Creating an Online Community for Free


(Walter Bradly) #1

Hi everyone. I have an idea for a community, and I believe that with a little bit of work I can make it successful.

The thing is, I don’t feel comfortable investing money into the community – it’s would be a hobby, not a business.

Does anyone have any recommendations for free online community platforms? I’ve done a bit of research, and one that I’ve discovered is forumotion – does anyone know anything about it? Are there any reasonable alternatives?

Thank you for your time.


(Walter Bradly) #2

I’ve did a bit of research, and I found a few other resources that seem to have gotten better reviews (in part because they allow people to export the forum’s database):

  1. http://icyboards.com/
  2. https://www.prophpbb.com

If anyone knows anything about these services, please let me know.


(Sarah Hawk) #3

Hey @Othello – welcome.

I haven’t heard of forumotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good! There are many open-source platforms out there, Vanilla and Discourse (which we’re using here) are a couple of popular ones, although there are always costs involved.

There is probably a more important conversation to be had before discussing platforms though.

Have you done any work on researching your concept and building a foundation group of people to launch with?

If not, we have a tonne of resources around building communities from scratch, and there are also several members here currently going through that process.

If you’d prefer to just talk platforms, that’s cool. You might find this community platform list handy.


(Sarah Hawk) #4

That is crucial. If your idea does take off and you decide to migrate to a feature-rich platform, then you’ll need to be able to take your data. If you can’t do that, you may as well test the waters on Facebook.


(Walter Bradly) #5

Thanks @HAWK. What I’m looking for is, as you said, a free platform where I can test the waters for this particular idea. I’m just more interested in having a forum than a facebook group or subreddit.

Yes I have! The blog posts on your website were very helpful/


(Sarah Hawk) #6

Totally understandable. Let’s ask @Adrian for his input on using Vanilla for this.

Awesome. Glad to hear it. The Proven Path might be a useful read, if you haven’t already.


(Adrian Speyer) #7

@hawk thanks for the mention! :slight_smile: Vanilla from vanillaforums.org could be a good start, but @Othello you’ll need a host which has PHP/MySQL. This is not free, but we don’t charge for the software.

If you aren’t comfortable hosting yourself, there are many options, some you mentioned. We have a hosted service but it may be out of your budget for a hobby project.

I would recommend you start with a solution you host so you have access to your data. You don’t need to start that way, though, if you have technical/budget restrictions.

You could use a closed solution (without db access) but have a plan to move. You don’t want to be forced to stay on a solution that doesn’t allow you to grow.

I’ve seen more than one hobby project turn into a business, so keep those options open. Good luck :slight_smile:


(Richard Millington) #8

Hi @Othello,

It’s a difficult one. Ning used to be an option at the discount end, but it’s really not that great anymore at all.

I’d personally go with a Facebook group and move it across once it’s thriving. Otherwise I’d consider how much you really want to make this happen and what you’re willing to spend to do it.

I remember launching FeverBee as a typepad site for example. The cost was around $12 per month. Which felt like a lot (I was a student) but I figured if I’m truly passionate about this I should invest in it. It might be the same for you. I’d consider what you can afford here and see if something works within that.


(Jason Hill) #9

Discourse. It’s a fantastic platform. I’ve had a hobby community going for about 18 months on Discourse as a bit of fun, and its costing me less than a dollar a day for the hosting.


(Sarah Hawk) #10

Did you incur costs setting it up @JasonHill or are you running it out of the box?


(Jason Hill) #11

Nah, just set it up out of the box. The great thing about the platform is that it is so easy - you can get up and running in no time. I think I just spent a few hours tweaking settings and badges, and making straps and icons.


(Walter Bradly) #12

Thanks for your help! I decided to create a Reddit subreddit. But I hope this topic is useful to anyone in a similar situation.