Day 90 - Couch Potato
Creative Commons License photo credit: DaGoaty

Once in a while, I’ll talk to someone who works for a company that runs a remotely hosted forum solution. Sometimes they call themselves more than that, such as a social network, etc., but their core is usually formed around the discussion area of their platform.

Sometimes, they’ll want to talk about their service and want me to know about it. These services have their place and I always like meeting new people, especially people in the forum or community space. But, when considering their service, there are two important questions I always ask them.

Can I Use My Own Domain Name?

Leaving their service will likely be difficult and unpleasant. But, it is made so much worse if I cannot take my URL with me. If my site’s URL is, that’s not good because I can never own and I have to leave it when I leave their service.

Meanwhile, all of the search engines have been indexing and sending it all of the link juice. So, now, when I move to a new URL, I’ll have to compete with my old one and I’ll lose a chunk of the traffic that is currently being sent to it.

How Can I Get My Forum Data Out of Your Service?

This is the big one. Is it possible to export my forum data from your service and what format will it be exported in? Because, if it’s not possible, then that means I have to leave all of my posts, members and content when I leave your service and that is unacceptable to me.

The second part of the question (the format) is just as important as the first. Exporting to an XML file or a generic text database or anything like that is generally not any good because nearly every person who will sign up for their service will have no idea how to use that – myself included.

It must be exported in a format people can use. My suggestion is to maintain an exporter for at least the single most widely used forum software in the world. The reason I say single is because there is a legitimate concern by the people in charge of the remote host that they would have to waste developer hours maintaining numerous export tools since software is always changing.

So, in this case, I’d say to just maintain whatever plain text thing they were doing – and then maintain one that exports to the phpBB database format. But, I don’t want to use phpBB, you might say. That’s perfectly fine. The key is that pretty much every software you’d consider using will be able to convert a phpBB database to their format. Because phpBB is so popular, other software vendors – paid and free, open source or not – all want to be able to import the phpBB data.

From phpBB, you can get to vBulletin, Vanilla, Invision Power Board, bbPress and most anything else.

This Doesn’t Matter for Everyone

Finally, I’d like to say that the points I make in this piece don’t apply to everyone. For many, they just want to have a small forum where they can talk with their friends and maybe, if it went away or they had to lose their posts or members to move to a different service, it wouldn’t matter.

But, if you don’t fall into that camp or if you intend for this to be a long term community where you want to have control of your data and your destiny, then you should make sure that at least these two bases are covered.