Improving a Web Site’s Potential for Interactivity

The intent of this page is to keep track of the steps undertaken in the process of investigating ways to make Savoir et croire .ca more interactive than it currently was at the time of writing. It starts with general principles for setting-up and running an on-line community, and then moves to investigating alternatives such as the following :

  • Integrating forum software to a WordPress site;
  • Building interactivity through social media tools instead of forum software;
  • Using stand-alone forum software.

1. Setting-up and Running an On-Line Community

Here are some of the information I consulted which helped me understand what it would entail to launch and manage an on-line community such as a discussion forum :

2. Choosing a WordPress-integrated Forum Software

The following helped me understand what software options were available, and could be integrated to a WordPress site :

  • Best 5 WordPress Forum Plugins and Themes from wpmudev. This articles provided me with a first glimpse of WP Symposium, bbPress, CM Answers, AnsPress, and ForumEngine (a theme selling for 50 $ in its basic version).
  • The bbPress site offers a rich set of information about itself, including a blog, on-line documentation, what needs to be known about theme compatibility, plugins that are made to extend bbPress functionalities, and more.

 3. Using Social Media Tools on a WordPress Web Site

3.1. BuddyPress

3.2. JetPack

3.3. Disqus

Articles such as Disqus CEO Daniel Ha: Four ways Web comments will change or How and when to post on social media from The Next Web may also be helpful in planning the setting up or the evolution of a Web site, especially if is paired with interactive components.

4. Technical Imperatives to be Reckoned with

Here are links toward reference material that can help setting up or maintaining the interactive dimension of a WordPress web site :

5. Stand-Alone Forum Software that may be considered

The following section provides links towards reviews of stand-alone forum software, and links to forum software, and information that may be of interest:

6. Observations and conclusions

I opened mentioning my desire to provide better interactivity to Savoir et croire .ca. In this process, I tried-out the bbPress plug-in in a test-environment site, as well as alternative plugins that implement various forms of interactivity, be it question-and-answer plug-ins or social-media plugins, sometimes testing more than one together.

I seriously considered bbPress, but finally realized that it was not supported by the polylang plug-in that I use for my site to be multilingual. In the meantime I realized I did not want to maintain a multilingual interactive forum. Indeed, I cannot commit myself to translating the contents of all forum entries those made by myself and those made by others, for that is what the current structure of my site would require to continue operating as it does.

With this in mind, I moved-on from investigating WordPress forum plug-ins towards investigating full-fledged forum software. Using the CPanel Softaculus autoinstaller, I created test forums with Vanilla, SMF, MyBB, and PhpBB. I liked all of these.

As far as language support is concerned, I was pleased to find out that SMF, MyBB and PhpBB allowed users to choose the language in which the forum would be displayed for them. The version of Vanilla I tried-out allowed the administrator to switch languages for users, but the users themselves could not select the display language of their choice.

Amongst the stand-alone forum software I tried-out, Vanilla was the easiest to set-up and get running, from an administrative perspective. This software would be the shortest route to implementing a forum to my site. Even if only the administrator can switch the language, yet three instances of the Vanilla forum could be implemented, one per language. Every language would then have its own forum, independent from the other two. Such a setup would not require translation of entries for maintaining multilingual integrity as the current structure of my site does.  A forum could be set up in one language only at first. Forums in the other languages could follow eventually. This consideration along with the ease with which a forum can be launched coul very well turnout to be the decisive factor to go with the Vanilla alternative for Savoir et croire .ca. In this event, there would remain to test data exportation from Vanilla to other forum soutions like PhpBB and SMF.

Simple Machines Forum SMF, I also found to be quite easy to work with, even if I came to realize I would have to install it manually to avoid the “no file found” message I received here and there in response to an administrative task. This, apparently, would have been caused by some area of incompatibility between SMF and the CPanel Softaculus autoinstaller. This led me to interrupt my testing of SMF.

PhpBB is the stand-alone forum software that allowed me to do the most learning. With it, I was able to do exactly what I wanted, either through the extensive configuration setttings, or by copying a file into the PhpBB directory structure, and editing a .css file. It was easy to find what I needed in the documentation, as well as to understand the explanations and apply them.

MyBB seemed interesting for Savoir et croire .ca, for it shared many of the features found in SMF and in PhpBB. It would perhaps be the starting point of an eventual next round of testing, for there were features of PhpBB that I did not find so compelling from the perspective of forum members. For example, I did not find it intuitive for a forum user to add a link to a post. If it turned out that such characteristics led me to want to investigate yet another forum, MyBB would be one of those I would consider turning to.

In all of this process I observed that WordPress plug-ins such as bbPress do not and cannot be compared with the full-fledged forums I have tried-out, even if the former (i.e. WordPress plug-ins) certainly could be quite useful, depending on one’s requirements.

As far as the full-fledged forum software are concerned, Vanilla seems a little ahead of the pack in terms of its ease of integration with mobile devices. But SMF, MyBB and PhpBB seem quite close to one another with regards to what functionality and what configuration options they have to offer – even if they are far from being identical twins.

Now, back to WordPress plug-ins, there are several options available to help making a site interactive, but I found it necessary to look beyond forum plugins themselves, and toward social networking plugins or Q&A plugins, for example. I conclude that a WordPress site like Savoir et croire .ca could be maximized with such plug-ins, and that there is no conflict between using them, and also providing a site with a stand-alone forum software.

Trying-out WordPress plug-ins and full-fledged forum software was a rich learning-experience. It led to the realization that running a forum does require commitment to dealing with the technical details of forum operation, a factor that must carefully be pondered before choosing amongst the possibilities described in this article.

In fact, the latter consideration led me to limit myself, at least for now, to a slight modification in the existing menu structure of Savoir et croire .ca, where I would explicitly invite interaction with the site’s content. The main menu item Encouter was created for that very purpose. It leads to a page titled Knowing and believing – the Encounter. In its current state, it is a regular WordPress page where comments have been enabled. It could stay just like that forever, but it could also be supplemented by better features, as time for their implementation allows, including an eventual forum.

Part of the above conclusion is adapted from my  response to a thread titled What do you Think of WordPress Forum Plug-ins? posted at The AdminZone (TAZ).

7. Other Useful References

Other threads from TAZ were instrumental in helping me learning what I needed to in order to realize the investigation described in the present page, for example:

8. At last, a Forum, feel free to contribute to its technical section!

Please feel free to join our Community of dialog about the Christian Faith.  Its mission extends that of Savoir et croire .ca, and it is in and of itself the implementation of what I was striving for as I wrote the material in the present page, thus this forum also provides a trilingual technical section (French, English, Spanish) about Web matters.

9. Updates

This page of Savoir et croire .ca was created April 27, and updated April 29, 2015, to add the last two sections: Observations and Conclusions, followed by References. It was updated again on May 12, 2015, adding numbers to existing headings, for better structure. It was updated again on May 11, 2016 to add a link to the forum chrétien la Rencontre, and again on July 18, 2016, to provide specific links towards the technical section of the forum, and again on January 5, 2018, to update the links leading to our forum.

You may communicate with me through the indications under Questions or Comments.

Daniel Garneau, B Th, B Com, MA
May 24, 2018