Blogs and forums are made of the same content structure (post + comments) but are organised in different visual formats (blogs sort by post date, forums sort by last comment date). To show what I mean, take a look at this basic “forum view” of my blog.

It’s a common request: to have a site with both a blog and forums. There’s a number of ways to approach this:

Install blogging software in one folder, install forum software in another.
You get the best of both pieces of software and all the functionality, yet each needs to be themed so that the site looks like it fits together – each in its own way. Visitors usually have to register for the forum and enter in their details to post a comment in the blog section – not the ideal for usability. If you want to “promote” a forum topic to the home page of your blog, you’ll have to re-post it, generating two places for conversations to occur (unless you turn off comments in the blog). There’s not only often a lack of visual similarities, there’s two different systems for your visitors to learn, and real separation of the content (basic useful information such as merged latest comments are difficult to create). You also have two lots of software to upgrade and maintain. If you change your site’s design, you’ll have to change it in two places.
Hack blog and forum software so they work together
Force the software to use the same login, user and permission information. This can work, although it’s messy and upgrading can be a nightmare. You’ll still have two lots of software to upgrade and maintain. If you change your site’s design, you’ll have to change it in two places (unless you’ve hacked this as well – but that’s highly unlikely given the different templating systems used).

Install software which has both blog and forum functionality.
We’ve used Drupal (wonderful) and XOOPS (not so great). For more solutions, search at CMS Matrix (tick Blog and Discussion Forum features). Drupal is brilliant in that you can categorise blog and forum content using the same taxonomy if you like, there’s RSS feeds for taxomony terms, or forums, or blogs – whatever takes your fancy. You can also promote stories from the forums into the blog – and comments are all kept together. One user system for both, one theme, one lot of software to maintain. Drupal is a lot more flexible than WordPress but has a steeper learning curve at the beginning.

If you’ve already got a successful blog, the thought of moving platforms in order to accomodate forums can be off-putting.

But wait! Are blogs and forums really that different?
Well… yes and no.

While the appearance (think template), functionality (think format/plugins) and usage are different (see Lee’s insightful article on the difference between blogs and forums), the basic underlying content structure is exactly the same:

Blogs are full of posts and comments, created by authors, organised into categories.
Forums are full of topics and comments created by members, organised into different sub-forums.

They fill different roles and exist side-by-side on sites – indeed we would not want to remove either tool from the community sites we run.

This leads me back to my initial thought: if blogs and forums are made up of the same content underneath, could two different templates be created for a site running on blog software – one for the traditional “blog view” and one for the traditional “forum view”? We would then be back to having one piece of software to maintain, one theme, one user and permissions system.

WordPress’ permissions system is flexible enough to allow users to add forum topics (blog entries), categorise them and have them displayed in a separate area of the site. A template would handle the display and sorting (by last comment date, rather than by last post date). Note-worthy forum topics could be “promoted” to the home page of the site with meta-tags that only users with a certain permission level (e.g. the blog’s owner) could access.

Of course, some features of forums would not be automatically built in and would need to be made available by way of plugins (e.g. if you wanted threaded comments, you’d grab the plugin discussed recently). User profile pages would substitute in for forum member pages.

On the other hand, many forum software systems are bloated with features which can be daunting for new users and full of heavy-to-load pages. Vanilla is an obvious exception – but have a closer look… how different is that from a blog… really?

Once again, would appreciate your thoughts!

Again, here’s a basic “forum view” of my blog.