Friday, December 26, 2008

How to build a social media site on next to no budget – Part 1 - Lefora Forums

Lefora is an all-in-one solution for forum hosting. If you want a set of forums, be they related to a website, or just a stand-alone forum for a group, Lefora is a one-stop shop.

Getting you own forum is incredibly easy. You just get yourself a Lefora account (which uses the same process as signing up to be a member of any of a million forums on the internet that you’ve already seen), and then pick a forum name. Once you’ve done that (as long as the name is available), you’re off and running.

By default, you get three default forum Categories (Sub-forums, if you will) – General, FAQ and News. If you want to stick with these heading, good for you. If not, they’re easily edited or deleted, and you can add more Categories to your liking. You can also include descriptive text to explain to your users what each Category is for.

Posting is also quite easy. It follows the same format as pretty much any other forum out there on the internet – Select either “New Topic” or “Reply” and start typing. One interesting feature is that you can choose to post to multiple Categories by selecting them from a tick-box list. Once you’ve posted to multiple Categories, replies to your new topic also go to the same categories originally selected. It’s going to be interesting to see if this feature gets abused. Apparently there is a built-in Spam filter, but I haven’t been spammed yet (it reports how many unsolicited messages it intercepts) so I’m still to pass judgement on how effective it is.

Features I’d like to see include the ability to preview posts before you submit them.. Currently there is just a submit button, and you have 15 minutes to edit your post. I’d also like to see more options for text formatting in your posts (Currently plain text only – no bold, or colours or italics etc. without using html coding in your post), and a little more flexibility in the Templates. The ones that are there are okay, but I’m yet to find any way to edit the font, or change out the text title for your forum for a banner graphic, or even to change a single colour rather than the whole colour scheme.

The default URL for your new forum is (yourforumname).lefora.com. There is a pay option (as at this time, US$10 annually) to have a custom domain, allowing you to use a URL along the lines of forum.(yourforumname).com , as long as you actually own the domain name. I’ll be offering advice on how to get your own domain name on the cheap in a future article in this series.

All in all, this is a pretty cool service. A forum is one of the best ways to engage your audience and give them an option to respond to your rantings into the wilds of the internet. The fact that Lefora gives you the opportunity to have your own forum with less than 5 minutes setup and no ongoing costs unless you want to fork out for extra features is a boon to anybody who wants to interact with anybody who cares to interact with them.

-Chris
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