Web 2.0 – Forums

If you’re keeping up with my articles, you’re starting to notice a trend about interacting with your users. There are many ways to do it and you can either do them all or specialize in a few. One of the most elaborate (and sometimes difficult) ways to create user interaction is by creating a forum, also known as a message board.

Do not confuse forms with forums! Whereas a ‘form’ allows your users to interact with you, a ‘forum’ allows online, live connections between you and your user as well as the user and other users. I’m pretty sure you have see a message board online somewhere in your travels. Generally, it’s a place where a user posts a question or concern and then other people respond by commenting or answering the question. In no time, a dialog is created and anyone can participate.

Do I need one?

First, the catch-22 with operating a forum is that you need members. Starting out a forum-only website can be a daunting task mainly because people don’t want to waste time posting a question or comment on a member-less website because they will not be getting a response.

The question of whether you need one comes down to your users. Do you offer a product or service that is generating side conversations in your blog comments? Do those same products and services keep getting support questions from users?

The purpose of your forum will define why you need it and the goal is to generate interaction between your users. Let them talk about things, ask questions, explore new ideas and share their own.

Getting started

There are countless software packages out there that offer different forum setups ranging from extremely basic to advanced. Some are free and some cost money, but in general, they’re all very easy to setup.

Originally, I was going to tout vBulletin as the best forum software out there, but I just realized they have created a whole new monster! They have now integrated their very successful forum software into a full-featured CMS software suite and I must tell you, it looks amazing!

Here are my three personal favorites:

  • phpBB – You can’t beat free, right? phpBB is probably the best deal your’re going to get and it’s the best way to get a site built and running without having to fork over a sum of money to do so. Also, if you outgrow this platform, you can always upgrade to something bigger later on.
  • YaBB – Another free title that you can use to test your site and figure out how everything is going to work. There is great community support and it’s a very basic software package.
  • vBulletin – For $285, you not only get a full-featured forum package, but also an entire CMS suite! You can manage all aspects of your site with one program and have all of your features integrated into to one seamless structure. This is by far the best for your money, but may only be of use to larger sites. This is one you would want to upgrade to as your site grows.

To see a more expansive list, check out CMSCritic.

My two cents

Unless you already have a significant userbase or you’re involved in a community that needs organization, you’re going to have a tough time getting a forum off the ground. However, it can be done if you work at it. Like I said before, getting members is really all it takes.

I’d say if you’re serious about getting a blog going or just creating a website to sell your products and services, you might want to invest in vBulletin because it allows you to get a full-featured content site going while offering you the ability to open a message board later. Alternatively, you can start with a small (and free) setup to learn the ropes and then upgrade as time moves on.

<< Back to Tribe Marketing Forward to Comments >>

Site Creation – Content Management System (CMS)

Making a website can be a tedious project that incorporates many different facets of design and implementation. It may require that you learn the different web software and programming languages outlined previously. There are also just as many books on the subject as there are websites online.

This is why web design firms charge so much money to build a website. However, it doesn’t have to be expensive to start (or re-design) your website. You can now use a “cookie-cutter” backend structure to manage and maintain your content. Welcome to the world of CMS–or more specifically in this case, webCMS.

What is CMS?

Simply put, it’s a set of tools and/or software that is used to organize content for projects, presentations and reports while allowing multiple people to have access to these tools, add their own ideas, content and essentially just collaborate. For a website, think of it as a container or base structure for the content of your site. It’s wrapped with a theme of some sort and it allows you to focus on your content rather than your design.

There are a few types of systems you can get, but the most common is blogging software. A lot of people don’t consider a blog system part of the CMS group of software, but I do. The reason for this is because to me, it manages content–and pretty well I might add.

How does it work?

After your chosen software is installed, you’ll have access to an admin interface that allows you to configure and customize your new site. You can change the design, add themes, format text, setup categories, create static pages, manage uploads and downloads and create users. Here’s the basic breakdown of what a CMS is:

  • Templates – The base structure to your site is accomplished through the use of templates. These files (XML or HTML) are stored in a central location and they apply design traits to all content pages on your site. This allows you to edit or change your “theme” instantly and across all pages at once.
  • Editable Content – Because the content is not being stored in the design templates, it is easily edited using built-in content editors known as WYSIWYG editors. They contain basic formatting tools to make your content look nice and stand out.
  • Scalable Features – Most CMS software packages are compatible with plugins that add or enhance features of the system to allow your site to grow as needed. These plugins are often designed by the user community and are usually free.
  • Standards Upgrades – To keep up with web standards, popular CMS software programs are consistently updated and supported.
  • Workflow – If there are multiple contributors on one site, content can be written, but not published until it’s been reviewed by the appropriate person.
  • User Delegation – Users in the system can be delegated to specific roles that pertain to the various sections of the site. These users have only the access they need to get their work done.
  • Document Management – As content and documents change, the entire revision history is available at all times to ensure that any changes are properly recorded and can even be restored back if needed.
  • Virtualization – Some CMS software programs have options that allow users to work in a virtualized environment so they can edit and create pages and see how they will look online before actually publishing them online.
  • Syndication – All CMS programs offer the ability to syndicate your content. This is done through channels like RSS, email subscriptions or Atom data feeds.


