Scott Molinari has been been a part of the forum admin and forum software world for a long time and his name is quite familiar to most everyone here. He's probably best known for his work with vB Germany but in the future it may well be that he will be best known as the creator of Skooppa .
Of course, Scott is also a great asset to the TAZ community (and has resisted my attempts to get him to join the Admin Zone staff many times over the years). I was able to convince him to participate what turned out to be a comprehensive peek into the world of Scott Molinari.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am, what I feel should be the halfway point in my life at 49. I live in Germany, but am an still an American, even though I’ve lived over half my life now in Germany. I am married to a lovely German woman, my wife Carmen and have a son Alex, who is now 23.
I moved to Germany with the US Air Force in 1985. After the cold war ended, around 1990 to 1991, the Air Force closed up a majority of the bases in Europe and I was reassigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. At the time I moved to Texas, Carmen was pregnant with Alex and decided to stay in Germany to give birth to him, because she trusted the German medical system better than the Air Force medical system (and so did I). I took vacation and flew back to Germany to be with her during the birth. What a great experience a birth of your own child is!
Because of the pullout in Europe, there was a glut in manpower in the States, so the Air Force offered everyone a special deal to get out of their contract, provided the person would have a job and so I got a contract with Manessmann Demag Baumaschine. They built some of the world’s best mobile cranes and we still do actually. I still work for the same company, which is now owned by Terex. I am currently the Service Development Manager for a worldwide network of service stations for our products. I am responsible to help constantly improve the processes and tools we have and use to support our customers. One of the tools being a new and successful Customer Relationship Management system.
In my spare time, I had worked for vBulletin and am now working on my new project, Skooppa.
Do you miss living in the USA?
To be honest, no, I don't miss living in the States at all. I've made my home here in Germany. I am not sure how life is in the States now either, as I don't visit enough. I do know the German standard of living is good and relatively affordable. I feel pretty safe and secure here. That is what I like about Germany. I do miss the Florida weather though.
What is your educational background?
Above and beyond high school and my technical training in the Air Force, basically everything I know, is self-taught or self-learned. I took a couple of semesters towards a degree in computer science, while I was in the military, but the end of the Cold War also ended my evening classes too. I wish that hadn’t stopped. (My college endeavors, not the Cold War!) I was really enjoying the programming courses, even though it was…. Pascal. Oh my. When I think back to those times and look at what I am doing now? Amazing.
I’ve naturally taken smaller courses or seminars for a wide variety of things. But, I count that as a form of self-learning too.
When did you first become interested in Online Forums?
Actually, I ran into the forum world from a strange vector. It was around the year 2000 and I was actually looking for a decent script to learn PHP and I found the up and coming vBulletin forum script at Version 1. Don’t ask me how this came about. When I look back, I think finding vBulletin was completely serendipitous. And, it was somehow love at first sight too. It was also the very positive influence of John Percival, who got me loving vBulletin and its direction even more. Plus, there was a wave of positive emotion for the software, so all-in-all, I was caught in that wave.
Not too long after that coincidental meet-up with vBulletin, I decided to start a German support forum for vBulletin on vB2 and was often discussing a possible partnership with Jelsoft for the German distributorship of vBulletin. I saw the great potential it had.
I had also worked on the first semi-official German translation of vB2 with my still partner and friend, Stephan (Pogo) Pogodalla. He was the real professional behind the great German translation, as my German was way too poor for a professional translation at the time. Hehe…my German is much better now, but still not good enough for a professional translation and why I would never do one on my own. Many people who speak only one language underestimate the work it takes to do a decent translation. I don’t anymore.
Thanks to Pogo and some other great guys on my team at the time, like Mike König and Dominic Schlatter, I never had to do much translating. I often got kicked out of translating sessions. I just never learned German as a “mother-tongue” language and it too often showed. It still does.
At any rate, over the next years, our business grew well along with vBulletin’s, until the end of 2009, when all hell broke loose. More on that later…..
