Blog Post

Vanilla Forums: The Name Says It All

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Vanilla-logoIf you’ve ever wanted a “plain vanilla” online discussion forum, Vanilla Forums might just be what you need. It’s a hosted discussion-forum solution (based on an open-source product) that’s quick and easy to set up and to use.


In a way, the name isn’t entirely fair. Forums created through the service have plenty of features, including:

  • vanilla-registrationThe ability to control how public the forum is.
  • The ability to assign users to several different roles. Each role can be assigned a different level of access, and can even be allowed to invite a certain number of others to join the forum if desired.
  • Email notifications of posting activity.
  • The ability for users to participate in private conversations.
  • Basic spam filtering, through limiting the number of posts and length of comments.
  • User profiles and avatars.vanilla-permissions
  • Search capability.
  • A customizable URL, like

What the hosted version of Vanilla doesn’t have, at least right now (the current release is 1.1.8, but version 2 is in beta).

  • Themes. If you want a look other than the standard blue-and-white design, you’ll need to host the package yourself (see below).
  • Documentation. The hosted version has zero help, although the service does use tool tips and panes with helpful hints like “Here’s some stuff you might want to do.” But I found using the site to be pretty simple.
  • Clarity on pricing and features. I’m not sure what storage and activity limitations may be placed on the free hosted version. The web site does mention a premium service, although I couldn’t find anywhere that lists features and prices.

The Vanilla open-source software package for forums is also available, if you want to host a forum yourself. It’s set up so that you can add CSS-based themes, or create them yourself. There is, by the way, considerable documentation for this version, including a wiki and (guess what?) a discussion forum.

All in all, Vanilla Forums is a surprisingly robust alternative to other discussion forum options, and may appeal to those who don’t want to deal with hosting a discussion forum, or who don’t want the hassles of managing something like phpBB.

Have you used Vanilla Forums? What do you use for discussion forums?

7 Responses to “Vanilla Forums: The Name Says It All”

  1. Hi Guys,

    Thanks for taking a look at Vanilla! Vanilla 2 (in beta as Simon mentioned) is built for PHP 5+.

    Regarding shortcomings of the hosted version of the product – The hosting site itself is still in beta, and we’re not even charging for it yet. We’re working hard to get everything completed, and we’re doing weekly releases of new features and help. I hope you’ll continue to play with the product, and we’d love to get any feedback you may have. Feel free to contact me at mark at vanillaforums dot com.

  2. From a tech standpoint, it is a PITA to maintain Vanilla Forums, as it aims to be compatible to both PHP4 and PHP5. As such, there is so much legacy code to maintain, which makes it harder.

    I found bbpress to be a pleasant surprise. After all, it is a companion to WordPress itself.