If you have ever seen a website hosted or designed on WordPress, you’ve seen a blog. Essentially, you install a small out of software (a few PHP files and folders) on your webserver, follow a simple install process and start blogging. It’s really that easy and that’s exactly why it was created.

You can use a blog for any type of web content, so don’t think that just because you installed a blog that you have to post things everyday or talk about your personal life! You’ll find blogs that sell products, offer downloads or just have nothing but galleries of pictures.

Putting it all together

Get yourself a content management system. You will save yourself some major headaches in the future if you start on the right foot now. Using WordPress as an example, here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Web hosting plan – Your web hosting plan needs to offer you the ability to have at least one SQL database and the ability to run PHP. Check out GoDaddy or MediaTemple for great pricing and service.
  2. WordPress software – WordPress is free and can be downloaded from wordpress.org.
  3. FTP client – You need to be able to upload your WordPress files to your server. Using an FTP client for this will make life much easier. You can get away without one, but you’ll need to learn how to use your online file manager.
  4. Website theme – Unless you want to spend your time making your own design, I’d suggest you look into getting a theme or two to spice up your website’s look. I’ve gotten themes from both Woothemes.com and TemplateMonster.com (search only for WordPress themes).
  5. Content – This is where your creativity comes in! Write your own stuff about things you care about. Make it original and make it interesting.
<< Back to Ruby on Rails Forward to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) >>

Site Creation – PHP

PHP is a programming language used for creating dynamic webpages. Dynamic, as opposed to static, simply means that pages are created on the fly based on data from a database, user input or some other “call” for information. Originally created in 1995 as a set of CGI binaries, PHP has withstood the test of time and is currently in its 5th incarnation as PHP5.

Personally, I find that it’s the easiest programming language to work with when dealing with websites. This is because PHP gets integrated directly within HTML code and uses similar tags for performing functions. I’m no genus at coding PHP, but for creating basic scripts or even making changes to advanced scripts, I can hold my own! I also find that it’s a much speedier code when compared to others like CGI or Java and it’s also compatible with many different operating systems, webservers and all web browsers.

Above all, the best part about PHP is that it’s free! There is no cost to run PHP on your webserver and it’s already installed on practically every webhosting plan you can buy.

How does it work?

As mentioned earlier, PHP can be integrated directly within HTML code. By using dilemeters, you can tell PHP where to find code to parse on the page. Here’s an example of some PHP code within a webpage:
<title<PHP Test</title>
echo "Hello World";
/* echo("Hello World"); works as well, although echo isn't a
function (it's a language construct). In some cases, such
as when multiple parameters are passed to echo, parameters
cannot be enclosed in parentheses */

The above code would display the words “Hello World” directly on a blank web page titled, PHP Test. By looking at this example, you can see how easy it is to have a standard HTML page, while integrating PHP within. Since the PHP parser only recognizes code inside the <?php ?> tags, everything else is sent to the browser as it normally would.

Why would I need it?

If you plan to use a CMS package like WordPress, you’ll be dealing with PHP in some form. Besides that, PHP offers a whole new world of functionality for your website and ultimately your users. Here are some common uses for PHP:

  • Web forms – Have you ever filled out a form on a site asking you for information like email address, name and phone number? These are all sent dynamically through a POST command to the website owner so they can collect your information.
  • Shopping carts – Every time you’ve bought something online, you more than likely were using PHP to place an order, fill out your information and send a payment.
  • Security – If you ever needed to access a secured area for a website, you may have seen PHP in action protecting the secured area.
  • Message boards – The majority of message board software is written in PHP.

This list can literally go on and on because just about anything you can think of can be written in PHP. That’s what makes it such a great language to use! It’s also very easy to learn. In fact, what little I know about PHP has all be learned by just looking at code and trying to figure out what it’s trying to do.

Where do I get PHP scripts?

Since its licensing is free (and open), scripts can come in all shapes and sizes from large corporations down to the guy in his basement and can cost anywhere from zero dollars to many thousands of dollars. When looking for PHP scripts to use, you first want to establish your goals.

To begin your search, start looking for scripts at HotScripts.com. They not only have a very large PHP database, but they house every other major programming language as well. Once you get to the site, you’ll notice that their PHP collection is the largest (many times over) than every other collection! This tells you just how popular PHP is.

More information

To get much more information as well as all the nitty, gritty details behind PHP, visit the official PHP website at php.net.

<< Back to Email Forward to Java >>