What do you consider as your important accomplishments up to this point?
Being married for over 20 years and still being in love (although there can certainly be varying degrees of that feeling ). Not getting really sick for all of my life other than a tonsillectomy at 7 and a broken arm at 10. (Knock on wood.) Not living in poverty, ever. Making the decision to do something on my own and not be dependent on anyone else, directly, although I do realize some dependency in some form is always a given as a human being or as a business owner. I am also not yet independent as a business owner. But, I am working towards getting there.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Way too many to write down. Failures are what make us better though, right? You won’t find one successful person out there, who hadn’t failed in some way. I embrace the concept of failure, though it is also still hard for me to do, because I, like everyone else, was taught from the first day of life that failure is bad. But it isn’t really. If you can embrace the fact that you will most likely fail at one point with something, then actually basically nothing will stand in your way to reaching your goals. You just have to work through the failures, learn from them and avoid doing them again. If you can do that, you’ll do just fine and definitely much better than those people, who freeze at the thought of failing and end up doing nothing and basically wasting their lives.
What is the significance of your avatar?
Glad you asked that. It is our symbol for Skooppa and has two meanings.
It is the Yin and the Yang of Skooppa and cloud computing platforms. It represents the duality of a customer and business relationship. It represents the even more prevalent conflict and yet symbiotic relationship we will have, in order to make a system and service like Skooppa work. Some of you might be going “Huh?” with what I just wrote. Be patient my Padawans. Things in life not understood at one point, will become a revelation at another.
The less spiritual answer is, it is simply a light bulb as seen from above. The backwards “S” looking symbol is the filament of the light bulb. And what does a light bulb usually represent? An idea! The core goal of Skooppa will be to make web application ideas for online communities become a reality, faster and less complicated, for more people, than ever before. Puh, that came out like marketing jargon. LOL!
Can you summarize your past relationship with vBulletin?
Do I have to? LOL! Sorry.
As people might know me, I am pretty cynical and critical of vBulletin. It’s not because of a grudge or disliking anything. I just find the waste of the potential that I helped build up totally disheartening and my rants and cynicism are my way of working it out of me. If I get on anyone’s nerves, I apologize. It will end sooner or later for sure, one way or another.
But, to explain myself for those who don’t know me. As I mentioned above, I was owner of the business, which had partnered with Jelsoft, the original vendor of the vBulletin software, to sell the German version of vBulletin. We were the first distributor of the software in another language and we worked with Jelsoft and later Internet Brands (IB) for almost 13 years.
Then, in 2009, IB started royally screwing things up and all hell broke loose.
When Kier and Mike left, I was still the last “vB staff” with any clout outside of the company (and it was very, very little clout). I started to get boisterous towards IB management and their poor leadership of vBulletin. It all fell on very deaf ears. Not only that, they stabbed me in the back with the XF lawsuit by mentioning me, saying Kier tried to get me to distribute XF, which wasn’t true at all. I was the one who approached Kier and Mike. I had also made that very, very clear to IB management too. But, they nicely turned my actions and my honesty around for their untruthful, dishonest advantage.
Funny though, at the time, my construable disloyal actions weren’t enough to fire me as their partner. Why? Because we were still making too much money for them. The ousting didn’t come until a year later, when they decided, without any reason, that our services were no longer needed. Boom! My vBulletin game was over.
Annnnddddd…….holy cow! It was a GODSEND! I am SOOOO happy we didn’t have to work on vB5 or have to support it. I think I’d probably be bankrupt, if we had to.
The old vBulletin days were a great time. Year after year of growth. It was a divine pleasure to support a quality product that basically sold itself. That is the way any product or service should be really, isn’t it?
What are your thoughts on the current state of affairs in the forum software world, particularly vB, IPB, and XF.
Puh, where to start?
I think the forum software world is sort of stuck in a rut. There are two main areas I see, where we need to attack. The software itself and the community of users.
