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While many users are familiar with forums from the web, the concept has been around for a long time. Older people might be familiar with both the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) that were popular from the 1980s through the early 1990s, or Usenet. XenForo is one of the latest incarnations of systems that allow users to build communities one post at a time.
What is XenForo?
XenForo is a PHP-based forum hosting program for communities that is designed to be deployed on a remote web server. It's similar to other web-based forum software like phpBB, vBulletin, YaBB, and Simple Machines Forum. XenForo is a proprietary product, where several other popular forum hosting software programs are open source.
XenForo stands out from the other programs for its built-in reward system. This allows users to earn points for making good contributions, such as helpful posts. For example, users can receive awards for reaching a certain number of posts. This adds an element of gamification to web forums. The idea behind this is that the rewards will foster a community. A forum is no good if no one posts on it, and if they stay sufficiently motivated, forum users will keep it from becoming a ghost town.
XenForo offers a number of useful features.
As mentioned above, XenForo's major feature is its award system. The awards are called "trophies" and they can be customized through the software's control panel. They can include getting a certain number of likes on a post or posting a certain number of messages.
Users can receive alerts related to events like someone replying to their posts
While XenForo is a proprietary program, there are lots of add-ons that customers can use to customize their installation.
Recent Activity Stream
XenForo has a recent activity stream for users. This shows things like new posts and replies. Users can customize their streams. Developers can also create their own add-ons.
Users can change the way XenForo looks with a color picker. This makes it easy for a business to have a forum that matches a company's color scheme. It's also possible to use HTML and CSS as well as a style property editor for more precise customization of a forum's theme.
XenForo also has integrated SEO functionality. This might be useful for companies providing support through a forum. Customers can find official information by searching for a problem. They'll find their problem as one of the top search results solved in a forum thread.
A basic license includes one year of ticket support. The company has several upgrades available. These include removing the XenForo branding, installing it on a server, a media gallery application, a resource manager, and enhanced search.
XenForo runs on servers that have PHP and MySQL installed. That is, the majority of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) servers. That gives it a potentially wide customer base. Installation consists of extracting the files to the right directory and navigating to the web-based configuration. All of the configuration for XenForo happens through the control panel.
What Is XenForo For?
With its awards feature, XenForo seems most appropriate for forum owners who want to really build a community. The trophies reward frequent and useful contributions. This makes the software useful for companies using their forum to provide support, augmenting their official customer service operations. It also might appeal to gaming forums, as users there tend to be as competitive on forums as they are in the games.
The downside is XenForo's proprietary nature. The company is competing with some very popular open source alternatives, like phpBB. XenForo is also implemented in PHP, itself a very popular open source language. More technically savvy forum operators might want to consider an open source forum engine first, as it's possible to customize the behavior without having to pay for extra functionality. Administrators who are pressed for time, on the other hand, might appreciate that a proprietary solution can be easier to install and have better support options than an open source program. On the other hand, community support for open source programs, including forums, can be surprisingly good because the developers often participate.
Alternatives to XenForo
There are several alternatives to XenForo. As mentioned earlier, phpBB is a very popular open source forum engine, as well as MyBB. Another popular commercial option is vBulletin. If you're comfortable with open source software and don't need much in the way of support, you might consider one of the free options. These programs also have vast ecosystems of plug-ins to choose from, enabled by their open source code.
XenForo is a solid option for forum administrators who need to get up and running quickly and want to build a great community. With its unique rewards feature, it will appeal to those wanting their forums to offer customer support as well as build camaraderie.