Beehive Forum .5 Online Community Software

 
 
By Jim Lynch  |  Posted 2005-02-15
 
 
 

Beehive Forum .5 Online Community Software


DIY (Do-It-Yourself) is one of the most important things we cover at ET. But DIY is not limited to just building computers. For example, you can build an online community yourself. The key to having a community, rather than just a web site, is to engage people in discussion. If you run your own site, youve probably considered adding a message board at some point.

But picking the right forum software for your forum is not always easy. In this review well take a close look at the new release of Beehive, a free and open source forum package. You can use Beehive without paying a cent, and you can customize the code until your hearts content.

Beehive requires PHP 4.1.0 and MySQL 3.5 or above to run. This is all included in the readme.txt installation instructions. Users simply need a web browser to participate in a Beehive forum. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Mozilla all work fine with Beehive.

Why Bother with an Online Community?
Before we get into the meat of the Beehive review, its helpful to note why online communities in the form of message boards are important to a sites well being, traffic, and business model. Here are a couple of reasons why you might want to add an online community to your site:

• Stickiness & Loyalty—Well-run forums have the potential to be quite "sticky." They bring users back again and again and again—even if the sites regular content hasnt been updated for a while. Posting in a sites forum never stops so theres always new content for users to read.

Forums also have the potential to create & inspire loyalty among a sites users. They can have a powerful impact through "word of mouth" when users mention the site to others that they know offline, in email, and in other forums on other sites. Referrals to others from loyal forum members can have an important impact on a sites traffic and reputation.

• Ad Revenue—Forums also have the potential to generate advertising or even subscription revenue for a site. If a forum is not moderated, then this potential is lessened since most advertisers dont want to run ads on sites with lots of flames, profanities, etc.

With these thoughts in mind, lets take a look at Beehive. Continued...

A History of Beehive


Beehive was started by a group of people who had a community on the Delphi message board system. Part of the attraction for these folks was Delphis frames-based interface and powerful forum features.

Delphi at one point decided to charge for their software, and the folks that had their community on the Delphi system looked for existing alternatives to move their community to—unfortunately they couldnt find anything suitable. So they decided that it was time to create their own forum software. Thus Beehive was born and released to the world as a free and open source product under the GPL license.

To date, Beehive has been overshadowed by phpBB and other forum software packages. We believe that time is now coming to a close as more people have become aware of the powerful feature sets and tools that Beehive has to offer.

Whats New in .5
Beehive has lots of new features in this release. Heres a quick breakdown of some of them:

  • Built-in emoticons, as well as an emoticon preview pane
  • Multiple forums running on the same server
  • Reply as a private message
  • Personal word filter
  • HTML toolbar in signature
  • Revised user controls
  • Users can move their own threads, ignore threads, etc.
  • Thread options can be accessed via the small dot to the left of the thread title in the thread frame.
  • Private message auto-pruning
  • Tabular polls
  • Spoiler tag to hide text that otherwise might give away stuff in messages about movies, books, TV, etc.
  • English language dictionary and built-in spell-check for messages
  • Advanced ignore functionality

There are a host of new features added to Beehive, more than we can list here. To see the full list, be sure to read the release.txt file that comes with Beehive. Overall, this release is really packed with great features, and well be taking a closer look at some of them below. Continued...

Installing Beehive


Beehive requires web hosting that provides PHP 4.1.0 or above, as well as MySQL 3.5 or above. It also helps to have phpMyAdmin if you need to edit the database later for some reason. Check with your web hosting company to make sure you have all the requirements before you attempt to install Beehive.

This release also provides an easy to use install/upgrade script. Just follow the instructions in the readme.txt file that comes with Beehive. Even if youve never installed a piece of software like Beehive, you should be able to get it up and running with relative ease as long as you have the requirements listed above.

The script runs in your browser. You just need to upload the Beehive files to your directory on the server and follow the install instructions in the readme.txt file.

The Beehive Interface
Beehive, like its closed source cousin Prospero, uses a frames-based interface. This has the virtue of eliminating the constant back-and-forth navigation between the thread listing and messages that plague other kinds of message board software such as phpBB and vBulletin. Its very fast to move between threads and "quick-click" through messages in a section.

The left frame is where you navigate between sections and between threads. The title of each section can be clicked to open a longer list of threads. At the very top of the left frame you can click links to access your private messaging inbox, create a poll, or start a new discussion. You can also start new threads by clicking the "Post New" link inside the thread list for that section, or you can click the total number of threads at the top of each section to see a longer list.

