I recently subscribed to a satellite tv package when I upgraded my DSL account — and I instantly got hooked on that adorable Animal Planet show “Meerkat Manor.” Just in time for the season ending. 🙁 Then I started watching Orangutan Island, and while watching the 2nd episode I idly checked the whois for orangutanisland.com. That domain was taken, but orangutanisland.org was available, and I thought to myself, I wonder if I should register that and set up a forum for people to talk about these cute critters? So I did. I used the free phpBB forum software for the forum, and also created a small collection of static informational pages so that the site would have some content to rank for.
The result is the Orangutan Island Forum. Almost immediately, the site jumped to 3rd place in Google for a search on Orangutan Island — just behind the official Animal Planet pages. I was pleasantly surprised when people started registering on the forum and talking about the show, and I’m having fun participating in the discussions and learning the ins and outs of the phpBB software.
But I wasn’t sure about my choice of forum software. I didn’t want to pay for the well-loved and very robust vBulletin — after all, this whole thing was just a whim, and my budget was non-existent. I knew that phpBB is a well-known and popular open source forum package, but development is in flux just now: They’re working on getting phpBB 3 into final release, and I dithered about whether I should install the “stable” version 2 or the “unstable” RC (release candidate) version 3. I went with version 2 and I’ve been second-guessing my choice every day.
Then I got to looking more deeply into forum packages, and I discovered the Simple Machines Forum — not open source in the conventional sense, but free to use, so long as you keep the copyright in place and follow a few other minimal restrictions. From everything I read about it, SMF sounded robust and full featured, and I wanted to try it out.
I started casting about for another forum idea, looking for some reason to set up another forum somewhere so that I could give SMF a whirl, and I had a brainstorm: I use a software program called Studiometry for my client and project management and invoicing. The company that makes Studiometry used to have a very useful user forum, but they shut it down sometime back with no explanation.
So I registered studiometryforum.com and set up the Studiometry Forum.
The SMF software was reasonably easy to install, although it was more difficult than I had hoped to find a theme that suited me. But everything worked as advertised out of the box (which isn’t always the case), and the theme I finally settled on was easy to install. I wanted to make a few minor changes to the html/css of that skin, and that was also easy.
I have only a handful of users so far on this new forum, but I’m hopeful it will gain traction and attract the Studiometry users who used to frequent the official Studiometry forums.
And even if it doesn’t, I gained valuable experience learning my way around a fine forum software package. It’s always beneficial to know what’s available and how easy or difficult it is to install and customize.