Simple Machine Forums (SMF) is free server software for hosting a user forum. The reason why I’m writing about SMF on Wap Review is that every SMF forum by default, is a mobile site. This a great feature and I think as the mobile web continues to grow in popularity more and more server packages will offer this sort of built in mobile version. I first saw this trend with Microsoft’s Live Spaces (review) blog platform and now there’s SMF.
Some of the sites using SMF are mobile oriented like Clubsonyericsson.com (mobile forum), The SMS Forum (mobile) and MyTreo.net (mobile site). But what really makes the built in mobilisation of SMF so great is that it’s not limited to sites with a mobile phone focus. There are hundreds of SMF forums and they’re all hosting a mobile edition. A quick Google search turned up over a hundred, including the following sample of just a few of the many mobile forums with non-mobile subject matter:
- ArcadeControls.com’s Build Your Own Arcade Controls Forum (mobile)
- Suport forum for the free online photo hosting software, Coppermine Gallery (mobile)
- InThe00s.com’s, Pop Culture Discussion Society (mobile)
- LawSchoolDiscussion.org (mobile)
- The Friendster Forum (mobile)
- Red and White Kop, The Independent Liverpool FC Website (mobile)
- The Good-Music-Guide’s Classical Music Forum (mobile)
Sure, there are mobile plugins for many web platforms like the wp-mobile plugin for WordPress or WiForums for phpBB and several other forum platforms. But a plugin requires extra steps to install and that’s only going to happen if the forum or blog host has some awareness of the mobile web. Including built in mobile support with web application platforms like Spaces and SMF is a kind of a stealth feature that expands the mobile web into new areas. The full web is a success largely because of its long tail – the great variety of obscure and arcane sites of that are each individually of interest to only a few, but collectively have a bigger audience than the largest sites. Stealth mobile sites like Spaces and SMF are helping to create a mobile long tail too.
SMF was launched in 2004 and seems to be rapidly gaining popularity as a forum platform. Available in 21 languages, SMF is highly customizable with many themes and mods available. Users have given SMF very good reviews, citing it’s ease of installation, administration and customization.
So how do you locate these stealth forums? Obviously some sites like MyTreo.net provide links to the mobile forums off the main site. But most SMF sites aren’t on mobile topics and their owners may not even be aware that they are hosting a mobile site. Google’s mobile search is indexing many of the SMF mobile pages so they turn up in a variety of topic searches. If you want to search Google only for SMF forums, try the query allinurl: ?wap2 which will find over a hundred of them. The reason that query works is that SMF will return a mobile WAP2 page if you add ?wap2 to the end of the url of any SMF page. So if there is a forum you frequent you can try adding ?wap2 to the end of the forum’s url and see if you get a mobile page. SMF also outputs iMode if you add ?imode to the end of the url. There’s even WAP1 (wml) support with ?wap but it doesn’t seem to work properly on most SMF sites, returning a page with proper wml markup but the wrong (text/html) mime type. The WAP2 support is flawless with valid markup, spliting of long pages and good use of access keys.