The drop down menu at the top of the left frame lets you choose the way you want to view threads in the left frame. For example, you can choose to view threads from the following options:

  • All Discussions
  • Unread Discussions
  • Unread To Me
  • Todays Discussions
  • Unread Today
  • 2 Days Back
  • 7 Days Back
  • High Interest
  • Unread High Interest
  • Ive recently seen
  • Ive ignored
  • By ignored users
  • Ive subscribed to
  • Started by friend
  • Unread started by friend
  • Polls
  • Sticky threads Continued...

Navigating Discussions


One extremely important feature found in the left frame is the minus link that appears to the right of the sections title. By clicking on the "-"link, a forum member can choose to ignore an entire section of the forum. It will become minimized at the bottom of the thread list until the member decides to click the "+" link to open it up again. For high-traffic forums, this is a huge help since all members can customize sections they see so that the left frame isnt flooded with messages from sections that members arent interested in reading.

You can also click the small dot to the left of a threads title to pull up the Thread Options screen in the message frame. This lets you move messages, change the title, etc. More on that in the admin options section below.

The top frame contains navigation links to the forums Start page (where you usually begin when coming into the forum), a link to easily reload or access Messages, the forums Links page, your Private Messaging Inbox, a link to the My Controls page, a link to the My Forums page, and a login/logout link. You can also easily reload the forum by clicking on the graphic in the top frame as well (assuming that the forum admin has set it up that way and most do).

The right frame is where you actually view messages. One of the great things about Beehive is that messages are linked (or threaded) to one another. So if you dont know why someone is saying something to somebody else, you can click the message number in the right hand corner and hop back to the original message. Unlike Beehive, quite a lot of forum software packages (such as InstantASP Forum, Invision Powerboard, phpBB, etc.) lack real threading and its a shame. It makes it very difficult to know who is saying what to whom without a bunch of quote backs cluttering up peoples messages.

In each message youll see a reply link as well as an email icon, printer icon, unread icon, and a relationship icon. The relationship icon puts the power of customizing who you interact with in your hands. Just click it to manage your relationship with another forum member. If you dont like someone you can choose to ignore them and/or ignore their signature. You can also mark them with a friend icon or globally ignore all signatures in the forum.

You can also read a persons profile by clicking on their name in a message. Administrators have the power to customize the fields available in members profiles. Also included on the profile page are links to send email or private messages to that member, as well as a link to ignore that member. The total number of posts by a member is displayed on the members profile as well as their birthday (if they opt to make it public), and their last visit.

This release has some changes in it, such as a "Reply to All" button, as well as a "Thread" options button. Well take more about both of those in the problems section of the review. Suffice to say that they need some tweaking before they live up to their full potential.

Also appearing at the bottom of the message frame is the Forum Stats area. This little section is fun (just click the "+" sign to get it to appear if its not on by default) to check out as you browse around. It shows the number of guests, members, and anonymous members currently in the forum. It also shows the total number of threads and posts in the forum, as well as the largest thread. And it lets you see the total number of members, who the newest member is, and how many posts have been made in the last hour or so. Continued...

Admin


: Thread Management Tools">
One area where Beehive truly shines is in its administration features. If youve ever managed a message board, particularly a high traffic one, then you know that a community manager lives or dies by the tools that he has to manage the forum. If the tools are poor or limited, then managing a very busy forum can be nearly impossible.

Managing threads is easy in Beehive. Just click the "Thread Options" link at the bottom of the message frame and you can easily change the title of the thread, lock the thread to stop new posts, or lock the title and folder the thread is in, or you can move it to a new section, make the thread sticky, or even delete posts by a particular user in that thread.

This last option is new and, frankly, its a god-send for all community managers! This means that if somebody acts up in a thread you can prune all of their messages out of that thread with just a single click. This is much better than just having a single option to nuke all of the users posts in the entire forum. Its the difference between using a laser-guided bomb in a pinpoint strike and a full-blown nuclear missile. In most cases, the laser guided bomb is a much better bet to avoid collateral damage than using a nuke.

If an admin allows it, users can also move or rename their own threads. This has the potential to be another huge help to admins. If a user screws up and puts their thread in the wrong section, they can click the "Thread Options" link to move it to the proper section. This saves the admin from having to do it later. Users can also be given the ability to rename their threads. Admins do have the option of turning off this option if they want but we would almost certainly keep it on. Continued...

