Online forums have been a popular means of communication since the internet’s inception – but that isn’t to say they’re outdated or obsolete. Though the emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have given rise to a new means of social communication and connection, forums continue to play an important role in the online world – particularly in the case of company websites, where forums are often the first port of call for helpdesk support and troubleshooting.
While there are a number of forum plugins and software options to choose from for WordPress users, bbPress has made a reputation for itself as one of the most easily integrated, flexible and reliable.
What is bbPress?
Self-described as “forums, made the WordPress way”, bbPress is free, open source forum software – created by WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, specifically for WordPress users.
Designed with simplicity in mind and first published on WordPress.org, it was coded from the ground up in 2004 to meet the demand for an easier approach to adding forums. It has since been turned into a plugin that can be installed, activated and configured as easily as any of the other popular plugins currently available to WP users.
In short, bbPress enables the easy set up of discussion forums within your WordPress powered site.
Why Include a Forum on your Website?
Including a forum on your site is a great way to foster an online community of fans, customers and users, where people can discuss ideas, share knowledge, and talk about you brand, products, and services. The benefits of adding a forum depend on its purpose – and how you plan on it being used by your site visitors and customers – but generally speaking, a forum has the ability to…
- Improve communication and engagement, by providing a space where your readers and customers can get involved, be heard, and find the information they need.
- Build trust and loyalty, and increase customer and user satisfaction – particularly if you (or other brand spokespeople or moderators) play an active role in your forum, answer customer queries, and showcase your personality through conversation.
- Enhance your site’s ability to rank in search engine results, since forums generate significant amounts of fresh content on relevant topics (which can be great for SEO).
- Reduce your online enquiry and support costs, since customers have the ability to answer one another’s questions, provide advice and tips, and find the information they’re looking for without needing to contact your team.
Why Choose bbPress?
Because it’s been developed by WordPress for WordPress, bbPress’ key advantage is that it uses your existing WordPress core – making it super simple to add a forum to any WP blog or website with the simple addition of a plugin.
bbPress inherits your currently active theme’s styles (where it can), and it works well with most of the default WordPress themes. It’s lightweight and fast compared to other popular open source forum software, has customizable templates, and it works with most standard compliant WordPress themes.
What You Can Do With bbPress
If you’re thinking about using bbPress to build your online community, forum or helpdesk, you’re going to want to know what it’s capable of, right?! Here’s a very brief overview of bbPress’ three key functionalities.
Set your visibility
Visibility can be set for each of your forums. You can choose to set a forum as public (for anyone to see), private (for logged in, registered users) or hidden (where only moderators or keymasters can see these forums). Visibility options can be set and edited on the right hand side in the forum attributes area.
You can set whether users need to be registered to use your forums, and control the registration process. You can choose public viewing/ public posting (where anyone can view and comment), public viewing/ registered user posting (where anyone can view your forums, but only registered users can join in and post), and private viewing/ registered user posting (where users are required to be registered and logged in to view and post).
If you want users to have to register to view or post in your forums, you’ll need to specify whether registration should be manual or automatic. While automatic registration is easier and allows users to sign up quickly, it generally offers less control over who is contributing and posting, which can lead to spam. Manual registration involves a higher level of admin, but offers complete control over who has posting access.
Looking for even more customization and functionality? bbPress is also extensible, so you can pump up the volume on your bbPress-powered forum and extend functionality with add-on plugins.
Integrated bbPress Plugins
Extend bbPress’ features and get it running the way you want with these 10 recommended plugins.
1: SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam
Want to keep your forum as clean and spam-free as possible? Add secure image captcha anti-spam to your bbPress registration, new topic and reply topic forms with ease. The SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam plugin allows you to hide the comments captcha from logged in users. It has 300,000+ active installs, is regularly updated (last updated 2 days ago), and has an average user rating of 4/5 stars.
2: WP User Avatar
While WordPress currently only allows users to add custom avatars uploaded through Gravatar, WP User Avatar allows you to use any photo uploaded into your Media Library as an avatar. Easy! Use the shortcode to add a standalone uploader to a front page or widget (only visible to logged-in users) and allow contributors and subscribers to upload their own avatars. This plugin has 200,000+ active installs, was last updated 8 months ago, and an average user rating of 4.5/5 stars.
3: User Switching
Want to be able to switch between multiple user accounts while using WordPress? If you’d like to be able to comment as a moderator and a community member separately, or switch to a different account to ask questions and encourage engagement, User Switching makes it simple. This plugin allows you to quickly swap between user accounts in WordPress at the click of a button, which is great for administrators who need to switch between multiple accounts. User Switching has 80,000+ active installs, was last updated 8 months ago, and has an average user rating of 5/5 stars.
4: Ultimate Member
Built for seamless integration with bbPress, Ultimate Member is designed to make it simple for users to sign-up and become members of your website. Add slick user profiles to your site while creating advanced online communities and membership sites. With the bbPress extension you can beautifully integrate Ultimate Member with bbPress. This plugin has 60,000+ active installs, was last updated 1 week ago, and has an average user rating of 4.5/5 stars.
