Whether you’re adding a discussion board to address your industry’s latest hot topics, developing a close-knit online community to share in a common interest, or providing your visitors with convenient online customer support, forums can be a great addition to your small business website. Not only do they help build loyalty, the very nature of them creates content, which increases your search engine optimization and attracts new viewers to your site. While forums may seem complex to install and time-consuming to run, they don’t have to be.
There are a variety of applications available that make setting up and managing a website forum fairly easy for experienced programmers and new website owners alike. One of these programs is a free, open-source project called Simple Machines Forum (SMF).
What is SMF?
SMF is an award-winning internet forum software powered by PHP and MySQL. It’s been around for over a decade; however, its latest version, which included some security updates, was just released on September 9, 2015. It was developed by Simple Machines, a non-profit, volunteer organization comprised of the president, Liroy can Howwijk; the project manager, William Wagner; and the lead software developer, Michael Eshom; as well as many others.
What Sets SMF Apart?
- Simplicity: As one would expect from a software that has the word “simple” built right into its name, SMF is designed with a back-to-basics approach without compromising on its comprehensive set of powerful features. It takes only seconds to install and it takes up very little space on servers. An “out-of-the-box” application, it comes with everything you need already in place. You can start registering users, posting topics, adding to threads and checking stats right away.
- Customizability: As an open-source project, SMF is adaptable to meet your needs, but you don’t have to be a programmer or developer to make changes to the forum’s appearance. SMF has made a variety of downloadable themes available that can instantly change the look and feel of your site. SMF also offers an incredible number of free and paid, easily installable feature modifications on its “Mod Site” that allow you to enhance security, increase search engine optimization, add instant messaging, create additional posting preferences, and more. You can have your forum’s users post anonymously, create avatars, or show their age. There’s also features that make forum management easier: You can lock old topics or ban users.
- Support: SMF offers a number of outlets for customer support; however, they strongly encourage that you to go through the proper channels. Start with their Frequently Asked Questions It’s huge, so you’ll probably find what you’re looking for there. But if you can’t find an answer, try searching the forum. If you still can’t find the answer, you may want to check their online manual, which they make available in full on their website. Only if you still can’t find the answer are you encouraged to ask one of the volunteer support team members. In addition to the support provided by Simple Machines, you may find assistance online through the thousands of other users who are familiar with the software.
- Quality: With new software, plugins, and applications designed to create website forums coming out all the time, some good but many not-so-great, users can take comfort in knowing that SMF wasn’t born yesterday. Because this software has been tinkered with and added to since 2003, from developers from all over the world, it’s earned a reputation for being a well-put-together product. It continues to be highly-rated by industry bloggers and across script review sites, and its users report very few problems with things like usability, navigation, and security.
- Questionable Mods: SMF’s modifications can be created by anyone, and while Simple Machines does implement guidelines, it’s no surprise that some of them don’t work very well or aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Paid modifications tend to be more reliable than unpaid ones. Because modifications aren't developed by Simple Machines, you’ll have to go through the modification’s creator to get customer support, which may or may not be available.
- Easy, But Not Effortless: With its out-of-the-box setup, extensive support literature, and loyal online community, SMF is definitely accessible to novice users; but it’s still going to take some time to learn and it will still require some experimentation to get the program to do what you want it to do, especially if you’re inexperienced and wanting to add a lot of customization.
- Long Breaks Between Updates: If you’re looking for a forum software that comes out with a new version as frequently as Apple pumps out iPhones, SMF might not be for you. In the past 13 years, it has only released a handful of updates, with as many as five years spanning in between. That’s a long time in Internet years. If planning to use SMF to create and manage your forum in the long run, there’s a chance that it may become a little outdated in the months leading up to a new release. As the latest version of the software was just made available, it’s probably safe to assume there won’t be any changes to it for a while.
How to Get SMF:
If you’re hosting through A Small Orange, you’ll find that we already provide this script for you as part of the Softaculous Apps Installer. Here, you can read about its features, look through screenshots, access a demo and read reviews before installing. After completing the setup information, the software is downloaded with the click of a button. If you’re hosting your website through another company, you can still use SMF, as long as your hosting company supports PHP and MySQL. If SMF is not already made available to you in your control panel, it can be downloaded from the Simple Machines website. Here, you can download the software for the first time, upgrade your software to the latest version, or install one of the older version for free.