Drupal vs. Phpbb vs. Joomla vs. VBulletin

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.

PhpBB 3.x

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.

VBulletin

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.

Drupal

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

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?

WordPress

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:

  1. Forum that is easy to navigate and focuses on content.
  2. Member blogs and photo albums that are a fun user experience, not tedious.
  3. Member contribution articles that are featured on a front end portal.
  4. Member uploads of media content like audio, video and documents.
  5. Games (I love the ibproarcade for VBulletin)
  6. Friends lists, user ability to create their own usergroups (available in VBulletin)
  7. Review system for articles and member uploads.
  8. Chatroom with automatic regulated hours when it opens and closes, and limited to a certain number of members.
  9. Shop for processing download orders.
  10. 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?

25 thoughts on “Drupal vs. Phpbb vs. Joomla vs. VBulletin

  1. Just wanted to add that I put up a poll in my VBulletin forum to see if people liked the new VBulletin or the old PhpBB2.x better – it has been overwhelming support in favor of VBulletin.

    Maybe not a fair comparison because it was against PhpBB2.x

  2. Why not try DotNetNuke, yes its on ASP.NET, CMS with forums and blogs work smoothly on ASP.NET. I bet you might have a Linux server, no? Try mod_mono and ASP.NET 2.0, just hook an ASP.NET 2.0 installation up and you’ve got a very powerful server, Aprelium’s Abyss Web Server for Wine works a king on that one – that’s because you can set up the ASP.NET, however Apache is compatible.
    Another is, Telerik Sitefinity which is like when it sorts content Drupal/Joomla, but better and you can edit the HTML/CSS and customise it to exactly what you want, out of the templates and skins you can download. You can get SiteFinity free and DotNetNuke free, all I’m asking for to you to do is try it.

  3. hi askland,

    I personally use joomla, simply because it has an unbeleivably active community. you can bridge phpbb with joomla, and it does have a few forum extensions, which are very capable..

    joomla will do all you ask for, except multiple categories for blogs, which also might be available soon. SEO is also easy to manage for joomla with extensions.

    drupal is good, but lacks oomph, wordpress has buddypress for community building, but i havent tried it as yet.

    you could also try dolphin, if you are willing to pay.

    stick to LAMP.. 🙂

  4. askland – LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP

    It’s combination of these platforms to run and manage your websites. As apposed to WAMP: Windows Apache MySQL PHP

    Those are the most common, but some choose to us a Unix instead of Windows or Linux, some IIS or another webserver instead of Apache. Some choose to use mSQL or another database program, an some choose to use .ASP .NET instead of PHP.

    A lot of choices, but chances are good LAMP will be the most commonly used.

  5. i too am thinking about joomla for a blog and cms and need to find software for a forum. magentocommerce has the ability to create shops. is there one software that has blog , cms , shops and forum with good seo ?

  6. Here’s an update:
    I’ve spent several weeks working with Joomla. I love the look, but have been disappointed how many of the modules have errors in them. On Christmas Day 2008 there was a new module Bridge release for combining Joomla with phpbb3 and other softwares.

    So now I’m back to checking out Drupal. There are bridges for both phpbb and Vbulletin – they are shortly releasing ones compatible with Drupal 6.x – I’ve also checked into ecommerce options of integrating Xcart or using the Drupal ecommerce application Ubercart (which I read that AOL is now using).

    I would like to have a CMS community, forum and ecommerce each running on their own separate database but synced together. As it stands right now, Drupal seems to be the major contender for that. Jury still out on whether to use phpbb or Vbulletin (I’m leaning toward VBulletin because of easy blogs and plugins), and whether to use XCart or Ubercart for ecommerce (XCart has a great rep, but Ubercart is free).

    Any more input?

  7. I have used Joomla for two years and I am considering switching to Drupal.

    The learning curve on Joomla was pretty steep, but that’s also because I was new to web-dev two years ago. Drupal seems pretty easy by comparison but again that might just be because I understand cms, css and php better now.

    Why am I not completely satisfied with Joomla? You need custom templates & extensions to make it do anything. So you go looking around and you find something, install it, and it’s just a nightmare to integrate and maintain. Themes often do not display correctly across various platforms. Extensions often take a lot of work to become stable. This is not Joomla’s fault, per se, as it is just the framework. But as mentioned you need more than just a framework to get any real work done

    Is Drupal better? I don’t know yet but I like what I see so far. It feels more integrated to me. I have a lot higher confidence that the extensions I add will be stable.

    Best of luck.

