Believe it or not, back in the day, i did actually have a forum on theleavingcert.com. It almost worked too… but i never had the vision to make it work. Forums are hard work. Setting one up is easy, keeping it alive is another thing… but that’s the challenge i’ve taken on with forums.theleavingcert.com…
Learning from mistakes
I was smart enough to realise it was going nowhere and switched to a joomla based site, then eventually a wordpress blog. Of course the site is busier than ever before so i don’t regret ditching the forum.
The time has come though for a new forum on the site. At peak times, we’re getting visitors in the thousands. A forum is a great place to encourage debate and provided you have the traffic & community to keep it alive, then why not… i don’t have much experience running forums but i have a hell of a lot of experience knowing how not to run them. I see forums die regularly for various reasons… so obviously i wouldn’t have set up a new one if i didn’t think i could make it work.
Now i know what you’re gonna say. “Another bloody forum in a sea of forums”. And i agree. Back when i set up the site there was a boards.ie leaving cert forum and that was it. Now there’s many more. But our users demand it and it makes sense. It means more content, more interaction, more of a ‘community’ feel.
We were tempted to go with vbulletin but came to our senses. Bbpress is the obvious choice for a wordpress based site… the main advantage is tight database integration, plus it’s free & open source and written by the guys at wordpress. Out of the box though, it ain’t pretty.
Custom design / layout
I took the default bbpress theme apart and rebuilt it. I wanted to do things my way. I feel bbpress wastes a lot of space on the homepage of the forum and in ‘topic’ pages. So i trimmed down what i felt was wasted space and the end result is what you now see on forums.theleavingcert.com. Personally, i think it looks much better, but then again of course i would… i designed it 🙂
I refrained from using too many plugins mainly because i don’t have enough experience working with bbpress to know what works and what doesn’t. So at the minute the forum is pretty lightweight, loads quickly and looks the part. Job done.
Must. Work. Harder.
The hard part will now be looking after it. Dealing with spam, moderating, creating discussion, SEO… all day to day tasks needed to ensure forums.theleavingcert.com succeeds. The difference now, in comparison to 3 or 4 years ago when i had a forum running on theleavingcert.com, is that the site gets about 40 times more traffic, it’s growing rapidly and i also have an extra pair of hands on deck in Enda.
So it’s easier now for me to make a forum work than it was 4 years ago. I’m also a much better hacker so i can patch up problems on sight without needing help. The entire forum design is a good example. Nothing fancy but it blends in well with the site and it’s all custom made. Custom made by me, for me 🙂 4 years ago there was no way i’d even think about doing that myself…