Vanilla Forums: Hosted Online Communities

Whether it’s for business or pleasure, online forum communities are a great way of bringing individuals together to openly discuss subjects that interest them. In this article, I’m going to be looking at a great hosted online community app called Vanilla Forums that allows you to kick-start an online meeting place for easy collaboration and discussion.

Overview

Vanilla Forums is a hosted online forum app that allows anyone to get their online up and running within minutes. With various paid plans available to support the very different needs of each community, they provide a cost-effective solution to suit each type – whether big or small.

Overview

Overview

It’s easy to find yourself stuck looking for a decent online community app but I believe that Vanilla brings a lot of really interesting features to the table that some of the more tacky ones lack.

Pricing

The pricing for Vanilla varies depending on the size of the communities and the added inclusion of certain features. They offer a free plan which comes with everything you need to run a small community if you’re brand new to this type of thing. With only basic themes and no storage for attachments and the like, the free plan is not for those who want full control over most aspects of their community but is more geared towards those who just want an out of the box app to set up a community fast.

Pricing

Pricing

Employing the “freemium” model, their premium upgrades allow for features such as file storage and custom domains, logo and HTML.

User-Interface

The user-interface found throughout the app is clean and simple; allowing any possible task to be performed without much (if any) complication. There is a consistent blue colour scheme that runs through the administration panel and the forum itself that is easy on the eye and provides a nice, quaint little environment that your users will quickly become accustomed to.

UI

UI

Everything is clearly placed where you, and the user, can find it quickly without hesitation to seek a certain function. Though the main navigation can seem a little squashed together in the default theme, there are various other themes that can be applied that provide a very different – but still quite native – look to the app.

Getting Started

It is a quick and easy process to set up your Vanilla Forums account. With their one-page registration, it’s simply a case of entering your chosen account details, choosing a custom subdomain for your forum and you’re away. The custom subdomain is the address at which your forum can be accessed. Though these are defaulted to the Vanilla Forums domain, upgrades can be purchased where it is possible to use your own domain to mask this address.

Registration

Registration

Without the need for any additional account activation, you are immediately taken to the dashboard from where you can manage your community.

Customization

Certain aspects of the forum can be customized to suit the community in question and these options are provided easily within the administration panel. With integrated support for the addition of a logo in all premium plans, the branding of your forum is never an issue and you can easily ensure your visitors know exactly where they are with the presence of your logo. The higher paid plans come with the ability to edit the HTML layout of the themes and are great for those who want to really have full control over their forum’s design.

Custom Themes for your Forum

Custom Themes for your Forum

The free plans only come with the option to change the website’s name in the header of the logo. Though this is not great, it encourages more people to sign up for the premium plans for control.

Forum Management

The actual management of the specific categories is quite easy and you’re even given the option as to whether or not you want to use categories to separate content. This can be useful if your forum is more geared towards one specific topic and you don’t see the need to create additional categories.

The Category Management Page

The Category Management Page

If you do need to split your discussions, the categories feature allows you to choose custom permissions so you can decide which user groups should have access to these categories and how much access they have. The categories feature is extremely simple to use and you can even choose your own custom URL from which users can access those specific discussions.

Adding a New Category

Adding a New Category

User Management

Much like the categories feature, it is equally easy to manage all of the users who have registered on your forum. With the handy search feature, you can find a specific user in a matter of seconds and begin to edit their details.

Managing and Searching for Users

Managing and Searching for Users

All users have their own profile which can be accessed by other users (and guests) and from which they can add to their “activity” stream. This microblogging-type feature allows users to update their activity so the experience becomes that extra bit more personal.

User Activity Stream

User Activity Stream

Open-Source Self-Hosting

Another great feature of Vanilla is the fact that the software it runs is also developed as an open-source solution and can be installed for free on your own web server. There is also an array of extensions available which can add some really useful features to your installation such as user signatures, emoticons and quotes. Because this version is hosted by yourself on your own web server, limitations set by your current plan on the Vanilla Forums hosting app are removed and you have entire control.

VanillaForums.org

VanillaForums.org

Conclusion

Vanilla Forums, seems quite overpriced considering the software it runs upon is indeed released by them as an open-source solution. It appears that at times the functionality provided may not quite live up to the high price tag on the premium plans. Nonetheless, it does exactly what it says on the box and does it quite well.

A fault I have found, that also may be a strength, is its simplicity. At times, the app can seem to be a little bit too simple – especially when you want extra access over certain things like user permissions and profile information.

Overall, the app is a simplified take on the online forum concept we’ve seen so many times before and with various other solutions available (though they don’t live up to the standard of Vanilla), it is important for this app to take and secure control in this field – something I believe it does quite well.


Summary

Over 350000 sites use Vanilla Forums to manage feedback, spark discussion, and make customers smile.

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  • Besides the polished look and feel, the simplicity of the software is definitely something that attracts me. I’m planning to play around with it, and would be surprised if it really were “too simple”. I don’t think back with great joy to the complicated phpBB permission system I once had to wrap my head around.

    Anyway, I believe the philosophy of the Vanilla software is to provide a rather simple and solid base package that you can extend with all kinds of add-ons.

  • Very nice professional solution as I view it.

    Although I don’t equate Vanilla to blue. What’s up with that?

  • Hey Guys – This is Mark from Vanilla Forums. Thanks for the review!

    FYI – The Vanilla 2 open source download release is happening this week. Along with it will be the launch of a new theme & improvements at VanillaForums.org. @Jae, the .org site will be themed with a more “vanilla” color :)

    • Thanks for the shout guys! We’ll be checking out v2. :)

    • I love the open-source version, too. I’m developing a couple of new websites and it’s possibly my favourite solution for the community section!

  • Hey guy’s,

    Thanks for writing this review on our software! Make sure to follow us @vanilla there’s a ton of new stuff in the works!

    -Brendan, Social Manager at Vanilla Forums

    • Looking forward to all the new stuff! :)

  • Along with it will be the launch of a new theme & improvements

  • Nothing I read about Vanilla even mentions security or anti-forum-spam controls. This worries me! With bots and 8-second captcha solving being the normal pain for forums, only the software that can cope is worth installing – let alone paying for.

  • Vanilla is used for hosted forum solution. if you are seeing for cloud based community. Zoho discussion is one of the finest service to set up your community. Comparably prices are very low and Email support and call support starts from free users. Try http://discussions.zoho.com