Firstly, why did you call it “forum software world” to begin with? I think that alone proves my first point. We really, really need to look past “just forums”. We need to look at what makes a forum so strong and build on that strength and from that point forward, we should only be talking about online communities, (which a forum application might be a part of). But to me, the great usefulness and flexibility of forums actually have killed, ironically and paradoxically, any real fantasy, ideas and freshness about how to extend online communities with many more types of user created content. Is forum content, the threads, really all we can come up with?
In the past, we’ve seen forums get pushed around by blogs and then social networks took over a lot of the user’s online time and the forum software vendors reacted by trying to take over some of the attributes or features of social networks and blogs in their own applications, instead of building on their own strengths. In other words, not one vendor has lead with anything seriously innovative in the last 10+ years to raise the game of the online community world. Why not?
What were the strengths?
Forums are still the best platform for text discussions. These discussions are very often a means to transfer knowledge and that knowledge is available for mostly everyone, as long as the forum stays online. That is an incredible strength. But nobody has built on that.
The text discussions have seen various forms. Yet over the many, many years we’ve had forum software, there has been no real change to the basic flat view standard. Why not? Is there no better way to improve on how we input and ingest discussions? I think there is.
So, lack of innovation within the forms of content and the form of discussion is an intriguing topic and the lack of concentration on these topics is seen in the dwindling online community numbers. Social Networks are simply more fun. Why is that? Finding that answer is something I am dedicating a lot of time to.
The other area of concern I see, and it actually has to do with the site owners, is desegregation in the user base between all the online communities of the world. Why do we have this at all? I feel, a user, is a user, is a user and he or she is the same user no matter what online community he or she visits. Nobody owns “users”, yet this is often a fight between online communities and this “I must have more users” or “I have 25K users on my site and thus am successful” attitudes is what is hurting the online community world against behemoths like Facebook and Twitter. They do have the users and those are the same users, who use forums. They are just spending much more time “over there”.
Instead of working against each other, online communities should complement each other. Now you are probably saying, “Scott, you are crazy! What in the world are you talking about?” I understand this idea might seem crazy, but as long as users of online communities are split among them and because everyone is stuck with giving the users the limited ability to create the same old content (back to the first area of concern), we, as a group of online community owners, will be exerting a lot of energy to go nowhere fast. We need to get out of this rut and start moving forward. We deserve it, because online communities are simply the better social networks.
Imagine this kind of world. You have the same kind of topic for your online community as Jane, but she offers totally different user content possibilities as you have. So now you complement each other, right? The name of the game is then - who offers the best and most diverse content gets more user attention - and that is a much more positive and fair game than we what we all have now, fighting for users with basically the same form of content.
Now imagine all the users are centrally finding the content about their interests. They find one form of content on one site and another on another site. Not the same “threads”, but really interesting content about that single interest. It could be statistical data about a certain interest. It could be detailed data about the topic of that certain interest. The sky is the limit. A much richer base of content leads to more online time for online communities, because it is much more meaningful content for the users, which they are actually adding themselves. The online community owners are only the idea creators for the types of content and the moderators of it.
And more importantly with this vision, we aren’t fighting for the user’s online time, but fighting to create better content and just destroying Facebook and Twitter and Google and the likes at the same time. I’ll say it again. Online communities simply are the much better social networks. The users just need to be united in some way. I think that is a huge paradigm change, which we are working to make happen and I feel really needs to happen, for the online community world to prosper.
Describe your typical workday schedule.
I get up at around 5 a.m every day, even on the weekends. Make coffee. Check email, visit TAZ (I love the community.) I try to learn something once a day, mostly about the technologies involved in Skooppa. I also just started a campaign for Skooppa to try to make a social connection with an true influencer once a day. That is really difficult though. I go to work at about 9 or 10 in the morning. Luckily, I only work 35 hours a week at my normal job. When I get home, I work on Skooppa. It is a challenge working my normal job and on a project like Skooppa and why it is honestly slow going currently. In between all that, I sleep about 6-7 hours a night. I’d say a pretty boring life as it is, isn’t it? I am expecting that to change soon.
