Looking to start a stand alone forum website, hosted
I work for a medium sized hw technology company (2000+ employees, 10000+ account customers) and have been tasked with planning and starting a web forum for our customers separate from our own corporate website. Being someone is not in the IT service or department I am a complete newbie at looking into this. I work in the technology support side of our company and we are attempting to use an external forum to help push and get answers to customers. I have done some research but need to gauge some expert ideas on cost and best approaches. Here is what I woud like to do. Please poke holes and give your feedback, also guesses on cost:
1. Use a commercial based forum tool such Vbulletin or invision
2. Need web developer to handle vbulletin, CMS development and an added user and post rating system. No commercial tools support this that I can find. Preferably with Karma system for the users with top point gatherers getting public recognition on the site and private gifts from our company.
3. Need a host site and service provider - perhaps a web developer has a preferred host site. I imagine we will need managed hosting for server and tool maintenance. Our company involvement would only be for moderation of content. I am not sure if a host can also provide administrative support such as bad login, lock out, etc. We dont' want to dedicate someone within our company for these tasks - only to check over content and help forum drive itself.
Forum we develop should tolerate a couple thousand users minimum. File attachments in a several Meg range for zip file sharing. Also, we'd prefer if the development and server were in our time zone (PST) or bay area.
I suggest hiring a web developer on the side to help you out because I doubt a company's staff or owner could help you install/configure 3rd party scripts. If it were support for technical problems with the server/network then definitely they could assist you.
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VBulletin is the way to go and you can expect quick patches from their developers in a big security loop hole is found, which is nice.
I don't know if you thought of this or not, but in addition to a web developer you're going to want a graphic designer or vbulletin skinner to make your VBulletin congruent with your company's image. Someone who can do the techy side of VBulletin might not be the same person you want working on VBulletin's graphic/presentation side.
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I just wanted to toss in a recommendation for vBulletin here. I've been a vBulletin guru for many years now and I've found that it's quite simply the best you can get for the price. About the only thing better would be something like FuseTalk and it's prohibitively expensive ... like break out in a cold sweat and hide your wallet expensive.
The folks at Jelsoft will take good care of ya too.
I swithched to vBulletin from phpbb2 (an open source forum). phpbb2 was very good but required considerably more time to maintain.
vBulletin is very polished and includes most of the features you require. You can get a mod for just about any application in their community forums.
The vBulletin developers are very active. They produce security patches and upgrades on a regular basis to keep up with new threats.
It is a very good value for the investment.
PS. I use HostGator as a host provider. I have been with them for over two years. Their service and support have been excellent. I have never used the service but their technicians can install third party software for a fee if I'm not mistaken.
I would also recommend using vBulletin simply because of its amazing features and its easy to manage. Its best on CPU usage on servers for large amounts of people constantly posting and registering. I would not use a free, or open sourced, forum because they can have many exploits all over the place and can be unreliable with large amounts of hits.
I think you need to get some (or more) help for setting up and configuring/updating forum scripts, as well as overseeing forum operations (especially if it's visible to any public).
Closed, member only forum is less risky, but it doesn't work as the magnet for attracting more customers.
But open forum can turn into a battlefield unless it's very carefully managed.
People new to forum operation tend to make many mistakes in managing it.
I have seen a VP of good sized hosting company imposting as someone else in their own community forum .... from the same IP.
Obviously, even a teen ager knows that it's a stupid thing to do.
If you moderate too much, you will be considered as a dictator type guy/company.
If you are too soft, it can become wild, unless experienced member do some control for you.
But some debates, conflict can be beneficial in many ways.
So, you may want to think both technical/financial aspects and also administration of the forum.
Frankly, I wouldn't put someone without experience to that kind of important task.
Is it John Deer, by the way?
I would SMF. But if you have the money you could use Vbulletin. SMF has many things built-in. SMF is the best free forums. Vbulletin is the best paid one. I have used both software and found SMF to be easier. But the mods and hacks for Vbulletin are just crazy. You will be able to find one for everything you could ever need.