What is Forem?
Forem provides an open-source community platform to help you host an engaged and adaptable community that can be customized with some effort if needed.
What is my background? Why do I care about community tools and the process behind evaluating tools?
Coming from a Midmarket / Enterprise background working with highly reliable platforms, we always set the bar high when selecting the right tools for our business & customers. We service some decent-sized luxury hotel chains, businesses & companies that rely on us to design, manage, maintain and troubleshoot Enterprise Collaboration applications, infrastructure and Security. Keeping that in mind, we cannot afford half-baked, unproven platforms; that is not how real businesses operate. Here is my Linkedin Profile if you want to connect with me on Linkedin! In the world of know it all fake gurus, it is essential to establish a clear line of distinction.
In some of my past posts, I have shared how we had evaluated Buddyboss, didn't find it appealing and moved on to Circle for more testing. While Circle being a Saas solution makes life easy, and there are some great communities built on Circle, it is still a long way from what we had in mind. Providing some context, cause I see more than often poor tools with rave reviews from people with no background or experience, affiliates promoting tools with no future for personal gain.
Marketplaces like Appsumo are flooded with inferior quality tools, resulting in epic waste of time for those serious about their business. And not to forget all the fake comments, reviews for small gains without genuinely understanding the quality of the tools.
Why Forem as a community Platform and a community outside of FB?
Community platforms are plenty, but once you have a clear set of requirements, you will get the list shortened very quickly. I am not even going to mention some of the half-baked platforms which won't go anywhere from Appsumo. We were lucky to stumble upon Forem as we regularly navigate through Dev.to and had noticed the platform dev.to is built on was made available under AGPL very generously by the Forem / Dev.to Founders. We believe in eating our own dog food! Dev.to is a thriving community of almost 700 to 800k developers, which was very assuring and a critical point we considered!
There is no such thing as a perfect community platform, but with Forem, you adapt and customize it to your needs. However, customization is not for the faint-hearted, so be warned.
Finding the right community platform is more straightforward than building a thriving community outside FB. Those who have attempted to build a community outside of FB must relate to this. Engagement is challenging in asynchronous communities based on platforms outside of FB. Luckily there are numerous examples of Thriving communities too, so it is very much possible! Synchronous community platforms have a different equation, but we will get to that later. Here we discuss an asynchronous community with genuine posts, reviews, and tutorials; these are best expressed with comments. For quick discussions, synchronous channels like Slack, Discord, Mattermost may work best.
We want to build something where everyone can learn without distractions with a more focused approach.
Self-Hosting vs Forem Cloud Enterprise offering
Founders of Forem have made a self-hosted version available on Github with detailed instructions. As per the documentation, Forem Self-hosted is officially supported for Digitalocean, AWS, and Google Cloud but pretty sure you can deploy on other cloud platforms with some effort. For example, you can start with a Droplet on Digital Ocean and a PostgreSQL database which will cost you around $30 per month. Still, we have added some other security features, Backups, more resources, so we will just run into $80 to $100 per month, just what we were paying for Circle.
Before you start with a self-hosted forem environment, please note this is a very feature-rich platform and comes with a level of complexity. Therefore, some entry-level DevOps knowledge will come in handy. It is not a one-click install, so; please check out the instructions. Some knowledge of terminal, PostgreSQL, Redis, Fedora CoreOS, Ansible (this has saved our customers thousands of hours), Git, Python, Butane, pwgen, homebrew (mac), the cloud host you choose as we chose Digital ocean we had to use doctl, is required.
Factor in recurring hosting costs, Maintenance, and custom development when Maintaining a Forem based community. Community Management is much more significant overhead when you factor in the time involved. Check the git here
For Forem Cloud Enterprise offering, you will have to contact them and depending on the size of your community and requirements; I imagine you would get a custom quote.
Hopefully, this gives you some context, and we can come to our main topic why did we choose Forem as our community platform!
