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Artashes 10-06-2016 10:24 AM

Taking HostingDiscussion to the next level
 
Dear members,

Recent and almost simultaneous hacks of at least a few communities owned by large media companies served as a push for more immediate (than previously planned) changes.

I wanted to start this thread in order to accomplish two primary objectives: to have a discussion about what next steps to take in picking a new communication platform and have an honest dialogue about what proposed changes might affect. In spite of any potential damage HostingDiscussion might take in the process (loss of traffic, loss of search engine ranking or less features), I am looking at this as a long-term investment, because members' safety and satisfaction beats any commercial benefit the site might provide in the short term.

I don't expect all to agree, but as long as most understand the direction I'd like to go, I am happy.

Since the hacks

When the news of the first hack became public, I started to educate myself on the subject. I retained the services of a security-oriented vBulletin developer to assess our risk, perform a complete security check, to apply officially released patches, as well as to stay as an advisor and a support resource while we are going through this transition (glad to report there were no signs that our forum has been infected or backdoored). At the same time I started to investigate all community-based applications on the market today.

Reasons to move away from vBulletin

Let's put it this way. If we stick with vBulletin, we have two options: either to upgrade to the latest 4.0 version available or go all the way to version 5.0. Normally people would always recommend to run the latest version of any released software (although in this case it appears that 4.0 is relatively more safe than 5.0). However, regardless of security, if there was anything consistent about vBulletin 5.0, it is the number of bugs and negative feedback voiced even by their biggest fans. Even if and when the company plugs all the holes, the latest release breaks not only the look of the community (a brand new theme will have to be designed), but some of the custom plugins we have in use. Which really begs the question: if we are forced to change all common elements of a forum, do we even have to stay with vBulletin? Considering the circumstances and the increased security risk, me thinks not.

Times have changed

Don't get me wrong, I've been a huge fan of vBulletin for many years. The thought of migrating to another software has never developed into a serious one. However, recent events have almost served as a wake up call to look around. And what a different world it is today! The social landscape is changing and with it, change the socially driven products. The more I looked around, the more fun discoveries were made. The realization that I kept on having time and time again is that just like Blackberry, Yahoo!, Kodak and Blockbuster did not innovate in time, looking at the forum software market today, I see vBulletin intensely lagging behind.

The way people interact and seek help today differs from 10-15 years ago. If someone is looking for quick help, he/she is less likely to spend time signing up for an account that then needs more time to get approved before they can even ask the question (unless they are joining with intention to be around long-term). They are more likely to search Google for similar issue(s) in hopes to find the right answer. So if there was an option to login with an existing social account (Twitter or Facebook), they'd probably go for that, if it means less work to get to the desired result. Additionally, people have less time looking for answers in the first place. As such, they'd be less motivated to scroll through pages and pages of a conversation, looking for the best answer. Wouldn't it make more sense if the stronger, more accurate answer (as voted by other members and staff) was also available at the top of the discussion, giving the author the respect and the exposure in the process? These are just some of the ideas among the many that are adopted across the web.

I am not even talking about primitive user engagement features such as various reputation systems, award badges, ability to build a personal following for your company within the community, involving each other into conversation with a simple @ call sign, having a private messaging experience in a threaded format (personally I've been dying for that one), among others.

Most of these features are not found in the old school forum software packages anymore, unless possibly through third-party add-ons or plugins (which is a battle of its own to keep them functioning right with every software update). But very few have them intuitively built in and taken advantage of. vBulletin has certainly missed many.

Once we open our mind to the possibility of life without vBulletin, suddenly few exciting options are possible.

What's out there

In the mildly modified words of Kenny Powers, new hip social platforms are in, old school forums are out.

vBulletin, phpBB, XenForo, SimpleMachines, PunBB are all dinosaurs to me. Programs like MyBB or FluxBB are difficult to put all your trust in.

