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What is Vanilla Forums hosting?

Vanilla is software you can use to build a great forum. According to Vanilla's GitHub page “Vanilla is a powerfully simple discussion forum you can easily customize to make as unique as your community.” Vanilla comes in two flavors: as self-hosted free and open-source software (FOSS), and a hosted cloud-based service that the Vanilla team will deploy for you and help you manage.

Why should I think about setting up a Vanilla forum?

A digital community can foster brand growth, provide a place for product users to get support from a digital community, and create opportunities for brand enthusiasts to make new connections. The good news is that there are several ways to build a digital community:

  • You could enable commenting on your website content using the Facebook Comments Plugin.
  • You could use a comment hosting service such as Disqus to foster conversation.
  • Or if you're really serious about building your own digital community you could use an application like Vanilla to build a thriving forum that resides completely on your site.

Integrating social media comments or using a comment hosting service is definitely the fastest and easiest way to get conversation started on your site. However, the downside to both of those options is that you're really just borrowing someone else's community, and also limiting the conversation to the content you post to your site.

If you want to create a digital community that is unique to your site and brand then setting up a forum on your site is probably the easiest and most effective way to get started. An effectively moderated forum will create a space where users can create content they find compelling and make connections. Vanilla is a software package that can help you create this sort of space on your website.

Vanilla is one of the best forum software packages available. This was attested to when Vanilla was named Best Forum Software by the CMS Critics Awards in 2014 in both the free and commercial categories. According to Vanilla's website, Vanilla is the forum engine of choice for some digital heavy-hitters such as Adobe, Hubspot, and edmunds.com. What makes Vanilla such an award-winning and popular application?

  • Vanilla is intentionally simple, easy to use, and intuitively designed.
  • Themes are available, or you can customize Vanilla to match the look and feel of your website.
  • Vanilla offers powerful built-in admin and moderation controls.
  • A built-in reward system encourages user participation with points, ranks, and badges.
  • Easy integration with Wordpress, Salesforce, Mailchimp, social media and more.
  • Hosting flexibility: host the forum yourself or let Vanilla handle the hosting for you.

What does Vanilla cost?

Vanilla comes in two flavors: as self-hosted free and open-source software (FOSS), and a hosted cloud-based service that the Vanilla team will deploy for you and help you manage.

The free self-hosted version of Vanilla shouldn't add a dime to your hosting bill, and might even be available as a free one-click install depending on your hosting provider.

As of May 2015 the cloud-based Vanilla forum ranges in price from $99 a month (sites up to 50 thousand monthly page views) up to $3,499 a month (sites up to 20 million monthly page views) with several stops along the way. Each level of service also includes other add-on perks such as a Customer Success Manager assigned to your account at the $599 per month level, and Priority Support at the $1,199 per month level.

What are some alternatives to Vanilla?

If you're considering Vanilla's self-hosted FOSS some popular alternatives include:

  • MyBB: A very popular free and open-source forum application written in PHP.
  • NodeBB: A free and open-source forum application powered by Node.js. Known for it's ultra-modern interface.
  • Discourse: A free and open-source building block for online discussion communities powered by Ruby on Rails.

If self-hosting isn't your thing, and you're considering paying the Vanilla team to do the heavy lifting for you some hosted alternatives to Vanilla to consider before taking the plunge include:

  • NinjaPost: A forum solution focused on simplicity and just flat-out working like it should. It makes having a hosted forum as painless as possible for a competitive price.
  • IP.Board: Best-in-class spam protection, a huge user community, lots of themes and add-ons, and more pricing options than the competition to allow you to scale up your hosting plan as traffic increases.

What are server requirements for hosting Vanilla?

If you're considering the hosted version of Vanilla then you don't need to worry about server requirements. The Vanilla team will take care of those details for you.

The self-hosted version of Vanilla is written in PHP and needs a MySQL database. A server hosting Vanilla will need to be running PHP version 5.2 or newer, and MySQL 5 or newer - which should both be supported by virtually any hosting provider who keeps their servers properly updated.

One other thing to think about is bandwidth. If you expect your forums to see a lot of activity you should have a conversation with your hosting provider about how your site will perform with multiple users active on the forums at the same time. An active forum may need to be hosted on a virtual private server or dedicated server to ensure there are enough server resources available to handle a heavy user load.

How do I install TOPIC?

Installation is something you'll have to take care of yourself if you're looking at the self-hosted version of Vanilla. Thankfully, Vanilla is offered as a one-click installation by many popular hosting providers. The simplest way to install Vanilla is to navigate to the one-click installations offered by your hosting provider and follow the installation process. If you do want to install Vanilla manually you can do that as well, and detailed installation instructions are available at Vanilla's GitHub page, or in the README file included in the installation file download which you can get from the Vanilla website.

Question & Answers

When should I consider using the hosted version of Vanilla rather than the self-hosted version?

The self-hosted version of Vanilla is great for personal projects or forums with moderate activity. If you are setting up a forum for a company that can expect to see significant volume and a large number of users you should give the hosted version serious consideration. It will cost more, but you'll save a lot of time and headache for your tech support staff and users.

I already have a forum, but I'm looking for a new forum application. Can I migrate my existing community to a Vanilla forum?

Probably. Vanilla supports migration of forum data, including passwords, user profiles, and discussions from many forum applications. For the FOSS version of Vanilla you'll need to make use of the Vanilla Porter tool, and plan on spending some time on the Vanilla support forums. If you choose the hosted version of Vanilla they'll help you with the transition.

What sort of moderation features does Vanilla offer?

One of Vanilla's great features is a robust set of moderation controls. Mods have all of the standard options to manage discussion: close, sticky, split, merge, delete, etc. They even have the ability to choose multiple threads or posts at once to moderate. Vanilla offers a built-in spam and abuse moderation queue that helps mods focus in on problem issues quickly. A built-in points-based warning system allows moderators to get a user's attention. Robust controls are offered to let moderators target spammers and trolls. And the list goes on.

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