Interview with Rickard Andersson

Discussion in 'Interviews' started by The Sandman, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. The Sandman

    The Sandman Administrator

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    Rickard Andersson is the developer of PunBB, the free (donation based), open source (GPL) forum software which is best known for it's streamlined, efficient design. A quick browse through their website is the best way to get a feel for the speed and simplicity of PunBB. In addition, there is a great deal of documentation available for PunBB users. Let's find out more about Rickard and PunBB.

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    Can you give us a brief bio?

    I'm 28 years old and I live in the southern part of Sweden (Helsingborg to be exact). I share a 37 square meter apartment with my lovely girlfriend Lina. We are in the process of moving to a larger apartment so everything is a mess right now.


    What is your educational background?

    I have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from Lund University. That's about it.


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

    Well, apart from such worldly things as finding someone with whom I would love to spend the rest of my life (</cheese>), I guess I would have to mention PunBB. I've worked on it on and off for a couple of years now and I'm very proud of it.


    Any failures you'd like to tell us about?

    Sure. I used to play in a band. We played together for about 7 years and had our sights set on being the next big thing (what band doesn't?). We had a bunch of gigs and later signed a recording deal with EMI. However, it never really amounted to anything. One part of me thinks it was a big waste of time and another part of me is glad I did the whole play in a band, party like it's 1999 thing back then. We did have a lot of fun and even though we ultimately were a failure as a commercial band, the guys from the band still are some of my closest friends.

    Oh, also, last year I bought a Peugeot 405. That was a failure. The French are good at a lot of things, but cars are not one of them. Trust me…

    What are your favorite books? Movies? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?

    My attention span is that of a 12-year-old and therefore I don't read a lot of books. The DaVinci Code however, I wasn't able to put down until I had finished it.

    My all time favorite movie is Blade Runner.

    Music? Hmm. Lately, I have found myself listening a lot to the new Kate Bush album. I never get tired of hearing her voice.

    I don't have a lot of time over for playing games these days, but when I do, I like to fire up Day of Defeat: Source.

    When it comes to food, I really don't have any favorites. Fast food is something I eat way too often, but that's probably true for most people in our line of work.

    My favorite beverage is coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. And I don't mean that American diner style coffee that looks like tea, I mean proper coffee. If I go out at night, I like to drink bourbon/ginger ale.


    What do you do for fun and relaxation?

    I try to do as little as possible actually. When you work full time and have lots of obligations outside of your 9 to 5 work schedule, it's amazing how doing absolutely nothing can be so fulfilling. When I do have some energy left over and don't just completely blue-screen in front of the TV, I like to play poker. Every Wednesday night, 12 or so of my friends and I meet up to play a no limit Texas hold-em tournament. It's something I enjoy a lot.


    What is your full time job?

    I work as a web developer for Lund University, "Scandinavia's largest institution for education and research". I develop various applications and services for the university. This work is mainly done in .NET. I enjoy working for the university. It differs a lot from working for a regular commercial business in that it isn't so much driven by profit and that universities in general are quick to embrace new technologies. Working for the university is not so much "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but "it ain't broke, but is there perhaps some way it can be improved?".


    Please tell us about PunBB in some detail:

    --What does the name PunBB signify?

    Not a lot, to tell you the truth. It's not some clever recursive acronym or anything like that. Initially, I just called it Pun because a pun is a play on words and that's basically what happens on a bulletin board. It's pretty thin, I know.

    --What is your design philosophy for bulletin board software?

    Less is more. I'm a big fan of the old UNIX philosophy. Not the one about everything being a file, but that applications should do one thing and do it well. Most bulletin boards have features that, in my opinion, don't belong in discussion forum software. A discussion forum is about allowing web site visitors to hold discussions, period. I don't understand why bulletin board software should have tools for doing database backups or a system for allowing users to send messages to each other (do we really need yet another way of communicating over the Internet?).

    --How long has it been around?

    Version 1.0 was released in August 2003, but I think I released a first beta almost a year before that.

    --What are the main features?

    Speed and simplicity. PunBB has only a subset of the features available in the more popular bulletin board packages, but it puts a lot less stress on the server, both in terms of CPU and memory resources and in terms of bandwidth. PunBB contains the features that allow for efficient no-BS online discussions. Nothing more, nothing less.

    --Tell us about the user interface.

    PunBB takes pride in outputting semantically correct and valid XHTML strict markup. What this means, on top of being a nice thing to brag about, is that PunBB in general is a lot more enjoyable to people with disabilities and that it allows for heavy styling via cascading stylesheets. PunBB does not have a full-fledged template engine, but this deficiency is compensated for by the use of proper markup and CSS. We've all seen CSS Zen Garden, right?

