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

SpotGuide WordPress Theme Review

My dad is not the most knowledgeable when it comes to computers. So when he wanted to start an online business he told me to start a directory for him and to get the basics up and running. As much as I like to say I’m great with computers, coding is still not a strong skill of mine so I went to Google and looked for a theme that would allow me to start a directory without having to worry about all the coding and databases. I came across this one theme that seemed to be great, it had great reviews and I was satisfied with it from the demo. We ended up buying it from ThemeForest. A few months down the line, we requested a refund as the support was horrible and the theme did nothing that we wanted our site to do. Another search, this time a proper one, and I came across SpotGuide, created by CodeVisionThemes. I instantly fell in love with its appearance and a couple of hours of proper experience of it through the demo and I knew that it was exactly what we wanted.

The theme has been developed very well in my opinion. There are a few issues that I’ve come across which I will highlight later on but apart from those it has been an excellent directory theme to start my dad’s business with.

Like most WordPress themes, the settings for the theme are all located in the Customizer section of the admin control panel. It allows you to do various things from choosing the main colour (from some out of the box choices or a custom one) to choosing what types of listings your users can add to the directory. This theme lets you customise every aspect of it and allows you to make it as unique as you want it to be. Of course no matter what colour schemes you use and no matter how your actual pages are laid out, your website will always be the exact same in terms of style to other directories that are using this theme. That is the one biggest issue with buying premium themes. From the statistics on the developers account, I would presume that there are around 200 other directories with the same style as ours.

The biggest benefit of SpotGuide is that it’s ready to be deployed out of the box. All you have to do is upload the theme to your WordPress installation, import the demo content and edit it to suit your business and you’re done. That is all that needs to be done in addition to adding your PayPal information to the system so that the payments are sent to you.

The thing I love about this particular theme is how well everything looks. With most websites going with flat/material looks nowadays, it is great to see that the theme has got some material design inspiration. The one thing that does bug me is how light the theme is (visually). Browsing through the different pages, sometimes content can be difficult to see and the actual pages seem to be way too bright. That may just be me though, I’ve always preferred dark themes and styles.

The front-end submission system for users is extremely easy to use and has been designed well. It has been split into eight different parts including banner, video, social etc. Unlike other themes that I have seen on ThemeForest, SpotGuide has the option of allowing users to see how many views a certain listing has. This is a massive feature that other directory themes simply do not have and it’s weird because it’s a vital function if you think about it. Is it not important that directory sites are able to offer their users statistics on how much exposure their directory listing is getting? Another feature that I found was lacking in other directory themes was blocking certain parts of the submission system to non-paying users. And guess what? SpotGuide has that. SpotGuide allows you to setup the directory so that non-paying users cannot add their contact details, opening hours etc.

Unfortunately, certain big plugins have not been made compatible with this theme. One example is bbPress. Installing and activating bbPress is fine but there are some asthetic issues and errors which can make the site look a bit unprofessional. When I reported this to the developer they were not much help and I ended up having to go over the WordPress Plugins directory to find an alternative to bbPress which thankfully I did in the end. Another issue I had with SpotGuide was the occassional errors caused by, according to the developer, by server. When I attempted to add a listing through the front-end, it would just re-direct me back to the first page where I would choose the type of listing I wanted. It was forever stuck in a loop. And once again the developers did not bother trying to look into the issue but rather went ahead and blamed by servers not being good enough. I am yet to change hosts to find out what the cause of the issue is but hopefully they are correct and it is my servers that are the issue.

SpotGuide is not the solution if you’re looking to start a directory that you expect to get millions of users. Even though the developers of the theme are always looking at improving the theme and bringing in new features, it may never be exactly what you want. If you’re looking at starting a directory as a serious business venture then you would definitely be better off custom coding a directory or hiring a developer to create one for you. Although, if you’re just looking at starting a small project/business then SpotGuide may just be perfect for you. SpotGuide has to be the number one theme for anyone looking to start a small directory. The theme has been developed with care and every aspect is of the highest quality. And that is why it has an average rating of 4.71 out of 5 stars on ThemeForest.

phpBB review – Slowly Becoming One of the Best

phpBB review – Slowly Becoming One of the Best

Disclaimer: I haven’t used phpBB in a long while so I decided to use the phpBB demo offered on phpBB.com. This gave me access to my own forum and its ACP for a while.

There was always something about phpBB that I liked, I’m still not sure whether it was the way that it’s structured or simply the way it looks. It might just be something to do with it being the first forum software that I came across. I feel like phpBB has come a long way since I first used it. The admin control panel feels a lot easier to navigate and so far I’ve had no trouble installing a new theme. All seems to be going well for me so far. Now it’s time for me to give phpBB another go after spending so much time with MyBB.

