Why free hosted over self hosting

Ingenious

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Just curious, having read some interesting threads about hosted services... why would someone choose free over self hosted these days? By free I mean a service that hosts your forum and effectively provides everything except the users and content.

OK so you might say the answer is in the question, it's free. Duh!

Yes and no. You see for me, when someone is ready to start a forum about their hobby or profession, they are highly likely to already be spending a lot more on that hobby than on any licence or hosting costs. Take gamers, probably already own a console or PC rig and spend $$$ on games. What hobby these days costs less than a some dollars a month to host, and a few hundred dollars to purchase a forum platform?

I just see so many disadvantages to free hosted forums that do not outweigh the advantages IMHO:

  • Your data and community might not, strictly speaking, actually be yours depending on the T&C
  • You are being used by someone else to make money (via adverts on your site)
  • It could be very hard to remove your community from the host in the future and become independent
  • Your community is at the mercy and whim of someone else (buy outs, collapse etc).
So what are the key advantages of hosting with someone else that I am missing here, anything other than cost? Maybe you need less technical skill too (though few of the forum platforms I have installed have been difficult)?
 

Maddox

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The only real advantage that I can visualise is that, apart from the free element, it could be a means of gauging interest. That is, if it works on free then it should work on paid; this eliminates the risk element in the cost factors.


;)
 

doubt

Tazmanian
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You do not need any experience with managing forums, just start it.
 

zappaDPJ

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Maybe you need less technical skill too (though few of the forum platforms I have installed have been difficult)?
Perhaps a case of easy when you know how?

Installing SMF is little more than a one click operation through Softaculous but until you've actually done it it'll still remain daunting to many people. Installing and using an FTP client will be a complete no go for most. A read through the official installation and upgrade forums of any forum platform suggests that even having technical knowledge may not be enough to perform a successful installation. I struggled for many hours the first time I installed vBulletin 2. It just wouldn't install until I finally worked out my FTP client wasn't uploading some files correctly.

I'm sure it's not the only reason but I'd say ease of use is definitely a factor.
 

southernlady

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I never free hosted or share hosted a forum. I did SELF host my first one. Had my own server in the back bedroom of our house. And although everyone told me I was making a mistake, it worked well for almost a year with only ONE outage when my cats turned off the surge protector strip.

At that point, I moved to my own server, it was a VPS and my partner was excellent at the managing side. When he stopped doing that, before he did, we moved me to managed hosting and I have been there ever since.
 

vbgamer45

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I have a forum hosting service for many years now. Mainly it is people to who do not have the technical skills with installing/maintaining a website or are younger. For my service I do tend to get a lot of gamers/roleplayers. There are times though I do get old forum owners who just no longer want to pay for a hosting bill as well.
 

maksim

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Apr 9, 2009
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Plenty of free open source forum software out there that can be one click installed.

The "free hosted" stuff is really a death nell and a near guarantee that your forum will never be succesful enough. Reason why, if it gets big enough, you won't be able to take it out (without a heavy price)..

As such, this is why I would rather start with some imperfect software and really good hosting... then if the forum is successful, get one of the paid forum software packages, like IPB, XF, etc.

In two months my main forum will be celebrating 10 years. We started out as free phpbb forum and after about a year and having proof that there is a demand for the community, I upgraded to IPB.
 

overcast

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Only genuine reason to choose free hosting is lack of money. Otherwise getting free hosting is a pain. Not because of service but their servers get lot of load which is not good for serious websites.
 

MagicalAzareal

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I don't really care about the money that much.

If I'm going to do something at all, then I'll do it right.

If I can do it cheaply too, then that just makes it all the better.

I don't believe in free however, some would say that services provided by Cloudflare or Google are free, but one sells your data to advertisors and the other sees it as great free PR to market the services that *actually* make them money like Pro, Argo, Mirage and Railgun.

As for free forums, not only do they obstruct you leaving in a lot of cases, but they quite frankly suck. With a self-hosted site, you can slap down whatever plugins you need, customise the theme / code, etc. but with a free one, you're a lot more limited.
It just wouldn't install until I finally worked out my FTP client wasn't uploading some files correctly.
Wget usually helps there, although it won't necessarily work for a proprietary software.
 
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mysiteguy

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I don't believe in free however, some would say that services provided by Cloudflare or Google are free, but one sells your data to advertisors and the other sees it as great free PR to market the services that *actually* make them money like Pro, Argo, Mirage and Railgun.
Cloudflare has never said they aren't selling your data. Read their wording very carefully. They are not selling personally identifiable data - that is all. They do sell data about your traffic, it's sources, visitor demographics, etc. - some of the buyers have been identified.
 

overcast

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Many hosters give a free test for a week or a month, this can also be used.
Not reasonable for serious people is it? I mean you have like community building project and want to work seriously. Would you waste efforts testing things out?
 

Luuk

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May 3, 2019
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Not reasonable for serious people is it? I mean you have like community building project and want to work seriously. Would you waste efforts testing things out?
Because you may not know if you like the service they are offering and want to try it out, or you just want free hosting for a short period of time. Time4VPS also offers free trials
 

overcast

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Free trials for VPS are good if they allow you to test the docker images etc to see the performance.
 

Wes of StarArmy

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I think free hosted forums are often run by kids who want to build a community but might not have money, credit cards, or much technical expertise. But they got creativity and passion and want to build something right and If you're 16 years old and trying to start a Naruto RP fan forum for free then ezBoard.com/YOURSITENAME will get the job done.

But you might say, "Hey, but ezBoard doesn't exist anymore!" And you'd be right.

Let me give you my real-world examples. A tale of 2 forums...both of which still exist.

1) One of my early forums was on ezBoard. And the forum host got hacked and tons of posts were lost. Then ezBoard was bought by Yuku, and then Yuku was bought by Tapatalk, and now my old forum's data is on Tapatalk, which I never asked for, and they don't provide a way to export it. Alternatively, if your free forum was hosted by icyboards, they shut down and your stuff might have been lost that way. The point is that when you use a free forum, your data (posts, etc) is in someone else's hands and who knows when they will become the next Geocities and go under, taking all your work with them. Most likely your stuff will not outlive its host...but it may also last a long time! My forum from 2003 is still around on Tapatalk because it was a free forum. Even my ancient Geocities sites were around for a long time with no financial input from me.

2) The opposite is with my old PHPBB2 forum...I made this forum in 2004 to escape from ezBoard to a self-hosted solution. Since then, the forum was ported to PHPBB2, then Xenforo 1, now Xenforo 2. Because I control the database, I've been able to keep the same forum running for 15 years by using importers and converters to move to new software when the old one was getting old or stagnant. If you want to build a lasting community, the only long-term way to go is to make sure you're not trapped in a particular ecosystem. Have an exit strategy. The downside is this method costs a non-trivial amount of money for hosting, domains, licenses, add-ons, etc. So you're often faced with either asking for donations or adding ads or sponsorships. Your stuff won't outlive your money. If you can't pay for your site's services it will go offline.

So it depends on what your resources are...
 

overcast

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I think free hosted forums are often run by kids who want to build a community but might not have money, credit cards, or much technical expertise.
Not necessary just kids. Many who don't qualify for credit cards also don't buy anything online and prefer free services instead.
 

MagicalAzareal

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There are also some disabled people who for one reason or another are unable to work who make use of free services as-well.
 

overcast

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Mar 17, 2019
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True. Disabled people definitely avoid getting into loan and credit card. So they tend to use paypal or just rely on free services.
 
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