Testing And Installing The Simple Press Forum Plugin For WordPress
We recently decided to take another look at some WordPress Forum plugins to see which one we would be integrating into some of our sites. Among the choices were a list of popular forum plugins that we are sure you might all recognize, we’ll get to that list in a moment.
Before we get to the list of what we looked at, let’s take a quick moment to go over the one we did choose.
Simple Press The Forum Plugin
Oddly enough, the Simple Press forum plugin was not even among our top 5 WordPress forum plugins. In truth we had never even heard of it until today. Which is kind of surprising considering the number of plugins we look at in the course of a week.
Like most people using WordPress I was searching websites for content that I was going to write about and in that process came across several forums. While these were not WordPress forums, mostly they were Vbulleting or PHPbb, but they were very nicely put together by their respective owners.
Knowing full well that having an “Active” forum can do quite a bit to help a website I decided to go back and take a look at them once again.
Benefits of running a forum
For those not running forums here is a quick list of some of the benefits you can get by including one on your website:
- Increased traffic to your websites
- Increased Link-building SEO
- Long-term Community Building
- Increased content generation
- Increased sales opportunities
- Visitor Retention
And these are just the basics. When it comes to running a forum, there will be work involved. IT will not always be easy. They are time restrictions, increased user-interaction and the need to hire or provide moderators for the forum. But these benefits can easily outweigh those issues in the long run.
How was Simple Press chosen?
Well as stated above I had not even heard of Simple Press as a forum plugin. So I did what one always does when looking for a WordPress Plugin, searched the WordPress Repository for “forum”.
When you do this yourself, you are going to get several dozen pages of forum related plugins to choose from. This is nothing new after all.
The next step to take, once inundated with the “list of plugins, was to begin narrowing it down to ones I have already heard of. Since I knew of the many non-WordPress forums such as vBulletin, I first checked to see if there were any bridges available for those.
This was unfortunately a “no go” situation. All the bridges I could find for non-WordPress forum software were outdated or have not been updated to the newest 4.0 release of WordPress.
After this I did the next best thing, a Google Search. Doing a search for top WordPress forums plugins is going to net you are list like this:
What I thought was interesting is that none of these even came up on the first couple pages of the WordPress Repository listing when searching for “forum”. Now I had heard of bbPress and BuddyPress so these became the next ones to test.
Upon looking at Buddy Press it became clear that having a “one-stop” forum installation was not likely going to happen here. The BuddyPress website lists over 50 plugins that can be “integrated” into the forum. I understand that forums can have a lot of options, but if companies like vBulletin can get most of it included in one default installation, why can’t Buddy Press?
Moving on to bbPress.
Having decided against BuddyPress I next went to bbPress only to have problems right from the get-go. Sure it was easy enough to install, but I noticed a quirky little issue that I was not willing to deal with.
This is for all of those users out there that “must have the site your-way”.
Upon setting up a private forum in bbPress I testing the forum and found that the forum urls were a little “wonky”. This is how it appeared on our test site:
While I could deal with having breadcrumbs that show the full paths, having the “forums/forum/” before the actual forum name seemed redundant.
So like anything, I do more testing. Upon the creation of a “private” forum I noticed that the page heading show like this:
Private: Private: test Forum
Since the only reference to “private” was in how the forum was designated (admin only forum), I felt this too was redundant. The forum name was “test forum”, so I figured this was just likely an issue with coding or version control issues.
Either way I did not feel like I should need to be trouble-shooting this forum software once I read this comment from a developer:
Currently bbPress has the URL structure that is has, that is that, you are indeed welcome to write a plugin or contribute to the code base as JJJ wrote above to implement other URL options for bbPress.
While I may have the knowledge to trouble-shoot software, I understand that many users do not. As a programmer it is my responsibility to correct my own programming errors. In the event other people help solve a programming error I would be grateful to those who helped. When someone points out an error it is generally taken as “thank you for the input, we will see what can be done”.
Even if it never gets fixed, that one comment put me off on using that plugin. Even if it had not I would have likely decided against it once I looked at having to fix “private issues” by installing additional plugins.
Broken or incorrectly programmed software should have bugs fixed, not just have another plugin written to act as a workaround.
Since the other three plugins in that top five list did not appeal to us as “forum plugins” due to the Q & A formats, the search continued. Then something happened which is normally avoided. I read the user comments. 🙂
My thanks go out to Angelika for the simple one line:
SimplePress is missing. That’s a very awesome forum.
So I wondered why is this not among anyone’s top 5 list? So I went to check it out. What’s this? There is no listing for it in the WordPress Repository. Once I saw this I figured it must be a “paid forum plugin”, so back to Google I went to look it up.
Plugin Version: 5.5.2
WordPress Compatability: 4.0.1
Last Updated: 12-05-2014
Average 5-Star Rating: N/A
Simple Press Surprised Me.
