My story of being a very loyal customer and champion of vBulletin from 2004 to 2009 to finally had to give up on vBulletin
I have always been a fan of vBulletin for forums and have been using it on all my forums and others. Still, in the last couple of years (or maybe even more), I have been so disappointed with the progress of vBulletin that finally I gave up vBulletin for forums.
Happy Customer of vBulletin from 2004 to 2009
I have been using vBulletin since July 2004 when it was under Jelsoft. At that time, Jelsoft always managed to provide features to match my expectations, maintaining the quality of the final product.
As an example, in the earlier version of vBulletin 3, the plugins system did not exist. So creating plugin needed a lot of manual code changes. With vBulletin 3.5, plugins became a breeze.
In vBulletin 4, Jelsoft announced things like CMS and SEO friendly vBulletin. So it made me exciting because I always used vBulletin for forum articles as well.
At that time, I was ordering almost a vBulletin license each year as well, and to date, I have six licenses in my account.
Internet Brands Acquiring Jelsoft
Internet Brands acquired vBulletin from Jelsoft, and things started to move downhill. As a developer, I know it takes time for the new team to grasp the vision of the originator. However, instead of things settling with Internet Brands, the core developers of vBulletin started to leave the organization (for whatever reason).
Instead of things starting to improve, it began to deteriorate.
Still, I was sure it is vBulletin 4, which has all the mess because of the transfer of vBulletin from Jelsoft to Internet Brands. So the vision of Jelsoft is not transferred to Internet Brands. But then they will come up with something really good and exciting in vBulletin 5. I was so sure for a simple reason that Internet Brands owns so many great forums in so many niches that they can be their customers to provide those inputs that can make the forum software a WOW.
The Future of vBulletin with Internet Brands
VBulletin 5 was announced, and the timing of this announcement surprised me yet again. VBulletin 4 was not very stable at that time (and still is not stable according to me) with hundreds if not thousands of critical bugs still pending.
If you have a product that is a mess and wants customers to buy a new product, it does not go down well. So this time, I did not make the same mistake of pre-ordering vBulletin 5 like vBulletin 4 but kept a keen watch on the progress of it.
After the announcement of vBulletin 5 things with vBulletin 4 almost stopped. We always need to think by stepping into customers’ shoes. However, Internet Brands missed it entirely even though they own so many large forums themselves and are possibly the biggest customer of vBulletin.
Surprisingly they don’t use vBulletin 4 for the majority of their forums — similar things to happen to their loyal customers as well.
Their forums are flooded with the same questions as to why Internet Brands don’t migrate forums to vBulletin 4. Surprisingly, each time, such threads are closed without a convincing answer.
As an end-user, the hidden answer that I read from those threads is vBulletin 4 is not usable for those forums. Instead, it is not usable by anybody who owns a slightly large forum with a few hundreds of users online and having a shared host.
I have been saying no to vBulletin 4 for a long time, but things were looking bleak to me for vBulletin as a whole.
The lack in Vision of Internet Brands with vBulletin 5
In September 2012, when there was a first beta release of vBulletin 5. I saw it was promising. However, it needs a lot of time to become stable, and the focus of Internet Brands is more on developing the UI and not on the backbone.
I have the view, vBulletin 5 Beta releases were yet again hurried. The first beta was even far from Alpha.
Some basic functionality bugs were reported in a beta release. It means it wasn’t well tested in the alpha phase. Or maybe they just left it for the customers to do the testing.
Apart from that, instead of developing the whole core of vBulletin yet again for vBulletin 5, they could have reused vBulletin 3.x latest release and revamped the front end. May have been a better choice because vBulletin 5 is almost similar to vBulletin 3.x when it comes to features. The home page of vBulletin, as of today, lists the features as follows.
According to me, Internet Brand lacks vision for vBulletin 5. Any software development can have tons of features, and it is the vision of the management team that decides what features are released in what timeline. It is always the core features that should be in focus.
As an example, vBulletin customers are experienced webmasters. So having a forum admin section build right into the front end could have been delayed for some other better user features like better social integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and as many other options as possible or even vBulletin CMS and things like those.
The bottom line is …
I was convinced that this is the end of vBulletin for me. I could never upgrade my vBulletin forums to vB4 since Oct 2009. It is almost three years, which is long enough time for any new company to even code vBulletin right from scratch, provided they have the right team with the right leader.
