How to Create a Message Board (For the Clueless, From the Clueless)

Poor Blogger--I'm sure there isn't an online service out there more simultaneously maligned and employed to such a comparable degree. Even I have been guilty of bitching about Blogger with one hand while posting on it with the other. And it's inexcusable. Well, maybe a little excusable, when things go horribly, horribly wrong, as they are wont to do on Blogger from time to time--look at me, already doing it again, bitching.

But when have I ever sung Blogger's praises? When did I ever express my appreciation for how easy it made setting up a blog? For the exhaustive list of tips and tutorials under Blogger Help? For the unlimited space offered. And back again to just how gosh-darn easy it is to use? When? Never!

And I'm not alone. Blogger has been slandered, abandoned, and taken for granted, and frankly, I believed the abuse to be justified. Until this past week, when I tried to create a message board for my volunteer group. Holy buffet of deep-fried crap, Batman! Have you ever tried to create an online forum? Have you?! Well, I thought--I do not know why--that it would be easy. I thought, hey, I can change the background color of my blog, I sure as hell can put up one dinky little bulletin board. That is what I thought. And that is what I volunteered to do.

As any good little Internet child will do, I started my project with lots of searches. Lesson one: creating a board sometimes requires the forking over of money. I refined my search with the addition of "free." Lesson two: most free boards do not mention, while urging you to register with them, that they will foist garish banners and even pop-up ads on your board. I further redefined my search: "no ads." Initially, a no-ads board seemed an impossible concept. Many supposedly ad-free boards had apparently caved. Finally I came upon one that required only the use of text ads--Forumer.

This is when the first challenge presented itself: phpBB or IPB? Huh? Back I went to Google. I'm a pragmatic girl, however. I didn't really need to know what these two types of boards were; I just needed to know which one was better. What did I learn? After much time lurking around places like anime forums, I learned this: no consensus. But, what repeatedly came up was that phpBB was "user friendly" and IPB had more advanced features. What was obviously yoohooing me in the face was that phpBB was for me and IPB was for people who actually knew how to use words like SQL, BBCodes, safe mode skins, and permission masks (I still don't know what any of these things are, but as administrator of a forum, I think I'm supposed to). But because I love to waffle and add unnecessary stress to my life, I had to give both a chance--"Because what if I go with the easy one, then become this total Message Board Master down the road, and realize I missed out by not going with IPB?" With all the wisdom hindsight doth bestow, verily I say, "Message Board Master? Bwahahahaha!"

So I signed up for one of each: phpBB (BB stands for bulletin board, and that's all you need to know) and IPB (Invision Power Board). This is where, although blog and bulletin board are distinctly different animals, I cannot help but draw comparisons between the services. With Blogger, seconds after I had my own blog, I was posting; and not long after, I was happily exploring, playing with my template, getting useful tips from the Blogger Help pages. Registering with, say, Forumer happened relatively quickly, but once the page opened and I was faced with my brand-new board, I ran smack into a big fat blank. I spent one full evening trying to figure out the Admin CP (administration control panel)--it took me ages just to figure out that it was the Admin CP I needed to figure out--for my Invision board. During this time, I came as close as I've ever come to wanting to snatch my head bald from sheer rage and frustration. I can now empathize with those pet parrots who rip out all their feathers and require therapy sessions with an animal shrink. Anyhow, I really did try. And then I gave up.

On to Forumer's phpBB. This was supposed to be the easy one. It also turned out to be the extremely limited one. Another evening went by, and just as my deranged state had my fingers once again inching their way ominously toward my vulnerable mane, I happened upon something. Something called FreeBB. With its childish logo communicating this was closer to my level of [cough] expertise [cough], the promise of an idiot-friendly control panel, and no ads to boot, this time I did not ignore the yoohooing voices. With about four (or five? I've lost track) bulletin boards somewhere out there, registered in my name, what was one more?

Like all the others, FreeBB has no help documentation. You're not going to find a page that says something like, "So, you've got yourself a bulletin board. Lost? Confused? Don't worry, keep reading and we'll tell you, step-by-step, exactly how to set up your board!" However, after a bit of experimenting, I was able to add categories, change the template of my board, and even adjust the colors to match the Oxfam website. If you're curious as to what even an idiot can produce through FreeBB, here's the board I created. Now I just have to convince my fellow volunteers at Oxfam Japan to use the damn thing. They're a bit shy--or that's what I'm telling myself about all the participation that's not going on so far.

The sole form of support for bulletin board administrators are the member forums, so my advice to fellow newbies is to take advantage of them, but try not to wail and use lots of exclamation marks, even when you're at the end of your tether. I can't believe how many people write as the subject title: "Heeeeeeelp Meeeeee!!!!!!!!" Yeesh. Oh, one thing I wish somebody had explained to me: Registering for your own message board doesn't automatically register you for the connected support forum; you have to register separately for this. I couldn't understand why I couldn't sign in to the support forum with my board's user name. You have to create a separate user name--rather lame, if you ask me.