Are you currently involved in any other projects?
No, just the occasional request to help upgrade a vB forum, or a migration away from vB to a new platform, which is a lot more work, but more satisfying for me. vB is sadly now seeming to be a totally dead end street for anyone on that platform. I really don’t like seeing that. It is like seeing your son or daughter in jail, for something he or she really didn’t do, and you know it.
What is your ultimate professional goal, your dream job?
Being the leader of a group of great people, who need only the least bit of leadership. Being responsible for the decision making, which leads to something better for a lot of people.
How many forums do you administrate/moderate?
Currently 3. The vB-Germany.com community. The vB-Germany.org community. And the Skooppa project community. (which everyone is invited to join.) To be honest though, the vB sites are on the backburner for me. Pogo takes care of them for the most part, which I actually owe him a ton of gratitude for, as his work on the forums is completely voluntary and a gesture of his friendship.
How would you describe your moderation style?
When I think about it, I’d say, I am pretty relaxed as a moderator. The thing you need is a good crew of moderators or a team of people, who are themselves very adult in nature (you can be young and still very adult in nature too) and you need a good set of rules with clear punishments for breaking the rules. If you have that, you can uphold a good bit of discipline quite easily. I would also say, I was lucky with the forums I ran in that the people were all, for the most part, also quite adult in nature. And, if I ever had a personal issue with someone, I’d take it to a private discussion. I think I’ve done that twice or three times in 13 years or so.
Do you have any pet peeves?
Inconsistent UI’s, because they can and most likely will end up being unintuitive.
Using my satellite receiver, because it has a crappy UI. Need to get a new one someday.
The grass on my lawn, because it keeps growing, which I can’t do anything about other than mow it, which although can be meditational, is a total waste of time to me. Can’t get rid of the lawn either, because of our 4 dogs. It’s their morning toilet.
Flies, when they fly around my desk, while I am working. There is one here right now. I live in quite a rural village in Germany with a population of around 600 people and lots of farmland around us. So flies are a part of our rural village life. Cool thing about Germany though, the next bigger town is real close. Just a 5 minute drive away. Next biggest city is only 30 minutes away.
I just loath it though, when one or two flies get in the house and fly around me, while I am trying to concentrate. Good thing for fly swatters. Hey, have you all seen this fly “shotgun”?
Hmmm…what else. My personal pet peeve with myself. It is, my yearn to want to improve things, yet I am paradoxically and ironically easy to please. Yes, I actually am. I also always try to remember one thing though. It is great to be happy! However, don’t confuse happiness with satisfaction, because satisfaction is the staple that feeds the monster of mediocrity.
What are the most common technical mistakes you see new admins making?
Technical mistakes. Hmm… not realizing the online community software being used doesn’t ward off spambots well enough or they don’t set up the software properly to ward off spam, should the tools be available and the new admin ends up with their freshly created online community getting overrun with spam.
What are the most common administrative mistakes you see new admins making?
As I mentioned above, rules are important. One mistake I often see is the lack of clear rules for the users, when a forum is started. Oh….maybe a general/ universal set of rules could be a good resource for new admins, who are TAZ users? See! Trying to improve again….
As an admin or mod, when you confront a user with what you think is improper behavior, they will most likely argue about it and they take you for the bad guy. If you have rules and the appropriate punishments for breaking the rules posted clearly on your forum, AND the users had to agree to them, before they joined your forum, then there should really be no discussions about the behavior. It was wrong according to the rules and you can enforce the rule or rules with the proper punishment. The user might still disagree, might think you are the bad guy, but this is less predominant with rules and punishments.
Having rules is important for your moderation team too. It takes the “blame” off of them for making any judgments, as the rules are there to back them up. They are just following the rules.
