Ok, bear with me for a few moments. My inner geek needs an audience.
Those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I’m an avid Halo/Halo 2 fan. A little while back, I was invited to join the writing staff for a relatively new blog for gamers called “Dead Man’s Hand”:http://deadmanshandblog.com. The guys (and gal) who ran this blog were members of a Halo 2 clan called the “TTL Gunslingers”:http://tiedtheleader.com. At the time I joined the staff, I was the only writer for the blog who was not already a Gunslinger.
Earlier this week I finally completed the application process for the clan and received my invite. And in purusing the “clan discussion forum”:http://forum.tiedtheleader.com, I noticed that the software they were using was not the popular “phpBB”:http://www.phpbb.com/. It was a relatively new forum software called “Simple Machines”:http://www.simplemachines.org/, and it didn’t take long in playing around with it to be very, very impressed – so impressed, in fact, that I have since converted my own discussion board – “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum – to the SMF(Simple Machines Forum) software.
Here’s where the gushing comes in – the features in SMF(Simple Machines Forum) are, quite simply, amazing:
- The installation of SMF(Simple Machines Forum) had a significant “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org feel to it – upload the files, run the install, complete the very simple form, and let the install program do its thing. All I had to do at that point was sit back and watch. It _did_ take a little longer to install and setup than WordPress does, but then again, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) has quite a few more files and tables.
- I was hugely impressed with the fact that the SMF(Simple Machines Forum) installation actually paused several times throughout the process. The reason for this is to give the server a break by not chewing up all the site’s bandwidth. It was a very conscientious touch on the part of the programmers, and I was very impressed with the foresight and consideration put into that bit of code.
- One of the things that discussion forum administrators dread when switching from one forum software to another is converting the old forum into a format that is usable with the new one. It’s not generally a simple process, and things almost always end up looking and acting screwy. The conversion from phpBB to SMF(Simple Machines Forum) was every bit as easy, clean, and simple as the installation process itself was. You can browse the forum now and never see any indication that it started out as a phpBB site.
- Adding modifications to SMF(Simple Machines Forum) is likewise a breeze. With phpBB anytime a modification or hack is added, you have to follow a rather complicated and time-consuming process. Half a dozen or more files have to be opened, specific bits of code located and either modified or have new bits of code added around them. It’s always a rigorous task and not much fun. And the downside is that whenever the forum software undergoes an upgrade to a new version, all those modifications are overwritten and have to be put back in place. With SMF(Simple Machines Forum) the modification folder is simply uploaded to the ‘Packages’ folder inside the forum directory structure, then click the ‘Install’ button in the admin panel, and within second the modification is active. No files to open, no code to hack, and the modifications are persistent through upgrades. I was nearly weeping for joy at this point.
- In phpBB the admin panel is an almost completely separate environment from the forum itself. It sometimes feels like you are interacting with two completely different websites whenever you have to go into phpBB’s admin panel to take care of some issue in the forum. With SMF(Simple Machines Forum) the admin panel is actually built right into the forum itself. The headers and footers are all there, and the level of administrative integration is astoundingly comprehensive.
- phpBB includes only the basic and most commonly used features in their base installation. Everything else has to be added as a hack or a mod. SMF(Simple Machines Forum) has a lot of those extra features built right in. For instance, you can easily print a printer-friendly version of any discussion thread. You can email a friend with a link to a particular discussion right from the thread itself. Offensive posts can be quickly and easily reported to a moderator. Private messages can actually be sent to multiple recipients at the same time. SMF(Simple Machines Forum) even has RSS built in. All this is automatic, with no additional work aside from the installation needed on the part of the forum administrator. Did I mention that I was impressed?
- One of the things that I have always wished phpBB could do was have sublevels of certain discussion boards. For instance, an entertainment and media discussion board could be broken down further into a music board, books and literature board, games board, and so on. Again, SMF(Simple Machines Board) has this feature built right in. Any board can have child boards, which themselves can have child boards, etc. It’s a great way to organize specific types of discussions and keep them all together. I’ve been working on reorganizing much of the content on “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum in a more logical fashion.
- SMF(Simple Machines Forum) also gives both administrators and users a higher level of control. Users can select their own custom titles, attach files to forum posts for ease of sharing, and create custom text to display beneath their avatar. Administrators jobs are made easier by automating certain functions. If a user selects an avatar that is too large, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) will automatically resize the image to manageable dimensions. No more need for people to play around in Photoshop to crop the image just so.
As I’ve said, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) is a truly remarkable and impressive bit of software. The only modification I wanted that didn’t come standard was a spoiler tag, to hide spoiler information in certain movie, book, and video games threads on the site. And the activation of the modification was so simple I couldn’t believe how quick and painless it was. I’m looking forward to using this software more and trying to get the forum active again.
I’ve been considering broadening the scope of the board to include more than just theological and philosophical discussions, though I do still want that to be an important board. I tend to think that there might be interest in a board that does more, and now that I have the ability for child boards, I think managing a higher level of content will be a much more manageable process. So, come on over, check us out, and please offer up suggestions of new boards that can be added and what sort of directions “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum should go in. It’s a community project, an open marketplace of ideas, and the more people who share in it, the better and more successful it will be.
I’ll keep the door open and the light on for you.