Forums have come a long way since the days of Internet Newsgroups and Bulletin Board Systems. And even in this age of Facebook and Twitter, forums continue to be the backbone of interactivity for some of the largest communities online. Two distinct platforms for forum hosting remain consistently at the top in popularity: Simple Machines Forums (SMF) and phpBB.
First let’s look at the similarities between SMF and phpBB.
Both platforms can be used for the typical public discussion forum allowing people all over the globe to discuss a niche topic, or a private member-based message board for businesses and organizations.
Both have an abundance of avatars, which are images that appear by your name within your forum posts. And SMF and phpBB also have their own extensive lists of language packs, enabling people all over the world to partake in the forums using their own language.
Open source is another important factor in SMF and phpBB. This means they are not only free but being open source enables a large community of people to help develop it, pinpoint bugs and security concerns, and overall just make it cooler. Being open source is part of what helped the WordPress blog platform become such a giant in the blogosphere.
So what sets SMF and phpBB apart?
First there are the amount of themes, or template styles, available. Themes are what give the forum its look and feel and can range from the fun to the professional. SMF currently has over 1000 themes listed on their website, while phpBB has under 200 (called Board Styles).
On the other hand, phpBB has about more smiley sets, currently around 70 while SMF has around 50.
Now let’s compare the community participation of the support forums for SMF and phpBB. This is the “community” section on the forum creators’ websites where developers and everyday users provide each other with support, feedback and general chitchat. At the time of this writing both of the forums had just over 1000 active users viewing each forum, and about 40 registered users who were logged into the forum. Total membership was over 300,000 for Simple Machines, and over 400,000 for phpBB, giving phpBB an edge in total community membership.
Another way to compare interest in these software platforms is to see how many people are actively searching for SMF or phpBB on Google. Now this one was a stunner! The Google Adwords keyword tool actually reported that SMF and phpBB were tied in global monthly searches. Both “SMF” and “phpBB” had 4,090,000 global monthly searches at the time of this writing. This would seem to imply that they are pretty much tied when it comes to overall interest.
However when it comes to themes and modifications (mods), SMF wins by the numbers. Mods can do everything from add a chat room to the forum to banner advertising to additional functionality of the forum itself. SMF currently has over 1500 mods while PHP has just over 500.
As all these stats are a snapshot done during the time of this writing, things can change over time so it’ll be interesting to see how SMF and phpBB continue to flourish in comparison with each other.
In the end, both forum platforms are comparable it terms of overall popularity, with plenty of forum hosts providing support for each.