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» Part II: vBulletin.org and vBulletin.com - February 1, 2005

In our last Featured Forum article, we took a look at vBulletin.org, the official hacking site for vBulletin.com. For this article, we interviewed Steve Machol and Floris, who provide a glimpse into the actual site that fuels all those coding geeks: vBulletin.com.

The vBulletin message board (www.vBulletin.com) serves as the primary site for sales and support for the popular Jelsoft bulletin board software of the same name. Launched April 18th, 2000, (with this announcement thread, incidentally), vBulletin.com has developed into a busy community of 61,000+ registered members, both male and female from all over the world, who have contributed approximately 121,000 threads and 771,000 posts. As for software, naturally, vBulletin.com uses “the next generation market leader in bulletin board software system,” vBulletin version 3.0.6.

With the exception of the “Bug Tracker,” vBulletin.com is set up without any enhancements “so people can see exactly what they are getting when they purchase [the] software.” vBulletin Admin Demo is another feature of the site that gives somewhat of a sneak peek. Specific forums popular among potential customers are vBulletin Announcements, a forum that keeps visitors aware of the latest news, developments status, security updates, etc.; vBulletin Pre-sales Questions, a forum that is for, obviously, any questions a potential customer may have prior to purchasing; and vBulletin 3 Import System, a potential-customer-only forum for those wanting to convert to vBulletin using Jelsoft’s unique ImpEx system. As with most forums, there is also a General Chit Chat forum that stays quite busy.

Visitors to the site will probably also find it refreshing that there is no advertising on vBulletin.com. In fact, the site does not even bother with subscriptions or ecommerce. Essentially, the forum itself does not bring in revenue, as their sole income is generated by the sales of their software. Although, according to Steve Machol, “perhaps answering pre-sales questions helps convince people to purchase our products/services.”

Customers are also well-cared for on the site. The Board of the Month competition is a great opportunity for customers to nominate and vote on five random forums each month. The winner both gains some publicity for his or her forum and is also awarded an item from the vBulletin Fan Shop. And as for support, there is an online vBulletin manual, providing quick access for customers, along with the many helpful customer-only forums, the most popular of which are vBulletin 3 How Do I Questions, a forum for those who want to learn how to customize their forums; and vBulletin 3 Downloads, a forum for sharing style packs, template sets, graphics, button sets, language packs, and other resources, at no cost. Often the developers themselves browse the forums and answer questions from both support staff and customers. The staff at vBulletin.com truly knows the meaning of teamwork.

Being a commercial site, those interviewed from vBulletin.com were not able to disclose much information as to how they select and train their staff. According to Steve, “we have our ways…We do ensure that our staff members have the appropriate knowledge and experience with vBulletin needed to help our customers.” Currently, that team of knowledgable and experienced staff includes six software developers, headed up by the product manager, Kier, and seven support and sales staff who handle the support system, forums, and telephones. There are also several other key players including the business manager, Ashley, and the founders, John and James, who occasionally lend assistance, along with Chris Scheiber.

Being on staff at vBulletin.com is certainly no leisurely task. When asked how they deal with extreme variations in traffic, such as before and after a major release, Steve stated, “Many of us give up things like sleep, any semblance of a personal life, etc.” Each staff member has his or her own rigorous schedule. “Mine starts around 9:00am,” says Steve, “with answering support tickets and making sure the support system is caught up. I then log into the phone support system to answer any incoming calls and then start going through all the new posts in the forums. I do all of this off and on all day until about Midnight at which [time] I pass out from exhaustion and try to get some sleep.”

As for the future of the vBulletin software, there are some exciting and interesting plans. For example, the new version will, according to Kier, “make the hacking community very happy.” But, we will all have to wait to see just how exactly the plans develop, as the information given so far leaves quite a bit to the imagination. “The only thing I can tell you for sure,” says Steve jokingly, “is that there will be a new version of vBulletin.”

Congratulations to our Featured Forum, vBulletin.com, and to all the staff at vBulletin.com for a great product and an excellent support forum to back it up!
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