Is Xenforo considered modern software?

Do you consider Xenforo modern?

  • Yes

    Votes: 41 71.9%
  • No

    Votes: 16 28.1%

  • Total voters
    57

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
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Apr 27, 2010
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if you want to look at a truly "modern" forum, you need to look past the legacy web and start looking at where modern audiences go for communication, collaboration, and community -- short-form, fully-synchronous, globaly-distributed platforms built upon open architectures that are inherently intelligent and "semantic"
Word salad, anonymous drivel, bots, and pointless sound bites. Yep, that pretty much sums up that vision of Web 3.0. I think I'll wait for 3.1 to be released.
 
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KimmiKat

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507
And some company is pushing something called "ACE" which makes your board look "modern" by making it look more like Freakbook. :facepalm:
 

DigNap15

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Whilst I am not techie enough to fully undertandd modern software techniques.
Eg web3 v php, blockchain
The average forum or facebook or reddit user does not care about the underlying technology.
They just go to a platform that they like the look of or where there is some activity they like being part of
 

Jeremy8

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Mar 7, 2007
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I've never heard of "Web 3.0" before this thread. Is it one of those things where someone made something up to sound new and cool? "Hey, remember Web 2.0? Well I'm going to make the next Web 3.0 or maybe even 4.0 because it sounds so awesome. It will only work with 6G and 7G though."
 

Nev_Dull

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Whether or not Xenforo is "modern" software is highly subjective and largely irrelevant. A better question would be "is Xenforo useful and effective for building a current forum?"
 

Kaelon

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Whether or not Xenforo is "modern" software is highly subjective and largely irrelevant. A better question would be "is Xenforo useful and effective for building a current forum?"

Put another way, and more broadly, is that what is the state of a modern, current forum platform, given just how much the world has changed? What started out as an existential fear in the late 2000s re: social media's disintermediation of people from communities has morphed into the de facto reality that most people on the web don't use forums, and young people and new generations of web users are mobile-first, synchronous communication users.

This has dire implications for forums as even a suitable medium for anything even resembling community-building, so while many of us may take solace in the idea that "niche" communities are somewhat insulated from this reality, this is a short-term self-deluding state. Many thriving niche forums have seen volumes decline dramatically over the past decade.

When I posted about what makes "modern" software modern, I wasn't just using business speak; I was using practical terminology to describe the types of applications that thrive and prosper in the "modern" web (which "Web 3.0" is an informal misaligned misnomer to describe), which includes:
  • Synchronous communication
  • Mobile-first (and web disaggregated) application
  • "Smart" feeds that are driven algorithmically
  • Open data architecture to allow seamless real-time data calls
 
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Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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Here, have some tongs to serve that word salad with.

The reason I say this:
1. Forums have had access to synchronous communication for literal decades - what do you think chatboxes and shoutboxes were? They were implemented with Web 2.0 tech but that's exactly what they were, and still are. And they suffer from the same problems they always have, it's great if you're living in the moment, horrendous-to-middling if you ever want to go back and find anything.

2. I'll give you that mobile is an important use case. Mobile first, though, is a poor choice for a number of reasons, not least of which that you're discounting the entire act of using anything other than a phone for a purely social context. Both synchronous and asynchronous communications platforms need to support the whole ecosystem, not just the part you seem to think is important.

3. Smart feeds driven algorithmically? So basically you mean producing the same echo-chamber behaviour that Twitter produces, congratulations. That's how you guarantee people stop developing new ideas, by not being able to reach out to people who think differently because the algorithm is always going to double down on what you're already engaging with.

4. You do know that XenForo has an API, right? Every XF 2.x in existence has an API that can be used for connecting whatever you like to it. The downside to 'open data architecture' is that each XF install has different plugins (because different functionality to suit different needs) which means they might have slightly different APIs. But that's arguably a good thing because it means that platforms can deliver a more tailored experience to the user's needs than whatever the vendor deems appropriate. (There are reasons why bot authors have to tread carefully around each other if two bots that don't really co-exist are dragged into the same server.)
 

Kaelon

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Just calling something "word salad" does not make it so. I've given tons of referenceable content here, and you're just raging against the system. Specifically:

1. Saying that IFRAME'ed chatboxes or add-on shoutboxes were "synchronous communication for literal decades" is tone-deaf to the fundamental problem of forums; most of the forum content itself is asynchronous and isn't accessible to people without extensive browsing and category-hopping. The fact that whole companies exist just to improve searchability in forums (including TAZ' parent company, Threadloom, which is now itself acquired) shows you just how compressed the use case is becoming to actually use a forum. And it's because it is asynchronous - shoutboxes and chatboxes notwithstanding. Most gaming communities, for example, no longer even set up a forum - they just go straight to Discord, and for good reason.

