Why I moved over to a paid forum platform
and why I’m glad I did!
We often get people on TAZ looking to upgrade forum software for various reasons and I too, first came on TAZ looking for advice and opinion on the matter. I hope this article will give people in a similar position an insight into why others move/d over to a paid solution and why they, like me, are so glad they did
Just a quick note to say this article isn’t about slating any other forum software, free, paid for or otherwise, I’m actually glad there are lots of choices out there (it’d be pretty boring if there wasn’t) and a lot of the time it will boil down to just that, personal choice. Some people want a free solution no matter what, some people want unrivalled support and security and some people simply want what they're used to i.e. the same software as their favourite forum!
Here’s how it was with me…
What pushed me to do it?
Before moving over to a paid solution, I ran phpbb on my site – for those not familiar with phpbb it is a free open-source platform. I was completely happy with it at that stage in my sites ‘life’, however my host upgraded to php5 and I began to run into problems, there were a few minor ones but one major problem was that I could not create any moderators! I tried to get my host to change back to the old version of php, but I was told they couldn’t as they had to do what’s best for the majority of their users, I was unable to move hosts because I was tied into a contract.
So I posted on the phpbb support forums begging them to release a fix… but my thread was locked and told that php5 is not supported in the current version I didn’t feel very valued as a user at this point but understood that it was a ‘free’ package so I couldn’t expect too much. I read/was told to wait for the release of phpbb2 which would work with php5… so I waited… and waited, and waited!! It felt like it was never going to come and so months after being told to wait and after many ‘apologies for the delay’ announcements, I decided to search for an alternative paid solution as I felt that none of the free ones would be able to offer the support and compatibly that I needed and wanted.
My search for a Paid solution
I found myself at TAZ looking for all the info I could get and stumbled across a thread about why members were using vBulletin, it was a great read and interesting to see why others made the move and what they thought about it. Basically after reading more on TAZ and other sites, the two main contenders seemed to be vBulletin and Invision. Both as far as I am aware are deserving of that reputation however I can’t comment much about Invision as I have never used it myself.
In my quest for info, I also went to the big-boards.com website which lists all the ‘big’ forums along with the software they use. In the list the name of one forum software in particular kept cropping up…vBulletin. This probably swayed my mind at this stage… all the good things I’d heard about it at Taz and the other sites and all these huge boards using this software must have surely meant vB was doing something right, right? There were other board names in the list as well, but going to the sites showed some of them looked heavily modified (meaning they could be quite different ‘technically’ from the original forum software). I visited more sites and signed up as a member on numerous ones who were using the top two software choices. But in the end vB came out on top for me; based on the fact that a huge percentage of ‘big-boards’ used vB, the excellent reputation it had, and that I actually liked the way it was set up and worked myself. (From this point on please excuse me for not mentioning any of the other paid forum platforms much, as I don’t have that much experience of them - I guess from here on this article focuses on my experience with the choice I made but I hope the crux of the article up to now has provided the reasons why I wanted a different solution, a paid solution, and the reasons behind the personal choice I made to go with vB – remember these are just my views and my reasons for the choice )
My main concern after making the choice to more or less go with vB was how modifiable it was.. I was extremely worried that I would not be able to customise it to the extent my phpbb board was – this was of extreme importance to me because my board relies heavily on the fact that it stands out from the competition visually, so keeping the look and feel was my main priority.
I registered at vBulletin.com and asked some questions via email/support ticket. I was reassured that vBulletin was extremely customisable, however I was still worried and didn’t really want to buy a licence and then find I could not use it… so I was cheeky and asked if I could get a refund if I wasn’t able to customise it as I wanted… surprisingly I was told yes! Now this instilled a lot of confidence! (the fact that they believed in their product so much). I asked a few more questions and looking back at them now, I think the person answering them deserved a medal for being so patient with me! Some of my questions, although valid, would seem quite ‘simple’ to anyone vaguely familiar with vB (as I am now hence I can see the charm of them lol) but Jake Bunce was extremely cool and never once made me feel stupid or daft for asking, he was always courteous and happy to help. I bought the licence there and then based largely on how Jake answered my questions.
Installation and initial exposure to support
After paying I was given the necessary info on how to download my copy, so I downloaded it and installed it as soon as I got it – I think it was around midnight! Anyway after installation, it didn’t work and I was sure I did everything right! So I emailed support and I think within half an hour I had a reply, from Steve Machol. Steve asked for admin access to my system and I happily gave it to him. After about 15 minutes I had an email saying the problem was fixed – I put the wrong details in the config file (database prefix). Well what a superb start to my experience of the support team at vBulletin – as you might guess I was over the moon at this stage and confident I made the right choice.
