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Chapter 4. Tools for Doing the Heavy Lif... > Deciding What’s Right for You

Deciding What’s Right for You

Of course, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of the sites mentioned above. If one of the examples above is the perfect match for your site, by all means go for it. But if you want your community areas to look different from the rest of the crowd, you may want to consider hiring someone to make something custom. It means a little more development time in the beginning of your project, but it’s worth it if you get the community site of your dreams.

If you’re still undecided, here are some considerations to ponder when making the decision.

Hosted or integrated? Do you want someone to host your site for you, or do you want to keep all the functionality on your site? Different tools have different hosting requirements, so know what you want starting out. (I recommend keeping it all in your site, if for no other reason than it begets member trust to not have to leave your site to discuss your content.)

Uptime? If you’re looking at a hosted or web-based tool, inquire about server uptime. The worst feeling in the world is going to your forums and finding they’ve gone AWOL, thanks to someone else’s server.

Features? Know what you want to enable your users to do, both today and tomorrow. Then look for a tool that accomplishes this (not the other way around).

Expandability? If you settle on a tool, can you add features tomorrow? Is the system closed to outside innovation? If you have programmer friends, and expandability is important to you, consider going with an open source project like Slash, so that you can work on it, too.

Design customization? This is perhaps the most important question for designers. Ask the people selling the tool: Can I move that button? Can I lose the frames? Can I format the posts to match the site? Most of the tools out there fall very short of the mark in this category.

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