Patreon and Q23 switching away from vBulletin


#1

[B]Theme testing discourse forum.[/B]
[B]Content testing discourse forum.[/B]

We had a previous discussion a little over a year ago about potentially changing the vBulletin software out in favor of something more modern.

http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?76770-What-if-Quarter-to-Three-switched-from-vBulletin-to-Discourse

The consensus was, as I read it, tentatively in favor of such a change. But to be fair, change is undeniably difficult in any community, and Tom effectively vetoed it. That’s fine. Change takes time, and I was OK waiting a few more years to try again, as I stated there.

But then the official Patreon was announced. So I am now able to vote with my wallet and put $1k/month of my proverbial money where my mouth is. Timetables have moved up.

I’ve been a card-carrying member of this forum since the days of the blue boards thing in 2001:

http://www.quartertothree.com/old_blue_boards/

… that’s 15 years (!), but I just can’t see myself coming for 10 more if we stay on this ancient, awful, creaky old vBulletin platform. It’s god damn soul destroying. So I would like to revisit this change in light of the Patreon funding. Like any good SuperPAC, I have a political motive for my monthly donation. And that motive is to get us the hell off vBulletin.

I believe all of these statements to be true, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise with actual data:

  • We are making less and less from ads because more people run ad blockers
  • Our community is relatively static and not growing
  • Even if ad blockers didn’t exist, ads/pageviews naturally tend to pay less and less over time due to dwindling value

As Tom himself said:

I just don’t see how it is feasible to continually extract more and more money from the same people, even if you could harangue them into turning off their ad blockers. I mean maybe if you had a regular influx of new users all the time, or you were growing your pageviews / userbase in dramatic form over time, but that’s not the case here. Another example: the owner of Smashing Magazine, and that’s a huge site, told me their ad revenue had declined 50% in the last two years. That’s why they switched over to conferences as a way of making money. He told me this after I spoke at his conference…

I think continuing to rely on traditional ads is a recipe for eventual disaster, whether it is next year, or three years from now, the writing is on the wall. And in a tight knit community like this, moving to a Patreon system seems like a saner alternative. So I applaud this move and that’s a big reason. I’ve never run ad blockers; here is what’s being served right now on this very page:

Who among us will miss the Doritos ads? Anyway, thanks to the Patreon, we are now officially covered for whatever the forum ads made:

And since there is every indication that advertising is – and please, I’m begging you, correct me with real, cited data if I am wrong about this – headed off a massive cliff in terms of trends, isn’t it better to embrace the Patreon strategy wholeheartedly, rather than Lemmings-ing that ever-declining sliver of advertising revenue right off said cliff, with your community in tow?

So let’s get down to brass tacks. What is currently standing in the way of this move from vBulletin to Discourse? For anyone who hasn’t seen one, there’s an overview at https://www.discourse.org – you should look again if you haven’t looked in a year as we’re continually evolving the 100% open source software. Or, you can click through to check out live Discourse sites from https://www.discourse.org/faq/customers , including Gearbox and Turtle Rock.)

Let me directly address two things Tom brought up in his reply:

  • Someone doesn’t “like” likes. We can hide the like command, so there will be no way to press the button. I don’t agree with it, but if that’s the biggest blocker from getting it done, then let’s remove that blocker, turn off the like button, and agree to disagree. Done and done.

  • Preserve the invitiation-only appeal of the community. No problem. Discourse has a built in “require approval for new accounts” feature that we can turn on. So you won’t be able to reply until you ask for permission to join.

  • We can import all the vBulletin posts, data, PMs, etc so nothing is lost. All the old topics will exist, same text, different layout.

Two other bonus things:

  1. We are working on Patreon integration that I’d LOVE to flesh out here, so Patreon supports can have extra flair on their account, access to a special Patreon only area, or what have you.