Taking my time…
I decided that I wasn’t going to import my forums over to vB just yet as I didn’t want to rush creating the template/style. So I spent my spare time ‘playing’ around with it and I remember I used to get excited whenever I found a really cool new feature! Even though my phpbb board was heavily modified – it still had no where near as many options and features as my standard vBulletin!
First impressions and the ACP (Admin Control Panel)
The ACP is excellent, so many features and options that at first it seems a little daunting, but once you get used to it you’re so glad they’re all there!
After the initial ‘shock’ of how different it is to create a template/style, now, I wouldn’t go back to the old phpbb way!! It’s sooooo much easier being able to ‘edit’ template files via the ACP (and having the option to ‘revert’ back if you accidentally mess up is a godsend). As vB comes with lots of style editing options, you’d probably find that you only really need to touch the template files on rare occasions, in fact I think most people wouldn’t even need to – but the fact that its so easy to should the need arise is excellent.
I posted a lot of questions on the vBulletin support forums (mostly 'how do I's') and they were always answered promptly and fully and never once has anyone said “use the search function!”. No matter how simple your question you’re never made to feel stupid - I guess the vB team take into account we’re not all tech gurus like them!
At one point I was trying to make a style change and after following advise the page was not working properly in Firefox so the support staff member who was dealing with me at the time, Jake Bunce asked for my URL to see for himself. So I PM’d him the url to the page and within about 10 minutes he gave me the fix! I actually needed to make a few changes related so I ‘cheekily’ asked him via PM half expecting him to say “oi! All support questions in the forum please!” but no, he answered my question and there was no hint of attitude whatsoever. In fact I ended up PMing Jake a lot and never once has he told me keep questions to the forum (which he has every right to!) as far as I am concerned this is going the extra mile for your customers and Jake has done an absolute brilliant job on keeping me as a happy customer.
The time came when the style was ready and all was set to go live! I’d made a few test imports using Impex on a test board so was comfortable everything was going to be ok. Also in that time I was able to get out of my hosting contract so I thought I would coincide the move with the server move. Doing test imports were worth it as my site was down for less than a few hours! People were expecting us to be down for a few days! After the domain had propagated, it took about a further hour to setup the old forum, import the data into vB and then make the site live.
Well our users absolutely love the new forums, so many more features than the old ones – definite thumbs up from our members. I was actually worried that people wouldn’t like or get used to the post-bit, so went to the trouble to create an option so they could use legacy postbit – the way our old forums were. However I ran a poll a few months later and found that only 2 people were using it! I was also a little concerned that people might not notice all the ‘new features’ so we ran a competition where the user that spots all the new features/options wins a prize – the winner found around 60 new features, and this doesn’t include any new hacks added since!
Why am I glad I moved?
Apart from the above, and the fact that my users love their new forum – there are lots and lots of reasons why I’m glad. Quite important is the Admin controls, we have so much more flexibility in almost every aspect. It’s like the Dev team have thought about everything, and then some! There really are way too many things to list but some of my favourites are:
There’s just so many reasons why I’m glad I switched, from the excellent sales team to the excellent support, to the excellent product. All of these could not be found on a ‘free’ product... I’m quite sure of that.
- Phrase control – any phrase used anywhere in vB can be altered, don’t like a certain error message? No problem, change it to what you want it to say!
- Built in subscriptions – where you can easily set up payment options, which can also effect usergroup status
- Template/style system – ease of use is just excellent, you can have different styles for different forums!
- Security – vBulletin is a very secure system and you are not bombarded with security releases every couple of months (because they're not needed!)
- Bandwidth/Server resources – I was often asked ny my old host why my site (when it was running phpbb) was hogging the resources on the shared server! With vB however I noticed my bandwidth reduced considerably for the same if not more traffic! vBulletin is also widely regarded as extremely efficient when it comes to server resources.
- Moderator Controls – excellent controls, we can even specify whether certain mods can actually delete threads/posts or not, or just ‘soft delete’ them!
- The support - I think the support is unrivalled in the industry (I work in the web industry so have needed support from many companies!)
- The community - the hack community really are a great bunch and do their best to help whenever they can.