Should I check into that instead? (see http://www.mybboard.net/features/plugin-system)

Has anybody had any experience with Liferay or Ning? Can Ning give me what I want security wise?

Thanks.

B.
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brahman
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2009, 01:34:13 PM »

Just checked out Ning: Seems toooo social for me. More work and collaboration oriented would be better.

Any comments on Liveray yet? What does it take to install?
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sri
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2009, 03:36:12 PM »

http://delicious.com/sridhar/collaboration
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JavaJones
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2009, 05:07:16 PM »

I don't have any practical experience with Liferay, but I'm considering it for use at one of my jobs. I think it could meet your needs, but it's a pretty complex and broad system, it might be complex to implement what you need, at least vs. other systems that include more functionality out of the box. It's all about finding the right addons, and as far as robust forum functionality I'm really not sure it can fully cover that, except by integration with an outside system (e.g. SMF or PHPbb).

I think it might be best for you to outline your needs with more detail, particularly ratings of importance. It sounds like permission control is of particular importance, for every module, so that's something you should keep strongly in mind. For example I might recommend a CMS like Joomla for its ease of use and huge amount of free modules that cover all your needs, however its user access permission system is not very good at present. So even though it might meet 90% of your other needs, if granular security is as important it seems to be, it might not be ideal. That being said there are addons currently that enhance user permission control, and also upcoming version 1.6 will improve it further at the core (not that you'd want to wait, but you may be able to make do until the upgrade - on second thought probably not something to count on).

Anyway, SMF is a great forum system, but I agree with Mouser, the addon approach is not good. Not sure if the upcoming 2.0 version (currently a freely available release candidate) will fix that or not. I hope so.

The bottom line is I think your needs are varied enugh that a general CMS system might be justified. Look for something with the best community support in terms of documentation, availability of plugins, etc. This is where Joomla rates highly. Because of your security/permissions needs, you'll need to pay particular attention to this.

Above all I agree that you should implement *something* ASAP. Note that there is possible integration between Joomla and SMF with Jfusion, so this might be a good way to start - setup SMF, then use Joomla integration to add other features like file library, etc.

- Oshyan
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brahman
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« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2009, 09:03:46 AM »

Thank you for your comment - Oshyan, I think you hit the nail on its head.

Point b.) Preferably it should be able to handle HTTPS, be strong on privacy/security features (no search robots access, invitational password to sign up, if possible for a certain board only), and have fine permission granularity (childboards and even subchildboards with different permissions). F.e. one group of researchers working on a particular project has access to a certain childboard, but not to another one which deals with another topic.

... is definitely the most important for me.

Jbridge to integrate Joomla later is a nice idea. I checked into it and it would also work with other boards.

After Mousers comments I looked into more modern boards with hooks instead of code changes for mods and found MyBB. The default skin is awful, but the underlying board seems very nice. See discussions:
http://forums.digitalpoin...m/showthread.php?t=153915

I will try to install it and see how it works out.
I will change themes to:
http://mods.mybboard.net/view/mymech
http://mods.mybboard.net/view/borders

SMF I installed but I am not very at home with the administration part. Hope MyBB has more options, though the best (option wise) is supposed to be phpBB, but some say it doesn`t perform well and is a hog on resources, but then again other people rebutt that claim.

Now I have uploaded MyBB to a folder on the host which I called "MyBB" and I am trying to connect with ./MyBB/install/ (where the file index.php is located - verified by FTP) but nothing is happening (404 Error) embarassed so I will see if things change (in the root folder I have SMF installed - should work this way - shouldn't it?).

Regards,

B.

« Last Edit: December 11, 2009, 09:24:42 AM by brahman » Logged

Regards, Brahman
Tuxman
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« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2009, 10:25:23 AM »

In fact, most forum software can be turned into a social network. bbPress for Wordpress is another one...

From this thread I'd prefer elgg. Wink
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JavaJones
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« Reply #13 on: December 16, 2009, 05:22:32 PM »

I don't know if MyBB has the kind of granular permissions you want, but I know SMF does. Just another thing to think about. I find the admin panel quite easy to use, especially in 2.0...

- Oshyan
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« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2009, 06:32:22 PM »

http://php.opensourcecms.com/ has a lot of open source forums, CMSes, wikis, etc. set up and running so people can see what they are like as both a user and an admin.
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brahman
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« Reply #15 on: December 18, 2009, 06:55:24 PM »

Thank you all for your help.

I installed SMF 2.0RC2 and it is working fine.

Elgg also seemded nice, but I felt in the end that a forum is more inviting to just jump ahead and work instead of building up your own identity in a more social network related place.

MyBB was also in the running, but I couldn't get a successful install the first time around, so I simply favored SMF.

SMF's administration panel could be more logical organized, sometimes options are difficult to find.

If MyBB would have been OK on first install, I have the feeling that I would have favored it.

Be well,

B.
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