TL; DR: Create a Forum — a message board hosting platform designed to be powerful yet easy to use — has helped thousands of groups build online communities since 2009. The intuitive solution includes a free standard plan to get admins up and running plus feature-rich upgrades at budget-friendly prices. With almost a decade of experience and plans for extended features underway, Create a Forum is in it for the long haul.
Minecraft lovers. Car hobbyists. Gemstone dealers. Parenting clubs.
These seemingly disparate groups share one thing in common: They’re all represented on message boards built using Create a Forum, an easy-to-use solution helping individuals who share interests come together across the web.
Founder Jonathan Valentin started the platform under a few different brand names before setting on Create a Forum in 2009. At the time, he was still in college, but he’s been building the service out ever since. Jonathan knows forums inside and out: As a software developer, he’s worked on them for years, building add-ons and customizations as well as contributing content.
Once Jonathan decided to launch a forum hosting platform, he never looked back. Now, despite industry consolidation, he doesn’t plan on slowing down — or being gobbled up by competition.
“I could do this forever — I’ve been around for more than 10 years, and I’m not going anywhere,” Jonathan said. “To date, there have been over 100,000 forums created on my platform.”
New clients sign up daily for access to the free-to-use service, which is supported by ads after 30 days. From there, the company offers ad-free hosting plans at budget-friendly prices priced based on page views. And Jonathan told us he always keeps an ear to the ground for the features customers are looking for.
“Feedback dictates what I build out, and as long as it’s a good use case, I’m happy to accommodate requests,” Jonathan said. “If you go out of your way to help your customers, they’ll often want to stick around.”
A Complete System for Free Forums with Unlimited Posts
Jonathan takes pride in the features included in both his free and paid plans. “What really makes us stand out from other forum hosting services is our feature set — many of the other forum hosts out there offer a very basic set,” Jonathan said.
He told us Create a Forum’s standard free service begins with a 30-day trial with no ads. Afterward, customers have the option to retain the ads or purchase ad-removal credits ranging from $5 to $14.95 a month. Regardless of ad removal, all standard plans include unlimited posts, topics, boards, and subforums, with an advanced system used to control permissions.
In addition, the plan features access to EzPortal, a complete portal and webpage system that allows users to create content blocks and custom pages. Looking to encourage even more community-building? The platform also includes a free arcade system with more than 1,000 games, enabling forum members to compete in tournaments and track high scores.
Create a Forum aims to make the onboarding process straightforward and frustration-free. “It’s instant — you know, you sign up, you automatically get a subdomain (or you can point to your own custom domain), and you’re ready to go.” If you do encounter a problem, Create a Forum provides knowledgeable customer support, and Jonathan said he’s always willing to create custom solutions for clients in need.
“For instance, when I heard that CafeMom shut down, the first thing I did was try to get them on my service,” he said. “I want to see communities grow, not disappear.”
Jonathan ran some ads to gain the group’s attention, and while the effort didn’t work out as he had planned, he did attract new customers. “Some people created their own new forums on my service as a result of the outreach, and now they’re asking for specific features that I’ll happily build out for them,” he said.
Ad-Free Hosting Plans at Budget-Friendly Prices
Create a Forum’s paid plans take forums to the next level with a built-in photo gallery that allows members to share images, make comments, and start a personal image collection. These plans give customers the freedom to use their own domain name and remove Create a Forum branding. Multiple add-ons are also available, including a chat room system.
“On the paid plans, we have an eCommerce system that allows users to create their own store to sell physical or digital products; a classifieds system that allows members to have auctions; and an ad management system for forum owners to set their own ad placements,” Jonathan said.
As far as industry trends go, Jonathan has seen a significant shift toward the use of mobile devices in past years. He’s not imagining it: A whopping 77% of Americans now own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. And the mobile revolution isn’t showing any signs of stopping — in fact, global mobile traffic, measured in exabytes per month, is projected to increase sevenfold from 2016 to 2021.
To better serve an increasingly mobile-centric consumer base, Create a Forum has developed a custom mobile interface, which Jonathan said he’s currently refreshing. The company’s paid plans also feature integration with Twitter, Discord, and Tapatalk to provide a better user experience and increase traffic to forums. Discord, a VoIP application and digital distribution platform, is especially popular with the gaming community Create a Forum serves.
Standing Firm in the Face of Industry Consolidation
Jonathan told us forum hosting enjoyed a growth surge from 2006 to 2010 that’s slowed considerably since then. “Today, most forum hosts have been bought out, merged, or closed down completely,” he said.
From his point of view, the trend has reduced overall innovation. “When you consolidate everything into one platform, you end up losing unique features as a result,” Jonathan said.
That’s why he’s turned down offers from other forum hosts looking to purchase Create a Forum. “They didn’t have the same goal that I had, so I didn’t sell out,” Jonathan said. “I was concerned that consolidation would water down the platform and the forums it supports.”
Of course, another trend that’s affected the forum scene is the advent of social media. An early 2018 survey of social media use by U.S. adults shows that 68% use Facebook, 35% use Instagram, and 24% use Twitter.
But while Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provide convenient outlets for brief conversation, the social networks have their limitations. For example, Jonathan said the social media world of today doesn’t always lend itself to extended discussion. “I still believe forums are the best place for long-term communication,” he said.
Social media and chat applications also have a narrow scope in that conversations disappear and are not easily searchable, Jonathan said. That’s the beauty of forums — they’re essentially repositories of in-depth knowledge.
Next Up: Additional Features Tailored to Niche Markets
When it comes to product development, Jonathan said he’s always looking for new ways to make customers’ lives easier. Recently, his attention has turned to enhanced integration with third-party platforms.
“Our long-term goals are centered on integrations with various software providers depending on the needs of our users — I can see us building more custom features for specific niches,” he said.
Those groups run the gamut, from gamers to business owners and everyone in between. “Create a Forum is a powerful tool — we can help you build any kind of forum, all across the board,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan keeps tabs on what services his forum members use to help them out when he can. For example, he added Discord integration after noticing its popularity among gaming forum members. “After that, it took me about a week to integrate it into the system,” he said.
With any project he takes on, Jonathan isn’t one to turn down a challenge. “I’m able to do things more quickly than some of these corporate companies,” he said. “We code fast, we have a good development team, and we’re able to get things done.”
Whether they’re car hobbyists or Minecraft fanatics, that’s another thing Jonathan’s diverse clientele have in common: They all appreciate a job well done.