I think this was the first time I looked for a plugin that was not in the repository and found that it was not a paid plugin. Actually found this quite unusual that a freely available WordPress forum plugin was not listed on WordPress.org. Perhaps this might hurt their download stats, but luckily I found it and am now a fan of this plugin.
Simple Press Installation Process
After trying several other forums with little or no success I was already frustrated at the potential that Simple Press would not work either.
The first indication of this was the installation process and I think this is why it is not listed on the WordPress repository.
The automatic installation process found for plugins does not work. The files “NEED” to be unpacked and uploaded to your plugin folder.
This is a minor inconvenience, easily bypassed with FileZilla or any other ftp client.
Of course they do actually state this on their installation instruction page, but here are the basics:
Step 1: Upload to your WordPress Plugins Folder
Unzip the downloaded file and then upload the resulting Simple:Press folder to your WordPress installation. By default, WordPress stores plugins in the /wp-content/plugins/ folder. The ‘simple-press‘ plugin folder must be copied to this location.
Step 2: Activate Simple:Press
Simple:Press should now appear in your plugins list in the WordPress administration so go ahead and activate the plugin.
Unlike most plugins, activation is only the first step. Nothing is created at this point. Simple:Press requires installation – a process that creates the tables and default data the forum requires.
You may load the install page from the plugin entry by clicking on the ‘Install‘ link. Alternatively, you can navigate to the new ‘Forum‘ menu. This will appear beneath the WordPress ‘comments’ menu. At this point the only menu option available will be to install the plugin.
Step 3: Install
Selecting the menu item will present the installation page. Click on the ‘Install‘ button to start the process. This may take a few minutes. During the install, all of the forum tables are created, the option and setting records are initialized, the WordPress ‘page’ is built that will display the forum and your current registered users (if you have any) will have their forum members data built.
At the conclusion of a successful install, a button will be displayed to load the forum admin and clicking on this will take you to the Storage Locations panel. All being well, all locations will be ticked as created and available but if this is not the case follow the instructions to manually create folders if necessary. The Storage Locations panel is covered in a separate article.
That’s all – painless and simple.
Once this process had been done I encountered a problem so I thought, “Just Great, another no-go”. But This time I was glad to be wrong.
The problem was that the “forum page” that this plugin creates (which is a standard page) would not load. It gave me the dreaded “ooops” problem which is pretty generic. Creating another page as a test loaded properly so I decided to test if there was a plugin conflict.
This forum plugin does have an issue that is known about when it comes to interacting with “cache plugins” such as W3 Total Content. In this case disabling the W3TC plugin did confirm this suspicion. With W3TC disabled the forum page loaded without problem.
Upon researching this issue it was discovered that disabling the page cache for the forum pages within your cache plugin will fix this issue.
In W3TC this was as simple as adding “forum” and “/forum” (just to be safe) to the setting “Never cache the following pages:” listed here:
W3 Total Cache Settings => Page Cache => Advanced = > Never cache the following pages:
As this issue is also related to the CSS and JS functions for minify (which shrinks those respective files), I also added restrictions to these two settings:
W3 Total Cache Settings => Minify => Advanced = > Never minify the following JS files:
W3 Total Cache Settings => Minify => Advanced = > Never minify the following CSS files:
This may be unnecessary or require further testing but did cause the forum pages to load properly.
While this is still early testing the prospect of using Simple Press as our new forum plugin of choice is looking quite nice. The feature list of this plugin is quite extensive, but here are a few of our favorite features:
- Powerful user group and permission system
- Can create private and/or public forums
- Optional ‘math’ spam prevention tool
- Coded to use WordPress secure routines
- Feature to prevent user access to wp admin
- Private RSS feeds for members only
- Fully integrated with WordPress registrations and logins
- Creates pretty/seo friendly permalinks
- Support for the All In One SEO Pack and Google XML Sitemap Plugins
- Extended member profile options
- User defined Signatures
- Forum ranks and badges
- Forum Stats including online list
- Plugin system to add features
Check out the full feature list here: http://simple-press.com/features/
Of course, you might notice that last one. This does mean that like the other plugins, bbPress and Buddy Press, there are additional plugins that can be installed to customize and extend the functionality of the Simple Press plugin. Our staff, and myself included, have never been adverse to this issue, as long as we can get the main plugin to work correctly and looking the way we want it to look.
At present there looks to be over 50 additional features, more can be requested, that you can add to the base plugin to accommodate your very own special branding or usage requirements. We like options. Install what you need, leave out what you don’t.
This plugin looks very well polished as far as forum plugins go. This is easily on par with programs like Vbulletin. Take a look at the basic default page created on our test site:
In the past we would have likely used a non-WordPress forum plugin such as PHPBB or VBulletin as they are two of the go-to php based forums on the web. However we were quite glad to find this little gem of a WordPress integrated forum plugin that looks and feels as high of a quality as we have seen. We will keep you posted on how this plugin turn out for our uses in the upcoming weeks. We are happy to have picked this as our Plugin of the Week for December 15th, 2014.