Guide to Creating Forums for your Alliance

This Guide draws on The Ultimate Guide to Having Good Forums by Bros2 from cybernations, particularly the detailed info on vB, IPB, SMF and phpBB. Props to him.





Choosing Forum Software

The first thing you need to do before you can start building yourself shiny new forums is to decide where to make them. You will have to choose between Free Hosting and Paid Hosting, and the various forum platforms, publishers, and web hosters in each category.

As in all things, the free versions are never nearly as good as the paid version - however they are free, and that's a very competitive price. I recommend starting with free-forums; while paid forums are better, you should only take the cost if you are A. Have the money for it and B. Know your alliance is going to last - no point shelling out for hosting and such only to disband or merge 3 months down the line.



Free Hosting

Free hosting is the simplest, cheapest, and (in my opinion) most recommended option for new alliances. With free hosting, the website you sign up with provides the domain name and servers for your forums to be hosted on, and allows you to skip the process of installing boards on your own servers.

Generally free hosting websites will use a limited version of some mainstream software - often phpBB (though there may be some who use SMF).

Free hosting forums will generally be simple, have a smaller selection of skins/themes, and you will have a much reduced capability to mod them (if they let you mod at all).

These are not ideal for established alliances, however if you are just starting out, they are a good place to setup a home while you decide whether or not you can afford paid hosting, and if your alliance is going to last long enough to make that option worthwhile.

Free forum providers include:

Freeforums
Forumotion
Zetaboards



The other option is paid hosting. This is where you purchase your own server space form a web provider, and host the forums yourself. This allows you total control over your forums - full ability to mod, full ability to create custom and install custom themes, fully mess with the stylesheets, what have you. For experienced forum users (or people looking to learn) this is your best option. For alliances with the money and the staying power, Paid Hosting is the way to go.

The first step in going paid, is deciding who to host it with. Generally prices range from 4-10 dollars a month - often with a free 1 year domain registration being thrown in.

We at SK use Bluehost - the charge is 5.95$ per month, with good bandwidth and storage rates.

SK is also planning on renting space on its server to help cover maintenance costs. Service will run you 2.50$ a month and will get you unlimited bandwith and storage space for your website. You will not have access to the SQL databases as this would require giving you a login with access to credit card information, however you will have full FTP access to your folder and the ability to upload/download to the server and your site. Should you need to run a few SQL Queries, we can do it for you. This service has yet to be officially rolled out, however you can PM Mikey if you are interested.

There are other forum hosters as well, such as dreamhost, that you can check out as well.



Free VS Paid Software

Once you have decided on a host for your server, its time to decide what type of forums to want to put on it! As with server hosting, there is both free and paid software. And as with the hosting, the paid options are going to be better than the free. Lets look at the different types.


Paid

Vbulletin:
Pros: Widely Used, Has a large community.
Cons: Bloated, Not very friendly for people with subpar internet.
Cost: $180 for the license and then $60 a year for updates to it.


Invision Power Board (IPB):
Pros: Very professional, easy to mod, great support and community.
Cons: Database and Bandwidth Hog, has vulnerabilities unless you update to the newest version as soon as it comes out.
Cost: $149.99 for the boards. You get 6 months of support and updates. It costs $25 to access upgrades after that.


Free

Simple Machines Forum (SMF):
Pros: Free, excellent community, Great Mod Making Community.
Cons: The themes are lacking, but you can create your own. The support can take a little longer than the above boards, because volunteers do the support for SMF.


PHP Bulletin Board (phpBB):
Pros: More advanced admin panel, Quicker Support than SMF because it has a larger support community.
Cons: More Advanced Admin Panel, Mods are harder to install, Updates take longer to install, many security vulnerabilities.



Generally, if you have the money, we suggest going with IPB, as it is the best out there. I have also worked with vB, and it is also very nice and adaptable, however its less new-user friendly - a first time vB user would likely have trouble modding and customizing their forums, however you learn.

For those of you, of course, who cannot afford to shell out 150 bucks for forums, the free software works well enough. Here at SK, we run our forums off phpBB. I find that generally the phpBB admin panel is easier to use than that of SMF, however installing SMF mods is much easier. If you are going free, and you have the spare time, you may as well try out both and see which you feel most comfortable with.




Setting Up Your Forums

Alright, so now you have a server, a website, and a forum. Great. Its time to put stuff into it. Now its time to setup some basic masks and forum structure.


Masks

The first thing to do is to setup some basic masks, to delineate rank and forum permissions between the people signed up on your forums. Generally you are going to want masks for:

Emperor/Leader
Ministers
Mid Level Gov
Members
Diplomats
Recruits (if you have an academy process)

I generally recommend renaming these based on your theme - for example we use the titles: King, Lords, Knights, Subjects, Diplomats and Errants to represent those categories on our forums.



Forum Structure

This is a basis suggestion for how to start structuring your forums, written up by DuncanKing of Cybernations. The titles in caps are categories, while the ticks underneath are forums listed within that category.



THE GATEWAY
- Member Application Area (open to all)
- Diplomat Sign In Area (open to all)
- Resignation Forum (open to all)


THE COMMONS
- Social Area (open to all--diplomats like to play too)
-- Subforum: Spam and Games (open to all--the place for counting games and the like)
-- Subforum: Members Only Area (private space for your members to hang out)


INFORMATION DESK
- Charter (open to all, post your charter here)
- Treaties (open to all, post your treaties here)
- News Agency (open to all, post announcements here)


LEARNING CENTER
- Guides (open to members, post guides here)
- Academy (open to members, train new members here)
- Q and A (open to members, have your members post questions about the game here)


ALLIANCE FORUM (all forums in category open only to members)
- Assembly Hall (talk about alliance life here)
- Ministry of Defense
- Ministry of Domestic Affairs
- Ministry of Finance
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Government Area
-- Subforum: Member petition area (members ask the government questions here)
-- Subforum: Government Chambers (public deliberation chamber for government, members can see but not post)
--- Subforum: Private Chambers (Visible only to government, private discussion here)


GLOBAL COMMONS (all forums here visible to members and ambassadors)
- Global Bazar (trade circles and tech deals)
- Embassy Row (embassies)


ARCHIVES (visible to members only)
- Open Archive (general archive)
- Closed Archive (government archive for classified documents)


As with masks, we recommend renaming those generic forums to something that suits your theme.