Brad is well known to just about everyone who modifies their vBulletin software since he was the Administrator of vBulletinTemplates before it merged with vBulletin.org, and since that time has served as a vB.org Administrator. Brad graciously agreed to do an interview with us and spent a lot of time responding to my long list of questions. Let's see what Brad has to say...
Can you give us a brief bio?
I'm 19 years old and I'm currently living in North Carolina on the family farm with my dad and younger brother. I opened my first forum in 1999 using UBB (ubb.classic). At some point in 2001 I switched to vBulletin and I have been using it ever since.
What is your educational background?
I dropped out of high school in the 11th grade for a number of reasons, none of them begin a good enough excuse to warrant dropping out so I won't go into them. I did get my GED about 6 months after I dropped out, and took some classes at the local community college. I quickly got bored at college though and decided to call it quits for now.
I plan on going back to school at some point, I'm just not sure for what yet. I'll have to figure that one out while I save up the money I need to get back in school.
What do you consider to be your accomplishments?
Living to see 18, and managing to stay sane.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Started smoking in high school, up to a pack and a half a day now.
How many forums do you own and/or administrate?
Right now vBulletin.org is the only place where I am an active administrator. I have not ran my own forum in a long time, although I am planning to launch site later this year (the Project Neptune mentioned in my signature at vB.org).
How did you come to be an administrator on vBulletin.org?
When vBulletintemplates.com was still a young site I was one of the active members there. After spending a lot of time on the site I noticed many things that could be improved. I sent a private message to Saintdog (the acting administrator) voicing my concerns. The reply I got back told me there was a surprise in store for me, and not long after that Saintdog appointed Tony and I as moderators.
During the vB 3.0.x beta period our administrator disappeared on us, and vBt was in bad need of an upgrade. I was asked to become the administrator of vBt to get the site upgraded to the latest version of vBulletin 3.0.x RC and to fix a lot of outstanding issues that are bound to pile up when you've worked without an active admin for so long.
When Wayne Luke was appointed as the Site Coordinator at Jelsoft I expressed a few concerns I had about our current situation to him. Without going into to much detail I felt that having two sites devoted to vBulletin modification was too confusing for the customers. The customer does not care if a modification requires a template change or a php hack, he simply wants something that works. Sending them back and forth between vBulletin.org and vBt depending on their questions/requests was wasting both the customer's time and ours. In short I simply wanted to see both sides of the community back under one domain. We began talking with the vB.org staff and Jelsoft about doing such a merge, at some point it was decided we would go ahead with it and I was asked if I'd like to stay on as an administrator at vBulletin.org.
I've enjoyed my time as an administrator at vBulletin.org, and it has been a blast working with the staff there. When I first came on I was a little nervous begin a co-admin with the likes of Erwin and Stefan because I have looked up to both of them for years. But I quickly adjusted to my new surroundings and since then it has been nothing but good times.
How would you describe your moderation style?
Unless it's something that needs to be dealt with right off like spam/trolling/flaming I try to not use my admin powers unless I explore all other options first. Each situation is different, I just listen to my gut and try to be fair.
Tell us about the vBulletin hacking community.
We have people from all walks of life and skill level within our community, they range from high school students to people in their 50's. We have members who have never ran a bulletin board before, and members who have been running them since the 1980's. There are coders that are just learning, and coders that have been programming for 20 years or more!
Everyday people are contributing to the community and learning from each other. vBulletin.org is really a great community and I'm honored to be a staff member there.
How has the vBulletin.org community changed over the years?
In the early days a larger part of the user base was used to working with code behind vBulletin. They might not have been expert coders but they had worked with html before and understood at least a little bit of what was going on in the php code. If they didn't they where willing to learn. These days more people want to run their own message board but aren't as willing to dive in and get their hands dirty, we've seen more and more people like this coming to our community in recent years.
Sometimes I hear complaints that vBulletin.org is not always a friendly place. Any comments?