My biggest pet peeve with phpBB was the difficulty of adding plugins (or extensions as they are called on phpBB). Back then I knew about another extension called autoMOD which was meant to make installing other extensions a lot easier and automated. No matter how many tutorials I read I could never get the autoMOD extension to work at all. And that of course meant that other extensions were also a difficulty for me to install onto my forum. Another issue I had with the old phpBB was that for some reason importing a style (theme) onto my forum always caused errors. I would love to be able to see these errors now as I’m a lot more knowledgeable about these types of things and could work out if it was something I was doing that was causing an error. These two problems were the main reason I ended up going to MyBB. In my opinion I think MyBB has always been more popular especially with users that have never hosted their own forums or users that have never administrated a forum before. MyBB is just so simple while phpBB was always considered as being a bit problematic and a lot more advanced.

The first thing I tried to do with my installation of phpBB was import a new theme. Easy. I’d even go as far as saying it’s easier than MyBB. All that is required is uploading a file containing everything for the theme to a “Styles” folder and then you import it from the phpBB admin control panel. That’s literally it. Of course I haven’t tried/have no clue about how I can edit templates as I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere in my admin control panel. MyBB has always had an extremely easy template editor so it would have been nice to compare the two and see which comes out on top.

Next I went ahead and read an installation guide on how to install an extension for a phpBB powered forum. Easy. From what I can remember in the older phpBB versions it was quite complicated and required some template edits as well but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. A simple upload of the files to the web directory and then activation of the extension is the only steps required. A quick browse through both the phpBB extensions directory and Google shows a wide choice of extensions available for almost everything that a basic forum would need such as a points system etc. Another great thing that stands out for me is the notifications feature that comes straight out of the box. I know it’s a basic and simple feature. But most forums tend to have a notifications feature but with MyBB that requires a separate plugin.

However there was one thing that disappointed me. There is a real lack of free themes for phpBB 3.1. Considering it came out around October 2014, the fact that there are only 31 free themes for this version of the software is extremely disappointing. And personally, out of those 31 themes only 1 comes even close to even being used. The rest were bland, old and just plain boring. Compare this to MyBB which has hundreds of themes both on the MyBB site and around the web and you realise that phpBB is quite far behind from ever catching up to MyBB. If you want a proper theme then you will have to dish out around $17 for a premium phpBB theme. I have seen some great modern looking themes available on ThemeForest although the fact that there are only around 10 premium themes mean that most likely most forums powered by phpBB will have similar themes that you’ve seen before. Another issue that I noticed with phpBB is a lack of support around the web. Apart from the phpBB community I haven’t really come across any places that have experienced users that are able to help other users with any phpBB problems that they may be having. I’m sure there are some forums out there that concentrate on phpBB support but personally I haven’t come across any that stand out. No matter where you look, you will always seem to find someone on any forum that has some sort of experience with MyBB and can help you out. The same cannot really be said for phpBB.

phpBB is a great forum software. It always has been behind MyBB in terms of ease of use, functions and extensibility. But it is growing and recent updates have brought some great functions and improved the software overall. This should hopefully make phpBB a more attractive software to beginners and experienced webmasters. Of course a few things still need to be improved, the lack of proper free themes for phpBB 3.1x is a real turnoff. However, I will definitely be trying out phpBB more thoroughly after this experience as I feel like it is much improved since I last used it as a forum administrator.

MyBB Review: You Would Be Crazy Not To Use It!

I’ve used MyBB several times throughout my years of experience as a forum owner and I’ve never been disappointed with what it offers. Don’t get me wrong, it has a few issues ranging from its software to community, but out of all the forum software that I have had an some sort of experience with (as an administrator), it comes out on top easily.

Let’s get the first reason most people use MyBB out of the way. MyBB is an open source software therefore it is absolutely free. This is a forum software that can rival both XenForo and IPB easily, come out on top and still be offered for free for its millions of users. Of course this all depends on who you ask. There are several features that both XenForo & IPB have that I would love to come out of the box with MyBB such as notifications or the like system. However these are available as plugins on the MyBB Extensions site. But then you would expect such features to come out of the box for a software that will cost you $140. Spending $140 on MyBB could get you a forum with a unique look and unique features that no one else would have.

