As you can see, we’re thinking about making a few changes This (currently) beta version of our site is running on the Discourse platform, and all content from up to a couple of weeks ago should have been migrated over. I’d like to explain why we’re considering switching platforms, and I think I’ll use a Q&A format to help me keep my thoughts straight.
Why switch platforms?
We were running on a very old version of vBulletin (3.8) that no longer receives regular updates. vBulletin uses the PHP programming language and was built for a PHP version that is now out of date and no longer receives security patches. It is clear that sticking with our current forum version is just asking for trouble, and we need to either upgrade to the latest vBulletin (5.5) or switch to a new platform.
Why not vBulletin 5?
Upgrading to the latest vBulletin was our first instinct. (In fact, we bought a license for it.) However, as I was looking into the upgrade process I found out that going from 3.8 to version 5 is more of a migration than an upgrade. It would take some effort to get the data migrated correctly, and we would basically have to reconfigure the site and build a new theme. If we’re going to have to go through all of that work anyway it makes sense to see what other options are available.
Sticking with vBulletin would have the advantage of a reduced learning curve for members, but there are definitely reasons to switch. vBulletin used to be a leader in forum software, but they seem to have really gone downhill. VB 5 itself is now 7 years old and doesn’t look like a modern platform. I thought a big drawback was that it’s still not built to be mobile friendly.
While researching my options I was repeatedly drawn to Discourse. I have a programming background and find myself using Stack Overflow pretty often, so I like the similar look and feel (the co-founder of Discourse was also co-founder of Stack Overflow.) Here’s a few things that I like about it:
- By default, the home page is a list of the latest updated threads. You don’t have to look at a list of forums that may not get new posts very frequently. There’s also a way for users to switch to category view if they prefer the old way.
- Threads aren’t broken up into pages. Just keep scrolling and posts are dynamically loaded.
- It is easy to use on phones and tablets
- Users can earn badges as they use the site and the system is easy to setup.
- Notification system is very in depth. You can receive notifications for a variety of things and it’s all configurable. You can also @ another user in a post
- There’s an escalating trust system that helps prevent spam, but users automatically gain trust as they use the site.
- We have the ability to turn on logging in with other services, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. This might simplify the registration process and encourage more users to sign up.
- Automatically create a post by replying to an email notification.
- Built-in support for a wiki could be a powerful tool for community driven content.
There’s lots more, but this is getting long…
Are we definitely switching to Discourse?
I like it a lot and @Rick is pretty excited about it, but this community is for you guys more than us. I’m hopeful that you guys are as excited about Discourse as I am and it makes you want to spend more time here. I also hope it is more inviting for new users and helps grow the community. That said, I know change can be tough and there could be features that you want that aren’t here. That’s why we’re not jumping right into this, instead we’re soliciting feedback from our current community members first.
What’s the plan?
@Rick and I have been playing with Discourse for a couple of weeks now. I think that the data import is good enough that we’re not going to have to wipe everything and import again. There were some formatting problems that we couldn’t correct in the import and we have edited some posts manually to correct some of these formatting issues.
We think that it is at the point now where we are ready for some feedback from the community. We’d like to know if you see any formatting problems or other issues that look like bugs, but most importantly we want to know what you think of the platform. Is this something that you’d be comfortable or even happy using? Is there anything that is missing?
If we decide to move forward with Discourse, there is still some work to do before we go live. We’ve got a punch list of items that need to be fixed or configured. Finally, we’ll need to import all of the users and posts that have been added to the vBulletin site since our original import.
As far as topics that are posted between now and when (if) we launch, we’ll take it on a case by case basis as far as leaving or deleting them. I’m inclined to keep posts related to the new platform in the Site News or Site Issues categories, but I imagine we’ll have some test posts and such that don’t add any value that will be removed.
Sorry for the super long post! Please start kicking the tires and let us know what you think!