Keep your phpBB member count accurate

by Martin Reed on 13 August 2007 in Articles

How accurate is your member count?

How many members does your forum have? 50? 100? 1,000? 10,000? Are you sure this figure is accurate, though? Forget about your ego – ensure your member count is accurate and use it as a motivator to encourage you to continue working hard at attracting genuine members.

Why your member count may be inaccurate

Thanks to spammers and inactive members, it is highly likely that your member count is highly inflated. Many of your registrations will be made by people that are not real, or by those that have no intention of posting or getting involved in your community.

Even if these amount to only a few each day, if you do not take action you will find these ‘fake’ members accumulating over time to account for a large proportion of your current membership count.

Who do you consider to be a ‘member’?

Before deciding about whether to take action over your current member count, you need to determine exactly what you consider a member to be. I don’t think anyone can argue that automated bot registrations shouldn’t be considered as real members – but what about those that join but never seem to post? Should you consider someone a member if they joined six months ago but have not made a single post?

Over at the Just Chat message boards, I keep the member list as accurate as possible by stipulating the following:

  • All new members must activate their account within 7 days
  • All new members must make a post within 3 months of registering

I have customised the standard welcome emails sent by phpBB to include notification of this stipulation to all new members. I feel that offering someone seven days to click an activation link is a fair amount of time. Similarly, I feel that is a new member doesn’t make a post during the first three months of their registration it is unlikely they ever will.

Useful phpBB MODS

** Be sure to backup all files and your entire phpBB database before installing MODS or editing any of your forum files **

The MODS I list here are based on phpBB version 2.0.x.

The Prune Users Hack

Prune users in phpBB

To enable me to easily prune members who do not meet my membership stipulations, I use the ‘Prune Users‘ hack. It is relatively easy to install and allows you to delete members based on a large number of variables, including:

  • Members who have never posted
  • Members who have never logged in
  • Members who have never been activated
  • Members who have not visited recently
  • Members who average less than 1 post for every 10 days registered

You can further customise the criteria by determining any ‘grace period’ for new members. For example, you can delete members who have never posted but exclude those that have joined within the past day, week, fortnight, month, year etc from being removed.

If you decide to install and use this MOD, be aware that there is no undo function – make sure you are deleting the right people before clicking the prune button! I would recommend you backup your database before you use this MOD until you know your way around the features and understand how they work.

The Anti-Bot Hack

Reduce spam registrations in phpbb

One reason why you may need to continually prune your member count is due to the large number of automated spam registrations your forum may be getting.

You can significantly reduce spam memberships by making the following changes to your phpBB files:

EDIT FILE: /template/subSilver/profile_add_body.tpl


<!-- Visual Confirmation -->


<td class="row1"><span class="gen">What is 1+1?: *</span><br />
<span class="gensmall">Please answer this question to prove you are a real person (sorry we have to ask!)</span></td>
<td class="row2">
<input type="text" class="post" style="width: 200px" name="antibot" size="6" maxlength="6" value="" />


EDIT FILE: /includes/usercp_register.php


if ($board_config['enable_confirm'] && $mode == 'register')


if (!isset($_POST['antibot']) || $_POST['antibot'] != '2')
$error = TRUE;
$error_msg .= (isset($error_msg) ? '<br/>' : '') . "Incorrect answer to the mathematical anti-spam question (the answer is 2)";


Of course, you can change the question to anything you like (but keep it simple) – just make sure you change the corresponding correct answer in the usercp_register.php file.

I also like to include the answer in the error message just in case people genuinely don’t know the answer to such a basic question!


Your member count is one of the most prominent indicators of your community’s popularity. Do you want to massage your ego and deceive your visitors by not keeping it accurate, or do you want to use it as a true indicator and motivator for you to keep working hard at attracting and retaining new members?

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aaron August 13, 2007 at 3:58 pm

All good advice, but I don’t think I agree with requiring to make a post. I have several members that register just to read. They might make their first post 6 months after they registered. I do delete if they don’t confirm email with 7 days though, and I have the anti-bot hack.

Patrick August 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Thanks for the mention. :)

Smiley August 13, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Yeah, I installed the humanizer a few weeks ago.

I don’t use it for changing profiles, though, don’t you think that can annoy users a tad?? I didn’t want to offend you by questioning the mathematical question whenever you simply change your profile.. I found it a bit odd is all, the members are already registered and activated, spambots are hardly going to want to change their avatar and password…

I only use it for registration. Mine simply says

“Are you 18+? If you are, type YES in the box”

It makes sense, being an 18+ site.

As for the member count, the admin userlist is a useful hack to install. That helps me keep the member count nice and clean.

It may look all well and fancy having “200″ members as a new community, but if someone looks at the memberlist and sees 160 of those members have never posted, it’ll have a negative impact.

The 1st of every month I go through the admin userlist and any accounts that says “Last active: never” or “Activated?: No” I delete.

It keeps the member numbers down, sure, but it’s a lot more accurate… and as you have emphasized yourself in past posts…. it also keeps it -honest-!

Team Building August 14, 2007 at 1:53 am

Some great tips for people just starting out..