2. As of July 2021, ~57% of all global traffic on the Internet is mobile-only. This is up from ~6% just a decade ago. "Mobile first ... is a poor choice" is irrelevant; it's the only choice that matters now as more than half of the entire web's traffic is accessed on a mobile device. Desktop use of the Internet is becoming increasingly quaint and disconnected from the core use-case of (a) most of the world, and (b) the overwhelming super-majority of young people.

3. Your example here is incorrect (Twitter still has a chronological feed available, and most third-party Twitter apps can produce chrono-feeds on demand); nevertheless, algorithms do drive engagement. That we, as humans, prefer to engage with ideas that essentially reinforce our own world-views isn't a platform bug; it's a species-feature. For digital engagement, there's a basic reality here: the average web session duration has dropped over the past decade from ~5 minutes per session to 1 min 18 seconds per relevant non-bounced session. Apps and sites that force a user to browse through categories to get the information they need, rather than deliver programmatically content that they should be interested in based upon the universe of data available, have more than five times the bounce that a site that services content algorithmically does. Again, that you find this distasteful is totally subjective, Pete. The truth is, the global web population has moved on, and you either have to capture the audiences if you want to build a community site, or you're going to surrender them to the sites that do deliver the content that people want. Again, Reddit has a better use case here than most forums out there, because they deliver relevant and suggested content based upon follows, comments, and browsing habits. This isn't hard to do; the libraries already exist and are open source.

4. Xenforo does have an extensive and well-documented API. However, each forum is going to be organized and architected with its own hierarchy; there is no universal object taxonomy from forum-to-forum. (This is a standard feature of legacy forum structures and is a consequence of the categorical hierarchy that exists because people browse content, rather than are served content by universal content tag.) Again, if you look at universal structures in use by Discord, Reddit, and even modern forums, you can invoke content irrespective of taxonomy. Xenforo's API is a lot like vBulletin's API; it will deliver x number of nodes with a qualifying taxonomy / category. You should be able to invoke by universal tag, or by search query, so that you can build your own applications upon the data structure. Forums are clearly meant to be stand-alone databases, not platforms on which others can develop, reorganize, and redistribute content. This makes it increasingly likely they will be unintegrated islands, silos in a sea of asynchronous communication. Opening up searchability from a data integration perspective would go a long way, but that's not the business model that Xenforo has (and its end-customer, legacy forum admins, isn't particularly interested in this, unless if it's to take off the search load from their servers - but again, Threadloom and services like it exist for that isolated use case).

I'm not stating anything controversial here; it's just understandably distressing to legacy forum owners. But if you've seen your audience mindshare drop, and your revenue dollars collapse, you should be paying attention to where these audiences (and future audiences) are gravitating. And it's going to fully synchronous, mobile-first, algorithmically-served, and integrated data platforms.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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1. Congratulations, you understand that a market functionally geared around 'here and now' uses tools to organise and share 'here and now' and not something that doesn't do this.

2. Let me know what day job you do on a mobile phone.

3. No-one is arguing that this drives engagement, not even me. I was just arguing that it was *bad* engagement. Delivering content that 'someone is interested in' simply guarantees their existing biases will only be catered to. The fact that Twitter to use your example is such a festering pile of hatred is because of this.

And this says nothing about what Google is doing to deliver content to people which I suppose reinforces your world view about algorithmic delivery, however in reality it is orthagonal at best.

4. And here is the other problem, what you consider a detriment that not all things are exactly alike is precisely why it's an advantage to the format - that these things are not perfectly alike, because they tune them for specific uses. I imagine you believe that all cars should be identical for all conditions for a similar reason, but there are reasons why Jeeps and sports cars also exist alongside the average daily driver: different tools for different situations.

I am so glad I do not share your outlook on life, because what you are declaring as absolute would render my hobbies non-existent along with many of the people that I hang out with because we don't feel a burning need to be identikit clones for your benefit by aligning to what some algorithm says we should do.


You don't seem to like forums. I wonder why your enthusiasm to keep arguing about how dead forums are on a forum about forums. I refer you to my long-standing signature: "Are forums dying? Not all the time there are people in forums asking if forums are dying."
 

zappaDPJ

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I believe rather strongly there are many ways forum software could be improved upon but the bottom line is that has virtually no relevance to the success or failure of any forum.

