How many forums should I create?

Posted by battye in Moderating, Support with the tags , on March 18th, 2009

I touched briefly on this in the very first blog post here at If you’ve just set up phpBB, how many forums should you create?

As I said in that blog post, the key is to start small and increase the number of forums you have over time. There is nothing worse than going to a forum which takes a minute to load, takes twice that long to scroll to the bottom of the page and has dozens upon dozens of inactive forums with either a handful of posts or none at all. Even though there might be a couple of very active forums amongst it all, many people will still think your forum is inactive.

This is why it is better to have a couple of forums at first and expand over time. I think a good starting point is 3 forums – but this could differ for different boards – because users will have enough different areas to discuss unrelated topics, while also being small enough to ensure your forum looks active and allow users to feel comfortable that they are posting in the correct area (which could be a problem if you have a lot of different sections!).

Take for example a New York Yankees baseball community – you might want to create different forums for the pitchers, the batters, draft/trade talk, player development, rumours, etc, etc. You could go on to create a fair few different forums, but there is a risk that some might become very active and others might not. So instead, start with an Announcements forum (which most forums will have to serve as a place to inform users about changes to the actual website/forum) and a “Yankees Discussion” forum. Inside that discussion forum, any Yankees related posts can be made. You could also make an “Opposition Forum” to discuss other baseball teams or non-Yankees related topics.

By having a small number of forums it also decreases the chances of topics going unnoticed. If a user posts a topic then in most cases they want people to reply to it. If you have several dozen forums, then the chances are people are not looking at them all – so if a user posts a new topic in one of them, people may not see it and therefore won’t reply. If this happens enough it could drive existing users away. When you only have a few forums, chances are that people are constantly looking at them so the topics posted in them will receive more views (and more replies).

After a few months, you will have a general idea of what people like to talk about by reviewing the topics in the discussion forum. You can then expand the number of forums accordingly.

If unsure, in phpBB3 you can create sub-forums. You could use these to judge how popular a new forum might become if you don’t want it to appear on the index.

As a final note, there is no reason to worry about the number of “private” forums you have. If you have a couple of forums only accessible to administrators and moderators, that is fine. These forums do not need to be overly active because the general public will not be looking at them, so it won’t factor in when users are considering how active your site is.

18 Responses to “How many forums should I create?”

Posted by Nelsaidi on March 18th, 2009 at 11:27 pm:

Great article!

Posted by Jwxie on March 20th, 2009 at 2:04 am:

This question is very interesting. I have been doing forum administration ever since I entered the open source world, especially right after touching with forum software.

I helped to run one of the most popular chinese forum today, and helped many others to co-run their sites. From my experience, unless you have the enough resources to run a real forum, otherwise you really need to start thinking it seriously.

Many forum creators today are probably young people. When you visit some new boards, you see these admins created so many forums and subforums but only a few are okay (thread / post).

In my experience, you need to plan your board carefully. People come to your site or board for a specific reason. There are thousands and thousands of boards out there already, why would people bother to support your forum if your stuff are almost the same as other boards?

There is this new admin I kenw, he kept complaining about his server, his forum and how he would make the site popular. But from the discissions, we found he was 1) lack of enough basic knowledge, 2) lack of proper ASK / ANSWER skill and 3) lack of realism.

Be realistic. I will always start a board with only a very small number of forum. Start your board advertisement on your friends. Let them join your board for a reason, either a forum for longue talk, a forum for work, a forum for photo, a forum for news, whatever.
Start something small, and when they get interested, come everyday, getting more people invovle, there will be member suggesting new forum, asking to be a moderator, you are on your way, people!

Never create board right away with 100 of different forum and sub forum when 98% of them are going to be either empty / lack of popularity.
When I see a forum with last reply as “2006-06-09” , dude, people will leave….

Make sure plan it small first, be real, and then plan it bigger as the road gets larger :]
My board, as I mentioned above, one of the most popular, with a huge traffic and users, because of our purpose of the board (drama, movie, software). We have specific and professional team members doing these things, people trust our quality….

Posted by Eelke on March 20th, 2009 at 7:47 am:

You’re touching on a different subject there, which is the board subject. It’s always said, make sure you have a clear purpose for your board (it helps if there are not many other boards with the same purpoae) and don’t try to create a board that is about everything.

Posted by Jwxie on March 20th, 2009 at 7:28 pm:

Well, Eelke, actually from what i read, i think the writer is trying to touch on both subjects, what i mention, and what you mention.
if you get more deep in the philosophy, you will realize choosing a theme for your board and having so many forums are serious problems in the beginning of your creation.
even if you have a different theme, but with so many forums and sub forums that only you and a few people going around, or even later, just you doing the posting, then you will realize something is wrong in your plan.

so make sure, even when you have a very unique and good theme for your board, plan it out well, uses up all the resources you can afford to make it better…
just like when we program, you don’t start thinking the whole algorithm without learning about your task.
once you do understand the task, you can use techniques like presuedcode or just plain-thinking, from the beginning all the way till the end of the program you are writing….