One other important thing to keep in mind. I did find that Invision board forums were not for the new and ignorant. As I said before, the people who use Invision know what they're doing and they expect you to as well.

I realize this post won't interest many people, but since I wasted invested so much time learning about the creation of message boards, I'll offer what limited resources I gathered, and hopefully someone, as clueless as I, will get something out of it.

Free Bulletin Boards
-this is the only free bulletin board I found that is 100% free of any kind of ads
-hands-down the easiest board to work with, of all the different boards I tried
-being fairly new, the support forum is still quite small, but people are quick to respond

-offers boards powered by phpBB 2.0.16 and IPB 1.3
Pros: text-only ads
Cons: no support forum

-phpBB 2 and IPB 1.3
-text-only ads
-promising to upgrade to phpBB 3 "some day"
-good support forum
Cons: phpBB board not customizable

-well-established support forum

Additional Resources
phpBB - downloads, mods (same as hacks?), styles, templates, and support forum
phpBB Hacks - hacks, templates, downloads, and support forums

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I never understood why my sister always found me to be my most amusing when I was ready to kill....now I see the light.

Rachel, while I really do sympathize, it's impossible to put my compassionate face on since I'm laughing my guts out at the way you express yourself.

I love your posts. 

from Ruth

7/04/2005 11:22:00 AM  

Oops, see - yet another instance of blogger not letting me sign in as me first time around.

7/04/2005 11:24:00 AM  

Hi Ruth,

Sigh, yes, it does seem my moments of rage and suffering are what people find most delightful. And since life is so generous with such moments, I try to be equally generous about sharing them with others.

I'm glad I could make you laugh.  

from Rachel

7/04/2005 12:31:00 PM  

Hi Ruth, I'm having some trouble with Freebb and I found your site while searching for clues with Google.

I run three small Freebb forums. For the past few days only one can be accessed. Like yours it is on server #17: The Bowen Island Sourdough Project 

This is a tiny project for a handful of people who are scattered around a semi-rural community. And it is mainly me putting all of the resources for success in one place -- not really operating as a forum. It is almost a blog. I hardly need the power of phpBB; but it works well.

My real concern is about my two forums on server #11. These are for professional associates who are separated by thousands of miles. It has been down for, I think, about a week. Freebb seems to have at least 10 servers, and 5 are not available -- including the Support Forum. I'd love to have some information about the future of those servers.

BTW, I am enjoying the easy-to-read appearance and the design of your Oxfam board and this blog. Good work!


from Robert B

7/27/2005 01:38:00 AM  

Oh, I am sorry, I made an error... this is Rachel's site, not Ruth's.

If I have offended, please accept my apologies.

BTW, I read enough to find the recipe for Brown Bread Ice Cream. I will have to consult my family, but it looks good! We may try it. We have one of those old White Mountain ice cream freezers -- the same as the one my parents had, um, back in the 50s. Except that ours has a motor. 

from Robert B

7/27/2005 03:05:00 AM  

Hi Robert, I'm not offended at all. Ruth is a very nice name.

I'm afraid I'm as in the dark as you about what's going on with those servers. I wish I could be more help! Unfortunately, with a free service, glitches will happen. For your professional message board, perhaps you might want to consider investing in a forum service that might not be free but will be more powerful and stable than freeBB. There are a lot of options out there.

If I manage to find out about what's up with freeBB though, I promise to send you an email.

Wow, I'm going to have to look up what a White Mountain ice cream freezer is--I have absolutely no idea, but I'm very curious.  

from Rachel

7/28/2005 01:57:00 AM  

Hello there. I'm a random web person who happened to find her way here when googling for clues as to why freebb has failed.

My consensus is that they just died with no explanation whatsoever. It's been a week and a half, or maybe two weeks. I had just set up my forum (on server 12) to be the speaking-place for my guild members on the online game I play, and gotten a few introductory posts, when the forum just up and vanished. I had had this forum for a month or two already with my friends and I posting random things about movies we'd seen or whatnot, with no problems at all.

Even going to the main site at freebb.com gets me nothing, and everyone else who seems to have a freebb board is apologizing for theirs being down as well.

I wish I had hope that freebb would come back, but I'm starting to think it's gone for good. The main site being down for two weeks is not very hopeful. I am loathe to find a new site though, as freebb was exactly what I was looking for. 

from Kiryn

8/11/2005 01:49:00 AM  

hello ruth
Hope im talking to you that got this Beautiful message board, looka here, I'm looking for a message board myself to put in my website. visit it anytime as you wish too. and others as well as here. your all welcome to come, its free!
please email me asap, I would love to hear from you.
thanks for your time
God Bless

from candie

3/06/2006 01:48:00 PM  

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