What matters is content. Does it serve a purpose?... https://helpforum.sky.com/ Is it an authority within its niche?... https://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/ Is it unique? https://forums.spacebattles.com/ Does it appeal to a large audience?... https://www.christianforums.com/

What I'm suggesting is there is a middle ground here. There are many hugely successful forums that have survived because they provide content that engages people. They didn't need to adapt to survive and it's true to say some of them are running on antique code.

Of course there's always room for improvement but forums have found their place within the social media spectrum and no amount of enhancement is going to elevate them back to the golden age where they once ruled the on-line world.
 

Kaelon

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forums have found their place within the social media spectrum and no amount of enhancement is going to elevate them back to the golden age where they once ruled the on-line world.
I totally agree with this. However, the question was originally posed of whether Xenforo is considered "modern" forum software or not. And my answer is: No, it isn't.
You don't seem to like forums.
To the contrary: I love forums, and have been using them and their various incarnations since the early 1980s.

I don't like that forums haven't evolved as a medium for the past 20 years. The linear, flat, categorical layout of forums, with desktop-first, paginated display format has been the unifying characteristic of forum structures since Infopop's Ultimate Bulletin Board. It was a massive leap over Matt Wright's WWWBoards nested threads. Since then, however, innovation has been largely timid and incremental (such as Discourse's Ember.js front-end and Rails back-end), and hasn't exactly been relevant to convening people ever since social media entered the scene, and mobile devices became dominant across the planet.

There is a real need for bold, modern forum software that pulls together the user experience expectations of contemporary audiences with the findability and deliverability that on-demand mobile-first web audiences seek. I wonder if part of the innovation-gap stems from the fact that hobbyists can't easily host-and-tinker with more emergent technology stacks, and so they're relegated to LAMP-stack platforms that are inherently less responsive and scalable.

The success of Reddit, Discord, and the triumph of synchronous platforms in the workplace like Slack and Teams over their asynchronous predecessors like Groups and SharePoint, show the real widespread need to innovate for accessibility, engagement, and - yes - community-building.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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And yet you entirely miss the point of why asynchronous platforms work.

This conversation, this very reply, proves it. If this were a synchronous platform the chances of us having this conversation would be drastically reduced because synchronous platforms all by nature bring people together *at the same time*. But when you have time zones in the mix, the fact people have jobs and so on, synchronous anything suddenly starts to be a huge problem.

I won’t deny that there has been a real push towards synchronous by the current generation of digital natives but that’s because their first interaction with it was via the big name social media platforms that only thrive on the here and now - people do not generally react to last week’s tweets, the discourse has moved on, and having a slower, more thoughtful pace of conversation cannot exist in a fully synchronous world.

Then again I come from places where replies can and do take weeks to appear… even from the youngest members of the community because, shockingly, not everyone writes in soundbite-sized pieces (and again I point you to this very post, which again would never exist in a synchronous space because inevitably the discourse would have moved on in the time it takes to think about, frame and write more than a couple of lines)
 

Matt M

Developer
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
471
There is a space for both slow chat and fast chat.

Forums should not convert to become a social media clone, they should double down on their strengths. The primary strength is organised discussion at scale. We can keep that at the core and make that bit better. The rest is all distractions. The reason forums have persisted is because of that strength. To remove it would remove the only thing that makes our platforms unique.

Things to work on: UI, workflows, accessibility, etc.
 

Nev_Dull

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Joined
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Messages
2,492
I was looking back over this thread. What started as a simple question from a new admin (I hope he has run away screaming) has morphed into a fascinating discussion on the state of forum software and its place in the current trends driving social media. It has certainly made me ask myself some hard questions.

So, does current forum software fit into that web 3.0 vision that Kaelon has presented? I don't think it does, nor do I think it can be remade to fit into it. On the other hand, I don't think that is a bad thing. Let's look at the features of web 3.0 as presented here:
  • Synchronous communication
  • Mobile-first (and web disaggregated) application
  • "Smart" feeds that are driven algorithmically
  • Open data architecture to allow seamless real-time data calls
Pete already pointed out the issues with synchronous communication: time zones, people who work (and don't spend most of it on their personal phones), etc. As Kaelon points out, though, modern social media platforms can provide a chronological view so people can see what has gone on since they last checked. So really, synchronous communication across the internet only really works well if an asynchronous option is also provided. That's something forums have been providing since day one.

