Big board, lots of customisation, what to do?

RPG Crossing

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Mar 24, 2020
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8
Hi all,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read the post and questions posed by a new member of your community.

I run a large board (rpgcrossing.com) with lots of customisation, both 3rd party and in house. We've been hanging onto vB 3.8 for a long time now, and for some time I've felt it was time to move forward with our infrastructure. The overhead to changing is, of course, considerable. Also, this is community project sustained through almost exclusively volunteer effort, with all the challenges that come out of that. Assuming that we're up to the task, I have the problem of figuring out where to go. I went through the exercise of examining all our options back in 2013 (clearly, we did not manage to get our act together to actually migrate) and decided that, at the time, IPB was the best option, and I was willing to pay the cost if that would work well for us. But I feel uncertain about whether this is still the right option in 2020.

What I worry most about:
- ours is a large board (over 6 million posts, and a few more million in an online archive I'd like to bring back to the site) -- performance overhead is huge, and no matter what software we use it is important that other large boards use it, and have developed and are willing to share their optimisations (my experience is that every one of these pieces of software is crippled by very large boards and needs some fine tuning)
- ease of modification (including the storage of all code in version controlled flat files so that the main code repository can be updated and merged with custom code changes at each revision)

Some other important factors:
- I would like to be able to put parts of the forum into 'read only' archive; I have been considering custom solutions to that (including making pretty PDF archives) but if it was baked into the software; this is only interesting if it speeds up the site and decreases DB overhead (i.e. just marking a bunch of stuff read only and keeping the overhead is not interesting)
- responsive design (would rather not have to make a separate mobile site); tapatalk or similar is not an option
- spam control tools must be effective, efficient, and easy to use
- tools for design integration with other parts of our site; right now we're stuck in clunky 2003-land; it would be nice to move on from there
- speed
- consistency of user experience (e.g. after 17 years of using reputation, we may as well keep on doing that; people like it)

Thank you for any advice specific to our situation, especially with respect to large boards with custom code. I'd put up a poll, but I don't want to limit the possibilities.

- Mark

PS. Discourse is not an option; just-in-time loading is a nightmare for our purposes, and having to move to ruby would be a challenge.
 

zappaDPJ

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Aug 26, 2010
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Welcome to TAZ :)

The obvious choice for me would be XenForo because it should meet most of your requirements out of the box and it was written by much the same team who wrote the software you are currently using.

Invision Community (IPB) is also worth considering. It's more advanced than XenForo but it'll be far less familiar to you and your users.
 

RPG Crossing

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Mar 24, 2020
Messages
8
Thank you for the welcome!

Invision Community (IPB) is also worth considering. It's more advanced than XenForo but it'll be far less familiar to you and your users.
What do you have in mind when you state that IPB is 'more advanced'?
 

TLChris

Administrator
Joined
Jan 2, 2020
Messages
84
Welcome to TAZ!

Can you explain what you are referring to as customized? Is it templates or actual code modification?
I think the two obvious choices would be XenForo or Invision Power Services. I don't believe any freeware is going to meet the needs of your requirements without considerable development work.

Are you going to be doing the work yourself?

A number of tweaks I believe to also depend on your server setup. I can imagine you are running on older php/mysql versions, and there are a few benefits when I play with the newer versions.
 

RPG Crossing

Neophyte
Joined
Mar 24, 2020
Messages
8
Templates and a lot of actual code modification (and addition) as well.

I will be doing some (or all, potentially) of the work myself. Where possible, I will look at additions that exist that I can adapt (or if I'm really lucky, use out of the box) to replace custom code elements. I have some budget for this.

Yes -- I am planning to jump to current stable PHP and mysql versions (our mysql is pretty modern except for the actual structure of the databases). I've heard good things about the PHP upgrade, and would have done it long ago if it wouldn't break so much :).
 

zappaDPJ

Administrator
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What do you have in mind when you state that IPB is 'more advanced'?
There's actually so much that's been added (or to be added) in the last few months it's hard to know where to start. Here are a few advancements that I don't think you'll find in other products:


You might find it worth taking a look though their news/blog pages for more info: https://invisioncommunity.com/news/
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
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Feb 28, 2004
Messages
6,912
Xenforo will work more like vb so it will have a familiar look and feel to the members.

That said,

The archive thing will likely not be very helpful and its not something I would do. Here is what I would do. (and what I did with my several big boards)

  • Hire a theme designer to design your new theme and ask them to make it look as much like your current board as they can. They can make the theme responsive in the process.
  • Hire someone to do the migration who can also rewrite any customizations needed.
  • Go through every customization and make notes as to improvements to be made since you'll be rewriting them.
  • Do a test migration ---and once done, Invite a handful of your more active members to try it out. DO NOT do this for all members, just a dozen or so of your most active members. This way, you can get them up to speed and on your side. You can explain how new things work. Then, once you make the move they can help other members with the new software cause they have already been educated. Also, while they are trying out, you can ask them how they feel about this and that, and how things can be even better. The point here is to get them involved and onboard with the whole thing so they support the move instead of working against you.
  • Keep your members advised as to whats coming, and keep it positive and encouraging. "This upgrade will make things more secure, will make things run better and will offer many new features"
  • Look at the migration as an opportunity. For example, send PMs to all users letting them know whats coming. The upside here is that old members who don't visit anymore will be sent an email about the PM and come to the site.

