How does one determine the appropriate software to utilize for a new community? I'm starting a new community and know that I want a place to put blog entries and a place for users to chat about things. I'm looking at a bunch of blogging software and a bunch of forum software, but many have very similar features. What should I be looking at in these software packages to make a determination on what to use?
I won't go into specifics about particular products, although there are some market leaders out there. There are some factors you should consider below and some general product categories.
In Terms of Categories:
- Simple Blogging Focused (free example being Blogger)
- News and Blogging Focused such as CMS (free example being WordPress)
- Traditional Forum/Community Software (paid example being Invision Power Board)
- Simple Conversation like Forum Software (free example being Discourse)
- Externally Hosted (free example being Reddit)
In Terms of Factors to consider:
- How much are you willing to spend on purchasing software?
- Do you want to get software which is updated often or less frequently?
- How complex do you need the features?
- Do you need flexibility so that it would be easy to add 'plugins/mods' in the future?
- Do you want something which is hosted by a service provider?
- Do you need specific permissions for several usergroups etc?
- What customisability do you need to create any webpages?
- How easy is it to edit/skin if you're technically able?
- Who your audience is and what sort of social integration might be necessary?
Just of note also if you're struggling to find products relevant, there are several comparison tables out there which give you a good list of all available products etc that are relatively well known.
Honestly, particularly for blogging and other content management platforms, it comes down to trying them out and seeing how you like them. The features sets are remarkably similar for most of the platforms out there, however the subtleties of how they implement features and how they flow differ greatly.
Trying out the platform, looking at how the plugin's you would want to use behave, and, if technical enough, looking at how you would have to implement any custom modifications, are really the main factors when deciding on one.
It's possible that there will be some killer feature difference that your community needs, but most likely it will simply come down to preference, especially if you have someone with sufficient coding knowledge to be able to do customization as needed using already available plugins as a starting point.
So, in summary, decide based on the killer features if there isn't feature parity and you can't easily make feature parity, but otherwise, decide based on trying them and go with what people like the flow of the most.
What do you mean by "chat about things"? Chat can mean a shoutbox, a live chat, or just a forum section.
I can totally recommend you Burning Board, developed by WoltLab. You'll get a good forum you can easily configure as you wish. Furthermore, you can use these plugins:
The first one implements a live chat, as the name already states. The second one offers you a dashboard where you can create miniblogs suitable for your forum.
Also, WordPress would be a considerable solution. You can setup a forum with bbPress, and add further features for your community, e.g.:
You could add a menu on your forum linking to a subdomain where you set up a blog. So everybody stays tuned since both your blog and your forum are powered by the same software and are linked.
There are so many options: vBulletin, phpBB, reddit and so on. Actually, nobody can give you an exact recommendation because you have to like the software you use. It, too, depends on what you plan to create. Professional communities may not need a live chat, gaming communities do absolutely need one (to match up for games), photography communities might need a section where they can upload selfmade pictures to vote them. With the information you're providing, I can clearly recommend you anything. Try out the freeware, compare it, decide on what you really need.