How to Choose Features for Blog Forum Software

By Amy Lupold Bair, Susannah Gardner

Of course, choosing software that will turn your blog into a forum isn’t all about the cost! Features matter when it comes to forums, particularly those that need to host a high volume of messages, users, or both.

It’s worth noting that although you can migrate from one forum software package to another, the process is notoriously complicated, so you can save yourself time if you think through the options up front.

  • Availability: Some blog software actually offers forum software, or integrates easily with a particular forum software package.

    Check your blog documentation. If you’re lucky and the blog platform you selected has forum features built in, all you have to do is turn them on. If it doesn’t, check to see whether there is a forum software package commonly used by others who blog on the same platform or if there are compatibility recommendations.

    bbPress, for example, was created by the makers of WordPress and can be easily implemented on WordPress blogs.

  • Threading: One of the most important forum features is whether conversations on the forum are flat or threaded. Threading groups sets messages together, relating them.

    For example, if you post something on a forum and someone replies to you, a threaded conversation displays a visual cue that indicates that the forum postings are part of the same conversation. You can track which conversations are which and who is replying to what postings.

    A threaded conversation in a blog post.

  • Look and feel: Forum software is incredibly visual, and typically a software package comes with several default themes, or design packages. Many offer additional themes, for free or for a fee. You may also be interested in creating a custom theme that matches the design of the blog you’re adding the forum to.

  • Ignore lists: Not everyone on the same forum is the best of friends. Unlike the comment system, in which users always know who is writing the comment (unless they post anonymously, but those types of people don’t really want to have real discussions), you want to give a little bit of control to your users to make sure that their experience on your forum is a good one.

    Ignore lists allow a forum member to hide other users and their posts. This is somewhat like blocking someone on a social network and is a handy feature that lets your community members aggressively dislike another member and still have a positive experience.

  • Signatures (sigs): Forum users are addicted to signatures. A signature is a lot like it sounds — a way for users to append identifying information to the posts they make on the forum. Signatures generally allow for imagery, links to external websites, famous quotes, and even some good old-fashioned silliness. As you might expect, forum members are quite attached to them.

  • Emoticons: Who doesn’t love emoticons? Don’t answer that. ☺ Emoticons are whimsical text or visual icons intended to convey emotion. Many forum users use them to indicate the tone of their message and prevent misinterpretation. Emoticon options differ from software package to software package but are usually appreciated by the forum members.

  • Polls: Polls are a nice feature that allows visitors to vote on questions that other users create. Questions can be asked, and answers can be preselected by the user asking the question. The answers are then calculated and a graph is produced.

  • Membership tools: Most forum software offers a set of membership tools, such as registration, profiles, avatars, and so on. Membership allows the software to understand that posts come from the same user and keep track of the user’s activity across the life span of the forum. Membership requirements decrease the amount of spam on a forum as well as allow moderators to remove or block problematic users.

    If your blog already has registration turned on for comment posting, you may want to look for forum software that can be tied into your existing membership database so that visitors don’t have to create and remember two different accounts.

  • Spam controls: If you thought that spammers would leave a forum alone, think again. Unfortunately, spam is as big a problem on a forum as it is on a blog. Membership (see the preceding bullet) can help, but a good forum software package should offer you some options for identifying, preventing, and removing spam posts and users.

  • Images and rich media: Some forum software allows users the capability to post images, upload files, and embed rich media from other locations on the web. This can make postings and discussions more vibrant.

At the end of the day, the features you choose help your users communicate better — more quickly, easily, and effectively. So do your homework!