Admin


: User Management Tools"> Problem users can always be a headache for community managers but Beehive puts a rich array of tools at your fingertips to deal with them. To change a users privileges in the forum, you can click the wrench icon in one of their messages or you can find them in the Users tool in the admin controls. Once youve clicked the wrench or clicked their name in the Users tool, the menu page will load and you can then begin managing your problem user.

"User Status" lets you ban the user outright, worm them, or make them a global moderator. Worming someone simply means that only admins can see the persons messages. To other users, the problem users messages appear as deleted messages. This is an extremely helpful, unobtrusive way of silencing problem users.

And the best thing about it is that they dont know that theyve been silenced. They keep posting happily, blissfully unaware that nobody is reading their messages. Over time they will generally depart since they get no responses to their posts from anyone. Weve found this feature to be absolutely wonderful with spammers.

Worming works better than outright banning because the user may just come in and register a new ID. You can ban by IP, but we generally dislike doing this, as routers may mask the true IP and innocent users may be banned. If they are wormed instead, they only waste their time by posting and you are spared having to chase down all of their new Ids. Its a diabolical and quite delicious tool for any community manager to use.

Right below the User Status section is the Folder Access tool. Here you can control everything a user can do in each section of the forum. You can control whether or not they post, if they can read messages, use HTML, reply to messages, edit posts, upload attachments, post a signature, create new threads, or even moderate a folder. The granularity of this tool is terrific; it gives community managers an excellent way of controlling a users actions in the forum.

If youve set up user groups and added the user to a group or groups, youll see them listed in the User Groups section. Youll also see possible aliases as well. This is a very helpful if you are dealing with a user that constantly switches IDs in the forum.

You also have the option to nuke all of the users posts in the entire forum. This is something that works great for spammers but should be used quite sparingly for regular users. You can also choose to manage any attachments that the user has uploaded to the forum in the Attachments section of the of the user management screen as well.

All in all, Beehive provides an amazingly rich set of tools to manage users. Continued...

Admin


: Other Tools"> The admin page also has other tools available. Here you can easily create user groups and dole out privileges based on membership in these groups. You can also create and edit the title of folders (sections) in your forum as well as permissions in each folder. The Profiles tool lets you add, remove, or edit fields available to users in their profiles.

The Forum Settings tool is only available to the official Administrator of the forum. You must be logged in as the administrator to use this tool; no sysops are allowed access to it. This tool lets you change the title of the forum, the forums email and description, and also the forums keywords. You can also change the default style (or theme) of the forum as well as the default emoticons and language of the forum.

You can also edit the post-edit timeout time as well as the maximum length of a post. You can also toggle on or off the ability of users to create polls in your forum as well as the minimum search word length. You can also edit the session cut off time and toggle on or off the stats display at the bottom of the message frame in the forum.

In addition to that you can also enable/disable the guest account as well as login guests automatically. Finally, you can also enable/disable attachments in your forum. And you can also edit the allowed size of attachments in your forum. The default size is 1MB. And you can also opt to allow embedding of attachments in messages or signatures if you want.

As you can see the Forum Settings tool is quite powerful and controls some of the forums most important features.

The Start Page tool lets you edit the text that appears on your forums start page. Or you can edit this yourself directly in the config files. Either way is up to you. The admin tool comes with a nice WYSIWYG toolbar that lets you easily change the text formatting without having to bother with HTML.

The Forum Style tool lets you create new styles (or themes) for your forum. Be careful using this tool if you are what we call "design challenged." In other words, dont come up with a color scheme that makes your forum hard on the readers eyes or you will cut down on participation. Nobody wants to read orange text on a black background or other crazy color scheme.

Be warned also that you can become addicted to playing with the Forum Style tool as you try to find just the right style for your forum. There are so many different ways you can customize what your Beehive forum looks like. And if youre good with CSS, you can even create your own specialized themes without using the tool.

You have the option of setting up a global word filter and forcing it on everyone in the forum. While we think that its good to have this option available, we also think that its generally a good idea to let users control their own personal word filters rather than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all type filter. However, in some forums it may be worth using the global filter. Thats a judgment call that you will have to make for yourself.

In the top frame, there is a drop down menu called Forum Links. You can add/remove links to other forums or web sites in this list by accessing the Forum Links tool in the admin page. Its very easy to type in a title and URL for whatever sites you want to link to. In our case we opted to link to the ET and PCMag forums as well as various Beehive forums and also our other Beehive forum called NASCAR Fury.