Mobile first (read mobile only) is a bigger problem for forums. Providing a satisfactory experience for mobile users is critical to sustainment for forums today -- maybe. I've gone on at length about this before. While mobile users are huge consumers of content, they are relatively minor players when it comes to contributing the kind of long-form content that forums thrive on. This is because phone interfaces are not designed for created that sort of content without more effort than the average user will put into it. Conversely, mobile devices are perfectly suited for the typical kind of content we see on twitter and other social media. This is not a problem that can be solved by remaking forum software.

I do agree with the other part of the point above. It's something I've also said before; I would like to see forum software move to being a backend only product, (more like a CMS) while providing some templates and/or tools for forum creators to build their own presentation layers. We can then build separate interfaces for mobile and computer users that better serve their needs.

When it comes to algorithm driven feeds, the only answer is a resounding no. Not because I'm railing against the machine but because they are so horrendously bad. And I fundamentally disagree with Kaelon's statement "That we, as humans, prefer to engage with ideas that essentially reinforce our own world-views isn't a platform bug; it's a species-feature." Of course there are plenty of folks who enjoy living in a fantasy world of conformation bias (flat earthers, anyone). However the entire human history of exploration, science, and innovation belies that notion. Social media users don't prefer algorithm driven content. They just have no choice and have learned to live with it.

I'm not going to comment on the open architecture point. I don't have the knowledge to respond intelligently, and I think Pete has done a pretty good job of it. I do want to touch on something I think is important here. Throughout this discussion so far, there's been a lot of talk about the software and technology that currently drives forums, the emerging technologies that are pushing the internet forward into the future, and whether forums have a place there. No matter how the underlying technology changes, though, one thing remains constant -- us. Our brains still work the same way our cave-dwelling ancestors did. We still process information in the same way and no amount of technology or algorithmic machinations is going to change that. I'm all for changing forum software for the better. However, unless those changes continue to allow people to engage and discuss shared interests and ideas in a meaningful way, we won't use it.
 

sanction9

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Feb 19, 2015
Messages
308
most of the forum content itself is asynchronous and isn't accessible to people without extensive browsing and category-hopping.
Just wanted to quickly comment on that one bit, and what follows in your comment, because it stuck out as somewhat crazy to me personally. Is the implication that content is easier to find on platforms like FB and Twitter? Because just based on my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you can easily enough find general content to do with whatever you're wanting bring up, but finding specific content, content you've maybe previously visited days or weeks or months ago and want to find again, or specific content by specific people...? "Chrono-feeds" aside, I usually find it best to search for such content via Google rather than the platform itself.
 

Alpha1

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Messages
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IMHO there are 9 area's where XenForo (and most other forum software) is lagging behind, while entire generations have grown up with such functionality at hand from the very first time they used the internet:
  1. Instantly loading content, interaction and data.
    If your Facebook friends respond to something you are watching, then it will load instantly. But on forums, you will mostly need to hit F5. This is outdated behaviour IMHO. If you do add instantly loading pages or content then you will find that your members love it. It changes the whole forum experience. It is for this reason that BuddyBoss has this at the top of their website:
    https://www.buddyboss.com/wp-content/themes/buddyboss-website/images/engage-hello-bar-graphic.gif

  2. Search with a friendly interface, that will serve up the content users are looking for even if their search phrase is different. And allow them to narrow search results down.
    Google offers this. Modern websites offer this. Forum software however, while it does have basic integration with sphinx or Elastic simply misses the point. Forum users still cant find what they need.
  3. Support multiple languages.
    While Reddit, WordPress based solutions allow you to serve up forums, categories, content in multiple languages AND allow users to translate this content. forums still use language packs for phrases. Like in 1999.
  4. The internet is connected. Forum software is making nice steps in integration a plethora of services and generally has API and DSK. However, what I am missing is the next step: connect it to the most popular applications. Ranging from WordPress, MailChimp, CloudFlare, Amazon Services, Patreon, Affiliate services, Social Media, YouTube Channels, SEO services, etc. It's not that I'd expect the XenForo team to build all such integrations, but currently pretty much no service providers offer XenForo integration. Apparently there is no reason for service providers to offer XenForo integration, where they do offer integration with other platforms and services.
  5. Something modern that I really appreciate it contemporary software is workflows, bots and automated actions. i.e. to be able to define criteria and if these are met, a certain action is taken. (IF This Then That) Now XenForo does certainly has the basics for this. (criteria, cron) But its not possible to add your own bots to carry out such tasks.
  6. Something that I miss in XenForo, which I expect from a modern application is a drag n drop page builder for every page allowing you to move any element on the page.
  7. The ability to update all outdated addons at once. Updating a mass of addons on multiple sites is a drag. It always was a bit of a tedious task, but at least on vb and xf1 we had tools to check for the latest versions of addons. On XF2 thats no longer possible. So you have to check all addons, download the zip, and upgrade. Once you are used to systems like WordPress where it is easy to do or can even be done automatically, the contrast between an outdated and a modern method is stark. XenForo is clearly taking steps to improve the updating process and updating official software is modern and awesome.
  8. Operating multiple sites from the same backend. That makes life just so much easier.
  9. Add-Ons are bolted on, After all these years there still is a lack of integration. While on facebook you can post any content type from the same page, on XF you first need to navigate to an add, then to the correct category and post. And conversely new content from different content types do not show up in new posts.

