When your business is looking at vendors, there’s nothing better than hearing someone on your team say “I can do this for free”. In the context of building a community, it’s something you’re likely to hear from your sysadmin. “There’s no need to pay for forum hosting” the cry goes out “I can install us a self-hosted one for free”. Boom, you now have a budget for that branded robot dog. You also just gained a huge, invisible expense.
It’s true that installing a self-hosted forum isn’t a big deal. Vanilla is based on an open-source framework, and anyone can download a version to self-host at vanillaforums.org. It’s a great solution for smaller enthusiast sites and private communities. For businesses and other purposes however, self-hosted forums can cause a host (I’m so funny) of problems.
Self-Hosted Forums Cause Serious Security Concerns
It seems like there’s a new story every week about a major self-hosted forum being hacked. That’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for the fans who lose their personal data and it’s bad for the companies who find themselves with an enormous fire to put out. Most of all, it’s bad for the community. Those people aren’t coming back to a community that lost control of their user data, and potential new members are going to remember that reputation for a long time.
So why is it always self-hosted forums that get hacked? It’s simple; because no one has time to keep their self-hosted forum updated. No platform is perfect, security updates are always going to be necessary as new exploits are discovered. Keeping a platform updated is absolutely crucial to keeping it safe from spammers and hackers. Believe me, they’re up to date on every exploit and security hole in every version of software. You can’t afford to be behind, and you can’t help but be behind.
The Invisible Cost
This is where the real cost of a self-hosted forum manifests. Someone has to be assigned to keeping that forum running. When it goes down to an error, they have to get it back up. When updates need to be applied, they need to be on top of it, that day. The development time required to keep a self-hosted forum running adds up fast, and that’s all time that isn’t being spent on other things. Sooner or later, keeping up with updates falls behind. In many cases, it falls behind badly. I’ve seen forums that are years behind on their software updates, because the person responsible for updating stopped caring or moved on to a new company. At that point, any hacker with a series of instructions they found online can destroy your community.
If you’re guarding something valuable, you don’t buy a padlock at the dollar store. Your community is valuable, and investment in protecting it will always pay off. Cloud services update on time, every time. You don’t need to do a thing, or even know that the update was applied. Even putting aside the question of security, the amount of time and headaches that a hosted forum solution saves you is worth the price of admission alone. Make sure that the next big hacking story doesn’t have the name of your business in the headline.