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

    The next incarnation of PunBB, version 1.3, is in development. I hope to release it before Christmas. Some of the new features and improvements in 1.3 are:
    • New markup and CSS (less markup, increased accessibility, more CSS control etc).
    • "Fancy URLs" (via mod_rewrite) with a very simple rewriting system so people can easily extend it with their own scheme.
    • Proper extension support. Currently, PunBB has support for what we call plugins, but these are actually only admin interface drop-in scripts. With 1.3, we're introducing a hooks-based extension system. It's somewhat similar to the system in vBulletin 3.*, using XML based manifest files for distribution/install/uninstall. With it, it will be possible to alter and extend the functionality of PunBB without touching a line of PHP code.
    • New topic read marking. PunBB 1.2 has a very primitive system for this and beefing it up has been one of the most requested features.
    • Post moderation queue. Also a frequently requested feature. Especially for business web sites.
    • "Translatable" admin interface.
    • Multiple moderator groups. Instead of having a fixed moderator group, the moderation privilege will be a user group attribute.
    • Per-style templates. PunBB has YaBB 1 style page templates. With 1.3, it will be possible to have one set of these templates per style.
    • Improved feeds. Currently, PunBB can output RSS feeds for all forums or for individual forums. In 1.3, this support will be extended to include individual topics. Additionally, it will support feeds in the form of Atom and a homegrown XML format.

    And on top of that, lots of minor improvements and tweaks. Personally, I have high hopes for the extension system. Mods are cool, but they seriously disrupt the update process for people not accustomed to tools such as diff/patch.


    Who else is on the PunBB Team?

    The PunBB team consists of me, Paul Sullivan and Bert Garcia. I write the code, Paul writes the markup and CSS and Bert is in charge of documentation.

    Without the amazing work of Paul, I don't know where PunBB would be today. I don't speak XHTML/CSS and if it weren't for Paul, PunBB would probably still be using a table based layout and semi-valid HTML. I am very grateful for the help I've received.


    What is your ultimate professional goal, your dream job?

    Man, that's a difficult question to answer. I honestly don't know. I would like to continue working with software development in some fashion, maybe as a project manager or as a software architect. But sure, if Google called me up and offered me a coding job, I probably wouldn't turn them down. I think every developer at some time have dreamed of becoming a game programmer, but I'm afraid I'm just not smart enough.


    How did you get involved in coding?

    My first encounter with computer programming was sitting with my older brother typing in prewritten BASIC programs on an Atari 800. I then moved on to a VIC-20, a C64, an Amiga and finally a "PC". I would like to say that I was part of the Amiga demo scene at the time, but to tell you the truth, I was never really any good at assembler.


    What advice can you give people just getting into programming?

    Be stubborn. If you encounter a problem that you just can't seem to solve, don't give up. Work on it long and hard before you ask someone else for help. Solving the problem yourself is much more rewarding.


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

    I think most software developers would like to say that they design for the end users, but it's very difficult. As a developer, you have to put yourself in the seat of the end user and that's one of the biggest challenges in software development. When I first started working on PunBB, I did it solely for myself because I was fed up with all the other bulletin boards. A lot has happened since then, but this is still true to some degree. I'm trying to make PunBB the bulletin board I would want. However, as the user base for PunBB has increased, so has my ability to listen to the community. Thinking that my vision of the perfect bulletin board would match that of everyone else would be naive.


    How do you feel when you publicly release your software?

    A mixture of nervousness and relief. I have a tendency to always mess up some minute detail in the release process. I am generally not that nervous about the actual quality of the release, but that I have forgotten to include a file or to bump up a version number in some upgrade script.

    Note to self: Write shell script for automating the release process.


    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?

    Another difficult question to answer. To tell you the truth, I haven't been looking all that hard at the competition this last year or so. I hear good things about Vanilla and I think UseBB looks promising, but they are both very young projects and it's probably a good idea to wait a while and let them work out any teething problems. What forum software I would use also depends on what the target audience is. For a business website, I would go with a stripped down bulletin board such as Vanilla, but if I was creating a "forum community" where the forums are the main area of interest on the web site, I would probably go with a more fully-featured solution such as IPB or vBulletin.


    What is your opinion on the open source vs. proprietary software debate in general?

    I believe there is a need for both. The fact that there is something called open source software doesn't mean that all proprietary software is crap. That attitude, often seen with open source fanatics, annoys me. I am however scared by how uneducated and set in its ways the corporate world is in regards to open source software.


    Which online communities do you enjoy as a member?

    Unfortunately, I don't have time to hang around in forums as much as I used to do. I do frequent a couple of forums even though the rate at which I contribute to the discussions has decreased. I daily pop in at SweClockers.com, Sweden's largest hardware/overclocking web site where I am an administrator in the forums. I also visit The Forum Insider, the TextDrive forums and of course, the PunBB.org forums.


    Tell us about the PunBB Community.