When a community gets as large as ours is you're bound to have a few users vent in the forums. In my experience most of our users are very friendly and practice proper netiquette. I think a lot of the frustration stems from the fact that a large portion of our users (the coders) speak a different language than the users that don't understand the underlying code. We do get the odd person that is outright rude, but they are a minority.
What are your thoughts on paid hacks?
I'm sorta cheap so I tend to stick with free solutions when I can, I also know enough php to be able to slap something together if I really need it. I think of it like any other commercial software, if it does what you want and can justify paying for it then by all means go for it.
Do commercial hacks belong on vBulletin.org?
I honestly think that any commercial hack author should have the funds to set up their own site and support options. I view them as any other business, if they don't have the money put back to support their own business then I'm certainly not going to give them any of mine.
I do not see anything wrong about allowing them to be listed on vBulletin.org, but they should not be grouped in with the free modifications in my honest opinion.
What if anything can be done to protect hackers from having their modifications pirated?
We do not own the code that is begin pirated so there is little we can do to stop hacks from begin distributed outside of vBulletin.org. This does not mean we do not keep an eye on users that do this sort of thing. Members of the vBulletin.org staff have accounts on sites where vBulletin hacks are distributed, if we find out that vBulletin is also begin pirated via the site we report it to the piracy department.
I see a lot of our members telling each other to report such sites to Jelsoft. It's important for hackers to remember that Jelsoft is not here to go after people that pirate hacks. Jelsoft does not own your work thus it would be pointless for them to go after anyone unless their software is also begin pirated by the same people.
The only thing we can do is take away someone's ability to download hacks, and we do this is we can prove a member of vBulletin.org is involved in pirating modifications. When we do this we also pass up some information about the user to Jelsoft, but at that point it's out of our hands.
Have you done any hacking yourself?
I've done a bit of hacking in my time, although I'm far from an expert when it comes to PHP. Most of what I've done are just quick things I needed for my own forum. To be honest I like playing with the template more than working in the php code, never been able to stand the default design of any software I've used (be it vBulletin, UBB, IPB, phpbb and many others).
Do you have any advice for novice coders?
Get the source code and start reading. I learned what I know from looking at the code of others and making small modifications to it, in time I knew enough to write my own modifications. If you don't understand a function or something going on the code ask the author of it, if he doesn't answer you ask someone else. When all else fails search google for an explanation or in the case of PHP try searching at php.net
The machine is not a magical thing, it's simply doing what it's told. You just have to learn how to tell it to the things you want it to do.
What are your thoughts on vB 3.5 compared to previous versions?
I think version 3.5 is a big improvement over the 3.0.x line. The plug-in system is a god send for people running modified boards, the changes in the source code has also made it easier to write modifications. All and all I'd say it's a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing what the developers come up with next.
How has the plug in system changed things for users and for the hacking community?
It has become easier to install modifications, about the only thing you have to do by hand anymore is edit a few templates. Upgrading used to be a job that would take many hours to days depending on the forum, now it takes a few minutes to a couple hours depending on how customized your style is. Perhaps the most important thing is all modifications can be switched off via the admincp, very useful when you run into a problem that you need support to look at.
The hacking community has adjusted well to working with the plug-in system. Most everyone has moved on to releasing code as a plug-in/product whenever it's possible to do so. Just like in the past we've already seen many modifications released to improve the performance of vBulletin 3.5.x. We've even seen a few that deal directly with speeding up the plug-in system, the only downside to them is they require editing the php files more often then not.
What would you like to see added or changed in the next version?
Everything I could have ever dreamed of having in the software is already there. You see I come from a time when we had to hack in the avatar and polling systems, we didn't have a database for storing data, and changes to the layout of the board required rebuilding all the forums and threads because they where stored in .html files that were re-built every time a new thread/post was made!
Things have come a long way!
What's changes can we expect at vBulletin.org?