What I found interesting were applications like VanillaForums, Discourse, Flarum, NodeBB. The problem with these, however, is that some of them are still in beta (Flarum - tested it myself, very unstable) and most do not yet have a very long track record. I'd go with a wild guess by saying VanillaForums is the most established out of this group and very well received. However, I've been following it for a long time and major updates take a painful amount of time to release. Overall, I love these apps, they have killer ideas and lots of potential. But while some may be a good choice for startup communities, it feels like some of these teams don't have the financial muscle to throw large development resources behind them, while others, sadly, primarily target the enterprise.

So, how do we find an app that can do both: provide exciting innovative features and persuade a level of financial stability? I may have found the perfect middle ground. The only traditional forum-based solution that I remember for as long as I've been involved with forums and the one that I suddenly like today is IPS Community by InvisionPower.com. Suddenly, because I've never before been a fan... was always a vBulletin kind of guy. But to my big surprise, IPS Community has done an excellent job to evolve with time. Behind what can seem like a traditional forum look, there are multitude of built-in features that I talked about above with such an appetite:

- single sign-on integration opportunity;
- better visibility of quality content and top contributors;
- choice of reputation methods and built-in award badges;
- socially-driven profiles (build a following of your own within a community);
- post editing with active member mentions, auto-embedding, drag and drop uploading and auto-saved drafts;
- threaded private messaging conversations;
- easy content discovery with a wide range of filters;
- redesigned moderation tools that seem more centralised and effective compared to what we have today.

There is definitely a learning curve, but I think it is an exciting one.

Most importantly, Invision Power Services has a long historical track record and there is security in the fact that they equally cater to enterprise, which keeps the product well maintained.

There will definitely be epic challenges in this transition, like potentially losing the search engine ranking that HostingDiscussion is enjoying today, and for how long; losing some existing custom plugins we have employed on this forum; or having to come up with a fresh new design. But with your support, I think all is possible to accomplish, one step at a time. We just need to know that most of you are up for the adventure.

To bring in the fresh and the new, to make things exciting, software that is social and engaging is next. Could this be the common-ground between traditional and radical new? What do you think if we were to make a move to the IPS Community software?

Warmest wishes to all,
Artashes

xtm_mike 10-06-2016 02:50 PM

I feel your pain. Until recently I was the owner of a vBulletin based community with over 31,000 members and almost 4 million posts. Due to it's size and customisations we didn't upgrade past 3.6.X. We ran vB 5 on our test site and hated it. I've always been a vB guy so I stuck with it in the hope of improvements but things went from bad to worse.. it was harder to maintain, the site looked dated, the tempting system is awful, though luckily we didn't have any hacks to worry about.

We tried 'integrating' modern/social tech but it always felt plugged in as appose to being a natural part of the site and every day we were losing members to social media.

I decided to part ways earlier this year as I didn't have the time to modernise the site.

I think ditching away from vB is a smart move. I am a member of a community that uses IPS and it is light years ahead of vB. I can't speak for administration tasks but definitely a better user experience. One thing that does stand out is that it feels quite 'heavy'.

Whenever we need forums now we use Xenforo, and I advise you to try the demo and consider it. Most communities I visit have migrated to Xenforo and with good reason... It is very easy to style, customise and has modern social aspects. Most importantly, it's lightening fast.

Good luck with the migration - I'm sure you have a great team behind you, however if you are ever looking towards the community to pitch in I would be happy to do so.

SenseiSteve 10-06-2016 05:53 PM

You know, I really only have experience with vBulletin and Xenforo. I have complete faith in your ability to select whatever you deem best for Hosting Discussion, Artashes.

I wouldn't call Xenforo a dinosaur though, as I see a lot of forums converting from vBulletin to Xenforo, and I think for good reason. In the short period of time that I ran my own forum, I never experienced as much as one issue.

I'm looking forward to the new Hosting Discussion. :D

nuwebhosting 10-07-2016 04:55 AM

This is an interesting discussion, and a very interesting discussion forum. How would the migration affect current user base from the back end? The GUI look/ feel, I'm sure everyone can adapt to. Also, What about data? It's a shame a previous version is more robust and safer then the newest release, however building communities like these is no easy task, the security team and founders should really consider and make it a top priority from their end as well. There's a lot of time and resources involved, so which ever direction you choose. Ensure you do your homework. This is always a major challenge, specially considering that this forum holds multiple prodigies within well exactly that, Tech. Catch 22 at it's best.