    In general, I would say that the PunBB community is very friendly and helpful. One of the reasons this is the case is that I have never made any attempts to market PunBB. Sure, I've added a listing at HotScripts and in some other directory, but that's it. I've never posted announcements or advertised in any way outside PunBB.org trying to push people to visit the site or to download the software. I hate it when people do that. I understand that marketing is sometimes the only way for a product or a website to gain popularity, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The gaining popularity of PunBB should be credited to the PunBB community. That means that when someone visits PunBB.org for the first time, it is usually because they have been referred to the site by someone else. I think this positively affects peoples' attitude towards the software and towards helping out other people using the software.


    How would you describe your moderation style?

    I am a firm believer in that people are responsible for their own actions. When someone breaks the rules in a discussion forum, they A, know what they're doing and should be dealt with accordingly or B, haven't read the rules they agreed to when they signed up and should be dealt with accordingly. In short, my moderation style is strict. How strict depends on the size of the bulletin board. The larger the bulletin board, the stricter you have to be as a moderator.


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

    Something I see very often is people setting up a bulletin board on no particular subject and then expecting it to take off by itself. When that doesn't happen, the admins start posting in other forums trying to get people to visit their forums. This has never worked and it never will. If we build it, they will come? No, they won't. Content really is king and if you want people to frequent your forums you have to provide them with something they can't find anywhere else. I've observed that the more niched a community is, the more successful it becomes. There are of course some exceptions to this rule, but in general, I believe it to be true.

    Here are some other classic mistakes:
    • Creating way too many forums and/or subforums.
    • Not spending five minutes creating a custom style or color scheme or even replacing the default forum description!
    • Setting up very complex forum rules.


    What do you know now that you wish you'd known 10 years ago?

    That online poker would take off the way it has. I could have been a gazillionaire!


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

    I would be the worst crime witness ever. I could talk to a person for an hour and then if someone asked me if he or she had long or short hair or if they were wearing glasses, I would have no idea.


    What does the future hold for Rickard Andersson?

    Right now I'm focused on moving to the new apartment and getting it in shape as well as working on PunBB 1.3. After that, well, it's anybody's guess.


    Rickard, out.
     
  2. phoenixdown21

    phoenixdown21 The Man with the Plan

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    Great interview!

    Man, I'm an idiot. I thought punbb was some fork of phpbb all this time. D'oh!!!!

    1.3 looks promising and its really interesting to hear that punbb uses strict xhtml and css. I don't think any other forum does. I'm curious to see if punbb uses as many tables as some of the other software too. /time to go download lol
     
  3. Smartys

    Smartys FluxBB Developer

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    LOL, I'm glad I'm not the only one with that issue :p
     
  4. fumbalah

    fumbalah Devotee

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    I actually though punBB was a port of phpBB as well, I guess I was wrong. I really like how it looks. I definetly think it has a lot of potentinal, especially for like an companies internal forum, because it isn't over fiiled with tons of features no one needs :).
     
  5. Kathy

    Kathy Tazmanian Veteran

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    Great interview. Very interesting stuff. Thanks Rickard! :tiphat:
     
  6. _| () R | Z

    _| () R | Z Proud charter member!

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    we use punBB on our private forums on big-boards.com, i never heared of it before then but even though we are using an old version, it still does everything that it needs to do & we need.

    also interresting to see that 2 big-boards are using punbb: http://rankings.big-boards.com/?filter=PunBB,all and notice how fast those sites load, many admins will be jealous!
     
  7. KeithMcL

    KeithMcL Freelance Web Designer

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    Good interview. I use PunBB on one forum I frequent and I like it. It's simple but very effective. I didn't realise it was using valid markup. Congrats on that alone!

    1.3 sounds very promising. So much so, that I think I'll start paying more attention to the releases.
     
  8. Dietrich

    Dietrich Developer

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    UseBB, which is also mentioned, does so.
     
  9. DChapman

    DChapman Devotee

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    Kudos for that. Too many websites and developers continue to take the usability of their sites/software for granted. It's amazing and very sad how many are inaccessible to those with disabilities. And let's not even talk about the markup of many. *shudder*
     
  10. Nightowl

    Nightowl Participant

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    But on the Big Boards site (http://www.big-boards.com/forum.php) it says TAZ hosts the Big-Boards admin forum, and TAZ uses vB. :suspect:
     
  11. quentin

    quentin Habitué

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    Read again:
    We use punbb for the editors discussions. And we're quite happy with it I must say (of course being very few members we don't have huger requirements, still, it's a nice and simple piece of soft).
     
  12. DomainMagnate

    DomainMagnate Enthusiast

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    Great interview, very interesting.

    Never heard of PunBB before though ;)

    Lots of useful things also, for example, I think I won't buy Peugeot now, though I was considering it, thanks for an advice :)
     
  13. CricketGod

    CricketGod Participant

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    punbb is very usefull for light-weight forum. This is very simple forum.

    THanks for interview
     
  14. paccy

    paccy Neophyte

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    The site is really cool....
    The animation posted is really fantastic.....
     
  15. Miguel85

    Miguel85 Neophyte

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    I love easy scripts and and punbb is definitely one.
     
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