It's clear to us that many of the projects released on our forum are quickly out growing the solutions we currently provide. Many of the 'hacks' released at vBulletin.org go far beyond begin a quick fix for a small problem. On the other end of things a large number of our users don't even understand the code and just come to the site to download hacks and request support.
The goal is to build a better environment for hackers to work in while not making it to confusing to our regular users. There are many things planned for vBulletin.org, but I won't go into them after the uprising the hack database has caused us . The long awaited hack database is just the first step of many we have planned, and once it's in place we'll start seeing new developments very often.
What are the most common technical mistakes you see admins making?
Choosing a bad hosting provider
The one thing I see the most is a user running vBulletin on a shady reseller or a free hosting provider. This does not give you much room to grow and most of these hosts run servers that are poorly configured, under powered, and overcrowded.
You have to shop around when it comes to choosing your hosting provider, don't get suckered into placing your community on a server just because the monthly fees are low.
Installing hacks without forethought
Anytime you think about installing a modification, or even turning on certain options in the admin cp you need to ask yourself a few questions. Will this (hack/option) really benefit my community? Can I afford to spare system resources for this? Will this confuse my users? Will this clutter my layout and make it look unappealing? Does it work in the web browser(s) most of my users visit my community with?
I'm sure I could come up with a million more questions, but I think you see where I'm going with this already. The point is don't get 'hack happy' and start installing every little thing you come across in our forums.
When I first got involved with hacking UBB I got hack happy and before long we had over 100 hacks installed on our forum. That time would have been spent better elsewhere, like promoting our community and writing more content.
What are the most common administrative mistakes you see admins making?
Poor staff management and self moderation
You and your staff are the only form of 'law' in your community. It's important to uphold any rules you have in place, but it's just as important to remain friendly at all times. Remember you and your staff are setting an example, your users will follow your lead because they assume staff members will always follow the rules. As the admin this goes double for you, because your moderators are also following your lead. If you become frustrated while dealing with a user you should leave the computer for a little while, personally I go for a short drive and have a smoke then come back with a clear head to deal with whatever got me mad. Just one angry rant on your part can be the start of a major problem you'll probably be unable to control without a lot of work. The last thing you want is a good chunk of your user base leaving your board because they are angry at the staff or certain members of the staff.
Money on the mind..
I see a lot of people trying to build a community today just so they can bring in money via ads and subscriptions. This should not be the sole reason why you set out to create a community in my honest opinion. Things like this come later on after you have an established user base.
What future changes do you expect in forum software development?
Honestly I am not sure what we will see down the line. As I said before the software has become far more advanced today then I ever thought it would be. I've learned just to sit back and let things happen.
Are online communities an important part of the internet? Of life?
Yes! They allow people from all over the world to exchange ideas without the normal barriers like race, religion, and social class. I know I am much more open about my thoughts while online then I am in person. I know people from all over the world thanks to the internet and discussion boards, I don't want to imagine going through life without them.
How do you see the internet in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years? What about online communities in particular?
I think the current trend of moving away from text will continue, how fast that happens depends solely on the development of broadband around the world. We have to be careful not to leave the last mile users in the cold until they are a smaller part of the overall internet using population. In the USA we are falling behind on deploying broadband at the last mile, people that are lucky enough to get broadband aren't seeing the same speeds as our friends overseas. In the states our problem is many people live outside of the large cities, it would be a daunting task to run fiber to every community in our country. I think what will save us last mile users is wireless technology, that market is growing very fast and it's something to keep an eye on!
I don't really know where we'll be in 10 years. As end users get more bandwidth we'll develop things to take advantage of it, but we'll always be limited on how far we can take it before the applications are unusable by a large part of the population. I suppose it'll be a lot like it is today with different sites offering a variety of content depending on the people they target.
What are your favorites?
I don't read many books these days, all the reading I do on the computer makes up for it.
