Forum Design Stuck in the 1990’s (27th April 2012)

It’s been nearly 4 years since my radical forum interface mockups for Accessify Forum. Hardly any of it was implemented and it seems mainstream system are hardly better than they were 10 years ago. Slightly fewer layout tables and slightly nicer themes. That’s about it.

We should have multiple perfect forums by now – they’ve been popular for 15 years!

I now plan to choose and modify a forum system. It will start in my local server environment rather than publicly. Once there is something worth showing I’ll make it available in the /!dev/ area.

“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

This type of project takes a long time, speaking from experience. Many years ago I changed all the HTML produced by Ikonboard for a GTA forums theme. A couple of years later did a similar thing to Invision, when they switched over.


They were open to change when I reviewed their code some years ago. The system is very much about providing the essentials and nothing beyond that, with a sensible architecture that is relatively lightweight.

The default HTML it produces has its heart in the right place, although some areas do strike me as a bit weird. The design is subtle and orderly, perhaps even a bit boring. Those are all good things for a forum, in my view, especially when it’s going to have unfamiliar task flows.

My web hosting has cPanel with a Softaculous area, in which there is a PunBB demo. So this might also be the easiest to deploy to my web hosting, thinking ahead?


The most prevalent forum system around? Used by my current favourite hangout, GTAMP Forum. It’s also used by Accessify Forum, for whom I originally started these experiments.

This would produce the biggest impact, although I would most likely cut out loads of its features. Might be able to get database dumps to kick-start my local server environment with a large amount of real content and users. Would help to keep things real, right from the start.

This route also has the biggest potential for being deployed as a theme by one or other of the communities I’m already part of. Their members could opt into it, if they chose, to give real feedback.

Forum Deli

Sadly I can’t find any remaining installs or downloads for the interesting interface of Forum Deli. Is it worth contacting the original author?


By far the best-looking forum I’ve seen! Lots of intelligent features, maybe a bit over-engineered in fact. But the design arranges and decorates this deluge of clickable items in an orderly and pretty way.

With that said, the semantics of the HTML are totally absurd in places and some key task flows are not optimised. It’s available for download and tinkering, with some kind of themes system.

sCSS Board

Elxx made it, a friend from way back on the Gouranga! Forums. It’s on SourceForge but there are no websites running it.

All I could find was one website which removed it, for reasons unknown.


The system which Gouranga! Forums has used for some years. It was made by Icey, another old friend from that community. It was made exclusively for that community and nowhere else is allowed to run it.

The functionality had the essentials and nothing more. Knowing Icey, most likely programmed neatly within a straightforward architecture.

Simple Machines Forums

Eww, it’s just a yucky clone of phpBB. I thought they used to make a nice one?!

The WAP 2.0 version is somewhat interesting. It gives a live demo of how minimal a forum could be, in theory. The absence of new message indicators and having to click through even more pages than the standard theme to find relevant content makes it almost useless, in practice.

Now, here’s a pet peeve of mine. They provide WAP for extremely resource-starved devices. But they go and include the full domain name in every href, wasting 841 bytes – that’s 17.6% of the HTML size! Stupid.

(Furthermore, WAP was always a stupid format. The code is identical to HTML, just with some XML cruft (which almost nothing ever parsed as XML, btw). You can do exactly the same thing more efficiently in HTML! Especially if they optimised the href and cured the clasitis with semantic markup.)


Nested layout tables! ’Nuff said.