For many sites, WordPress’s native commenting system works just fine. A post is simply followed by a threaded display of comments. Some webmasters opt for LiveFyre, IntenseDebate or Disqus, but the psychology for the visitor is the same: they either make a comment, browse to another article on your site, or leave. By installing forum software together with your WordPress site, you can replace your WordPress comments with a forum thread dedicated to the post. The idea is that you use your posts to draw visitors into your forum which is for more optimized for keeping visitors on your site compared to WordPress. You might also have reasons why you don’t want users commenting on a specific post, and instead give them links to your forum in lieu of a comment area. For example, if I’m writing a technology blog that shares coding examples, I don’t want people commenting and asking me obscure questions about the code. Instead I would link to the relevant forum category in the comments and have them post their question in a forum.
Why Does Forum Software Work So Much Better than WordPress in Fostering Community?
There are a few reasons why forums work better than WordPress when it comes to building a community of users who come back to your site over and over again:
- A forum layout is distinctly different from a blog layout and encourages users to browse around. When most visitors come upon a forum layout, it signals “forum” in their minds and the expectation is that other people just like them are on the site asking questions / sharing opinions.
- A forum layout showcases site activity. Forum layouts offer features like “list of users currently online”, “new members list” and “recent comments” that make a site seem active. A WordPress blog does not showcase users or user generated content except for perhaps a “recent comments” widget.
- A blog only expects a visitor to comment and not stick around. There’s basically very little site loyalty when someone comments on your site. This is partially because a blog owner sets the agenda (post), whereas in a forum any registered user can start their own thread topic. Metaphorically it’s the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy.
Using a Vanilla Forum for WordPress Comments
Vanilla Forums is gaining popularity among forum moderators who prefer its clean modern look and discussion oriented layout instead of the category oriented layout common with traditional forum software. As far as getting Vanilla discussions integrated and showing up under WordPress posts, you can try using the Vanilla Forum API. This will allow you to query Vanilla for specific thread items (thread title, last updated date, author) as well as global Vanilla data like “Recent Activity”. After you poll the API, you can then display the data anywhere you want on your WordPress blog – on the front page of your blog in a widget (using the WordPress PHP Exec Widget) or underneath posts to help pull visitors into your Vanilla forum.
There is also an official Vanilla WordPress Plugin that will create a new Vanilla thread linked to every post you make on your WordPress blog. It also implements single sign on between WordPress and Vanilla. Although your WordPress comment count won’t update when people make responses in the related forum thread, it’s probably the easiest way to bridge the gap between WordPress comments and Vanilla discussions. Also a tech note: if you find your Vanilla comments loading too slow under your WordPress posts, then add the following line:
var vanilla_lazy_load = false;
in your comments.php file after about line 20.
Vanilla verdict: Based on their update schedule and lack of responses to WordPress troubleshooting requests, I’m assuming that Vanilla would deemphasize this plugin as soon as they are able to come up with a content solution that rivals WordPress and IP.Content. I think the best thing to do if you want to funnel your WordPress users over to a Vanilla forum is to either use the official Vanilla plugin for now and hope it continues to receive updates, or else custom code a solution based on the Vanilla API to show the latest Vanilla threads from a similar category right underneath posts (with the WordPress comments turned off).
Integrating bbPress Forum Topics within WordPress Comments
BBPress is a free WordPress plugin to quickly enable forum discussions on your WordPress site. It’s the forum solution used by the WordPress.org support forum so it’s bound to be supported for as long as WordPress is supported. There are some problems with BBPress:
- It’s quite barebones as a forum solution, both in terms of looks and functionality. You’ll have to install many plugins just to get it to behave like most other forum solutions.
- You still have that split that many webmasters are trying to get away from, where forum topics reside in a different part of your site compared to your normal blog topics.
You can achieve blog-forum synergy while using bbPress by installing the following plugin: http://wordpress.org/plugins/bbpress-post-topics. This plugin creates bbPress topics linked to WP posts or pages, using the post’s excerpt field and optionally copies existing comments to bbPress replies. You can opt for a simple link to the topic instead of the topic itself by selecting it in the Discussion box in the post editor. (Uncheck “Use default display settings” to expose the display options, then choose “A link to the topic” under display settings.) If you want to make this setting the default you can set it in the plugin’s Discussion settings page.
bbPress verdict: The bbpress-post-topics plugin seems to do exactly what we want – integrating bbPress forum threads into existing blog posts. Whether bbPress is a good enough forum for your needs will largely determine if you use this option or not.
Integrating WordPress Comments into VBulletin Automatically
VBulletin is quickly losing momentum as the Internet’s favorite forum solution and their paid solution doesn’t seem as enticing now. Simple WordPress comment and VBulletin forum thread integration can be achieved using the following plugin: http://codecanyon.net/item/vbulletin-connector/4126499.
Capturing WordPress Comments within an IP.Board Forum
To have WordPress comments captured as discussions in IP.Board, use the following WordPress plugin: IP.Board Comments for WordPress Plugin. This will use your IP.Board installation on the same server to replace your WordPress comments. The forum doesn’t have to be the same domain – you could have a WordPress Network / Multisite installation, use IP.Board for the comments sections and have all your blogs feeding into one central IP.Board forum. When a new WordPress post is created in a mapped category, it will cross-post to your IPB forum with a link back to the WordPress post. The IPB forum link is saved in a custom field and appears in the footer of the posts.
Note that forum replies aren’t updated back on the blog post and it might require some tweaking to work.
IP.Board verdict: As far as a paid forum solution, I recommend IP.Board over VBulletin. For blogging, I would just use IP.Content along with IP.Board instead of WordPress (and not the underwhelming IP.Blog that they also offer – that’s more for allowing your users to have minimal blogging capabilities). IP.Content functions as your CMS front end that actually reinforces the IP.Board forum commenting back-end to give you the best of both worlds. IP.Content, used in place of WordPress, allows your IP.Board to have a typical WordPress-like blog frontpage:
Or simply as a more static looking homepage: