Interview with Dietrich Moerman - UseBB Creator

Discussion in 'Interviews' started by The Sandman, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. The Sandman

    The Sandman Administrator

    Dietrich Moerman, known to the members of TAZ as PC_Freak, is the creator of UseBB, a light and Open Source PHP and MySQL based forum package developed with simplicity and usability in mind and distributed freely under the GPL license. Although currently still in beta, UseBB 1.0 is expected to be released early next year. Dietrich spent lot of time answering our questions so that we could find out more about him and about UseBB. :)


    Can you give us a brief bio?

    > I am an 18-year-old from Belgium - Flanders to be more exact (that's the part where mostly Dutch is spoken). Belgium is the country where all the good chocolates come from. :) Currently, I still live with my parents, and I don't have a girlfriend.

    What is your educational background?

    > I finished high school last year in "economics-modern languages" and I am currently following courses in applied informatics at least for the next three years.

    What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point?

    > Getting to know at least one modern programming language (which is PHP) quite well and having a good project with strong potential.

    Any failures you'd like to tell us about?

    > In 2002 I joined a Belgian website whose goal was to help people with computer problems. I was assigned to be a moderator and later climbed up to administrator level, and have put my efforts in the project for several years. After a couple of years, it went completely wrong, team members leaving and people seeking to make some profit from it. I left and rejoined the project a few times but about a year ago I have left it behind completely. It's sad to see that all your work and free time put in the project has vanished in less than a year. But after all, I have learnt much from it.

    What are your favourite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?

    > I absolutely hate novels, so you won't find me reading them. :) I seldom watch movies - only when I'm watching TV and find one by accident which looks good. That's usually an action movie. I watch some TV shows, but only Belgian programs, especially humorous ones.

    > When I was little, I used to play games a lot, but nowadays less and less, except for some simulation or strategy games. I currently play a bit of Age of Empires 3 and that's about it.

    > I listen to quite a lot of music, especially in the big beat, breakbeat and house genres (Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Basement Jaxx etc). Even when programming there is probably music playing near me.

    > Food... well I guess every Belgian would say the same, which is "French Fries". :D That mostly suits with soft drinks such as cola or a beer and such.

    What do you do for fun and relaxation?

    > In Summer I regularly do mountain-biking, but in Winter I tend to stay indoors. After school time I sometimes go bowling or have a drink at a cafe with friends. That's about it. Of course I also find programming quite fun (well, mostly).

    What is your full time job?

    > I don't have one currently, as I am still a full time student.

    Please tell us about UseBB in some detail:

    --Can you tell us the history of UseBB?

    > I used to be very interested in coding stand-alone applications (Pascal, Delphi), until I got involved in the Belgian project I described earlier. To work on the website I slowly learnt HTML, CSS and PHP. That's where the interest in web development started. At the end of 2002 I started thinking of building a small forum package, just for the hobby, not with the intention of distributing it, because I have always loved bulletin board software.

    > At that time I had a small website containing some small PHP scripts and some of my earlier works in Pascal and Delphi, until I decided to focus on web development. I removed my old website and started to focus on the development of the bulletin board package, which at that time was named "SBBS" (for "Small Bulletin Board System") and to make it an Open Source project. I rewrote the board (my PHP knowledge had become better), and founded the sbbs-forum project at so I could use some free web space and CVS hosting. A few weeks later I renamed it to "UseBB" after I found out that a bulletin board project already used "SBBS" as a short name for their project. The new usebb project was registered on on October 22 2003, the moment which is considered the birth of the actual project.

    > 0.1 was released on February 27 2004. I registered and bought and paid hosting in April 2004. Since then, nothing fundamentally changed.

    --What does the name UseBB signify?

    > UseBB actually stands for "Usable Bulletin Board", but was inspired by the "Usenet" name. It was a completely unique name when I registered the project and I liked it better than "SBBS".

    --What is the basic architecture of UseBB?

    > UseBB's core consists of some classes for database, session and template handling. All the rest is coded sequential. When I started writing the board my knowledge of OOP wasn't what it is now so I didn't code it entirely OO. That is likely to change for UseBB 2.0. Still, UseBB 0.x/1.0 is coded with E_ALL error reporting which turns down quite a bit potential security issues that exist with other boards.

    --What are the main features?

    > The goal of UseBB was to be simple and effective so only the essential is available. Its biggest advantage is probably its usability and search engine friendliness. It also contains some more rarely seen features such as a "single forum" mode, .html URL's, automatic topic locking after a certain amount of replies and ACP modules which can be uploaded from within the ACP.

    --Tell us about the user interface.

    > The user interface was built in 2003 (that's right, before I started writing the actual scripts) and meant to be simple and user friendly. Users won't be distracted by too much links, forms, etc. Also, it's coded in XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS, but of course the interface can be altered completely by use of templates (except for the HTML code of the ACP). Some people told me it looks like phpBB, but that's a coincidence, it wasn't meant to resemble it at all. After all, not liking the look isn't a reason for not using UseBB as you can alter it the way you want it to be. :)

    --When do you expect to release UseBB 1.0?

    > Initially it should have been released some time ago, but the project has got some delays in development. Also, I have been struggling with methods of providing documentation (which will probably be never 100% completed for the 1.0 release). Recently I hoped to have UseBB completed by 2006, but that is not likely to happen. I would say 1.0 will be released somewhere in the first quarter of 2006.

    --How does it compare to the other forum software currently available?

    > Most other forum software are striving for more and more features. UseBB, and some other ones such as miniBB and PunBB do not. As said, UseBB was designed to be usable and effective. Only features that are really needed or useful are built into UseBB. It does its job as a forum package, nothing more, nothing less.

    --What's next in the development of UseBB?

    > I am quite busy making plans for UseBB 2.0 - development should start after the release of 1.0. 2.0 will be made in OOP PHP 5(.1) and will use MySQL and hopefully SQLite and PostgreSQL (because there is some limited interest for PostgreSQL support). Once 1.0 is released, I intend to only release bugfixes for it and focus on 2.0, which will basically have the same goals as 1.0 (simplicity and effectiveness), but with more possibilities (plug-ins instead of unhandy mods) and use of modern techniques (AJAX, OOP, etc.).

    > You may ask yourself, "why stop developing 1.0?". Well, after getting to know OOP better (currently, I have several hours of OOP courses per week) and knowing what advantages it could have, I decided to restart with a new code base for 2.0 and to utilize PHP 5, include support for modern technologies (which I named above) and to resolve some bad designs in the current system. Also, the project will be planned better, so when 2.0 is ready there should be complete documentation, converters for popular forum systems etc.

    > If there may be any interest for further development of the 1.x code after 1.0 is released, I will be happy to assign some people who are willing to develop it further with the original idea in mind, so the PHP 4 version is still alive. However, I am pretty sure 1.x will have vanished in a few years when PHP 5 has become mainstream and there are no reasons left to run the old PHP 4 version.

    Who else is on the UseBB Team?

    > Over the past two years, a few other people helped with this and that, such as designing some graphical elements for the layout and a potential new look for 2.0. Also, a few people are in the team to give support in other languages. There have never been any other developers who worked on UseBB itself, but I'd like to have a development team for UseBB 2.0 when the core is ready and some agreements have been made.

    Why spend your time on Bulletin Board software? Are on line communities that important?

    > First, bulletin boards have always interested me. When I got into web development, I couldn't resist trying to build my own. It has really improved my (PHP) programming skills. Later, I decided to make it Open Source, and there we go. I still like doing it and I don't think about stopping.

    > Second, yes, on line communities are quite important, as they are about the only method of having multiple discussions with people from all over the world. It wouldn't be possible to discuss several topics with many people at once by phone (even VoIP) or chat boxes. A forum is capable of containing thousands different topics where thousands of people are able to contribute, and keeping all the information available for later usage (which is mostly not the case with VoIP or chat boxes etc). A forum is also an excellent medium for giving support for software packages, hardware, or anything you may think of, and it's cheap. Web hosting is very cheap and there are enough free bulletin boards you will like and that will suit your needs.

    What other projects and/or ventures are you involved in?

    > I'm somewhat involved in the small UseBook project started by a friend, which implements a guest book system based on UseBB's core. It is still very limited and far from complete. There is a slight change that when UseBB 2.0 is complete the script will be transformed into a UseBB plug-in instead of a stand-alone application.

    > Also I'm on another personal project (not related to web development at all) which is currently on-hold. I used to be active in quite a few other projects but that consumed too much time. I also still have to study quite a lot, and in that context I am also active in small temporarily projects for school work.

    What is your ultimate professional goal, your dream job?

    > I am interested in many things, so I think I would be happy very soon when I have a well-paid, safe and interesting 9 to 5 job with a bit of a challenge, be it programming related or not. I am not yet sure which direction I will take after I finished my studies - that is to decide later, but it will probably be in the direction of IT.

    How did you get involved in coding?

    > I have been interested my entire life in anything mechanical (cars, trucks, ...) or electronic (computers, ...). Anything that works automatically has always fascinated me. When I got my first computer at the age of 12, I soon discovered it could be programmed quite easy, and even got into writing some DOS batch scripts by looking at other .bat files I found on my computer. Later at school I got Turbo Pascal programming and also an Internet connection so that's where it really took off.

    Describe your typical workday schedule.

    > I have very irregular days (sometimes I have courses in the morning, sometimes only in the afternoon, etc). Mostly I have to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and travel about 25 km per train to reach school (which is considered quite a distance in Belgium because is densely populated), and it has already turned dark by the time I get back home. So there isn't that much time left to work on UseBB. On free days and weekends I take advantage of my free time and work a bit on UseBB and everything that relates to it.

    What advice can you give people just getting into programming?

    > Nowadays I see many people learning HTML, CSS and PHP, and most of them start the wrong way by looking at other scripts and trying to understand a bit from it. The things they don't understand are asked on forums. That's a bad way of learning new things. HTML and CSS are easy to learn on-line by following good tutorials or manuals, but I would suggest to buy a book if you want to learn PHP, SQL, or any other language. I have read many websites during the past years but a few PHP books have taught me much more than all the websites put together.

    > Also, I would suggest not to stick to one thing. If you know HTML and CSS well, don't spend years on making layouts for websites - start with the next useful thing (JavaScript or a server side language). Currently, web development is evolving quite fast so it is important to catch up fast if you want to be good at it.

    When you develop forum software are you designing it for yourself or for the end users?

    > When I started it I built it just for myself (although there was a small possibility it could be used for an other project), but nowadays it is mostly developed for the end-user, although I make sure the original idea is not getting lost.

    How do you feel when you publicly release your software?

    > Releasing new versions used to be very exciting, but that changed during the past two years when you get used to releasing newer versions once in a while. I try to double check everything when releasing a new version (such as if the docs and internal version number are updated), but sometimes I still forget something. :) Also it takes quite some time to release a new version and update all the information on 3rd party websites. Fortunately, some guy made a handy Python application (ReleaseForge) to release new versions on more quickly. It really saves some time.

    If you were going to start a new forum community using existing software (which you didn't write yourself) which product would you choose, and why?

    > In fact, I always loved YaBB (SE). YaBB Gold was the very first forum I worked with, and still it gives me a good feeling. If I would need a forum with many possibilities I would probably choose SMF, but I also like the simplicity of PunBB and the good old threaded mode of packages like Phorum and W-Agora. W-Agora however seems to be dying slowly since the past few years, which is quite sad if you know it was one of the first PHP forum packages ever.

    What future changes do you expect in forum software development?

    > I have seen some interesting articles about tags in bulletin boards instead of or in addition to (sub)forums. "Tags" have become popular quite fast, for example on big websites like Flickr and I am sure we will see the tagging possibility in forums within a year or so (not necessarily in UseBB).

    > Also, AJAX is an important "new" technique which popped up in IPB and vBulletin in a relatively short time, and will appear, without any doubt, soon in other (free) forum solutions.

    What is your opinion on the open source vs proprietary software debate in general? What about forum software specifically?

    > I don't really care whether one uses Open Source or proprietary software, or if he or she wants to spend money on it or not. However, most innovation is associated with Open Source rather than proprietary software. Personally, I use a lot of (free) Open Source software because it is free and offers many possibilities. I see less reasons why I would want to pay for something I can get for free (and often better).

    > About forum software, the most innovative ones are proprietary ones (don't ask me why), but the same innovations also slowly appear in Open Source packages.

    How do you see the Internet in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years? What about on-line communities in particular?

    > I think this is hard to predict. Probably the most noticeable change will be more web based applications over stand-alone ones. The sudden popularity of AJAX and web application API's such as Ruby On Rails prove this. I also hope web development will get a bit more mature. PHP, which is the most popular web development language, doesn't really offer many advanced possibilities over regular programming languages, and there is still a mess of incompatibility between how a website looks and works in different browsers.

    > I think on-line communities won't change that much, maybe except for the popular tagging possibility. As said, it's hard to predict, especially with the current wave of new technologies.

    Which on-line communities do you enjoy as a member?

    > I am active on a few Belgian forums and some forums which cover my other interests, but I wouldn't say there is a particular forum which I am extremely active on. I regularly join new and potentially interesting forums, but also leave them if it turns out to nothing.

    How many forums do you administrate?

    > Currently, the UseBB Community is the only forum I administrate.

    Tell us about the UseBB Community.

    > Unfortunately, there hasn't been that much interest in UseBB yet, mainly because the software is not completed yet. The forum is populated by a limited number of people who visit it on a regular basis - the rest only visit it when needing support or are active for a few weeks and then disappear. It can be quiet over there, but that does not mean the project is inactive. ;)

    How would you describe your moderation style?

    > I'd say nowadays it's quite loose. On the UseBB forums there are a few basic rules that seem obvious and that's it. I have not banned anybody yet (;)), my moderation activities up to today are limited to sending a handful of warnings about some small issues. However, my moderation style has changed a lot. When starting as a moderator years ago I made the mistake to set up quite a few rules on the forums and to make sure they were followed very well. Out of experience I now know it may have a bad effect on the activity.

    What are the most common technical mistakes you see new admins making?

    > Many new forums use phpBB. In fact, too many ones. I have nothing against it, but if you use phpBB, make sure to not use the default style because there are thousands of forums with the default look.

    > Also, I would certainly encourage admins to create a website and use the forum as a part of it, instead of using the forum as the entire website. When people discover an empty forum and nothing more, many of them will just go away.

    What are the most common administrative mistakes you see new admins making?

    > Definitely creating too many subforums. When you have started a new forum and you barely have a few hundreds of posts, having too many forums makes it look very empty. So try to limit the number when you start and create new ones when there is a need for it.

    > Also, beware of assigning moderators you don't know. Only assign people that are active on your board and you know they can be trusted. I have had bad experiences with this.

    What are your thoughts on blogs in general? Will blogging become more popular or will it fade away? Do you have a blog?

    > A blog is a good way (and reason) to set up a personal website, but I don't read many and I don't have an active one myself. I used to have one (primarily for technical things), but stopped updating it. When it comes to news, I prefer a classic news website or a forum for news postings. Still, I think they will become more popular.

    Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.

    > I am very interested in doing urban exploration, which means looking for and visiting abandoned places, buildings, factories, etc. One thing from keeping me doing it are the dangers for one's health. Asbestos, chemicals, etc. Too bad.

    What does the future hold for Dietrich Moerman?

    > Finishing my first year in applied informatics, getting my driver's license, finding a girlfriend, etc... Oh, and most of all: having a lot of fun! :)
    • Winner Winner x 1
  2. Sal Collaziano

    Sal Collaziano Womanizer

    I took a look at UseBB and I like what I see. I'm not crazy about the adminCP (or lack thereof) but will definitely use the board in the future. I just did a quick install and it was simple. I added categories and forums through phpMyAdmin and it went smoothly.. This can be a nice change from using phpBB...
  3. Nbleven

    Nbleven Think Different.

    Great article... as interview!
  4. bradley

    bradley admin

    usebb is nice and easy to skin. this was my effort:

    the best thing, in my opinion, is the links to new posts etc - it uses anchor text, so way more search-engine spider friendly than even the big boys in the game!
  5. devilishsaint

    devilishsaint Enthusiast

    Superb Interview he has answered each question in detailed manner. Thanks TAZ Team.
  6. Exyicon

    Exyicon @Exyicon

    Nice interview. He's only 18 and he's created all this is his spare time. Not bad.
  7. Richard.R

    Richard.R Adherent

    He was 18 in 2005, when interview was posted :unhunh:

    imagine he is closer to 24 now:coffee:
  8. k1900

    k1900 Aspirant

    Nice one.. always love to read through interviews :)
  9. Jamsplash

    Jamsplash Aspirant

    Awesome interview... It's strange to think about how much has changed in 8 years. I bet the creator of UseBB is rich and even more talented now!

    It would be really cool if you could find out what he's working on now and see how far along he has come :)
  10. Meles

    Meles Neophyte

    That would be really interesting also an update about his new projects