Argghh! Are you like me and have spent countless hours reading about all these different software platforms? In my case, I have many different forums that I would like to upgrade – currently running PhpBB 2.2x on most of them. I don’t mind sinking some money into them – but I want a really great user experience.
I’ve been running forums since 1999 so have been around the block a bit. I’ve been burned in the past by using bridges and combinations of software that were deprecated – so I’m a little leary of using multiple software platforms, but still open to the idea if it really rocks and is stable.
So here’s my input on it all. Would REALLY appreciate your comments, insight and feedback.
I waited a long time (almost two years) for the much heralded PhpBB Olympus update. I went through all the upgrade stages for phpbb back from phpbb 2.0 – Lots of security holes and got hacked several times running nearly 100 different forums. So when things stabilized at 2.2x I decided to stay put.
My understanding is it’s stable now, and I’ve been running 2.2x for a couple years without any problems. The modding done by hand for phpbb is a little time consuming – but I enjoy it so didn’t mind spending 100+ hours to get all the mods I wanted.
I like phpbb – it’s easy to use and I enjoy the admin interface. Only problem is there’s not so many mods yet for 3.0 that do what I want. I want lots of social networking features, games, uploads and a hefty portal so users can interact heavily on the website. Phpbb has been out for quite a while now, and was a little disappointed at the number of mods released.
FYI, as you probably now Phpbb is open source and free.
So then I looked at VBulletin with has some social networking with the 3.7 release.
I upgraded one forum to VBulletin 3.7 and it’s been running for several months. I bought the blog feature and had a custom skin designed. Spent a lot of time installing custom mods. Installing mods in VBulletin is great – just click a button and *poof* it’s installed. Very different from the many hours needed to mod Phpbb.
So I have this kick ass VBulletin forum that used to be phpbb. It has loads of features and everyone says “Wow, this looks incredible”. Everyone’s so happy. But then I notice I go to that forum less and less, and it used to be one I went to almost every day. It’s so bogged down with crap that it gets in the way of reading content for me.
Forum activity has decreased. I didn’t get VBSeo – but after spending many years reading about that, it might be a good idea. The VBulletin social networking is “ok”, but not very fluid. It’s a “little” like facebook/myspace, but very elementary. So this one still has me confused. I know so many sites use VBulletin, but I don’t enjoy the reading experience so much. And by the time I did mods/skins/license I had paid about $800. Doesn’t bother me if I enjoy the end result.
So now I look at Drupal for the social netoworking features I would like to have. Everyone seems to say Drupal is in for the long haul and is the big contender for web 3.0 – I install it and yes, like I’ve read, it’s a little bit of a nightmare on the back end. Verbage is not intuitive. But I don’t mind spending the time to learn it well if it will do what I want.
Problem: There is a phpbb to Drupal bridge, but only works for the older version of drupal and phpbb 2.x – I really don’t want to mess with waiting for Drupal 7.0 and having integration problems.
So now I even consider using the built in drupal forum and migrating my content from phpbb into drupal. Yes, that will work – but now I’ve totally ditched phpbb and am hoping (praying) that drupal improves their forum module on the next Drupal software update. And that also takes me away from the “big two” – Phpbb and VBulletin. A little scary when I know whatever change I make will probably be installed for many years.
Pros for Drupal: Have read it’s SEO is good out of the box, TONS of modules available, many third party integrations available.
But Drupal is a little ugly. So on to Joomla…
Joomla looks great and have read about how wonderful the backend is. I installed Joomla and found that to be true. Admin section is intuitive and Joomla just has “that look” that makes you all warm and fuzzy.
Problem: Have read that Joomla is not picked up as well by Google as Drupal is. Also read that it runs a little slower. And for what I know it’s forum mod is not really a contender with even Drupals little forum mod.
The SEO is a killer for me. I used to do SEO full time and got burned during the big Google updates in 2004. I just don’t have the stomach to play any games anymore. I want the vanilla output. You can say that I don’t “get it” and that may be true. But if you lost as much money as I did (seven figures) during the early Google SEO games, I think you’d feel the same.
So somehow we always end up looking at WordPress, how does that happen?
I LOVE wordpress. This article you’re reading is on wordpress. I have about 80 installations of it and the big feature for me? It’s very fun to do blog posts. Easy and smooth. My wordpress sites are very active because I enjoy them, and I don’t have to play any SEO games. I just focues on content. I like that and it feels good.
But wordpress is for blogging and quasi-CMS. It’s not for community building. So it is kind of axed out of the playing field when you’re talking about forums and online communities.
But I write about WordPress because it taught me a big lesson: If you have software that’s fun to use, you’ll probably use it.
So what I want is software to enhance web communities, but I want it to be as fun to work on as WordPress. (And phpbb is pretty fun too).
I want a web community with these features:
- Forum that is easy to navigate and focuses on content.
- Member blogs and photo albums that are a fun user experience, not tedious.
- Member contribution articles that are featured on a front end portal.
- Member uploads of media content like audio, video and documents.
- Games (I love the ibproarcade for VBulletin)
- Friends lists, user ability to create their own usergroups (available in VBulletin)
- Review system for articles and member uploads.
- Chatroom with automatic regulated hours when it opens and closes, and limited to a certain number of members.
- Shop for processing download orders.
- One login for all software/website components.
Comments and input?
UPDATE Feb 14 2009:
I am updating all my forums to VBulletin and buying licenses for all of them. I’ve had so many requests from members for basic features that are available with plugins in VBulletin, but still not available for PHPBB. I’ve been a PHPBB user since 2000 at one time running almost 100 forums. I just don’t enjoy the template edits anymore. I wish PHPBB had more options available and easier access to edit code. I had a lot of fun being a “code jocky” in Phpbb 2.x, but it’s very tedious for me in 3.x.
So the next question is: Wait for the Vbulletin CMS or integrate with Drupal or Joomla? Argh….it never ends does it?