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 14, 2007 at 10:28 am

Aaron – I agree that if users are required to register in order to just read your content (something I do not recommend) then you shouldn’t delete them for not posting.

On my forum though, all content is visible without the need to register. Therefore those that register but fail to post within three months can safely be pruned from the database.

Patrick – You’re welcome; I have often turned to when looking for forum MODs.

Smiley – You are right that there isn’t really a need to retain the anti-bot question in the profile field once a member has successfully registered. The hack I published in this article is just a quick and easy way of stopping spam registrations.

For a more thorough hack (which doesn’t include the anti-bot question when current members wish to update their profiles), I recommend the phpBB humanizer MOD (which I think you are referring to).

Team Building – I think this article is useful for both new and existing forum developers. I find the vast majority of forum administrators fail to keep their member count accurate.

Kara August 14, 2007 at 3:12 pm

I am doing some research about forming an online community for our site and I want to thank you for writing these amazing articles, they are very helpful. I have no prior experience with online community development, but after looking at a bit of your site, I feel as though I know a lot more!

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 14, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Kara – Thank you for your kind comment; I am glad you are finding this blog useful. What is your site about, and how do you feel a community will add value?

Smiley August 14, 2007 at 8:23 pm

Yes, I use the humanizer. It’s just a simple “are you 18+?” on the registration form.. haven’t had a spambot since.

Webd360 August 15, 2007 at 12:15 am

Thanks for the easy tutorial on the humanizer, I installed it and it works great; I am sick of all of those bots joining everyday.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 15, 2007 at 11:33 am

Webd360 – What is your name by the way?!? I am glad to hear you have finally got one over on those spam bots (for now at least)!

Andy August 15, 2007 at 1:58 pm

I’m preparing to implement logic on my community website that will automatically re-email users that have yet to activate their account (via email link) after one week. If the user has signed up and forgotten to activate their account, this follow up will remind them and hopefully result in a few more conversions.

If they’re not interested completely or spammers, the system will prune their user accounts after another week of inactivity.

I’m yet to see another site that employs this method so I’m interested to see how it goes…

Ruri @ business education August 16, 2007 at 5:10 am

I think the way you force member will make your member so difficult. Member have choice to active or not. So it is forum owner job make member keep active to make their own forum interesting.

Honestly I will not come and join the forum that make me difficult. We have only 24 hour a day. I have joined hundreds of forum. It means I will not really active in 1 forum. I don’t have time to do that.

If you want to say, member should do this, member should do that. Well…that too much.

I think we all have statistic to know how many people come to our forum every day. Enough for me to use statistic. I don’t really care how many member i have.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 17, 2007 at 12:15 am

Andy – Sending a reminder to users is a good idea before taking the irreversable step of deleting them. What forum software are you using?

Ruri – I am not forcing members to take specific actions; if they choose to join a site then never return or contribute, there is no point in including them in the member count as by all accounts and purposes they are simply not a member of the site.

schemingturkey October 4, 2007 at 9:07 am

hey everyone,

i just joined and wanted to say hi. :)

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2007 at 1:43 pm

schemingturkey – Hello, and welcome :)

Matt November 4, 2007 at 9:27 pm

How would I mod this so that it only impacts the users registering for the first time?

Since implementing the mod it has killed off all spam which no other spam filter has done before, however it now impacts the profile page as well.

If a user changes their profile when trying to save the changes an error messages comes up on the top of the screen saying “Incorrect answer to the mathematical anti-spam question (the answer is 2)”.

For the time being I have removed the spam filter so that it doesn’t impact members, but if someone can tell me how to make this active on the join page I would be really thankful!

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 5, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Matt – Try the phpBB humanizer mod, I believe this omits the mathematical question when people are merely updating their profiles.

Victor December 21, 2008 at 3:53 am

I am looking at starting a forum for the Italian community here in Chicago and I appreciate these easy to follow tips.
I was thinking that if someone signed up but did not post within like 7 days they should be removed. I would notify them, almost like nudging someone in Twitter.
thanks again,

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 22, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Victor – How about trying to get them active, rather than just deleting them?

Edward February 27, 2009 at 11:17 am

Just wondering if you have a problem with activation emails going to spam folders and, therefore, a lot of legitimate members never verify their account?

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Edward – Yes, I am sure this happens but there’s little you can do but educate new members to whitelist your domain. Most won’t though (either they can’t be bothered or they don’t understand).

Tom February 28, 2009 at 5:16 pm

What I do Edward is edit the lang_main file. Where it says “Thank you for registering, an activation e-mail has been sent to you” blah blah blah. I’ve added something along the lines of (forgot what I put exactly)

“If it hasn’t arrived in around 10 minutes please check your spam folder, if it isn’t in there then contact us [link to contact form] and we’ll be happy to activate your account for you.”

You’ll see the % of members verifying their account increase slightly.

Martin’s said it before. Web users are lazy. You need to instruct, and provide links.

ROHITK May 28, 2009 at 9:02 am

The best way I will say that remind ur irregular user that they are member of ur community…if after reminding them 3-4 times..if they are not coming back just delete their profile….And to make users busy community mangment is the best trick (The moderator has to take initiative in this case…)