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Choosing the right forum product

879 hits Updated: 15 April 2018

Who uses forums on their websites (and why)?

How to choose the “right” forum product

Could someone tell me if there exists an updated comparison table between Kunena and phpBB?a forum user, Joomla Forum, 8-Apr-2018

It is impossible, whatever views we may have about Kunena or phpBB or any other forum product, to say anything about them without a broad understanding of the issues this topic may cover; it is also impossible to do justice to these matters in a few words. There are, however, three points that we can make:

  1. I am unaware of any comparison “table” that exists comparing the differences between Kunena and phpBB.  If such a table exists we should be grateful if someone could point us to it.  Further, because I am unaware of an existing “table”, I don’t know how anyone can comment on whether such information has been updated.
  2. There is an abundance of literature on the internet, not to mention user reviews in the JED, that speak about people’s experiences with different forum products available for Joomla.  As readers of my blog would know, I have written thousands of words about various Joomla forum products (including personal observations and experiences I have with them).
  3. Irrespective of whatever forum product people may choose—they may choose one over another because of ease-of-integration, reliability, robustness, durability, level of support, ease-of-use, documentation, security, etc.—an internet discussion forum is used to grow a website’s content without the site owner having to do all the hard work themselves.  Some products are evidently better than other products when compared from an operational and administration perspective.  Whatever reasons people choose to use a forum product, the final decision rests with the site owner and the purpose(s) for which the forum is required on that website.

Who uses forums on their websites (and why)?

A few years ago I gave a talk at a conference about website design and development.  There were about 50 people in the audience.  Before I began my talk I asked for a show of hands, asking the question, “How many people use internet discussion forums?”  All, but one person, raised their hand.

I then asked for a show of hands, “How many people have a discussion forum on their website?”  Less than half the people raised their hand.

Fearing that I may have a mass walk-out before I even began my prepared speech, I asked, “Would some of you like to tell us why they think that online forums may be useful?”  For the next five minutes there were as many different opinions about the usefulness of online forums as there were people in the audience.

Lastly, I asked people to give their views about the significant strengths and weaknesses among the range of online forum products available on the market.  Although people mentioned things like whether one product was “easier” to use than another product, or more “scalable”, or secure or “aesthetically pleasing”, it was apparent that few people had considered the requirement for a forum as part of their online business activities.

Returning to the very beginning of this article, when I replied at the Joomla forum, I asked that person to come forward with a list of what they considered to be basic requirement(s) for choosing a forum.  The response to my question came with a suprising mix of technical and subjective superfluity as well as a how-dare-should-I-ask-such-a-question characterisation.

We all have different experiences with internet discussion forums—as users and as administrators—and I’ve used forums since the beginning of the internet.  One of my first internet web sites[1] was focused around a forum.

When it comes to choosing one forum product over another, we all have different needs.  Above all else, I want to be able to own the content; in other words, I don’t want to be at the whim of a "forum service" that hosts my forum(s) and doesn’t allow me to access the raw data.  Further, I don’t want to be left high-and-dry without a forum in the event that the forum service becomes unavailable for some reason.  This leaves us with a choice between two options:

  • incorporate the forum within your website; or
  • operate the forum externally to your website (perhaps via a third-party service or standalone forum).

There are many different forum products available for Joomla.  For example, there’s Chronoforums, EasyDiscuss, CJForum, phpBB3, Kunena ... among others.  Some of these products are vigorously maintained (and some aren’t), they have different groups of people who work on them, and they each have their advantages and their disadvantages.

In the final analysis, the choice between different forum products is personal in each situation.  Perhaps the best (or only) way to decide which product is the “right” one is to experiment.  Put the different offerings to a business focus group, allow the participants to share their opinions, and put the alternatives to the vote.  That’s what I would do (and what I have done in the past).

How to choose the “right” forum product

Administration:  Forum products are some of the most complex web-based applications you will find.  They usually require thousands of lines of code in order to manage forum moderation, user profiling, the “user experience” and how people interact with one another.  While forum administration is important, each product approaches this area differently. Some products are more intuitive to use than others while, in most cases, they usually require background reading of FAQs or “instructions for administrators” in order to get the best results. If all forum products were completely, intuitively, self-managing then there would be no need for forums where people discuss administration-related issues or to ask questions and seek assistance with forum administration problems.

Whether a forum looks “modern” or not is purely subjective. In any case, how a forum product appears on the screen is usually within the control of the person who’s hosting the forum on their website.  Anyway, if you don’t like whether a forum looks modern, it’s not that difficult to change to a different product (or use a different “forum template”) to change it.  It’s just window-dressing.

The functionality—how the administrator is able to get to the part of the system to manage the forum—is important.  In my opinion, the aesthetic appearance of the forum is not as important but it is relatively easy to change.

Integration with Joomla [CMS]:  Some products integrate better with Joomla than other products.  Certainly, products that were designed from the ground up to work with Joomla are easier to use with Joomla websites than standalone forum products that require bridging software.

Works perfectly without bugs:  If someone can show me any software (that has 50,000+ lines of code) that works perfectly without bugs and I’ll buy them a beer!  That’s one reason why software projects have forums on their websites!

Wide community of experts in my country, who can assist me in my language:  I wish there was a wide community of experts who live in Australia who could help me sometimes …

Free software:  You get what you pay for.

Wide range of plugins/extensions/templates:  Because phpBB has been around for a very long time, I suspect there are more extensions and templates for this than there are with alternatives.  I don’t know.  I haven’t done the research.

Migrating from one forum to another:  It depends on what you want to migrate and the value to your business if you want to keep discussions that date back a decade or more.  Sometimes it’s simpler to archive the old forum—place a signpost on your site to show visitors where they can access old forum topics—and start a new forum with a different product.  Some forum products are “easier” to migrate between alternative products than others.  There’s no consensus[2]; everyone will have (or has had) different experiences in this area.


It doesn’t matter what I personally think about forum alternatives for Joomla.  Just as I found when I faced a room full of people—most of whom have never seen the need to use a forum on their websites—and ask people “Which forum is better ... and why?”, everyone has different opinions and for different reasons. I’m just one person out of millions and my opinions will be different to everyone else.

This article is based on a topic posted by the author at the Joomla forum.  Comments on this article may be posted below or at Joomla forum.


[1]  See https://quoroom.com.au/article-list/site-information/a-brief-history.

[2]  See I want to migrate my forum to Kunena …

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

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