Designed to be a complete media solution for WordPress and bbPress, and built with device use in mind, rtMedia allows users to attach media files (including photos, videos and music) to bbPress forum topics and replies. This is great for an active forum where people like to show examples or screenshots of what they’re discussing, upload their own tutorial videos, or share photos their own photos. This plugin has 20,000+ active installs, was last updated 2 days ago, and has an average user rating of 4/5 stars.
6: GD bbPress Attachments
Want to help your community members attach and share files (such as images or support documentation) with ease? With GD bbPress Attachments, attachments for forum topics and replies are handled via the WordPress media library. This plugin allows you to control file sizes, limit number of files a user can attach for each topic and reply, and display images as thumbnails. It has 10,000+ active installs, was last updated 10 months ago, and has an average user rating of 4/5 stars.
7: Rating-Widget: Star Review System
Rating-Widget: Star Review System is one of the most popular star review system on the web – offering user-friendly ratings for bbPress forums. Ratings are great for forums, because they can provide users with an indication of the most popular topics, and make your online community even simpler to navigate for new users. While the plugin itself is free, use with bbPress is only available on the Pro plan (starting from $3.99 a month). This plugin has 10,000+ active installs, was last updated 3 months ago, and has an average user rating of 4.5/5 stars.
8: WP Ulike
Designed for ease of use and to be a comprehensive “Like” system for your site or forum, WP Ulike allows users to ‘like’ a wide range of content types, including posts, forum topics and replies, comments and activity updates. Perfect for highly engaged forums, this plugin has 9000+ active installs, was last updated 4 days ago, and has an average user rating of 5/5 stars.
9: BBP Style Pack
Style bbPress to complement your brand and site with BBP Style Pack, which allows you to change the forum styling for elements and match or contrast bbPress to your theme. Making your bbPress forum looks consistent with the rest of your theme or site is design is great – particularly if you’re running a forum for your brand or business – since it provides a seamless transition between your content and community spaces. This plugin has 4000+ active installs, was last updated 2 days ago, and has an average user rating of 5/5 stars.
10: bbPress Private Replies
Allow your forum posters to mark their replies as private with bbPress Private Replies. This ensures that only the original poster and forum moderators can see the content of their reply, and makes this a great option if you use bbPress as a support forum where users may need to share sensitive information (such as site URLs and passwords). This plugin 1000+ active installs, was last updated 10 months ago, and has an average user rating of 5/5 stars.
Who Uses bbPress?
When you choose bbPress to power your WordPress forum, you’re in pretty good company, In fact, some of the world’s largest companies and organizations have used bbPress in some form or another since the software’s launch, including the likes of Dropbox, Mojo Themes and Woo Commerce.
Want to check out some other forums powered by bbPress, before taking the plunge and creating your own community space or support helpdesk? Take a gander at some of the big names currently using bbPress for forums, support helpdesks, customer communities and more.
Obviously! WordPress uses bbPress to power its very own support forums. These provide a variety of resources to help users get the most out of WordPress. This is a great example of a clean and easy to navigate forum, styled to blend seamlessly with the rest of the website.
Check it out at www.wordpress.org/support
That’s right, folks. Even the world’s most popular (or annoying, depending which side of the fence you reside) mobile gaming franchise needs its own forum, and Angry Birds trust bbPress to power theirs. This is a great example of a well-used forum that’s easily searchable, and allows for fast browsing by recent topics.
Check it out at www.angrybirdsnest.com/forums
The Blood Sugar Diet
A great example of a bbPress forum that focuses on building an online community of clients and customers who can support each other towards a common goal, The Blood Sugar Diet’s forums are frequently utilized by users, and easily browsed by topic.
Check it out at www.thebloodsugardiet.com/forums
Adding bbPress to Your WordPress Website
Convinced bbPress is right for you, and ready to add it to your site? As a WP plugin, you can install bbPress the same way you would install any other WordPress plugin:
- Log in to your WordPress admin area
- Go to Plugins > Add New
- Search for and then select bbPress from results
- Install and activate the plugin
Alternatively, you can find in in the WordPress Plugins Directory and install it from there.
Once installed, bbPress adds forums, topics and replies menu items in your WordPress admin. When you create a new forum, you’ll be presented with a screen similar to your WP post edit area. Create a title for your forum, enter a description, and then press the publish button. To display this forum on the front end of your site, you’ll need to create a new page, turn off comments and trackbacks, then paste in the following shortcode:
Publish your new page, then go to Appearance > Menus to add your forum to your navigation menu. You’ll be able to go into your forum settings to determine whether you’d like to allow anonymous posts or if you’ll require users to register to post, as well as how long posters will be able to edit their posts, and how many topics to show per page.
If you have an existing forum and would like to move over to bbPress without losing all your data, you can import a forum, rather than creating a new one from scratch. To do this, go to Dashboard > Tools > Forums and go to the “import forums” tab.
Need Help? Join the bbPress Community!
Not surprisingly, bbPress offers it very own help and support forums – powered by a community of users – in the form of the bbPress Codex and bbPress Forums. As a living repository for bbPress information and documentation, these are the perfect places to learn more, find specific step-by-step instructions, ask questions, and troubleshoot.