The Price of “Free Forums”

Questions we see:
Is there such thing as a safe free forum provider?
Are free forum providers scams?

There’s no universal answer here, but we’ve had a lot of forum owners come to us fleeing other hosts for various reasons. We made this list to help others learn from common mistakes when starting a forum.

A “Free forum” sounds like an enticing offer for someone looking to build an online community, but there are some major pitfalls.

First, most “Free forum” providers don’t give you a “domain” like:

Instead they give you “sub-domain.” For example:

What does this mean?

This means you don’t own your forum address. The “free forum” provider does. This leads to a number of problems, along with unforeseen consequences including:

1. If the free-form provider goes out of business, so does your forum.

2. Sub-domains don’t look professional (ie cool). They look like another “freebie site” which isn’t taken as seriously as a forum on a real domains.

3. They’re slow. Sites that stack up free forum upon free forum on their server usually have slower service.

4. Your forum could very likely turn into an advertising free-for-all. Some discoverer too late that their forums have become giant billboards earning cash for the forum provider.

5. If your forum ever took off, the free forum host may decide it is taking up too much bandwidth and give you the boot. There could be nothing you can do except start from scratch.

6. They can boot you for other reason and you’d have few options to restart the forum elsewhere as you don’t own the domain.

7. Some free sites are spam-traps, luring users for other reasons, such as to gain personal info to sell and sometimes even more nefarious purposes.

8. Need Support? (Ouch…) If your forum crashes, who knows when it will come back up. After all, you aren’t paying anything for it so you can imagine what the support staff is like.

9. “Oops we’re no longer free…” If the forum provider decides it wants to start charging because it can’t afford giving away all the free bandwidth, they could charge any price they wish and you’d have no say because you are stuck on their sub-domain.

10. Lack of control. A free-form host may not allow you to add plug-ins or modifications and build your forum the way people with good hosting and good forum software can.

If your forum is just for a quick kick and you don’t plan on using it long-term, then going free might be a good choice. But if you are looking to build a successful online community, like many of the forums we’ve hosted for more than a decade, then give us a look.

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