Oh, and obviously, the rules must make sense and the punishments must also be fair, in order for the rules and your team to be effective. In general though, the basis to discipline are rules and punishments, so if you want discipline on your forum, you need rules and punishments.
What are your thoughts on blogs in general? Will blogging become more popular or will it fade away? Do you have a blog?
Hmmm….what is a blog nowadays? In the past, they started off as someone’s personal experiences with other people commenting on them. (Hehehe…it just hit me. Add another pet peeve. Blogs where the author writes a blog, but never participates in the following discussions.) But, now blogs have evolved into mostly informative articles, with only a portion being experiences. I guess we should thank Wordpress for that.
One thing I see lacking is the discussion systems in many blogs. I think, if the discussion systems don’t get better and more conducive to a decent discussion for the blog, then I don’t see blogs growing any more than forums.
I also think commenting systems like Livefyre and Disqus (or even Facebook…..total yuck!) are not the way to improve blogs. The comment systems are better and they do unify the users in a certain fashion, but not in the way I’d like to see them unified. Also, the content in these commenting systems is “off-site”. The data in the discussion may belong to the forum owner, but the fact it is in a different system makes a possible migration away to a new system a real PITA.
I have a blog now with the Skooppa site. I just posted a blog (more like an article) the other day about the difference between “the Cloud” and “Cloud Computing”. You’ll notice too. No commenting system! That sucks, doesn’t it? I hate Wordpress’ comment system and I won’t use anything else. See what I mean? This is not a good situation at all and many, many sites have it. It is why you often see bloggers looking for good forum software to add to their blogs and creating another issue Skooppa aims to solve. Diverse systems.
How do you see the Internet in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years? What about on-line communities in particular?
It is hard to say what will happen in 5 years, let alone 10.
One thing is now absolutely certain. Not only people will be creating “content” on the Internet. Machines will be too. They do it now, actually. The term “Internet of Things” is gaining more and more momentum and when you see the ideas sprouting up on crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, it’s just, Wow! It is really amazing where we are heading. A lot of the ideas you might find are off the wall, but still popular. And, a few ideas are really incredible and innovative and more importantly, many of them are “data creating” devices connected to the Internet. If online communities can embrace this new paradigm early too, for instance by finding ways to aggregate some of the data created by machines to create content for people to discuss about, I think they will be ahead of the game and have a great future. If they continue to stick to “threads” only, well, I’m afraid they’ll (we’ll) all be left behind.
What are some of your favorite things? (Books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?)
I am a Star Wars fan. I think that was obvious with my reference to the readers being Padawans above. No disrespect intended there either.
I was 10 when I saw the first Star Wars film. I just couldn’t get enough, as it had struck a chord in me at the time and still does, when I watch it. I think I’ve seen the first film more than a 20 times over my life. It never gets old for me.
Needless to say though, I was totally disappointed with the last 3 films. Boy, did George miss the mark with them. We’ll see what J.J. can do.
I’ve read a lot of good books. Science fiction from Isaac Asimov in my youth. Action thrillers from Tom Clancy or Clyve Cussler in my military time.Now I read mostly books about Internet technologies and self-help books like “Good to Great”. I just finished reading “A year with Symfony”, a pretty good e-book from our Symfony expert and consultant Matthias Noback.
On which forums do you actively participate?
Believe it or not, mainly just TAZ. I’m also a lurker of the Community Manager Google Community https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110762904068223316820
Pssssst!….Google has no idea how to do an online community! LOL! Google Groups is “forum like”, but its newsgroup heritage holds it back as a decent community platform, IMHO and it is totally aside from the Google+ world. Stupid that is. A real waste. This all is, thankfully, also good for the online community software industry. If Google ever figured out how to make a real community out of its applications, puh. That would be a hard hit to the industry.
What do you do for offline fun and relaxation?
