How to start a forum: part 1
What you need
Credit/Debit card or:
Before diving into the world of running a forum it is best to sit back for a moment, and turn off the PC and lap top.
Get out a pencil and paper.
Now write down those things which you have a genuine interest in, and that you alone have a wealth of knowledge about, this is an essential step, rather than starting work on something on an impulse, that will not hold your interest over a period of time, members will also find you out, if your knowledge is less than theirs.
Finding an area for a forum is called a niche, it’s this niche that you focus your attention on.
The next thing to consider is how popular is your niche, is it current trend, does it have longevity, is it really that popular ?
All of these are questions that you will need answers to in order to make up your mind whether or not to progress, at this stage it’s a good idea to talk to someone who has the same interest, at first you may get a funny look, but persevere and they will be honest, friends always are, take onboard what their initial reaction is, then ask a few more people, note down their names, if they are friends or relatives, it will be a lot easier.
Once you have done this you can turn on your PC, or laptop.
The next most important thing is to find out how popular your niches is on the net, this is called “finding the competition”, I can guarantee that no matter how small or rare you think your niche is, there will already be a number of forums or blogs about it on the net.
The amount of research you do now, will pay dividends in the future, the first thing to do is go to Google, Google is the encyclopaedia of the internet, if Google doesn’t know about it, it’s not worth knowing about.
So lets say your chosen niche is “Fishing”, now fishing is a fairly broad concept, but lets enter it into Google anyway to see what it throws up?
Now here’s a tip, did you know that the number of “O’s” in the word Google at the bottom of the page is an indication of how many actual pages there are for that query ?, not a lot of people do.
So Google throws up a lot of pages, but it’s not really what we are looking for, what we want to know is “how many people are talking about fishing”, so now type in “fishing forums”.
I got fed up at 47 pages ! it just shows you haw many there are on just that one subject, so lets narrow it down a bit more if we can, are going to be talking about a particular species, or a particular way, lets go the particular way, so try Pole fishing ?
That still doesn’t help us a lot, but it has narrowed the search down to freshwater fishing, now it’s time to look at some of these forums, your obvious goal is page one of Google, that is where people rarely move from when finding a forum.
Judging the competition
Go to the forum at the top of the first page, it is there for a reason, your job now is to try and find out what that reason is, this works for every niche, it could be any number of things that has got it there:
- Age, is it a well established forum with lots of members ?
- Design, is it a really appealing design that is pulling the members in ?
- Content, read some of the posts, is the content good and correct ?
- Features, are there special features, missing from other forums, places to fish, directions, weights caught etc ?
- Members, is it pure weight of numbers that have got it to the No1 spot ?
In this instance Carp.com has a great portal which is a magazine there are links on articles to read as well as good links to the rest of the site, it’s well laid out and is easy on the eye, the colours are good, but there is a big but, it is a default theme with default Icons, could you improve on that ?, or does this site prove that you don’t need a flashy theme to be a good forum ?
Try to discover what they are doing, and whether or not you can improve on it, if you feel you can do it better, then you are ready to take the next step.
Choosing the name
Surprisingly enough, this will probably be the hardest part, the name you may want to call your forum is called it’s domain.
When thinking of a domain name there are several things to take into account :
- It should be as short as possible
- It should be catchy
- It should be memorable
- It has to be unique*
On top of this every domain has a suffix, this suffix determines whether it is a top level domain or a low level domain, or even a shared domain, choosing the domain and the suffix are a joint decision, because one can sound better than the others. So when thinking of a name run the different suffixes with them, .net. com. .me. etc, when you actually come to register your domain it will give you all the options available.
Now here’s the crux, most of the names you initially come up with will already be in use, as you can see Carp.com is gone, a quick google will tell you that Carp.net is also taken, no surprises there really, they are the shortest anyone could think of, but our niche is pole fishing, so lets get thinking along those lines !.
Rather than Googling every name you can think of, there is a quicker and easier way, Google “domain checker”. Any one that comes up is OK, because they all provide the same information.
Somewhere on the site is a box you can type your ideas into, with some you may have to enter the TLD ( Top Level Domain .net .com) others will allow your to choose from a menu.
Most of these will bring up the top alternatives to your selection if it is not available, I tried “polefishing.co.uk” which isn’t available, but there are several that are, now we come to the crunch, to register any domain it will cost you some cash, unless you choose “fre hosting” but we will come to that later.
There is a very good option in “polefishing.org” the .org makes it sound more official, org is short for “organisation”, so immediately your site has a professional ring to it, but wait, don’t buy it just yet !.
Choosing a host
You are going to need a server to host your site, servers are provided by hosts, and hosting costs vary from company to company to company so what do you look for :
- How long has the host been established
- What is the support like, 24/7 or office hours only, if office hours only make sure they are open when you are awake !
- Cost, costs can vary from a couple of dollars a month to a couple of hundered, one thing you do not need (yet) is a virtual server.
Most hosts offer domain registration as part of the package, this will save you set up time, if you buy the domain through the host, I use two hosts, Hawkhost, and Simplex.net, both offer good support, and will register your domain for you, you will need either a paypal account or a credit card to pay.
Once that is done all you can do is sit back and wait for your account to be initiated and the domain to be propagated, this can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the hosts.
You can set you site up on the internet with a free host, there are plenty out there, again Google is your friend, one of the most popular free hosts is Zetaboards.
The obvious reason for choosing a free host is lack of costs, if you unable to afford paid hosting, this is your only way into having a forum, beware though you will never own the domain, it will just be a “name”.
Free hosts very rarely give you total access to running your forum, they will have restrictions on what MODs you can have, what version of software you use, and sometimes the themes you can use as well.
A lot of people use a free host to see if a forum works, if it pulls in members, and the domain is spare, they will transfer to a paid host, this can result in loss of data though.
So now we move on to part two.