MailEdge 10-07-2016 08:47 AM

https://invisionpower.com/demo

https://invisionpower.com/buy/self-hosted

https://xenforo.com/demo

I only briefly looked over both / but IPS has come miles ahead of when I checked it out almost 10 years now I guess / seems that way anyway... Really just the surface of their own forum looks very promising.

Will dive into the two more and comment but yes Invision Power looks solid / I would say just the forum module / but nice to know the other features are there.

A Big commitment will be from the "current" supporters and community of HD - I have seen other boards change their forum script and lose the momentum or the community does not return / but I think the detailed info you provided and the invite to comment will help retain our current members / I for one will be in 100% support. What would be interesting is does IPS have a user dbase conversion path?

Dave

MailEdge 10-07-2016 08:55 AM

I would agree IPS does feel heavy for some reason / I know the hosted version is big bucks per month and their model is based on how many users at any one point in time / right off it gave me the impression of a heavy app / vs the XenForo as XTM_Mike mentioned / but that is just from an 5 min impression

whmcsguru 10-07-2016 12:18 PM

My 0.02 here

XenForo isn't as antequated as you think. It's got a ton of what you're looking for (features needed), and has a much fresher feel than vBulletin , by default. The default template is just great, and editing it is a blast!


I looked at IPB for a while, but the company is clueless when it comes to customer relations. They may look a bit more 'social-y' , but you can honestly do that with XF rather easily as well. It just takes a plugin or three, and it's done ;) . It really does depend on what you want to do with it.

I agree with the sentiment re: vBulletin. It's antequated. They haven't bothered to keep up with the times, or to update their software in eons. XF seems to be doing rather well though, with a number of updates in the past few months. Yes, it's not as mature as IPB, but that's to be expected. it is much newer.

Alex HubRocket 10-07-2016 02:50 PM

Reading this I was also hoping the end result to be XenForo. IPB is great and all but I agree with the above, it feels heavy. XenForo seems light yet very powerful and at the same time, offers most of your requirements above (plugin or not).

I'll stick around no matter the choice though I think the best general direction for HD would be XenForo at this stage. Maybe some custom development is needed, maybe not. But it is a great system overall, probably one of the best if not the best.

Also, I haven't looked at the IPB development ecosystem but XenForos is huge, you can find pretty much anything you may need.

Optimidia 10-08-2016 07:52 PM

I would love to go over the whole story but to make it short, personally I would suggest going over to XenForo from the start. I used to be a long time user of IPB (I followed Matt Mecham since Ikonboard days) and while they do have a great product, I don't think it is what you are looking for HostingDiscussion.com. Their product has gone a little bit further than being a community system to be a whole ecosystem with features that take away from the actual focus of a forum (user discussion).

XenForo is created by the original creators of vBulletin and some new promising staff. They are already on the way for v2 and looking to improve the modding community and make XenForo more flexible and modern, which most forum systems are lacking. If you are unsure, I would suggest waiting for XenForo v2 to take a look and compare with IPB, then decide.

I am in no means associated with XenForo.

StormWall 10-10-2016 04:54 AM

I support the previous speakers. XenForo is good and better in this situation. It's fast and has lots of addons. Btw the customer service is really good - that's a huge plus.

satdav 11-01-2016 05:11 PM

Wait till Xenforo v2 comes out that is ment to be really good

Optimidia 11-20-2016 08:46 PM

Really nice 'preview' of XenForo 2 at https://xf2demo.xenforo.com, I am sure it will be getting tons of improvements with some time. The underlaying code has been improved a lot to be more developer friendly and improve performance.

vladimir 11-21-2016 12:34 AM

I personally love ipb and have always loved their support. I have used XenForo and always thought it was basic. You had to do a lot of editing just to make it work like how you want.

xtm_mike 11-21-2016 01:13 AM

Xenforo 2 looks great thats for the share, I didn't know they were working on the next big release.

Julio 11-22-2016 06:30 PM

I vote for xenforo.

I really like the 2step verification system of it.


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