I ride my mountain bike for exercise. Working on Skooppa is currently my hobby. I don’t do much of anything to relax really. Watch TV now and then? People who know me consider me mostly relaxed and laid back anyway. I’m not quite introverted, but I am certainly not an extrovert. At any rate. I find writing exciting, yet relaxing too. It lets me concentrate, which to me, is relaxing (except when a fly is flying around my head - LOL!). I guess I am full of paradoxes.
What do you know now that you wish you knew 5 or 10 years ago?
That vBulletin would be led to a total flop.
But then again, I don’t regret the times I had with Jelsoft and working with Kier, Mike and Ashley. We had some really fun Christmas parties together. The brits are a really jolly go lucky, fun folk to be around and work with! The work with them was thus, easy going and a lot of fun, although it was never really very close nit. It didn’t have to be. vBulletin was being led by professionals, with a huge emphasis on “was”.
Though they will be competition of sorts in the future, I still consider Kier, Mike and Ashley friends and I will hope it can stay that way.
Oh, some lottery numbers would have been good to know too.
Tell us something else about yourself that we don't already know.
I like to play golf and I used to have a 5 handicap. When I was stationed in Austin, I was almost always on the swing shift, so I’d get up early each morning and play a round of golf every day with the retired Air Force gents before work. It was like a religion for them too! It was a lot of fun, because we almost always played for skins. Through about 10 months of playing so constantly, I was able to work my handicap down from about a 25, when I started again, to a 5. Oh, I forgot to mention, I had played golf on my high school’s golf team in Miami, Florida.
I do miss playing golf. I could play here in Germany. There is actually a course not too far from where I live. But, it is still quite an expensive sport to play (high club fees). It is getting less and less expensive every year to play though, which is good for the sport here. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up again. Right now though, I have more important prerogatives.
Please tell us about Skooppa in some detail.
I’d love to write a lot here, but the best way to get to know our plans for Skooppa is to visit our website. http://www.skooppa.com
We’d like to give TAZ an exclusive though. A first look at our backend working pre-alpha mockup.
What you see here is our code editor.
One thing of paramount importance to us is the effective use of our platform by professional developers and designers. This editor shows our dedication to this end. You won’t find a better online editor in any online community software out there. And we won’t stop there. This editor is just the online editor. We intend to also have plug-ins to work directly in Skooppa in one or more of the popular IDE’s like NetBeans, PHPStorm, Eclipse/ Zend Studio and Sublime.
We know this is a lofty goal. We also understand Skooppa’s success can only happen, when developers and designers are given very good tools to use, even the ones they are most used to working with. If we don’t do that, then we are selling ourselves short one of our own goals, which is to be a professional platform for online community PHP applications. How can an online platform be professional, when professionals can’t properly work in it? It is simply impossible. Thus, we will be placing enormous concentration on workflow and tools for professionals.
Some might say, “But I am not a professional programmer or designer, how will this help me at running a community and making it more enjoyable for the users?” Well, at first such tools won’t help you, but as you do more and more with your community and want more and more out of it, you will either learn the technologies of PHP, HTML, CSS and JS yourself, or have others do it for you. Although with time, we intend to include tools to simplify a lot of the programming and design tasks involved in creating and running a website, still, if you are looking for full flexibility with any application platform, you will need to turn to code. When that happens - and I promise, it ultimately will - you must have the best tools and workflow for coding at your fingertips. Anything else would be a joke.
If anyone has any questions about the editor or Skooppa in general, we would love to have you ask us questions on our forum. We really do need to know who is interested in our project and we need interested people to spread the word. We’ll do our best to answer all questions thrown at us, but also please understand some of our details are currently under wraps.
What does the future hold for Scott Molinari?
Well, if all goes as I would like, and we successfully complete our crowdfunding for Skooppa, then a good number of great things will happen, which will positively change the lives of a lot of great people, who are a part of my life, directly and indirectly. I am certain of that.