First off, let me say I work at Vanilla Forums, but the reason I work there, is actually due to what brought me to platform several years earlier (Hopefully you’ll ignore that fact to know what drove me to Vanilla).
I have always had a couple of forums running. I’ve had ones for baseball, marketing, food and more. I have sold a couple of forums along the way and unfortunately had to lay some to rest ( that sometimes does happen). In the process of launching and being part of communities I have pretty much used every software along the way.
One day, I had an idea for my fast food website to add a community. Being that I was serious about learning all I could ( as I usually do on any subject), I downloaded every forum software I could find.
You name it I tried it: from MyBB to Simple Machines. They all were pretty good, until it came to customizing or getting to things that mattered to the community, which was ease of use. I don’t recall exactly how I found Vanilla, but it was called Lussumo at the time. It was perfect for what I needed.
Every once in a while I would get a project and try a new community software, or even paid solutions ( when I was working at a large enterprise with a budget), but I would always end up comparing it to what it had or didn’t have compared to Vanilla.
Regardless of what system I used (and at my old company I got to use a lot of enterprise community systems), I would still contribute to Vanilla project in my spare time. There was something cool about contributing to Vanilla’s growth. It was also a great way for me to learn code being that it was written in PHP/Mysql and I was learning that too.
A couple of years ago I was looking for a change and a opportunity to work at Vanilla was available. I have to say it really is a dream job ( and I am not saying that because this is a public space).
Now what specifically do I like about Vanilla?
I really appreciate two things: the customizability and integrations.
In terms of customizing, you can do a lot. From changing the language to your community lexicon (like you can make a discussion be called a thread) to adding community badges that reflect it’s spirit, or even something as simple as creating a System user with an appropriate name, Vanilla is totally changeable to your needs.
In terms of integrations, Vanilla has a simple free plugin for WordPress. This makes it dead simple to to replace the horrible native WordPress comments, create a simple SSO between the blog and forum too and even show recent commenters with a handy widget.
I also like the MailChimp integration, which made it easy to build my mailing list. The other integrations I don’t need as a non-business, but knowing I could always have an integartion to Saleforce, Zendesk, Github and more is always handy.
Overall what I like most is that it’s easy to manage a busy community (2500+ members) when you are not tied down with 1000’s of dials and knobs to make things happen. Front end moderation is easy and there are lots of tools for dealing with various situations from spammers to warnings.