Open for Discussion, With WebBoard
WebBoard: Web-based discussion forums with integrated messaging tools
Once upon a time there was Usenet, the vehicle for message boards on the Internet. Although Usenet lives on, due primarily to Google's "Google Groups" service, most discussion forums on the Internet have long since migrated to the Web. Web-based forums expand the options for hosts to use sophisticated designs and features not available on Usenet on the backend.
Akiva's WebBoard has been a platform of choice for Web-based forums for some time, and with the newly released version 7, Akiva brings the latest conferencing features to WebBoard.
WebBoard product is made up of the discussion forum server software, a Web server, and a database engine. Enterprises have the option of integrating WebBoard with Microsoft Internet Information Server rather than using Akiva's included Web server. Integrating with IIS results in ASP support, thus easing integration of WebBoard into Web sites built on Microsoft's ASP language. Those seeking a database backend can go with Microsoft SQL Server or, with the Premium version, Oracle. The Premium edition also supports server clustering. Microsoft's free SQL2000 database engine is included in all versions of WebBoard.
WebBoard weighs in at approximately 50 MB for the download, plus another 23 MB if the included Microsoft SQL2000 database engine is installed. The initial install consumes nearly 50 MB on the hard disk. Of course, because WebBoard is by its nature storing accumulated messages, disk space usage will continue to grow wherever the supporting database is located. Although the installation procedure involves several decision points, options are clearly explained. A slick "live help" window even pops up, connecting the user with Akiva's live support staff via instant messenger. We found this a nice touch in this era of making human support less accessible.
WebBoard's bread and butter comes from its discussion forums. The admin can set up one or more "servers" to have a unique URL; within each, a number of "conferences," which are the discussion forums themselves, are set up. The features and behavior of the discussion forums are typical of modern Web-based forums. They include the capability to include HTML in posts, preview and spell-check prior to committing a post, watch threads, and attach files such as pictures. Finely grained administration tools enable the administrator to configure each conference to support only those features users are intended to have. The administrator has a great degree of control over forum aesthetics as well. He or she can choose from a large set of predesigned themes and can individually set colors for layout elements. Forums can require moderation or be left or unmoderated, e-mailed as periodic digests, white-listed (i.e., only invited users can participate), and basically be as tightly controlled as desired.
With this release, Akiva is particularly touting WebBoard's capability to manage Weblogs, commonly knows as "blogs." Blogs are, substantively, variants on discussion forums, with each blog entry the equivalent of a new topic posting. The Premium edition also includes an integrated instant messaging facility.
In addition, WebBoard's forums now feature polling and sticky posts, both of which are hot features in message board platforms. Polls are message posts that let respondents vote on a choice, while sticky posts are basically messages that remain at the top of the forum. With version 7's calendaring feature, event schedules for all message boards can be consolidated and notification sent automatically to users prior to scheduled events.
Access options for WebBoard go beyond the usual Web-based interface. NNTP support allows Usenet clients to participate in WebBoard forums alongside Web-based users. RSS feeds are a form of Web-based syndication growing in popularity. With RSS, WebBoard exports data in a defined XML format that other servers can process and publish in whole or in part.
Akiva has also designed WebBoard with site-wide integration in mind. Its ASP support allows developers to include WebBoard in an overall site design. And the new "single signon" feature takes advantage of existing Web site authentication so users do not need to sign on twice when visiting restricted sites that also host WebBoard forums.
When considering WebBoard among Web-based forum platforms, note that the package is intended for Microsoft-based servers. Although WebBoard Premium supports Oracle, which can run on a wide range of platforms, both the WebBoard server itself and its support for MS SQL and ASP integration give the product a strong Windows-like feel, which, for those running a largely Microsoft data center, make the integration process simpler.
It's not so much the price point and the feature set that sets WebBoard apart from the crowd. After all, alternative Web forum platforms, such as Phorum and vBulletin, offer many of the same forum features at lower prices (free in the case of Phorum, in the low hundreds for vBulletin, depending on the license). These offerings are based on PHP, which is platform-neutral but supports many of the same integration features as ASP. However, these alternative products may require more technical expertise in installation and configuration, and may not provide the robust add-ons or the same access to human support that Akiva provides with WebBoard.
Pros: Very easy to install and configure; Thorough and complete feature set; Facile integration into Microsoft-based environments
Cons: Lacks platform neutrality; Basic version has very limited feature set; High cost, relative to alternative products with similar features
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 2/4/2004
Original Review Version: 7.0