January 1, 2010

Vanilla Forums – Build an Online Community for Free


Why waste time searching for online forums devoted to your favorite niche hobby when you can build your own forums for free? That’s the idea behind Vanilla Forums, the web-based application that gives users a way to build their own fully functional online forums from scratch. Rather than relying on restrictive hosting companies that reserve total control over the way your forum looks and flows, Vanilla Forums puts the control in the hands of its users.

Create a forum about any topic you wish, then select a theme and set user permissions and discussion controls. Likeminded people can start joining your forum right away. Your new community can be structured similarly to other online communities, with users starting discussions and sending private messages to their friends. Because you control the forum, the specific permissions and settings are all determined by you. Whether you want comments to be refreshed or whether you’re looking to close the forums to new users—the decisions are in your hands.

Additional features like custom domain names, ad removal, file uploading, and custom CSS, can all be purchased for a fee once Vanilla Forums is through with Beta in the months to come. In the meantime, the site has already put together a team of more than 10,000 community members dedicated to finding a solution to any technical problems that may come up. Not only is Vanilla Forums free for basic users, but it also offers its users much more freedom than other forum hosting companies, which is why this is an application that should not be missed.

Practical Uses:

  • Create a forum devoted to your favorite hobby
  • Build an online community that only your friends can join
  • Learn more about a topic by interacting with likeminded individuals
  • Post all relevant information on a specific topic in one central location

Insider Tips:

  • Add messages anywhere within the forum to inform users of news and events
  • Use the Manage Routes feature to redirect users to specific areas of your community
  • Assign specific roles to individual users
  • Limit the number of posts any single user can make to prevent spam

What we liked:

  • Basic design makes the site easy to navigate
  • Free forums allow anyone to start their own online community
  • Extensive user controls let you limit who joins your new forum
  • Users can bookmark interesting discussions or check out recent activity

What we didn’t like:

  • Because the site is still in Beta, many premium features have not yet been rolled out


Company Info:

  • Launched: August 2009 (Beta)
  • Privately Held
  • Headquarters: Canada
  • Founded by: Mark O’Sullivan and Todd Burry
  • Web site:


  • Free for basic accounts
  • Premium plants will be available in the future


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