Author Archives: Saru

ZetaBoards Review

ZetaBoards Review

They say, the best of any product is yet to be made available’, but what constitutes the best is customized to every individual. What is acceptable to one person might not be acceptable to the other person. Unfortunately, this is the same case with forum software. The free ones available in the market are phpBB, myBB, ProBoards, ZetaBoards, SMF and on and on. This time, we will dissect ZetaBoards and see how well it is serving webmasters and administrators around the world.

Before we begin, we need to understand a little bit of history of ZetaBoards. This forum software began its footstep into the online world under the banner of Zathyus Networks 14 years before, allegedly before sitemaps for social media existed. Under their software engineers and staff, this community software had undergone a lot of changes and today, they continue to support around one hundred thousand online communities. The history is quite impressive, but we will see what they have achieved over this span of fourteen years.

Lets make a really quick note that the ‘About Us’ page informs us that ZetaBoards underwent 8 years’ worth development but the staff page says that the community began 2002. I really don’t understand the mathematics, but I am assuming that they simply forgot to update the ‘About Us’ page.

Hosting: Today, one crucial point about selecting a particular free host is the amount of uptime the host is able to provide. ZetaBoards is hosted on fifteen super strong servers, providing you with unlimited space to host any number of members and posts, and at the point of writing this review, all fifteen are online and working. Yet, in the support forum, we could find numerous topics relating to server downtime and most importantly, these are not regular server update notices. Compared to other forum hosts, we are forced to believe that the uptime is a little less. The live/realtime status of each of their servers could be found here: http://tachyondecay.net/php/bin/serverstatus.php (Link picked up from official support forum index, but not officially maintained by Zathyus Networks and pointing towards an external source. Cant make any sense out it!)

Domains: Unlike other free forum software, ZetaBoards re-affirms its commitment to the user experience by allowing you to purchase a domain from any domain registrars as long as they provide you with of the facility updating your server and CNames. ZetaBoards, however recommends that you buy your domains from Namecheap as the staff are fully accustomed to provide support with this system. This, in a nutshell, means that you have full authority of your domain name which is definitely a plus point to consider when you are looking forward to beginning a new community.

Styles and designs: ZetaBoards is notable for its hard curved forum index structure. Communities running other free forum software have been able to modify the themes and designs to such an extent that it would take even the most experienced hand to search in the footer to determine what software the board is running. But ZetaBoards will have a different story to tell. Even after all these years of surfing through ZetaBoards forums, we have never come across a community that has changed the forum index to such an extent so as to dismantle the default theme. In a real sense, the most important elements of the default theme has stood the test of time and is a testimony to how popular the original theme was. The Support forum has a very handy guide regarding creating new themes and installing them. By default, ZetaBoard is not adapted to mobile devices, so its always good to install a mobile friendly theme if you are looking out for that feature. In this department, the lack of a mobile friendly default theme is definitely something no webmasters or administrators could accept. Looking through the forum, it seems like a mobile app is in the consideration for a long a long time, but nothing has materialized. Hopefully, they will make it up fast.

Advertisements: Each free forum owned and hosted by ZetaBoards has a banner advertisement that keeps the project running – one placed at the top and the other at the bottom of the forum index. But for those users who would like to have these advertisement removed, the cost is calculated on a ‘per pageview’ criteria and is a very sensible criteria to use as far as the administrators are concerned. By purchasing ad removal, you can use your own content targeted advertising and pop up advertising on a forum (in other cases, you are not!). Additionally, you have the option of transferring add removal credits to other forums if you wish to do so. To shorten it, as far as the advertisement section is concerned, ZetaBoards do have a green signal.

Database:
Unlike other free forum software, ZetaBoards is perfectly fine with giving you your database should you choose to move from ZetaBoards to a new host or a new forum software. However, you will have to pay to receive the ‘copy’ of your database (which means that the original community will still exist). There are no clear pricing range for this, but the support request to the sales team will enlighten you. Nevertheless, we believe that this is another step that makes ZetaBoards very user friendly. However, do remember that the database is transferred in a pre-set format (IPB, for now) and that you will have to convert it to you preferred forum software – a process that is not officially supported by ZetaBoards support community.

Premium features: The following are the features that are offered in extra, to premium users:

    Administrator accessible private message logs
    Moderator accessible edited post log
    Unrestricted use of bulk email frequency
    Removal of advertisements placed in the bottom of the index
    Exclusive resource database
    Increased upload limit upto 7MB

To become a premium user, you need to pay around 80$ a year. Going by the list of features, I hardly think that anyone would really require to update their forum from a free to premium community. The fact that ZetaBoards has managed to keep a lot of original features for free are definitely a plus towards the user experience. So kudos to that!

Support system: One of the most beautiful part of a ZetaBoard support network is its dual support system. You can open a ticket that pertains to any of the four categories – Support, Theme, Sales and Personal request (related to lost administrator password, transfer of ownership etc) and a staff member will immediately get to resolve your issue. Additionally, you are also extended full support through the support forum staffed with really friendly people and some amazing members. Both these mechanisms ensure that you receive prompt support – another user friendly initiative by the Zathyus management. Despite these best efforts, if you are a mediocre ZetaBoards user, you will find it hard to locate help document because the documentation is neither complete nor professional. At many instances, you will have to use the ‘search’ function in the support forums to find what you are looking for – something that will turn away potential yet budding administrator and/or webmasters.

