A forum is a key element to operating any web site. In fact, some web sites consist of a forum and nothing else. These message boards are popular because you give your visitors a voice on your web site, allowing them to express their thoughts and ideas. It usually creates viral traffic for your web site as well, since people will naturally return to the web site to see if anyone has made a reply to the topic they created on the forum.
Buy a domain name. You can think of the domain name as being the address for your internet web site. Whenever a surfer types your domain into the address bar on their web browser, they will be taken to your web site. Therefore, buying a domain name is the first step in the process of creating your forum. If you already have a web site and domain name, then you can skip this step.
Obtain web hosting. Now that you have a domain name, you will need to have a web hosting service to host the files associated with your forum. A web host is essentially a company that owns servers and other computer hardware, and allows you to lease space on their servers for a small monthly fee. The cost will depend on how much disk space and bandwidth your forum will require. Most new forums require few system resources, so you can always start out with the most basic hosting plan, and then upgrade your account as your forum gains popularity.
Create a MySQL database for your forum. After you have an account with a web host, they will provide you with access to a Control Panel on their server, which you will use to manage your account. From the Control Panel, there should be a link or button that you can click to create a new MySQL database. This is a very simple process that basically just requires you to fill out a short form and to let the server create the database for you. Once it has been created, you will be given the database name, user name and user password.
Choose a forum script to use on your web site. There are a large number of forum scripts to choose from. The three most popular are Vbulletin, phpBB and Simple Machines Forum (SMF). Vbulletin carries an annual fee for use of the software, but that money is used to hire professional developers to constantly work on improving the forum script. Both phpBB and SMF are free forum scripts that have received a large amount of international recognition for providing high quality message board software without charging anything for the product.
Install the script for your forum. After selecting a forum script in the previous step, download the files for the script and upload them to your web hosting account. The easiest way is to use an FTP program, such as SmartFTP. Once the files have been uploaded to the server, simply visit your site by typing the domain name into your browser’s address bar. The installation script should begin to run automatically. You will be prompted for the database name, user name and user password that you were given when you created the database during Step 3. Remember to delete the installation directory from your server after you have installed the forum. This will be a folder titled either “install” or “installation”. Simply right click on the folder from your FTP software, then select delete, and click “ok” when asked if you are sure.
Configure your forum. After your forum has been installed, log in to the forum using the administrator user name and password that was created during the installation process. This will take you into the administrative control panel, which is not seen by normal forum visitors. This is where you will create forum categories, define how many messages per page, set user permission and make other configurations that will govern how your forum runs. Once your forum has been configured, it is ready to be used by the general public.
It can be slow going to get a new forum off the ground, but don’t give up. Ask your family and friends to come make posts in your forum so that you can begin building up posts for others to see when they visit. New members are far more likely to interact with your forum if it looks like others are already there.