I don't watch many movies, but some of my favorites include: Reservoir Dogs, The Godfather, Scarface, and Pulp Fiction. (generic answer I know. )
My TV is mostly used for watching sports, most every Sunday you can find me in front of the TV watching that weeks Winston Cup race (I know the name is Nextel cup now, but I refuse to call it that out of spite). I'm a Carolina Panthers fan so I catch all of their games when NFL is in season. During the month of March I watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament (UNC fan), and I try to catch as many ACC games as I can during the regular season.
Other then that I watch a lot of cartoons. Some of my favorites include: The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Rocko's Modern Life, Ed Edd and Eddy, Cow and Chicken, Dexter's Laboratory, The Ren and Stimpy show, The Angry Beavers, Catscratch, Looney Toons, and Tom and Jerry. I'm also a big fan of Robot Chicken and Moral Orel.
I'll listen to most any kind of music, I have a loud stereo in my car and I play rap and rock on it most of the time. Right now I'm waiting on my speakers to blow up so I'll have an excuse to buy something a little bigger. Thanks to my step dad I also have a taste for Bluegrass and country music, on the country end of things I mostly listen to the "I'm going to drink myself to death because my wife left me, my dog died, and my truck won't start" Sub-Genre.
We have way to many video games in this house, odds are that if it was made in the last 15 years we have a copy of it. These days I don't play video games that much, but when I do I spend most of my time playing old NES, SNES, Genesis, and Neo Geo games (I'm hooked on Mega Man right now) or Madden 2006 on my Playstation 2. If I have friends over we play Tekken 5 or Super Smash Brothers most of the time.
I play Chess, but I'm not really that good at it. I love Chess because it's a game that forces you to think ahead, unlike most games that are based on some form of luck. I also play RISK, but not that often because it's hard to plan a night when everyone can devote 6 hours to playing.
Deer, Grey squirrel, Rabbit, Fatbacks, Fried Chicken, Pit BBQ, Pork Chops, Steak, good old ground beef, corn, green beans, biscuits, gravy and potatoes.
Also eat a lot of pizza, but most of the time it is not by choice.
Sweet Tea, Coffee, Pepsi, RC cola and Bourbon whiskey.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
I live in the middle of nowhere so there is not much to do.
I shoot pool when friends come over (we have a table in the house). I don't do it much in public anymore, have a bad habit of running my mouth when I'm playing. I play 8-ball and 9-ball mostly under the 'house rules'. I've been playing fooseball since I was old enough to stand on a milk crate and see over the table, hard to find people willing to play me these days, I can even wear out the old man (he blames it on his knee ).
I used to ride my 4 wheeler every other day, but I've given it up for now. I figure after 3 concussions, two visits to the hospital, and thousands of dollars worth of damage to me and my 4 wheeler...well it just isn't worth it to keep riding anymore.
In the summer time I go fishing a lot, mostly for cats. There is a huge Cat Fish in our pond (I call him the Monster Cat) that I've been trying to catch for a year now, he always steals my chicken liver. I almost got him last year, even got a good look at him before he snapped my line and took off with my hook, my best sinker and my bait. ;/
What is your ultimate career goal / dream job?
Ruler of Earth. I'll figure out how to claim the rest of the solar system when I own NASA.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known 10 years ago?
Nothing, my past has made me who I am today. Would not change a thing.
Besides I was 9 years old then, the only thing on my mind was video games.
Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
Last summer I came real close to begin stuck by lighting while watching a thunderstorm from the front porch of our house. Lighting struck a tree in the front yard about 20 yards from where I was sitting. The strike was so loud that it rung my ears, I was temporally deaf for a little while, at one point I really thought I'd never hear anything again.
We have not cut down the tree yet, it's dead and has a 4 inch wide gap running up the entire trunk. The bark is also missing from most of the tree. I still watch thunderstorms when they blow through (habit I picked up from my dad), but I have more respect for them now.
What does the future hold for you?
Wish I knew, all I'm hoping for is broadband and maybe a few kids to kick around when I'm to old to take care of myself.