  8. Askland (et al)…

    Good discussions… I too as a developer and entrepreneur have been seeking the “Social Network/Forum Holy Grail” with the priority on “serious team collaboration/problem solving” and have these observations (at this point):

    1) Avoid using forked code and modify source to the minimal extent possible unless you are building your own platform.

    2) Extend application’s with new components that can roll upward with underlying platform releases, if possible.

    3) Drupal and Joomla “bridging” approaches using Javascript may be the future. (refer to http://www.alfresco.com SURF concepts and http://www.sitesuites.com)

    4) NING has some interesting possibilities for some networks.

    5) Drupal 6.x is my choice of underlying Platform.

    6) vBulletin is my choice of Forum engine(using drupalvb) It supports threaded topics and topic prefixes out-of-the-box. However, I will try to build my own Drupal Forum.

    7) Magento is my choice of Cart (the new 1.2 release supports downloadable products)

    Please keep me posted!

  9. I’m a little unclear what alfresco and sitesuites are – is that an example of bridging? I saw alfresco was using phpbb and it looked like a joomla layout.

    As it stands now I’m checking out Acquia (Drupal 6.x with a heavy bundle of starting community modules) to bridge with phpbb.

    I had myself convinced to purchase all the VBulletin licenses when I heard they were incorporating a CMS, but think it will take them so long to catch up with drupal for content management.

    I have now wasted six months in spurts looking at options. Can anyone weigh in on Drupal 6.x bridged with PHPBB 3.x?

  10. hey askland, what forum are you using right at this moment? I’m using PHPBB at the moment but kind of bummed out on the fact that it doesn’t have more embedded video posting. I’m on EA Forums alot and I like their post style. It is the main reason why I am working on a forum site of my own. Good job on your forum, looks more professional when you don’t see the name of Forum Bulletin Program you are using.

  11. A little late but I just found this…

    I’ve been going through some of the same thoughts you mentioned in your blog, although I skipped Phpbb. Been using VBulletin with Subdreamer but ditched it for Joomla and then ditched Joomla for Drupal. While Drupal has a steeper learning curve, IMO, it’s pretty darn cool… except for it’s forum module (it’s just not enough). So… what to do what to do.

    Just pre-ordered Vbulletin 4.0 Suite and will see what that does, but I really want single-sign-on for many forums and don’t know if Vbulletin 4.0 will do that. Single-sign-on… apparently, but is that for the blogs, articles and forums on one Vbulletin installatation, or does the single-sign-on scale for an infinite number of Vbulletin installations?

    What about LDAP with Drupal and Vbulletin… Not enough time to check everything out. Sigh.

  12. Hi Teresa,
    I’ve been running 10 forums on VBulletin for over a year now. The initial 4.0 Publishing Suite release was a total mess. I just disabled all the publishing and am using only the forum and blog.

    I’d have to stay it’s still a toss up with VBulletin and PHPBB. Many of my members complained of slower speeds when I installed VB 4.0 – many others liked the change.

    I do like the ease of installing modules into VB – and I have to admit I love the arcade and so do members. I find VB fairly easy to admin now – although I should probably hire someone to do all the setups. I’ve been running forums for 10 years now, and I’ve really lost my steam and passion for it. There are so many free forums out there now, and the constant babysitting against SpamBots.

    I’ll be keeping my 10 VB forums for my larger forums – the smaller ones will be PHPbb – mainly because of the cost involved.

  13. I personally like to start off with phpbb and then if the forum grows big, I’ll port it to vbulletin. Nice discussion by the way.

  14. hi askland! its seems that u r an authority on community sites and it will b great opportunity for me as an newbie to take advantage of your experience. no doubt joomla front end and GUIis marvelous wondering is it possible to integrate joomla, vbulletin and wordpress within one site, like front end in joomla, forum will be vb and blog will be in wp????

    Looking forward to your advice and please can you mail me some links of your community forums or sites you are administering.

    Many Thanks,

  15. Thanks for sharing information. All of three contentment management systems have different advantages and disadvantages. This is not fair to evaluate content management systems. It is depends on project requirements which cms user have to be use.

  16. sorry I’m newbie..
    now i used phpbb3..
    which one better for forum, joomla, phpbb, or drupal

  17. As far as I know the case is still the same. Joomla and Drupal are for people that can spend a lot of time with code and setting up their websites (I’ve built well over 1,000 websites and 100 forums – and just don’t have the time to devote to Joomla or Drupal).

    I’m still running phpbb and Vbulletin on my forums. I’ve spent several thousand dollars on VBulletin. They just released a new mobile suite that costs even more money to addon. It works well. But if I open new forums it just depends on how much money I feel like investing. Phpbb3 works well and it’s free.

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