One of the best ways to expand your blog into a full blown community, is by starting your own forum where all of your blog visitors can meet up in one place and interact with each other. As much as we would like to think of blogs as a two way conversation, it’s really up to the blog owner to post new content for new discussions to start. With a forum, a community is built around your blog and it allows for others to not only talk on the same topics, but also become well respected moderators and users within the same niche.
As great of an idea it may sound to start your own active forum, there are a few things you will need to have first. Most importantly, an active web site that already have an established amount of readers. The next step is to find a community or forum platform that works with your web site. A lot of people shy away from starting their own forum because they don’t want to deal with the intensive installation process and costs involved with purchasing the right software.
I was recently contacted about the new Dolphin community software, which is an open-source, fully customizable and FREE software package for building and running your own community site. After looking through their web sites, videos and product breakdown, it looks quite amazing.
While I was focusing mainly on the concept of building a community and forum around your existing blog, the software has the functionality to actually become it’s own social network, dating site or even a niche community. To get a quick overview and feel for what Dolphin can do for you and building a web community, be sure to check out the video below.
In addition to creating the Dolphin community software, Boonex has also built up their own directory of templates that can be used with their Dolphin software. Boonex goes on to talk about their social networking templates and how they personally aren’t creating template designs directly, but instead leaving this to their partners and members of the site.
When asked about why the company doesn’t provide templates with their Dolphin package, Andrew Boon says:
We probably will never do it and this position is strengthening to the point that I would argue that anyone who provides community software with lots of templates is diluting quiality of their product and selling “packaging” that you don’t need.
While this may make some of their users unhappy, Boon is absolutely right. How many times have you bought a product that came with a bunch of crap you didn’t need, but ended up paying for anyway. This is exactly why excellent products and software like WordPress, can stay free. They aren’t “selling crap” and stuffing the bonuses into the cost of the product.
With over 3 million downloads so far, the release of Dolphin has been quite exciting for Boonex. Now let’s take a look at some of the templates for community sites that they have available. There are hundreds of templates listed on the site and they range any where from $5 up to around $79 for premium and high end templates.
If you’ve ever wanted to start your own social network but had no idea where to start, Dolphin also has a supply of social networking site templates to inspire and stir up some ideas for you. What’s really cool about the social networking templates, is that they each have a specific focus to help make your social network a better place. In the examples below you can see how some templates allow for locations/travel settings, while others can setup alerts or even job boards.
After looking through the Dolphin web site and software, it looks like it could be a great solution for someone that has time to learn how to use the system, and already has an established audience, but looking to expand even further with a forum or community social network.
If you’d like to learn more about setting up a community around your blog, or see how others are installing and using Dolphin, be sure to check out their web site and the many tutorial videos that can be found on YouTube.