The team behind location-based instant-messaging service Meetro is launching a free hosted forum service this morning called Lefora. CEO Paul Bragiel came in to give me a demo of it in action last week and I came away impressed. It's a wonderfully easy way to set up good-looking forums without a lot of hassle. Bragiel said that the idea came after looking at many of the popular forum tools out there and getting frustrated with "antiquated" systems that involved knowledge of coding languages, or having to host everything on your own dime. Most of all, Bragiel said he and his team wanted to shed the look and feel of forums, which he says have gone largely unchanged since the mid-1990s.
Lefora gives people a decidedly easier route to get their forums up and running. Blog owners can throw in their RSS feed and have forum topics automatically created for them with each post. Links to chat about it can then be integrated into the blog posts in case people want to take the discussion away from the comments and into the forum.
Lefora also handles media from third-party services better than anything I've seen. You can simply plug in a link for a photo on Flickr, or a video on YouTube, and it will automatically place it in the post. There's no need to hassle with the embed codes from either service; it'll just grab the media from the link. Bragiel says you'll be able to do the same thing with media from other services as Lefora matures. In the meantime it'll accept any embed you can throw at it--letting you drop in things like Google Spreadsheets, videos from other services, or custom widgets.
Speaking of widgets, Lefora gives you more than a dozen to add to the side of your forum. They're managed in an identical fashion to WordPress, with administrators manipulating the order and content of each one. Bragiel tells me they're building it out as a platform, letting developers create their own widgets that will be listed in a directory. He's hoping they'll let people create forums that can be custom-tailored to take advantage of some of the content and activity going on in each site, or simply show off the personality of the blog owner.
Lefora is free, due to small ads that you'll find on each page. Bragiel says there will be premium versions of the service later on that will offer even more features and put blog owners in control of advertising in return for a small monthly fee. I've set up a quick and dirty version of Lefora hooked up to our Webware RSS feed. Also don't forget to check out our under-advertised Webware forums, which are a part of the CNET forum network.