So now, the question that was bugging my mind is what next. I had a few options to choose from …
Choice 1: WordPress + vBulletin
I have seen many established sites like SitePoint, XDA-Developers use WordPress for their main site and have forums with vBulletin. Go4Expert always had one CMS for Articles and forums because I don’t prefer too many CMSes. But if I had to opt for WordPress vBulletin, I will need to move articles from vBulletin to WordPress and keep the forum in vBulletin. However, there are few issues that I needed to address when using vBulletin 3.x for the forum.
vBulletin 3.x requires vBSEO for user-friendly URLs and other SEO enhancement. However, vBSEO does not support category based URLs, which means your thread URLs can only have the forum name in the url for a thread and not of the grandparent or top-level forum for that thread. I wanted it that way.
On top of that, vBSEO development has stopped. VBSEO last released date was March 11, 2011, and then only a few patches and bug fixes after that. VBulletin is taking steps to include SEO in its core functionality. The problem is, they are not able to do it rightly. As vBSEO is possibly loosing on sales now. So it is not being kept updated.
I still tried vBSEO for Go4Expert, but then the way vBSEO converts the vBulletin to friendly URLs by replacing the HTML content on the fly makes vBSEO resource-heavy. Though it did not have issues when I started using it, it could cause problems in the future, and I may need to spend a lot more on hosting computation and a lot more powerful servers to support vBSEO.
I always wanted vBulletin out of the box support for friendly URLs, which was the core feature that vBulletin 4 was coming with (and the reason for my pre-order in October 2009). So instead of using vBSEO’s friendly URLs on Go4Expert, I was ready to wait for some time so the vBulletin team can provide better solutions that never happened even in vBulletin 5 and so on I was left with no choice.
On top of that, if I use WordPress for articles, I may need to use vBulletin + WordPress + VBSSO (for single sign-on of WordPress and vBulletin). It would mean I am using too many external scripts like WordPress, VBSSO, and vBSEO along with vBulletin, and so this choice was something that I will try to avoid.
Choice 2: Move to Xenforo
The next choice was to make a move to Xenforo from vBulletin, and many webmasters have opted for the same, including Shawn Hogan of Digital Point (and you can read about his migration here). The only thing that prevented me from opting for Xenforo was the lawsuit against them. I was convinced that Xenforo would come out clean (which they managed as well. See here) and it is Internet Brands testing them financially, but then I did not want to take a chance with Xenforo because if it did not manage to develop the software further I might need to get into the development of Xenforo anyways, so the obvious choice left was to develop on vBulletin 3.x
Internet Brands managed one customer less for Xenforo because they managed to drag the lawsuit touch more than I expected, but I think I will have yet again a few more new forums coming up. Already planning some new niche on Xenforo. Once I have something more concrete will share them here.
A point to note here is once the lawsuit was over for Xenforo, they extended all Xenforo license by 255 days because there was hardly any development for a long time. Internet Brands should take a leaf out of it and possibly opt for a similar scenario for vBulletin 5 as well because customers who have paid for vBulletin 4, never got what they expected.
Choice 3: Customize vBulletin as per my needs
The third option is to use the vBulletin framework and customize it completely as per my need. As of now, it is what I opted for on Go4Expert.
Results of Custom vBulletin for Go4Expert
I opted for custom code based on vBulletin 3.x, creating my SEO friendly URLs for Go4Expert, and now I have them live for three months. Google has updated almost all its url without much impact on traffic. I already see that Google uses less time downloading content from Go4Expert because of change in backend code for URLs, but I also expect similar results when it comes to a new design. I Will share them as soon as I have them as well.
Read in Matt Cutts blog or his video that if you change the URLs as well as the page HTML, Google may have issues mapping old URLs to new and so I planned to make the new URLs live and then work on getting the new design. It was delayed by a few weeks because of some other tasks but then managed to get the latest design live in the last week of March.
The focus on the new design has been to make it lightweight with features that are being used by our members and avoid those that are sparingly used. On top of that, I have lists of tasks that I want to do as I move along. The code for Go4Expert is more or less custom with the core of vBulletin modified to make things lighter, faster, and less tabular.
My view is, it’s high time to move to Xenforo because Xenforo is a far better choice than vBulletin. I have similar plans for MBAGuys and CFanatic, but only after I can manage more stability for Go4Expert.
BTW I am an affiliate of vBulletin but not of Xenforo yet.