Scott Hanselman

Hanselforums - Evaluating Forums Software - AspNetForums and InstantForum.NET

July 27, 2007 Comment on this post [36] Posted in Musings
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imageAfter reading the very good comments on The Developer Theory of the Third Place post, I put up some forums...

Looks like the group has decided on the AspNetForums for its speed and simplicity. You can visit either /forum or /forums and they both point to (via 301 Permanent Redirect, Thanks ISAPI_Rewrite!)

Thanks to all the early adopters and testers. You're a great bunch and I'm happy to call you my friends and my community.

UPDATE: There are now two for evaluation.

Two forums enter, only one forum leaves! You will decide. Please visit both.

So far, the feeling is that AspNetForums is obscenely fast, but doesn't have threaded discussion, so I question what value it adds. InstantForum is amazingly configurable and flexible, pretty and has threads.

For now, consider them an evaluation, and a place for folks to initiate discussion. It's not integrated with this Blog, except by URI, but we can certainly look at ways to tighten things up.

The first is using AspNetForum 4.1.2, but I'm interested in hearing your suggestions and opinions about other and/or better forums choices, perhaps Community Server? The second one is InstantForum.NET.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 27, 2007 1:12
Have you looked at InstantForums.Net?

Community Server seems to have the best-developed forum software on ASP.NET, but you have to download and install everything in order to run just the forums, which seems like a lot of bloat.
July 27, 2007 1:15
Josh, funny you should say that, I was trying to get CS setup, but it's like a 30 minute upload and then I spent an hour trying to turn features off and I ended up with something like and got lost then gave up. I'll try again when I have more patience.

I'll take a look at InstantForums.
July 27, 2007 1:24
Wow, that Instant Forums is pretty sweet...they have no downloadable demo...they do have a 30 day money back though...
July 27, 2007 1:43
You can do an online demo of InstantForums.NET to get a feel for the administration functions. Of course, that doesn't allow you to run a trial on your server, but at least you can tell how easy/difficult it is to administer.

I've looked at a lot of forum software for both ASP.NET (and PHP), and InstantForums ranks pretty high up there, IMO. I first heard of them when Nick Bradbury started using them for his FeedDemon support forums, then NewsGator started using them for their support forums after purchasing FeedDemon. One of the things I liked about it at the time was the ability to subscribe to specific forums via RSS, which at the time was novel, but has since become a little more commonplace.
July 27, 2007 1:45
I've been doing a little research in this area recently. Certainly, Community Server and are best-of-breed forum solutions for (which maybe ain't saying that much). I too have been frustrated by CS installation, configuration and their licensing model.

A couple of others are: ActiveForums (but I think this is a DNN add-on maybe?) and ActiveBoard. HTH. The other dozen or so forums I've come across were 'poor', at best.

On the subject (sorta) I've been looking for a product that will help me create a community site like (ie. not just forums - downloads, KB, articles etc) - does anyone happen to know if is a hand-rolled Microsoft site, or does it use an available software product? Scott, you couldn't pull a few strings and get me the source, could ya? <<;)
July 27, 2007 2:23
I'd love to hear about a forum for that isn't the same ugly freaking beastly copycat of PunBB or vBulletin. Something more along the lines of the glorious <a href=">Vanilla</a>. i.e. something clean, simple, attractive, and standards compliant.
July 27, 2007 2:30
Bad markup, sorry. Vanilla</a>
July 27, 2007 2:40
Another nice clean one, in Rails is Beast:
July 27, 2007 3:52
FogBugz (by FogCreek) includes a very simple and clean (too simple and clean?) discussion forum/thing.
July 27, 2007 4:02
Hey scott,

You had sent me a PM at the InstantForums side.

I cannot retrieve the E-mail due to user restrictions set forth by the admin. I Snagged the image of the screen to e-mail to you, but is not a registered e-mail addy at this time.

Rock on,
July 27, 2007 4:35
It really depends on the purpose for your forums. For pure community building, I like the FogCreek forums. Joel has written a lot about why the forums are the way they are. For tech support, a different format might be better. Rob Conery's been working on a nice fast forum built using Subsonic.
July 27, 2007 4:54
Yah man! What about SubSonic forums! They're not even really Alpha level yet, but I like em - I'll set em up for ya too :):
July 27, 2007 9:12

I have setup a number of communities and tried most of ASP.NET forum scripts out there and developed one of my own in the old days. My 2c - give the CS another try when you have more patience. It is well worth the time invested.
July 27, 2007 9:14
Rob - Pre-Alpha is a little new even for me, unless it's in Ruby! ;)

So what are we thinking? Simple but not threaded or big and threaded?


July 27, 2007 9:38
I like threaded forums.

And I'm glad you are doing this so I can just sit back and wait for the definitive answer :-) I've been trying to find something for an upcoming .net web project. I like CS the forum features but I don't need all the other stuff and the license seems a bit high for just getting a forum. There really should be something to compete with phpBB. I've seen many .Net web sites that use phpBB instead of a .net based forum.
July 27, 2007 10:31
the singular forum -- -- is very nice. after looking through it for a while i went to the other forum and wow (plural) looked so noisy and ugly!

i know looks aren't everything and features count... but i strongly prefer the pretty forum, singular.
July 27, 2007 10:37
Instantforum is a bit a phpbb lookalike ;). Think I like the somewhat simpler look of the other one better.
July 27, 2007 10:54
I go for the one that has RSS feeds on the topic and its replies. If both have it, I vote for InstantForum since it has more features.
July 27, 2007 11:41
I looked around at all the forums I could find a couple months ago and came across those and a couple others. For what I was trying to do the open source YAF looked pretty good - it's bascially a free .net version of Invision Power Board / vBulletin.
Try it out here:

Of the commercial ones I liked InstantForum.NET better. I found Community Server to be bloated and slow and just had to take down one site running it due to perfomance problems.
July 27, 2007 11:43
Thanks Jeff. I like all the features of the InstantForums, but it just feels SO huge compared to the AspNetForums. However, IF's got avatars, and threaded discussion and a million features. But the AspNetForums are so freaking fast.