The View Log tool lets you easily see what you and your sysops have been doing to manage the forum. All admin actions are listed here so it makes it very easy to keep an eye on your sysops and to know if you have a renegade sysop that needs to be dealt with.

Theres also Forums tool section on the admin page that lets you pick which of your forums want to be the default forum as well as allowing you to easily create a new forum. And you can also edit the default settings for a new forum. Continued...

Private Messaging



Beehive, like most other forum software, has a private messaging feature. Forum members can click the PM Inbox link in the top frame to visit their inbox to send or receive private messages. New in this release is a handy gauge that appears at the bottom to tell you how much private messaging space you have left (admins globally control this setting for all forum members).

Also new in this release is the ability to click "Reply Via Private Message" in any message in the forum. We like this idea a lot. Some things are better said privately between forum members. This has the virtue of taking insults, personal attacks, etc. into private messages that dont skunk up the forum or thread.

Users can also turn on auto-pruning for their private messaging, or admins can opt to turn it on globally. Admins can also customize how much space users get in their Saved Items folder. Anything outside of that folder will be automatically deleted as per the admins auto-pruning settings.

My Controls and the Personal Word Filter
My Controls (formerly known as Preferences in the last release) has been changed from having all preferences appear on one page to having each option selectable via list on the left side. Its debatable as to which way was better. Some folks probably preferred to scroll down one page while some like being able to click to access each section separately. We can live with it either way.

In the My Controls area you can change your user details, user profile and password, as well as email & privacy potions—including browsing the forum anonymously so you arent listed in the stats at the bottom of the message frame as well as choosing whether to receive email or private messages from other forum members. You can also control how the forum is displayed including the timezone, preferred language, how many posts appear per page, font size and style, among other things.

You can also choose to delete any or all attachments that youve uploaded or view the messages that the attachments appear in. Or you can upload a new attachment directly from the My Controls page. You can also edit your forum signature as well. And, new in this release, is a built-in HTML toolbar that makes creating a forum signature a breeze, even if you dont know HTML.

Another new change in this release is the ability to edit your relationships with other users from within the My Controls interface. You can opt to ignore a user or to display/ignore their signature. You can also opt to ignore any threads started by that person. Theres also a search box on this page if you need to find a particular user. As we noted above, you can also do this by clicking the hand icon in one of their messages too. Either way works. We love this kind of empowerment of forum members to control their experiences; its one of the things that makes Beehive such a great piece of software.

One exciting new feature in this release is the Personal Word Filter. We have longed for something like this in our own forum for quite a long time and now its finally here. Each forum member can create his or her own personal list of words to be bleeped. Not only can you turn the filter on or off, and choose your own word list, but you can also choose what you would like to replace the offensive word with.

For example you could opt for the usual #### or **** or you could do something weird like replace the profanity with "Merry Christmas!" or some other phrase. We tested this and thought it was a hoot. In our own personal forum we intend to do something silly like that for the default view of forum guests (who cant control the personal word filter since they arent registered and arent logged in) so that they arent inadvertently subjected to bad language.

This is a terrific way to allow users to customize what they see in a forum, particularly since its not always clear what specifically will offend various people. Some people dont approve of the use of the word "damn" in messages let alone actual obscenities. With the PWF, each user has total control of what gets bleeped and what doesnt. Kudos go to the Beehive developers for empowering forum members to take control over their forum experience this way. Continued...

My Forums


This release of Beehive marks the introduction of a major new feature: the ability to run multiple forums off the same server and database. Lets say you want to have five forums about whatever. You can create the forums (more on that later), but users still need a quick and easy way to navigate between forums.

The My Forums link in the top frame takes the user to lists of available forums. He or she can visit any of the forums by clicking on their title in the list. And the user can also mark a particular forum as a favorite forum. There is also a search box on the My Forums screen so users can search the available forums.

Problems with Beehive
Beehive isnt without its problems, and this upgrade introduced some that were probably unnecessary. Change for changes sake is never a good idea and the beehive developers made a few goofs in this release that should be fixed before .6 is released.

We disliked the way the new thread options are accessed. Theres a large "Thread Options" button at the bottom of the left message frame for each thread. We had to click this to access the user options for the thread. We would have preferred that at least some of those options appear directly at the bottom of each thread (as in the .4 release) rather than forcing the user or admin to go to a separate page. Were nitpicking a bit here though since the thread options link is also available by clicking the dot on the left of the threat title in the left frame.

