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Design for Community

March 3rd, 2010

Title Page Page 23 Page 51 Page 52

Before I outline the various forum/community software I’ve used and how each differs, I wanted to mention an old yet excellent book by Derek Powazek called Design for Community: The art of connecting real people in virtual places (WorldCat). I bought it almost nine years ago for $45 at the World’s Biggest Bookstore, and while all its examples are dated now, given Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even CSS, web standards and blogs (I love the quaint use of “homepagers” rather than “bloggers” to describe people like Jeffrey Zeldman) it was solid gold then and still is now with great interviews and predictions.

In fact, a careful reading of just the Table of Contents can tell you a lot about community:

And the Preface is fun, honest introduction to community basics:

And now, on to some examples of community software:


PunBB News Threads


PunBB was founded by Rickard Andersson who conceived it for a personal project as an alternative to over-featured or too graphic discussion boards. Now available at under the GPL, it’s come a long way since I first used it in 2003 for a 500-member gaming community, though it’s still very simple: If it does what you want it to now or is close enough, then great! Its code is easily hackable and it has a plain CSS-based style best suited for a smaller, personal feel or when all you really need is a forum. Not recommended for much beyond a forum, however. Below is the new Copper theme displaying my profile:

PunBB Profile (Copper Theme)


Simple Machines Forum (SMF)

SMF – A full-featured yet open source competitor to more commercial offerings, SMF has had a bit of trouble (like PunBB) in evolving quickly, though there is still promise and what currently exists works well at what it does. SMF is quite stable, though some might call it bloated, and it has a metric ton of themes, mods and translations. I swapped to this from PunBB back in 2004, wrote a few mods and even made a theme for this that closely matched what PunBB used to look like, though by that point the community on the site wasn’t the same and by 2005 I’d stopped using SMF and that community website, entirely.

“Modern” forum software

I’m running out of time, so I’ll just link to them right now, and write more later: Vanilla Forums (GPL, licensed, or hosted), Invision Power Board ($150 or $10/mth hosted), vBulletin ($195 for forum, $285 with blog & CMS)

Please note these are just the forums I’ve actually used or modified in the past. And I’ve still more I can write about them or alternatives, so expect a Part II post soon.

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