There is nothing complicated about using MyBB, either as a visitor or an administrator. The forum structure is basic yet exactly what is needed. Visitors will have no trouble finding exactly what they want, from the user control panel to replying to a new thread they have just read. Administrators and moderators need no experience at all as both the moderator control panel and admin control panel are extremely easy to navigate and use. Let’s start with the moderator CP – there might as well take it out. The only time I have ever had to go to the moderator CP is to read any reports submitted by the users. MyBB offers in post moderation which means that if you need to close, delete or move a thread/post it can all be done through the post. The admin CP, unlike other software (pointing at you phpBB) was easy to get around when I first began to use MyBB. Everything is broken into 6 categories: Home, Configuration, Forum & Posts, Users & Groups, Templates & Styles and Tools & Maintenance. This means that you know exactly where to go if you want to find something specific. One of the most important parts of a forum is of course the different categories and forums that house the various discussions. The developers at MyBB have done a great job with the “Forum & Posts” section of the ACP. Forum permissions can be confusing sometimes. Do I tick this box? Do I turn this setting on? The permissions feature has made it extremely easy – so easy that it is a simple drag and drop system. Drag this group here so that they cannot view the forum. Drag this group over here to ensure only they can start a new thread in this forum section. But it isn’t that basic. Experienced administrators can choose to set custom permissions which is more advanced.

But what about appearance? The theme of a forum can be the deciding factor for a member when deciding whether they want to join a forum or not. MyBB have again excelled at this part of the ACP. Importing a ready made theme is as simple as uploading a single file through the ACP and uploading some images or javascript files to the forum directory. Want to make that theme unique? MyBB contain in built editors so that you can add, remove or change any part of the themes coding easily to suit your needs. The templates have been split into several different parts from the postbit to the footer. This means that it is extremely easy to find a particular piece of coding that you want to remove or change.

Similarly to themes, plugins are easy to install on to a forum. Just upload a few files to the forum directory and activate the plugin through the forum. And that’s it. There are hundreds of plugins available for MyBB both on the official MyBB website and through other MyBB resource sites. Want to have a currency system? Then there is NewPoints. Want to have a betting system for NewPoints? A quick search on Google will give you a plugin for exactly that.

However, like most forum software there are some parts which need improvement. Although the available themes are great, there is a real lack of them for MyBB 1.8. The current themes all feel over used and if you want a completely unique theme then you will be required to hire a custom designer. You could visit a hundred MyBB forums and most likely you will see the same theme several times. Furthermore, although plugins can be extremely easy to install, they are an absolute pain to uninstall and remove completely. If you want to remove them completely, you will need to find each and every file throughout your forum directory and delete them. Or you can do what I do most of the time and just leave the files there to take up valuable space on your server. Spam is another real issue. The default CAPTCHA system is just not sufficient as bots will always end up getting past it. To stand a chance you will need to find a good anti-spam plugin.

My experience with phpBB a long time ago was short. I was, in the end, frustrated at how confusing it was* and that was what made me find MyBB. I am delighted that I found out about MyBB as if I hadn’t maybe I wouldn’t have gotten into forums. Maybe I wouldn’t have found out about Forum Promotion. There are a few cons of using MyBB but the advantages of using it heavily outweigh them, and that is why I recommend you to use MyBB.

* This is solely my opinion. This opinion is based on an experience a while ago and I’m sure phpBB have improved since then. This may not represent the phpBB experience now.

Weekly Member Interview Series – Interviewing Tornado!

Tell me a bit about yourself 

Hello, I’m known as Tornado, Tornado AMR and Tornado Mitr. I live in the United Kingdom. My favourite food is Pizza, and my favourite drink is Pepsi. I like too many songs to list, usually Rap, Rock and Pop. I enjoy running, managing and moderating forums.

1) What’s your favourite computer game?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Continue reading

Choosing Your Staff

Choosing staff is one of the easiest things to mess up on when you are administering or building your forum. You could be making your forum for the first time, or be an experienced webmaster and still make a mistake on hiring staff. In this article, I am going to teach you how to choose staff wisely, carefully, and correctly. Continue reading

XenForo Review: A lot of Hype About Nothing

I just want to say this before hand: this is solely based on my experience for the most part (though some of the things listed below have also been echoed by other forum admins who have used, or still use XenForo as well). I know some XenForo fans get defensive and aren’t open to criticism of the software :)

Background: We’ve given XenForo 3 chances. Once in 2013, Once In 2014 and Once in 2015. So we have more than enough experience with it. Continue reading

Tips For A Successful Forum

Forums can be a lot of fun. Plus, they can reward you in the end, if that is, you follow some of the tips I’ve outlined below. Forums can also be profitable, allowing you to put cash into your pocket. A lot of people are trying to start forums these days and sometimes they can be really successful. Follow the tips below to learn how to make your forum a successful one. Continue reading

Tips to Increase Your Traffic (for Free!)

This is something nearly everyone wants to do, whether you have a website, blog, or forum. Increased traffic leads generally to more revenue from your advertisements, increased community engagement, and, if you have something interesting on your site, more people who will return for information in the future. Once you get the traffic flowing, it tends to grow off of itself as long as you continue to provide good content and/or services. But the problem most of us face is how to get that initial traffic going. Continue reading