# Letting hosted forum users design their own forums?

I'm developing forum/blog hosting software. I'd like the forum/blog owners that'll be using my service to be able to layout and style their own pages, e.g. make their own forum/blog "landing page", or about page, or page listing the hottest forum threads.

I figure I could either build some graphical HTML design tool, which allows forum/blog owners to visually drag-and-drop page components to construct pages. Reminiscent of e.g. drag-and-drop-website-builder http://www.weebly.com/, or http://snappages.com/ or http://doodlekit.com/.

Or I could provide a template language, so forum/blog owners could write their own CSS and HTML in that template language.

• The template language approach seems terribly much easier than the graphical design tool approach, and more powerful for those who understands HTML — but terribly hard for those who don't?

• I want to spend as little time as possible with this templating / design tool stuff. It's not particularly related to the Unique Selling Point. But I think I need to do something.

Questions:

1. What do you think I should do? Start with a template system and then later on consider some user friendly graphical design tools? Or let non-techies click-and-choose between templates/CSS made available by technically skilled people?

2. Other benefits/drawbacks of the template or graphical-design-tool approaches?

3. Do you have any general comments? E.g. in what manners is all this silly? Or what should I do differently... or not at all?

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Some simple comments: How many of your users will value any benefits they can have with this feature? 1%, 5%, 10%? ---- If you make a list with all the tasks you have to do to improve their experience, what is the priority of this features for your users? ---- And finally... if you haven't launched the forum yet, isn't it easier/better to adapt one of the free major forum/blog cms's, like Elgg, PhpBB or Wordpress MU or Budypress? –  Osvaldo Aug 25 '11 at 17:58
The priority list is a good idea. I'd guess a few percent of the users would appreciate the possibility to configure HTML and CSS themselves -- but those few percent would be very valuable users I guess :-) The other users? Well, initially perhaps I could help them configuring their pages, so a few of them would benefit too. Later on I'd implement a click-and-choose CSS/html-layout for everyone (based on my experiences from the initial trivial implementation). –  KajMagnus Aug 25 '11 at 18:29
Adapting a free CMS is a really good idea. Actually I did that: I started with implementing a plugin to JSP Wiki (a Java Wiki). However there were lots of legacy code that I didn't need so I thought I might as well build my own stuff. Now I've done that, and I'm fairly happy with having everything written in Scala, and having no code to understand or worry about (w.r.t. security issues) that isn't related to what I want to build. (I'm planning to build a plugin to e.g. WordPress :-) ) –  KajMagnus Aug 25 '11 at 18:35

This is what I did: Admins are able to edit html and CSS, and via a <div> with a magic id attribute, they can specify where the blog/forum/wiki software stuff (that the software I'm building generates) gets inserted. -- I think this was a reasonably simple solution, and fairly useful, for people who knows HTML. However, not very user friendly to other people perhaps.