The Central Outpost
Forum Basics
by Oddball
July 23, 2006 (Last updated on January 17, 2008)

Almost every clan over the course of its life will, at some point, use a forum to communicate with its members. There are a number of different types of forums, ranging from free, hosted forums to customized forums you can run from your own site. Forums are an aspect that every clan should take into consideration, and depending on what your needs are and how much money you are willing to spend, the type of forum you’ll end up using will vary. In this article, I go over how to choose a forum according to your tastes, and how to create and manage one.

There are three main forums that are used by many websites over the internet. They are: vBulletin, Invision Power Board and phpBB2. vBulletin is probably one of the most widely acclaimed forums because of how easy it is to modify and operate. vBulletin is also one of the most expensive boards available to the public primarily because almost every aspect of it is customizable and it has the ability to be changed to almost anyone's wants and needs. The current pricing for vBulletin boards are $160 for a lifetime license, or $90 for a year. The second type of forum that is widely used is Invision Power Board. Invision Power Board is one of the most widely used because of how user friendly it seems to be. Most people choose Invision Power Board because of the speed of the forums and the range and quality of skins that it offers. phpBB2 on the other hand can be integrated with PHPNuke and offers a wide range of hacks and mods because it is open source. Most prefer the ease that Invision Power Board offers though, and the fact that Invision Power board has been said to run more stable than phpBB2 in some cases. Despite what forum you choose to use for your website, you need to know how to operate it.

Once you install the forum of your choice on your web server, it is important to choose the correct skin that fits your clan’s theme and your website’s theme. I always stress content over design in websites; yet seeing that a forums sole purpose is open, constant changing content, design plays a bigger role in its importance. All boards offer the ability to customize them in any way the owner sees fit as far as skinning goes. IPB, phpBB2, and vB all offer pre-made skins that are compatible with the forum software. Some people choose to charge for the designs, and others choose to leave them as freeware to the public. Once you have decided what skin you feel fits correctly with the theme of your clan, and the theme of your website, you must configure the forum. All administrators (admins) have the ability to access a control panel that is only available to admins. When you first open the control panel, you will see a list of options that you can choose from; depending of course on what forum you are using. I will use examples from the phpBB2 forum control panel. I will not delve into every aspect of what each option in the control panel does, but I will discuss what a clan leader might need to know to set up his forum.

It is always important to have a set of moderators and two or three admins (depending on how big your clan is) to maintain control of the forum. You will want to specify a member’s role in the User Permissions Control section. Once you have gathered a list of people who you want to moderate your forum, it is time to assign the ranks of your members. Ranks are important for forums in some cases (depending on how you look at it) in showing who is active and who is not. Post counts go only so far; at some point in time, members will yearn to be assigned a special rank on the forum. You will want to go to the Ranks section and add rank titles along with how many posts are needed to obtain this level. Once you have done this, you will want to add pictures to the assigned ranks. This is just to add some eye candy to your forum.

Once your forum has been installed, and the skin has been chosen, you are going to want to assign boards to it. This is the most important aspect of a forum. This is where you specify what is to be talked about on your forum. You can add certain categories to house the topics, and within the categories you can add as many boards as you would like. In the control panel you want to go to: Forum Admin- Management. You will want to change the defaulted boards (usually “test” or “hello”) and change the category name. There is a description field allowed under each board where you may insert specific information about that board. Keep the summary short and complete. It might be tough to summarize the boards purpose in a sentence or two, but it is best if it is comprehendible to a wide range of ages. Now it is usually best to put the most important information first. Start off with a category called “General Information”. You can choose what you want to call it, but in my experience this is normally used for posts that are of great importance to the clan. The first board is the most important board. You are going to want to make your news and updates about your clan easily accessible to the public. Put “Announcements” first. Within this board, posts about major clan events and happenings should be posted. Try to limit posting access to only admins and moderators; if there are too many posts the board can become cluttered and people will overlook the important things that you want them to know. Next you should have something like “General Discussion”. In this board you will want to allow all discussions of non-clan-related topics. The next board that you may want to include under this category is a “Join” board. Posting should be granted to the general public, including guests. You will want to add an announcement at the top describing in detail your recruiting needs and the process for which people must go through in order to join your clan. In this board it is best to allow any topics relating to joining to be posted.

The next category you may want is one that can house boards that have to do with the games that your clan plays. Divisions, Game News, Off-Topic, and Entertainment are a few other boards that you may want to include on your forum. You will always want a board for staff members and members only. The members only board should be visible to clan members only (this can be configured in the control panel under “user groups”). And posting access should be allowed to only clan members. The staff topics should be hidden to the public, and access should be allowed only to your staff.

Once your forum has been assembled and you have customized it to you and your clans needs, you will need to specify rules for which all users are to follow. Rules ensure that without moderator invention, posts and topics remain clean. In your “Announcement” board, you will want to add an announcement called “Rules”. The admins and moderators should collaborate on what they feel should not be allowed on the forum. Make sure that the decision is unanimous and is made without hesitation. The rules should be compiled in the best interest of your clan members. Some rules that may be of use are:
  • No flaming
  • No spamming
  • No racial slurs, derogatory or slanderous statements.
  • No multiple accounts
  • No post pumping (this means no posting in order to gain a high count)
These are mere ideas; your job is to elaborate upon them. It is always a good idea to input a detailed list of rules, insuring that all of your bases are covered.

A forum is a great tool for a clan, if it is used properly. Forums need to be maintained on a daily basis. Useless topics need to be deleted because they tend to only take up room. Post pumping should be prohibited, and warnings should be issued to people who violate the rules more than once. But, a forum should also be a place where people are allowed to speak their minds, and share their views. It is necessary for members to understand that the forum is a place to kick back and “chill” once in a while too. Separate your forum accordingly. Make prevalent your clan’s decisions and actions via correct boards. Keep different sections separate from other sections. This is best for bigger forums because it is too easy to lose track of posts which tends to cause forums to become cluttered and, in some cases, slow.

A forum is a utility that is best used to communicate with the public. It is also a great way to communicate with your members. It is vital to understand that forums also show the gaming community how your clan acts and your clan members' views. If you follow the tips that I have listed, and keep your forum clean and open to the public, your clan can benefit. Remember that a forum can be whatever you make of it, but just like leading a clan, a forum isn't only about the leaders and the power. The members’ interest should come first, and then the leader’s.