EngineThemes.com recently released version 1.0 of their latest project, ForumEngine. ForumEngine is a theme that uses Custom Post Types to turn WordPress into a forum. I caught wind of this new theme via a review published on WPLift by Joe Fylan. It’s nice to finally see theme companies thinking outside the box for once instead of whipping up the next boring portfolio theme. I have not had the opportunity to try out the theme but based on Joe’s review, there is one thing in particular that may be a showstopper for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, in order to use this theme, you’ll either need a brand new WordPress install, separate WordPress install, or be willing to see your existing content disappear.
With ForumEngine installed on your site, the site now functions as a forum, which the threads accessed directly from the homepage. Any existing posts that might’ve been on the site or those you create afterward activating the theme will now no longer be accessible, essentially removing the main functionality of WordPress: creating posts so bare that in mind if you wish to use this alongside a regular blog – you would need a separate installation. – Joe Fylan
I remember when the discussion around bbPress 2.0 was taking place. It was suggested that using a plugin that utilizes custom post types be used. At the time, bbPress was transitioning from being stand alone software into a WordPress plugin. Now we have a theme that is using custom post types and if I remember correctly, community members like Justin Tadlock frown on this practice. I reached out to John James Jacoby to get his thoughts on this theme as well as how its implementation compares with bbPress.
bbPress 2.x does use custom post types, and actually uses three of them. Forums is only a post type because of a lack of taxonomy term meta, otherwise it would be a custom taxonomy. CPT’s are fine, though it’s too bad it completely overrides the blog. Seems pretty pointless to make users decide to have either a blog or a forum, and not both.
bbPress takes other things into consideration, like forum profiles VS blog author archives, separate roles for the forums VS the blog, and goes the extra mile so forums only intersect with the blog when you want it to. If a theme was really going to do this “correctly” it should probably use a CPT for topics, and comments (with a custom comment form template) for replies; that way the behavior is familiar.
Forums are such an integral part of online communities, if I were looking for forums inside of WordPress, baking it into a commercial theme that won’t work with my existing blog doesn’t sound very appealing.
While I like the design and the thinking out of the box idea in this theme, not being able to use it with an existing blog is a huge blow towards it ever becoming a popular alternative to bbPress or other forum solutions. However, thanks to the advice provided by John James Jacoby above, there are ways of going about it that make sense. I hope to see other theme providers give it a shot. At the very least, it would be good to see theme providers list native bbPress support as one of their selling points.