  2. Integrating Discourse with WordPress – replacing Disqus – is something we already do. So comment “threads” on a blog post will be backed by a Discourse topic and readable that way on the blog entry. Click through to join the conversation on the forum proper. Tom said he’s interested in this, and I agree that it’d be a lot saner to avoid splitting the communities into “Disqus” and “vBulletin”.


#2

I also got this page after typing the above post:

I clicked “I’m not a robot” then got redirected to… a blank screen. I nearly crapped my pants, since I hadn’t saved any of the above post in my clipboard or anything. Luckily I was able to press the back button and get back to my post, and eventually post it, or I would have lost the post entirely.

Also fun: every time I edit the first post, which I’ve done about five times now, I have to solve a CAPTCHA via cloudflare. Good times. Good mother fucking times.


#3

Will the alternative work with Tapatalk?


#4

The current forum software meets all my needs, and the Gearbox forums are a complete wreck on mobile. Whatever happens, I hope this forum continues to support Tapatalk so I won’t be forced to endure the downgrade.


#5

What you say makes a lot of sense. I don’t want to re-hash the prior arguments, since I believe you’ve summarized what has changed in the intervening time.

At times I get that captcha when posting… rarely, but I do get it. Whenever I get it, it never works (i.e., I get either re-redirected or get a blank page, or it goes to the thread and my post is not there. So I just move on and post later. Which it s pretty terrible solution, but it works).

I don’t use Tapatalk, so I have no input there, but it sounds like Tapatalk compatibility is a must.


#6

What’s so “wreck” about the Gearbox forums on mobile? Here’s what it looks like in F12, iPhone 5 mobile emulator in Chrome.

I’ll admit, not my favorite background (should be much more subdued), but they set per-game backgrounds over there. (I also forgot they use the “box” style category badges which are, er, colorful and no longer the default.) Feel free to check out some others at https://www.discourse.org/faq/customers if that particular design isn’t to your liking.


#7

I like Disqus…

I think you’re naturally going to have a split between people who read and comment on the blog and people who post on this bygone forum thing. Would you even want some of the blog comments showing up here? Or are you saying that you would need to set up a Qt3 account to even comment on blog entries?


#8

I’m all for change. Simply because I love trying new things and modern software is always good. My only concern with Discourse is that I can’t change font size in the mobile version, which Tapatalk nicely support. I’m sure that’s something you could easily change, so once that’s taken care of, I’m all for it.

I’ve tried Discourse in both Gearbox and Kingdom Come forum and I must say there’s some getting used to. Kingdom Come have some jarring icon/text alignment issue. The formatting buttons on their Reply Box are half hidden. It’s kinda bad and ugly.

Gearbox has nicer implementation and I like their colourful categories. I just didn’t get why they needed to tag so many things. Every post had a boat load of categories!

Regardless, Discourse is sexy and modern. Let’s do it!


#9

Geez, I found some of my posts back there on the old blue boards…something about XCOM and Cthulhu…back when I used my actual name here. Long time ago.

Eh, as far as forum administrivia, whatever the hive and Tom want, fine with me.


#10

wumpus’ screenshot on the iOS emulator of Gearbox is different than the one on actual iPhone:

I like the plain black background.

This is probably a better representation. I wish there’s content preview instead of just the title of the thread.


#11

Personally, I’m not against a move to Discourse. I’m aware it’s a flexible and ever evolving platform we could likely tweak to meet our preferences.

However, I’m also on a monthly plan with a semi strict data allowance. So Tapatalk support is pretty much a must for me as it’s data transfer efficient. I spend quite a bit of time on this forum and a couple of others.

That’s one reason I was happy to see the Patreon go up. That way, I can still contribute for the times when I browse away from home and ads are off.

If you can’t provide Tapatalk support, the forum would ideally need to have a very space and data efficient mobile skin. I don’t browse on a giant screen, so readability and not having half a page of tags would be important.

With a bit of planning and testing, I’m sure it could work out well.

