These are the criteria:
- a limited number of members (<200)
- only members should have access.
- hardly any uploads (ocasionally maybe some images)
- reliability. I don't mind occasional downtime, but it's important that the data never gets lost!
- the ability to backup the database to my computer.
I've had a bad experience with a free forum hosting service, so I was thinking about subscribing for a basic hosting package at hostgator.com (USD 4.95 /mo), and then try to get PHPBB to run on it. (Although this seems a bit expensive for my needs)
Would this a good idea? How difficult is it to setup a forum? Thanks for the advice!
One thing that you need to be careful about is the resource usage of the forum but since its a low traffic site and I am sure your 200 or less members will not be on at the same time, you should be okay at first.
Setting up a forum is pretty cut and dry these days. As was mentioned elsewhere in this thread, most hosts include some sort of auto-installation suite that includes phpBB to make that part of the process pretty simple for you. Once you get the base software configured, I would suggest visiting phpBB's forums and finding a captcha or anti-bot modification (MOD) to add to help prevent spam bots from signing up for your forum and filling it with ads for Brittney Spears sex tapes as phpBB can be prone to this happening when it is not protected. Since you will also want to customize your forum with its own theme/skin, AwesomeStyles is a great place to start.
On the hosting side of things, you should no trouble finding a host that can handle your forum. You had mentioned that $4.95 seems expensive, that is actually a fair price for the resources you will need to host your forum.
Whatever host you go with, make sure to search diligently for reviews beforehand, avoid offers that seem too good to be true (because they probably are ) and avoid long-term contracts by paying on a month-to-month basis until you are confident in and comfortable with the service the host is providing you with.
With the automation tools (eg. Fantastico) installing them is very easy. Make sure you upgrade the forum software when a new version is launched. Also learn and do your own backups, especially of your database.
Forums usually have detailed documentation on the developer's site. It may take a while to learn all that you can do with them (many things which you probably won't actually use), but it's a good idea to take the time to read it all to get a firms grasp of the concepts.
You had mentioned that $4.95 seems expensive, that is actually a fair price for the resources you will need to host your forum.
I agree with Dave advice. Hosting at very low price levels tends to be a bit riskier. Of course, no all provides are the same, so research on each provider you're considering is very important: http://www.webhostingtalk.com/search.php
For best performance I recommend vBulletin forum software which provides lots of resources to choose from. On the other hand SMF and phpBB will work as good as vBulletin.
If a web hosting company you chosen includes Fantasticoo De Luxe you can install SMF or phpBB forum with few mouse clicks and within few seconds.
You will be able to configure your forum to set certain permissions and restrictions as you prefer. Concerning the backups, if the hosting company offers cPanel, you can generate backups from your cPanel very easily.
I agree, phpBB will give you less problems and because of the large community of users, help is available on their support forums.
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