Finally, lets take a look at the pros and cons again.

Pros: Easy domain management, possibility of retrieving your forum database, dual support system.

Cons: Downtime in hosting, Exclusive resource database only open to premium members, unprofessional documentation.

Forumotion Review

Alas, I have decided to start my own forum. I started looking into the host of new free forum services that are up for the grab – Forumotion, ZetaBoards, ProBoards are just to name a few of them. I am still confused which service I will utilize, so I decided to review all the available forum platforms. I chose Forumotion first because it looked popular and promising in the first glance. Here are my findings:

Forumotion is a free forum software service that lets you build your community in four different software – which include phpBB2, phpBB3, punBB and Invision. Forumotion lets you switch the available forum platforms any time the webmaster wishes. The transition from one platform to the other is smooth and takes less than 5 minutes with no loss of posts, topics, members or their information.

Styles and designs: While using Forumotion, you have two ways to add styles to your forum. You can either style it yourselves from any of the base themes or the default ones or you can use a preset design that is available for free from hitskin.com. Many of the themes on hitskin are very poor but with certain modifications, it is good to go. The good thing about Forumotion ACP is that you can format the CSS sheets through the control panel and create an entirely new theme for your forum alone. Submitting them to hitskin is optional, but once you do, the theme becomes the property of Forumotion after one month.

Hosting and domains: Forumotion is hosted by a range of powerful servers that there is hardly any downtime. In the rare event that there is one, its will be notified earlier- with complete details including the time interval, the reason for downtime and any expected loss of data. In my 2.5 years with Forumotion, I didn’t experience any downtime. They also let you have personalized domain names (which has to be either purchased through Forumotion itself or has to be obtained through the giveaway) and personalized email addresses. Domains purchased through Forumotion cannot be transferred to a third party domain registrar. In case you want to do it, you will have to wait until the domain expires and you complete a 60 days waiting period for that domain to appear in the ‘available domain index’. Though prices are comparable to popular domain providers, not having complete control over it makes it very less worthwhile. In that case, my advice will be to purchase your domain from a third party registrar and redirect to your Forumotion domain.

Advertisements: The free forum service comes with advertisements. The advertisements are placed just under the main banner of the forum (one per page) with administrators being given the option of either forcing it on guests and members or paying Forumotion for the removal of advertisements. In addition to this, another optional section on ‘sponsored content’ (a sponsored advertisement appears in the topic body either just after the first post or before the last post that is displayed in that page) are also in the works. But thankfully, this can be disabled or enabled at the discretion of the webmaster. Similarly, the Forumotion ACP allows you to connect your community to Google Analytics that gives you detailed analytical reports regarding the traffic that comes into your community.

Database: You don’t have to worry about the database getting too big. Forumotion provides a maximum capacity of 4 billion posts and 4 billion topics per forum with virtually no restriction on the number of members. You don’t have to worry about backing up your data and other security issues because Forumotion handles all that. However, you are not permitted to keep the database of your community and under no circumstances will this be given to you – no matter how much you are willing to pay. So if you think that your community has grown big enough and Forumotion is ill-equipped to cater to the needs of your community and that you require to move to a different host – bad luck – You have to start from the scratch.

Forum and social media integration: Forumotion is another free host that understands the evolving needs of the people. In their quest to appear social media friendly, they have various social media integration tools that are linked with Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. You also have the option of enabling a ‘Like’ button or ‘Tweet’ button or ‘mobile sharing’ feature which lets your members share their favorite content to their social media handles without moving away from the forum. Along with this, Forumotion has an integrated chat and gallery function. The chat, more like a shout box, is neat and user friendly but cannot be customized.

Support: The support forums are the perfect stop for all the FAQs, queries and new tricks and tips to make your forum more suited to the expanding needs of your community. Their tips and tricks section is a galore of customization methods, most of which, webmasters will have to use on their forum. However, the support forum is severely understaffed resulting in delay in answering your queries. Added to this, like the staff on most of the free support forums, they are not very friendly and pleasing to actually involve in a conversation. The support forum also has a section for forum reviews and graphic requests. Most often, hardly 10% of the requests are completed effectively and the others are turned away with the age old excuse of the support team being a volunteer staff group.

Security: As far as the security of the database is concerned, if you, as a webmaster, can prevent suspicious entry through your administrator account, all your data is safe and fully backed up. In case something goes wrong, you will have to access the utilities section, log into your founder account and restore your community with a previous backup. As long as you are able to strengthen your administration password, security is pretty decent.

Additional features: At Forumotion, they provide you with a lot of additional features including the possibility of adding fully customizable HTML pages and JavaScript on to your forum. Though in the past, users have questioned the security vulnerabilities that come along with adding HTML pages on to your forum, it seems to be the most used feature in Forumotion forums. Other additional features include – a photo gallery, integrated classified ads section, mention and keywords notification center and newsletters. And for those roleplayers out there – a beautiful dice rolling module with a character sheet management center.

Conclusion

Pros

1. Feature packed administration control panel
2. Extremely user friendly

Cons

1. Database cannot be transferred to the webmaster under any circumstances
2. Poor support