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Pros & Cons of Free Hosted & Self-Hosted Software

Author: ZiveemanApril 21st, 2009

One of the big debates for forum owners is whether or not to use a free forum host (like Zetaboards) or a self-hosted forum software (like Invision Power Board, vBulletin, or phpBB). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that make each one desirable. Each have communities with millions of posts and thousands of active members. So which one is right for you?

Free forum hosts store the forum on their own server and leave you to deal with only the administration and moderation of your community rather than the server upkeep and the technical details which can suck out a lot of time out of developing your community. Errors can occur when you simply install a self-hosted software if you miss one part of the instructions, forcing you to backtrack and find the problem. However, with a free forum host, just register the name of your board and you’re essentially good to go. Free forum hosts often have their own modifications and themes that are one-click install, or at least simple enough, so you don’t have to go around searching the Internet for a good one.

Of course, free hosted forums have problems. With a free host, you’re essentially stuck with what you’ve got. You have to rely on the developers in order for it to change. Modifying the actual layout (such as where a menu links appear) can be difficult, if not impossible. Also, a free community often come with ads, and depending on the ad service, can be inappropriate. Another disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get your own domain. So rather than a .com, you may get a freeforumhost.com/boardname URL. However, many hosts offer a way to change your URL, so if you’re willing to buy a domain, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Self-hosted forum software have the software available for download from their website (often for a price). You have to find your own host where you can upload the software to. However, with this comes the flexibility. Unlike free hosts, self-hosted forums have large databases of modifications around the Internet that allow you to modify your forum to your needs, much more than a free host can offer. Want an awards system so you can give members awards for achievements? You got it. An arcade? You got it.

The biggest problem that comes with self-hosted forum software is price. Invision Power Board and vBulletin both cost around $150 for a license. phpBB is free but regardless, you’ll probably have to pay for hosting and a domain. Modifications can take some time to install since many times you’ll have to go into the code and add or remove lines, and that requires a little of technical expertise.

It’s really all up to you which kind you want. If you’re looking for a professional look and you’re willing to spend a bit of money, go for a self-hosted software. If you just want a community fast, or just want a place for your friends to get together, go for a free host.

Some free hosts:






Some self-hosted software:






Anyways, sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been real busy lately. I’ll try to update more.

I’ve also created a Twitter for forum advice, be sure to follow me! http://www.twitter.com/forumtips


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