Look at new features and figure out how it can help your site long term. For example, XF allows images to be uploaded in Private Conversations. I used that feature to my advantage by making it a perk for paid members after the upgrade, which made my paid membership rolls grow a lot. Things like that.
 

RPG Crossing

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Mar 24, 2020
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Thank you Joeychgo ! So much good advice in there, no matter what technological decisions I make. And thank you zappaDPJ for the highlights reel :).

In these few responses I see only Xenforo and IPB as potential solutions (and those were the two at the top of my list 7 years ago, too.) I would be interested in hearing what people think of as the strengths and weaknesses of one vs the other. How would/did you make your own decisions in this regard?
 

TheChiro

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Jun 26, 2006
Messages
2,533
strengths and weaknesses of one vs the other
IPB will have a phone app for it. Xenforo doesn't appear to have one from what they've alluded to. Kind of dumb imo...would love an xf phone app (or, my users would prefer it but the push notifications are great imo).
 

LeadCrow

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Jun 29, 2008
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One way to approach this I dont see more commonly considered: offload features to 3rd-party services or websites, and leave installed only a basic integration. Nowadays many features that once could only be built as addons for a specific forum software once upon a time no longer to be tied to one, and can be their own web service running from containers with equivalent performance to native code.

Consider the example of an arcade:
- A local arcade is a maintainance burden, requires to be updated for compatibility and fixes, could prevent you from updating the forum software or other addons due to incompatibilities, as well as introduce an additional attack vector against your board. It also pads your forum's database with non-essential data you cant easily purge and might need to retain even at a higher total cost in webhosting bills.
- If your arcade feature was offloaded to a 3rd-party service, or installed on another domain maintained separately, your forum would've only needed a basic integration to connect to that functionalty you offloaded, freed you from maintainance burdens, lowered your forum's upkeep cost, can now freely update your software or even migrate to other software without needing that arcade redevelopped for your new platform or given up on. The level of integration would be increased or reduced over time to accomodate future plans (like in case you'd rather cut a feature progressively or make it accessible to users that are not members of your forum).



Regarding RPG Crossing 's inquire, IPB should actually be much more suitable than Xenforo (too simple as a starting point, would need too many 3rd-party addons with unreliable support policies). Many of your current features that necessitated addons are likely part of the core IPB software, needing no install of 3rd-party addons, officially supported and verified to be compatible with new releases of the software. A migration would also be an opportunity to verify wether all your current features are really necessary to preserve, and which can be safely cut.

- I would like to be able to put parts of the forum into 'read only' archive; I have been considering custom solutions to that (including making pretty PDF archives) but if it was baked into the software; this is only interesting if it speeds up the site and decreases DB overhead (i.e. just marking a bunch of stuff read only and keeping the overhead is not interesting)
Only IPB has archiving as a core feature officially supported.

- spam control tools must be effective, efficient, and easy to use
In addition to the usual mainstream solutions, IPB runs its own antispam system that passively grants your board protection and can automatically reject registrations if previously known to be suspect or newly found to be spam accounts (competitors dont).
 

l3ta

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Feb 14, 2020
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Xenforo is the epitome of forum software. That's why a buttload of other forum software users are switching to it. Go with XF and don't look back :D
 

RPG Crossing

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Mar 24, 2020
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Sounds like it might be Xenforo for familiar feel vs Invision for functionality.
 

zappaDPJ

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Sounds like it might be Xenforo for familiar feel vs Invision for functionality.
I think that's a reasonable assessment. At this point in time both products are solid, secure and looking good for the future. It really comes down to working out which one will best suit your needs and the needs of your community.
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
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Feb 28, 2004
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6,912
Sounds like it might be Xenforo for familiar feel vs Invision for functionality.
Yes, but there is something else to consider....

When it comes to finding custom coders, You'll find many more with XF who are more affordable. At least that was my experience when I was considering IPS vs XF.
 

RPG Crossing

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Mar 24, 2020
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When it comes to finding custom coders, You'll find many more with XF who are more affordable. At least that was my experience when I was considering IPS vs XF.
Where do you as experienced forum admins feel are the best places to look if I am trying to get a feel for the amount and cost of good paid coding support for these two boards?
 

TLChris

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Jan 2, 2020
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Where do you as experienced forum admins feel are the best places to look if I am trying to get a feel for the amount and cost of good paid coding support for these two boards?
You should get multiple quotes, but be prepared with a full scope workup of what you are looking for. Think of it as hiring someone, and don't overlook details you think someone should be included. I know XenForo offers a place for you to post looking for. I looked at IPS, but I couldn't see if they had an open forum that wasn't open to licenses users. However, I'm sure if you contact them they could give you starter points.
 

Russ

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Invision Community has an entire portal for developer hiring.

It makes me want to see a simple addition to the RM on XF with the same structure as this.

RPG Crossing if you have any questions about XF styling, you can feel free to shoot me a message. I've been doing it for quite some time :).
 
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