:] planning is very important
this is why he mention to see people’s review, suggestion, do some polls if needed, and like i said, when you have a group people being active, some will ask to be a moderator, or ask to create this forum, or this sub-forum


Posted by oliveR on March 20th, 2009 at 8:03 pm:

I am going to start my first forums (actually 2) on two differnt sites.
My approach is to create max 3 subject-related topics plus 1 off-topic.
Each forum wants at least 2 moderators who check the the flow of communication and moderate everything which endangers the value of the community. (My pages are of specific topcs i.e. languages and video editing).
The moderators close down unused topics, open new ones if the topic is hot enough and move the comments to the appropriate category if necessary.
Plus: every week they send statistics to all members: the most active users, the mst interesting topics, new topics, closed topics, etc.

The list is long and secret is: keep the forum live and MODERATED.


Posted by Dog Cow on March 23rd, 2009 at 1:42 am:

Before my first phpBB 2 forum went online, I had a paper I wrote out the forum structure and descriptions, and I made a list of around 30 starter topics so that the forum wouldn’t be empty. Creating some “fake” users to start posting topics and replies is also quite helpful as well to get things started. I had to use “fake” members for the first year or two a lot, but now I almost never have to use any.

Posted by koa on March 23rd, 2009 at 7:08 pm:

Just let your visitors decide ! this is what I’ve done on my forum :
When opening the forum, all the topics are displayed like if it was a single forum (so it’s a very active forum). Yet from there visitors can use switches to see only a certain type of topics (that are in fact in subforums). One switch will only show from subforums 1 4 6 or 8. Another switch will only show topics from forums 2 3 4 5 7. Eventually the visitor can select only forum 2 to see only the topics of a very specific theme.
This is similar to subforums, but it’s more like subtopics / selected topics. It avoids to have empty forums yet you still have topics well sorted.

My 2pc

Posted by Stokerpiller on March 24th, 2009 at 10:43 pm:

Great article, I could not agree more.
Especially about the boards with 200 forums where you have to scroll in two minutes before getting to the bottom.

Its hard enough to start a new board.
Tips like this makes it easier.
But there is still a long way to go before you have a successfull board.

Posted by puslapiu kurimas on March 27th, 2009 at 8:35 pm:

Yes, that is fully true… To many created forums on begining, is wrong way of populating the forum. Start slowly, do not hurry.

Posted by webscriptz on March 29th, 2009 at 10:19 pm:

It’s sound nice and the values brought on by you are helpful but this is not the biggest issue. Naturally if you start big a visitor is overwhelmed and terrified to go look for something.

The biggest problem when launching a forum is content and users because without users no content and visa versa. Many webmasters / administrators try to pull those things off with multiple accounts and they start discussions with 4 to 5 different accounts.

Another problem is the administrator themselves,armed with a rulebook bigger then the European constitution and the fact that internet becomes saturated and finding a hole in it is hard.

Posted by Dan Kehn on April 3rd, 2009 at 2:51 pm:

As a rule of thumb, I recommend splitting an existing forum when there are +100 related topics that can be moved into the newly created forum. Starting out with few forums (e.g., “general discussion” and announcements) as battye suggests is a golden rule no phpBB owner should ignore.

Posted by Jwxie on April 5th, 2009 at 12:44 am:

Actually there is another way to manage the forum without having to split the forum
that goes to the template solution

Posted by kemal on April 9th, 2009 at 10:12 pm:

Great article and some good advice. I personally find it best to build up the forum in stages and look to my members for advice in terms of what forums to create and remove

Posted by InsuranceInBeijing on April 30th, 2009 at 9:37 am:

Its hard enough to start a new board.
Tips like this makes it easier.
But there is still a long way to go before you have a successfull board.
Just Start slowly, do not hurry.

Posted by on April 30th, 2009 at 11:42 pm:

You have actually covered quite a few points in how to setup a convincingly informational, effective and efficient forum!

Less crowded wit the ofrums, the better and way easier to explore 😉

Posted by Administracja Umk on May 16th, 2009 at 8:23 pm:

I have one forum and on begining I am trying to develop it. But of course in the future i will create another one or two… huh :).

Posted by Keith on May 23rd, 2009 at 12:41 pm:

Great article and thought provoking. I run a popular Pink Floyd website and, from the experience of that, I would definitely take the “Trunk and Branch” approach to deciding on that forums to create.

Take the subject your forum is about (the tree trunk), then see what that trunk branches out to generally. The key word being generally. Within those general branches will be smaller branches that focus the subject. If you focus on the smalles of subjects (the leaves on the smallest branches) then your forum will have too much crap at the branch level!

As the blog post suggests, over time, you will see what people are talking about. You could then have a forum “group” for what was once a single forum to split the general subject area down into still large branches.

So.. a forum grows like a tree over time and you have to prune and nurture it over time else it will die and nobody will want to visit a dead forum!

Posted by pjk on June 7th, 2009 at 12:01 am:

It’s simple to create a successful forum for something you’re passionate about.

Here’s the secret that the world’s most successful internet marketers to marketers don’t want you to know.. (blah blah blah).

It all comes back to the INTENT of the forum. If your INTENT is to be a money grubbing bastd and create an income stream by leveraging a forum against advertising then good luck.. you’re in competition with millions of other money grubbing bastds.

HOWEVER, if your INTENT is to create a forum and community around a topic that you’re passionate about and making money is the least important thing on your mind (and in fact ads even google ads aren’t even in the business plan) then there’s a great chance that your community will steadily grow and become vibrant.

Worry about covering costs AFTER it’s become a successful and vibrant community.. (yes even hold off on google ads etc) Much easier to get some of the members to sponsor the board for extra benefits further down the track than worry about getting a few bucks here and there by cramming ads down peoples faces.

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