Licensing, Self-Hosting and Security
Released under AGPL license, you can use self-host, meaning you own your real estate on the Web. All custom features developed should be released under AGPL, which is fair, and everyone benefits. Forem has 20 wonderful folks full-time team, 618 Contributors, 3.2k forks and 18.2k stars on Github! So there are definite signs of momentum with Forem! Platforms like FB make it easy to engage and get traction, but FB also comes with its baggage of restrictions, data mining along the way and user privacy has become a significant issue. Forem-hosted communities give you the freedom to keep user security intact (read no mindless data collection, although Forem collects some data to improve the platform) and the flexibility to build engaging communities.
User Features and Experience
The Editor supports Markdown to write and format posts. In addition, you can use Liquid tags to add rich content such as Tweets, YouTube videos, images for posts, etc. The forem team has created custom tags that users can find when creating a post. We must explore further how post editor can be improved for those unfamiliar with Markdown, but we anticipate our audience to be somewhat savvy. Forem is currently geared towards developers, but dont underestimate its power to spark meaningful conversations, reviews, discussions, comments! Simple Gamification and improving user experience like creating and awarding badges are covered. More Gamification features should be on the way.
A large community like Dev.to is built on top of Forem, so you can imagine the management features it needs. Any community requires management and especially the larger ones. Managing Posts and Comments, Removing Spam posts and comments, Moderation, managing users, user registrations, trusted user, customizing the look and feel of your brand and organizing pages are just some of the tasks that are all built into the Forem Admin. In addition, reporting, SEO, canonical URL for reposting, Emails, Newsletters, Digest, Monetization for Admins and Users!, Listings, Sponsors, Authentication methods, you name it, is covered! The whole Admin feature set meets the requirements for managing a large community geared towards more insightful discussion and constantly improves.
iOS and Android Apps
For Android users, there is a Webview based application, and for iOS, there is an app you can download from the App store to engage in your favourite community.
The Feature list is quite exhaustive, but I will document it as we make progress and share it in our Forem Community!
Custom-built features and further customization
Forem doesn't have an official Plugin system yet but this is in the works, and you can build your own to extend the functionality, use ENV variables etc. Forem API is still in beta. You will need to dive a bit deeper here as this is currently out of scope for my post, but I can work on a detailed post on this in the future.
Forem is undoubtedly not the right platform for everyone. It is built with developers in mind, so further development for a more generic user would be necessary. Using the markdown editor or Liquid tags may not be as straightforward for everyone, but it is not as complex as it may sound. I believe some additional customization is required for features like Video, Live streaming Embeds. As indicated earlier, this will all come very soon as they have a decent number of contributors and an in-house development team. Forem is developed with Ruby on Rails, so if you are not familiar with rails, you will need to outsource the development and dont forget to release the customization as it is licensed under the AGPL license. Keep in mind the recurring cost. Forem team is always listening based on what I have seen in their community. I believe they take feedback; however, they might have different priorities from what you want, so be prepared to invest some time and money for any custom feature.
Forem uses Fedora CoreOS as the host operating system and containers powered by Podman with systemd. When you are self-host something, be prepared to understand any security pitfalls, enhance the security, backups etc. This is a daily routine for Enterprises; you don't want to end up on the first page of a newspaper, although most Enterprises do these days, unfortunately. Keep things updated!
Future Goals - NFT memberships and Subscriptions
Explore the possibility of NFT passes for the community and Saas membership. We can execute this today but still exploring the market readiness for it.
Forem is a robust community platform with massive potential. If you are in the market for a community platform, look into Forem.
SaasTribe is on a mission to build a thriving community, and we believe that we have a lot of like-minded people who want to use quality tools for their business and grow together without breaking the bank. Our goal is to promote premium Saas Tools and Founders committed to their platforms and our Early Adopter community. These steps align with our mission of Crowdfunding for applications and being next to a thriving developer community certainly helps!
We believe this will genuinely empower everyone to build, share their thoughts and thrive together! Welcome you to join the SaasTribe community off Facebook.