But we also want to do everything to preserve the community that’s already been built here. So you’d need Tom’s support and to make sure we aren’t going to chase the regulars away.

The people are why I come here, not the software.

Wendelius


#12

Those tags are text, so I think you are fine.

Discourse tends to have a lot more user avatars, as it shows who have participated on a thread. I don’t know if that will increase your mobile data.


#13

Data aside, they also take a lot of screen space on your iPhone. You see a lot more actual content if you can have fewer tags displayed. Similarly, Tapatalk is all about the text on the forum page without distractions (it can display image previews, but you can switch that off). Can the amount of “non content” displayed be configured?

Wendelius


#14

I “voted” no in the last round. I found the Discuss forums that I looked at ugly (much as the Gearbox picture above from Habibi). I had some of the same Tapatalk thoughts as Wendelius. However my mind wasn’t fully set so I’ve looked again. I’ve gone back to many sample forums on my phone and my desktop. I’m still not wild about the look. I recognize this is a matter of taste.

I’ve never encountered the Captcha and other CloudFlare security issues that are mentioned up thread.

For me personally it comes down to if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As a user the current vBulletin powered server works just fine. More specifically the vBulletin based server has no connection to the user base and ad revenue issues mentioned in the initial post. As such it feels like a silly move unless there is a technical, back end reason to move. If there is such a reason than the move is something that Tom and Stusser should discuss without the rest of us.

I have to add one more comment. This new attempt to switch the forum software feels slimy to me. It’s too much of a hard sell; “what if I threw in some money as well as covering hosting costs?” The kickback, the excessive energy spent on something that is basically opinion, and the emphasizing of perceived problems in vBulletin and I (and, per the old thread, many others do no see) all rub me the wrong way


#15

That’s not really fair. Wumpus’ generous offer to pay/support/cover/wear hosting costs of QT3 was always part of his pitch, he is just reiterating it. I also imagine he and Tom discussed this privately after his generous Patreon donation and Tom gave him the go ahead to raise the topic again for community consideration.

Wumpus is passionate about forum software, Discourse is his baby. Some of his concerns over vBulletin are legit, they just annoy most people far less than him as he lives and breathes this stuff. Becuase of that, he just comes accross as a little overzealous, but I have zero doubt he only has the best intentions for QT3 in mind when bringing this up.


#16

Unfortunately, Discourse does not seem like it’s configurable, at least no look and feel configuration. It does have check boxes for whether to send you emails when someone reply your topic and what not, but there’s no UI configuration - even for simple practical stuff like say, turning off avatar or signature.

I agree with you that Tapatalk is strong in this area - it allows you to turn off images, font sizes, post previews.


#17

The initial offer is generous and seemed very legit. It is only when it is combined with a very visible, large donation that just happens to coincide with a reopening of the discussion that it bothers me and feels like a kickback.

I will freely admit that I distrust zealots.


#18

I think Wumpus is just putting his money where is mouth is. He clearly is very interested in a change in forum software, so much so that he is willing to contribute heavily to cover costs of the change.

Personally I don’t have a pony in the forum software race, but I have no problem with someone who does and wants to foot the bill. In the end I leave that sort of decision making to Tom and just assume he will do what he feels is best. After all we’ve gotten this far with Tom at the wheel, seems logical to leave him there.


#19

Using language like “kickback” seems totally uncalled for.

As for the question of forum software, I don’t particularly care either way. Some things would get better, some things would get worse, but after a brief period of change resistance humans always adapt. So a few weeks after any change any of the improvements will be totally unappreciated, since it’s impossible to remember not having them.


#20

Whatever Tom thinks is best for the Qt3 community is OK by me. I’ve gotten the CAPTCHA problem maybe a dozen or two times over the years and when it happens it is annoying. I don’t use mobile, so none of that affects me (I don’t even have a smartphone!). Hopefully if the move is made it doesn’t affect mobile users in a negative way because it seems like we do have a fair amount of mobile users.