New in this release also is a "Reply All" button that appears directly under a message. This button makes it easy to post a "reply to all" but it sticks out like a sore thumb. We feel that it would have made more sense to put it at the bottom (not under) of each message next to the regular "Reply" link and the text should read "Reply to All" to make it easier for new folks to understand what the link does.

One other tweak wed like to see to the word filter is the option to set a default word filter that only applies to guests. This would make sure that guests dropping by a forum wouldnt see bad language inadvertently but would still allow registered members to use their own word filters rather than having a global one forced on them by the admin of the forum. The Beehive developers just need to separate the guest global word filter from the registered user global word filter.

When we updated our forum The Collective we ran into a number of problems with the upgrade that had to be worked out. However, we arent going to penalize Beehive in this review because we had—after being warned by the Beehive developers not to—installed a number of beta releases before doing the .5 upgrade. The burps we experienced during the upgrade were due to us messing with beta releases when we really should have known better.

One thing we would like to see in the next release of Beehive is an RSS tool that allows news articles from any site that has an RSS feed to automatically create messages in a Beehive forum. For example, when we publish an article on ExtremeTech, our content management system automatically creates a message in the appropriate section of the forum for that article. This means that each article has its own thread generated automatically.

We think that some kind of an RSS tool built right into Beehive would let forum admins use RSS feeds as a way of automatically creating threads in their forum. For example, in our forum about NASCAR, wed love to have an RSS feed flow automatically into a NASCAR News section. Each article would create its own thread in the NASCAR News section. The message created by the feed would simply be the title of the article and a brief blurb with a link back to the NASCAR site for the rest of the story.

This kind of marriage between content and community can be very, very powerful in generating traffic in the forum and can be quite valuable in providing news and other information to forum members. We hope that the Beehive developers will consider adding this in the next release of Beehive.

One other area where Beehive is currently lacking is in the ability to move multiple threads at the same time. Note that we do appreciate Beehives current ability to move all threads in a folder to another folder but we just think that that functionality needs to be more granular since, in some cases, an admin will just want to move some threads (but not all of them) from one folder to another.

More recent versions of Prospero allow admins to move multiple threads in a section via checkboxes in the left frame. A checkbox appears to the left of each thread title. The admin is able to simply check the checkboxes and then click the appropriate selection at the top of the left frame to move all selected threads to a different section. This is a fast and easy tool that Beehive should definitely incorporate into future releases. Continued...

Final Thoughts about Beehive



Over the years weve used many different kinds of message board software. Weve seen it all and we think that Beehive is, hands down, the single best piece of forum software weve used. Its designed by people who genuinely love participating and managing online communities, and the feature sets in it come not just from the hard working developers, but also from the people who use the software. The Beehive developers have been quite responsive to suggestions and requests from Beehives community of users.

When we first set up our own little message board, we used phpBB, and we got very few people dropping by. At best we got a few posts a month in our forum. Since we switched to Beehive our forum grew organically to have more than 200 registered members, 2663 threads and 62,180 posts. And this in a forum that really isnt about anything in particular! Its basically a small talk forum for whoever decides to drop in.

Pretty much everyone who has tried Beehive in our forum has fallen in love with it, and some have even decided to set up their own Beehive based communities. John Fish, one of the ExtremeTech forums most prominent members, has even started a Linux Newbies forum using Beehive and other forum members are considering it as a replacement for their phpBB based forums.

Find out more from our Software and Development section.

Even though Beehive is listed as a .5 release, we think it stacks up well against any other piece of message board software out there right now. In fact, we think its better than any other piece of software weve seen. It even includes a "Beehive Light" version of the forum for those accessing it via small devices that cant display a frames based interface properly.

If youre looking for a piece of forum software to build a community for your site, be sure to give Beehive a download. Its well worth a look. After you install you can get assistance at the official Beehive site or at Teh forum, where the Beehive developers hang out.

Will you be using Beehive for your forum? Tell me in the ET forum.

Product: Beehive Forum .5
Web site: Project: Beehive Forum
Pros: Excellent interface; superb user management; great tool set.
Cons: Thread options could be tweaked a bit; no official support, just informal community support.
Summary: Beehive has often been overshadowed by other open source forum software such as phpBB and others. But it is second to none when it comes to user management, interface, and admin tools. All in all it is an excellent piece of software for building and managing a message board based online community.
Price: Free
Score:

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