In this post I discuss the reasons why I now use bbPress for all new projects.
Why did I buy vBulletin in the First Place?
When I first started SammyNetbook (the number one Samsung netbook destination on the net!) over five years ago it was based on the e107 content management system, however this platform was falling behind and I needed something more modern to work with.
At this point I moved to WordPress, back in 2008 it was already becoming a clear leader as blogging platform and it seemed the right way to go. With the benefit of hindsight this was a decision I was more than happy with!
Back then bbPress however was a different story. It wasn’t a plugin at the time but rather a seperate and cumbersome module that had to be installed seperately. Whilst it shared some DNA with WordPress it wasn’t quite in the same league and I struggled to integrate it into my site.
When vBulletin version 4.0 was released I took the opportunity to jump into what is generally considered to be the leading commercial forum package available. Word on the street was that any serious forum manager would be mad to go for anything else.
So I reached for my credit card and joined the vBulletin party.
What was wrong with vBulletin?
Despite its reputation, I still found vBulletin fell short in a number of areas.
The downside of it’s success means that it is has become an obvious target for spammers, and whilst there are a number of anti-spam mechanisms built in I was quickly overwhelmed with spam users, spam posts and spam replies. I had to resort to custom plugins and SQL scripts to get things back under control.
vBulletin themes were very difficult to work with, their system is somewhat baffling and custom changes to text around the site seemed very cumbersome. If your install is alongside a WordPress blog then the creation of a seamless user experience between the two products is by no means easy.
One of vBulletin’s strengths is its customisability, however I saw this as a disadvantage. Sure there are options for everything but many of them are hidden behind layers of configuration under obscure menus. Making the changes can be difficult and unintuitive and the whole admin system seems light years behind WordPress.
I enjoy writing custom plugins and wrote a few for my vBulletin sites, however writing and maintaining these always felt like a chore. Again, compared to the WordPress hooks and easy integration of custom code, vBulletin seemed out of touch.
On one site I was running the full vBulletin CMS package which includes various blogging and community features. Unfortunately the blogging functionality seemed far removed from WordPress and to me felt like a token add on. I expect it’s got better in version 5 but I’m not prepared to spend money to find out.
Why did I move to bbPress?
After becoming increasingly disillusioned with vBulletin and with the prospect of a large upgrade fee to move onto version 5 I decided to look at alternatives.
I didn’t particularly want to move to another commercial platform and I had already tried the popular phpBB forum, but fortunately bbPress 2.0 had just been released offering a new alternative. I gave the new version a go and never looked back!
Here’s why bbPress makes a great choice for the hobby blogger:
- Easy to setup and install: Getting started is as simple as installing any other WordPress plugin. You can do it all from your admin page, it will take less than a minute!
- Seamless integration: bbPress 2 is now fully integrated with your bbPress install. Infact threads and replies are just custom WordPress post types. Your install will share the same users and same theme.
- Simplicity: I got fed up devoting large amounts of time to administering my forum, bbPress is very straight forward to run. Yes, there aren’t many options but if you like WordPress then you’ll find bbPress chugs along with equal grace.
- Customisation: bbPress does not have so many customisation options, but if you are familiar with the WordPress developer API then making changes is no big deal.
- Price: You can’t really argue with free can you? One of the fun things about being a hobby blogger is the ability to start new projects, and shut down old ones, on a whim. This is much easier if it doesn’t cost you anything.
- Community: On the surface the vBulletin community looked promising. However when I dug into the detail I found that many community built plugins were for old versions, didn’t work as promised or were not maintained. The WordPress community on the other hand has always delivered, there are a number of must have free plugins available from some well respected developers, backed up by a healthy commercial market too.
vBulletin has it’s place. If you are a commercial organisation with staff that you can devote to maintaining the forum, or if perhaps your site is nothing but a forum, then I can see that it might work for you.
On the other hand, if you are a part time hobby blogger running a website in-between your day job then you’ll find a WordPress / bbPress installation much easier to manage. Keep it simple and get on with what really matters – creating a fantastic site.