Creative Commons License photo credit: mathrock

The forum software space is very strong. There are numerous and plentiful options, both free and paid, that are backed by resourceful communities providing hacks, styles, graphics, customizations, tutorials, support and more for free or for an additional cost. This is a great thing.

Back when I started, in 2000, this wasn’t the case. Software wise, the space was extremely young.’s timeline of forum software definitely takes me back. At that time, some of the major players that are well established today, were brand new.

This included vBulletin, phpBB, Ikonboard (developed by Matt Mecham, who eventually started Invision Power Board) and YaBB. Phorum had existed previously, as an early free option, but Ultimate Bulletin Board (now UBB.threads), a commercial script first released in 1996, was generally viewed as the leader.

Today, those looking to start a forum have no shortage of excellent, mature choices. phpBB, vBulletin, Invision Power Board, Vanilla Forums, Simple Machines and MyBB come to mind, with plenty of other reasonable choices also in existence.

I have been a phpBB user for 10 years and I have invested a great deal in the phpBB community, promoting usage of that software by launching the first database of phpBB hacks and the largest source of phpBB related downloads online, granted with permission, in I launched it out of need. As a phpBB user, I wanted a resource like

Even so, I have never viewed the forum software space as a competition. Some developers of the individual options might, but I personally am happy that we have such a rich landscape with so many great options with great communities that back them. I believe that it leads to good things for everyone within it.

I recently wrote an answer to the Quora question, “What is the best forum platform?” I’ll tackle this more in detail in the near future, but to sum it up, I believe that there is no best forum software, there is only the best forum software for you. Play with the options and see what works. Software is only part of the battle with community. It’s more about you and your drive to manage the community.

I received a comment to that answer by Mircea Goia, who suggested that having too much diversity can be a bad thing. He continued, by comparing it to the number of options that you have in a grocery store and how, often times, you don’t know what to pick because it takes time to try the various choices.

He cited the blogging space, saying that WordPress was the clear leader, because it has the biggest community and a lot of developers who back it. He said that other options were not backed by many developers and that is why they were not as popular.

He ended his comment by saying that forum software has no clear leader, like WordPress in blogging, and because of that, we are “stuck with choices which all seem to be good,” but that you don’t know which to use until you study them all.

It was interesting to me because, when I wrote my answer, I had WordPress in mind. I am a user of WordPress and I believe it is an absolutely fantastic piece of software. I love it. But, at the same time, I don’t view WordPress’ dominance as being all that great of a thing for the space as a whole. It’s nothing WordPress should worry about – they are just making the best software they can and this is what the market has dictated. But, it wouldn’t hurt anyone if we had stronger alternatives to WordPress, than what presently exists.

I don’t know when having a handful of great options became a bad thing. To pull from the grocery store analogy, it’s like you’re telling me that we should all eat the same kind of mustard. I don’t think that’s right. Who gets to decide what mustard I get to eat? And why would we want less choices for mustard, instead of more?

Just because there are a lot of good options doesn’t mean there aren’t clear leaders. In the categories of usage and the size of their respective communities, phpBB is far and away the leader when it comes to free options. vBulletin is the same for paid options. But, anointing clear leaders sort of misses the boat for me. It’s not about that. It’s not about having one platform run away with market share so that we have to use it because we have nothing else. It’s about having great options.

And in the forum software space, at least, we do. We should be thankful for that.