That’s a good project to get you into learning to work with CMSs etc. I agree in your opinion that Wordpress is primarily meant for blogging but I’ve seen fora created with it, too. You will have to work with some
CMS in any case, and all of them require a little work with PHP (or derivates like Smarty or whatever).
Now, all decent CMSs allow you do design/style your pages in any way you like. You have most likely come across websites that are built with a CMS in the background where you wouldn’t even expect it because the layout might be so extravagant. Also, most CMSs have modules/add-ons where you can extend the basic functionality, e. g. with a forum, blog, guestbook, image gallery, and what not. However, one thing to note is that not all CMSs are good in everything. And while many might have a forum add-on, sometimes it might be better to install a software that is a dedicated forum software, such as Vanilla
(which is what this forum here is powered with), or phpBB
(just to name a few of the most popular) next to the regular CMS. This will require two databases then and have two log-ins/admin areas but it might be the lesser evil, depending on the requirements of the site.
All CMSs have an admin area of some kind with different permissions for different types of users (e. g. “editors” can edit content but not change the design, “designers” are able to change the design but not add/edit pages, “regular users” can sign up and post comments on the page and access pages that are hidden to the general public, “admins” can do everything, etc.) but each CMS has its own strengths and weaknesses and each CMS has a different workflow that either fits the users’ or it doesn’t.
I, personally, have made good experiences with CMS Made Simple
and Concrete 5
but also among the most popular are Drupal
. But there are lots and lots of different systems out there, free and paid, and you should at least check out http://opensourcecms.com/
for a comparison and demos (see menu at the left). You can see at the user votes/star rating ratio which CMSs are worth trying.