Forum Software Blues...


Well-Known Member
So I’ve been noticing things left and right that I just don’t like about Vanilla Forums. Such as it being extremely difficult to code for, not using BBCode, breaking if you stay on it after a while without refreshing, and their template system not allowing PHP. Today I had the last straw break when I tried to add in a “New Topic” button in the navigation menu and found I’d have to make a plugin to do this. Now it’s true I’ve been out of the forum game for a while, but I find this to be a rediculas situation that shows how difficult Vanilla is to work with coding wise. Not only that, but it’s hard to make complecated posts like multi-quoting and such. This I’ve learned from being part of a community that uses Vanilla (The same community that gave me the idea to use it). But in this day and age is there anything better and free that offers Facebook intergration? Well, I replay to that with “Do we really need it”?

Facebook intergration should stop people from registering, and it’s as simple as that. Anyone who is searious about posting and becoming part of a community is going to be someone with no problem going through a bit of registration. Those who must use Facebook intergrated accounts are most likely going to be people too lazy to post good topics, replies, arguments, or even use proper grammar. Now that Facebook intergration is out of the way we can focus on picking a more stable set of forum software than Vanilla (Or Xenfoto if you want to pay $300 for web forum software).

Simple Machine Forums, or SMF is normally a good choice. I’ve seen a lot of good communities use them, and have used them myself. They’re hard to code for also, but have mostly everything you’ll need to run a good forum out of the box. Not too hard to theme for eather, and their BBCode is done very nicely. On the down side it’s kinda bulky, and I find difficulty in coding for something to be a huge downer. So what else is there?

FluxBB 1.5 was started as a fork of PunBB, and is a great lightweight BBS that allows ease of use, ease of coding, and ease of theme creation. All of these are very great things to here, but their is a catch. It doesn’t come with a lot of things out of the box. Not even Private Messaging. There are a lot of plugins to remedy that; however, but it also doesn’t display the last topic posted in by default. I have yet to find a plugin for that, so I”m stuck always doing it manually, and that’s extremely teadious. So is there a holy grail of forum software? I believe so, and it’s close, but so far away.

The holy grail of forum software is going to be none other than FluxBB 2.0. It’s getting a extreme overhall that seems great. Including touch screen support, and other things that will be sure to excite any fan of FluxBB (like myself). So why don’t we all just hop on and start using Flux 2.0 right away? Because it’s still in Alpha, and from the looks of things it’ll be there until at least the end of the year. We just have to wait, find a board that we don’t dispise using in the mean time.



I've been through a lot of forum software. So, here's what I think.
If someone can afford it, he should definitely go for one of the paid software. Either Xenforo, IPB, or VBulletin. All of them are incredibly robust and also forward thinking. Basically, you want a forum that is forward-thinking, but also has all the features you'd want. (And doesn't break every second.)
But those forums are usually for when you have such a large community that you make back the money that you spend on them. But, when you don't have that money to spare you have to start thinking about free software.
So, first come all the Wordpress forums that you can integrate into a site or blog. I've tried those out and they all suck. Some of them actually have decent features but they rely so heavily on Wordpress that it bogs down your server tremendously. And anyways they won't have as many features as standalone forums.
Other popular choices are phpBB and myBB. I had a very negative experience with phpBB because they seemed very stuck in the past. It feels like the rest of the world has moved on past them and they are still clinging to the way it was done ten years ago. Also, the code sometimes becomes a mess. Whenever you add a plugin/module it changes the core code, which is always a bad move. After you have a few plugins installed, their coding changes begin to conflict with each other, and since they have changed lines and lines of code in the actual core, your forum is basically broken to some degree without having a simple fix like: just remove the plugin. Removing a plugin means finding every line of code it changed and changing it back.
myBB was another forum we tried on the site. I can't really judge it now because they supposedly have released recent updates which make things more current. But, at the time, I didn't know how to code, so I relied heavily on the plugins and modules to help me add features. Since the myBB community isn't as big as, say, the phpBB community, they didn't have many themes or plugins to choose. It could be that if I tried it again now I'd have an easier time with it.
So that brings us to Vanilla. I think Vanilla has a lot of potential although it hasn't been realized yet. One of the biggest qualities it has is in the way it was programmed. It reminds me a lot of Wordpress in that it was made for developers to have an easy time developing on. Everything is well encapsulated and modular, so the plugin system allows you to easily turn on and off as many plugins as you want without breaking your core code. Their plugin system is done through "hooks" which allow you to hook into the core code at any point without changing the code itself - exactly like Wordpress. It's also a very forward-thinking forum in terms of features, maybe too much so. It tries a bit to be like a social network cross-bred with a forum.
The biggest issue right now is that its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The whole point of Vanilla is that there is this simple but great framework underneath everything that should make development smooth and bug-free. There is the essential "Garden framework" upon which everything else rests. It has great database abstraction, an easy MVC design pattern, and extendability. You can basically use it as a framework to power any other kind of application you want to build side-by-side with Vanilla. Resting on top of "Garden" is Vanilla, which is built as an application. Again, it's made in a very simple way that has all the core functionality to power the forums, but it allows you tons of room to create any types of plugins you want. So, a lot of the common-place "extras" that other forums may have are only included as plugins. So, in a sense, it's meant for you to pick and choose what type of functionality you want and turn those plugins on. Other forums would have built them into the actual forum software, which would have made it more bloated and slower. But Vanilla makes things quick and also keeps plugins separate so that there will be fewer bugs that completely break your forums.
So, in a sense, the developer of Vanilla was telling other developers: here you go, take this flexible foundation for a forum and do what you want with it. It can handle anything you throw at it. But, since Vanilla 2 is still relatively new (Vanilla 1 was built completely different) the plugins aren't quite there yet. It's still a very young community. There's a lot of promise, but as of now, there may be things you have to develop in order to get a certain feature. And like CyanPrime said, if you just want to stick some things into the code and don't want to do development and learn the software, it's harder to get by. Vanilla is meant for someone who wants to learn how it works and only then program with it.
So, I think in the long-run, while we're not looking yet for a commercial solution, it should have a nice payoff. The forum hopefully won't break while I try new things out. And if I want to come up with some really cool features that are a bit wild or innovative, it's a great piece of software to do that with because it's so easy to develop for once you learn it.