I'll take a look at YAF.
July 27, 2007 12:46
I think you should give SubSonic Forums a look - it's being dogfooded on the SubSonic Project site, so it's not so bleeding edge that it doesn't work. Plus, the flow is really cool - it does a great job of marking a thread as resolved, open, etc.

At least give it a spin -
July 27, 2007 12:58
To be honest, I actually actively dislike threading in forums. It complicates the UI, and its principal social effect is to fragment discussions. I know you can flatten, but responses to flattened views are different from responses to threaded discussions, so doing a UI transform isn't really going to help.
July 27, 2007 16:55
One of the things that I would look at is the search capabilities. It is normally overlooked until a forum gets decently large, and then it's too late. On some sites it is actually better to use Google than the search internal to the forum (looking in Community Server's general direction), which is just sad.
July 27, 2007 18:18
Yeah, I applaud you giving up on Community Server so quickly - that software is slower than a turtle in molasses. I would say stick with AspNetForums becuase it appears to be very easy and lightning quick. And it is smart enough to hide the tons of icons that I can't use becuase I'm not yet logged in. I hate clicking on something and then getting prompted to login. If I can't use it yet - don't tease me with it!!

It's all about speed and simplicity IMO.
July 27, 2007 18:35
I've used CommunityServer since the time before it was called CommunityServer. If you're looking for a FORUMS product, I wouldn't recommend it. It has nice features, but I find it to be a major resource hog that has its fair share of occasional performance woes. Granted, I have a rather large forum implementation (a thousand new posts a day, hundreds of thousands of posts total), and I didn't upgrade to the latest version (2007 -- though I have the latest release of the prior version), but I don't expect the bloat to go away.

As it is I'm evaluating phpBB and similar forums products to migrate to. They are leaner and perform better -- and do what a forums product should do: FORUMS. If you need forums, blogs, galleries, and a simple content management system, give CommunityServer a whirl. If you need forums, get a dedicated forums product.
July 27, 2007 19:45
The subsonic forum looks interesting, but is it available as a standalone?
July 27, 2007 20:17

I would say InstantForums.NET over the ASP.NET ones. CS is a beast and if all you need is forums it's probably not a great path to go down. Having said that, have you considered phpBB? I feel it's the grandfather of all forums out there (I built my SharePoint forums modeled after it) and has not only the most features (probably as many as Instant) but the most add-ons if you needed additional functionality. Grant you, it's PHP so if you must have .NET then Instant would be the way to go.
July 27, 2007 21:14
Carson - Yes, SSF is available standalone.
July 27, 2007 22:36
Well pre-alpha wasn't really fair :). I spose I meant that from a "release" perspective, but we're feature-complete and so far I haven't had any issues. We have 1500 users and well over 20,000 posts, and the site zips right through em.

I'd even support em for ya Scott - how's THAT!
July 27, 2007 23:58
My vote is HnD. Powerful, free, and open source. Anything that done by Frans Bouma is awesome in my book. His work is just mind bogglingly amazing (i.e. LLBLGen Pro).
July 28, 2007 0:28
Have you taken a look at Frans Bouma's proof of concept project HnD? It is a helpdesk and forum, but the forum system is absolutely top notch and it used to support his llblGen project.

The Hnd website can be found here.


July 28, 2007 2:08
Thanks Hal and David, I'll take a look. For now, we're going with the blazing fast AspNetForums.
August 02, 2007 9:00

You just needed The Wizz to help you out you should really be running Community Server with the override config files it makse it a snap to create a forums only site.

August 12, 2007 18:17
To answer Andrew's questions about the site:

It is made up of several components. is a Community Server site setup to run forums only. is a Community Server site setup to run blogs only. The rest of the site is custom built.

The previous version of the site was based on the old IBuySpy portal framework (also a predecessor to DNN). The current version (released about a month ago) has very little of the old IBS portal and is 99% hand-rolled, to borrow your terminology. The site itself is also made up of various pieces - I already mentioned borrowing some from the IBS portal, but it also makes use of some other Telligent frameworks for the Control Gallery and the advertising system. The remainder of the site is basically nothing more than a large custom CMS system built on XML, SQL Server 2005 and lots of .NET code.

The membership/authentication system makes use of the Community Server shared membership model, allowing, and to use the same membership. That same membership system is also used by other Microsoft developer sites (IIS.NET, Silverlight.NET and

Sorry, no source code available for the site. However, information about the pieces and parts would indeed make good article material.
September 20, 2007 3:49
Out of all the forums I've tried, the one I hated the most was actually Community Server; It just sucks!! They charge so much for it, and it's a lot of work to setup. I hate it!!!!!!
September 20, 2007 5:01
Can someone please post the download link for AspNetForums ? I'm tempted to try it after hearing so many positive things about it here.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.