While XF is not modern in these respects, its solid software that makes use of modern technology and is clearly advancing. I would absolutely not call it outdated either.
 
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zappaDPJ

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Just wanted to quickly comment on that one bit, and what follows in your comment, because it stuck out as somewhat crazy to me personally. Is the implication that content is easier to find on platforms like FB and Twitter? Because just based on my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you can easily enough find general content to do with whatever you're wanting bring up, but finding specific content, content you've maybe previously visited days or weeks or months ago and want to find again, or specific content by specific people...? "Chrono-feeds" aside, I usually find it best to search for such content via Google rather than the platform itself.
Very valid points and at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam this is what forums do better than any other form of social media. Enduring content is their forte but more needs to be done to make that content easily accessible.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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Some interesting points there.

1. Live serving is doable, it just requires vastly more resources than a classical forum. Discourse, for example, streams posts in - but it requires a *minimum* of a VPS with 1GB of RAM out of the box just to get started, 2GB minimum recommended, just because of the amount of effort required to actually serve the content. And that's not serving a *large* or *busy* forum, just a fledgling one, which is why Discourse is very happy to take money for managed hosting.

2. Search with a friendly interface requires surprising amounts of resources to get right. Google has some of the brightest engineers on the planet, and hundreds of thousands if not millions of servers to do the processing - the entire forum industry cannot compete with this. Though I'm not sure what you mean by 'modern websites' that do this in terms of refinement, especially as Google doesn't - it searches, gives you ten results, and only if there's a typo (by which we mean, text that is statistically divergent from the corpus) suggest an alignment. If anything, Google has gotten progressively worse for searching over the last 5 years.

3. Allowing users to translate the content doesn't make sense in some respects - WP is a few-to-many content platform, it makes sense that the few will curate the content in a meaningful way for their audience. Reddit is similar in that within a given subreddit, it's essentially it's own encapsulated space where translation makes sense. But a forum that is potentially a many-to-many format? You're reliant on Google Translate which is average if you don't care about details or perfection in translation, to get the content across.

4. and 5. Connectivity is a very nice to have - and it would be good if someone built the integrations, but managing them is hard work if you have many of them. This is one area that hitting the big names might not be the worst idea - and perhaps doing something with Zapier isn't a bad idea. Plugging in IFTTT will definitely get you some way through automating workflows.

6. Interesting. I'd actually be against it, partially because you also need to have an alternative way of managing it from a user accessibility perspective, and partially because for it to work successfully you have to constrain what your theme choices allow you to do, to some extent - there's a reason that such builders are prevalent on WordPress, because they're *intimately* connected to the theme you use, to the point where it's now a point of pride amongst some themer communities to ensure they work with specific builders, e.g. Elementor support or Divi support. I'm not sure how fond I am of that concept.

Should you also get to specify how things should be laid out on mobile with such an interface?

7. This can be a double-edged sword, though, especially if you have plugins that interact with each other. Also, I'm still immensely wary of the whole 'updating from the admin panel' and still disable it in every case and do that manually - because I can secure it on the server in a way that you just can't otherwise.

8. Is that a common use case that merits a significant amount of dev effort? (Because as WP proved, it's a staggering amount of effort to implement and maintain)

9. IPS is better about this - but not completely 'post anything from anywhere'. It's certainly possible to do, but whether the users would want to do that on a regular basis? That's a different question entirely... remember in Facebook everything is still a post even if it's got other things attached to it, it's not quite as content agnostic as it claims to be.
 
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