Why bbPress sucks!
Actually, it doesn’t. I think bbPress is a pretty good piece of software.
But while I have your attention, allow me to share my perspectives as someone who has been using Opensource Bulletin Board software for many years, but is just starting off with bbPress.
It’s great that bbPress can leverage WordPress’s autoupdate function to update itself and its plugins. phpBB (http://www.phpbb.com/mods/automod/), SMF (http://docs.simplemachines.org/index.php?topic=93) etc. are still trying to figure it out…they have some rudimentary patches, but nothing as elegant as WordPress’s system.
Another brilliant thing is the ability to use seo/pretty URLs/permalinks. Amazingly, at phpBB (http://area51.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=105&t=35616) they are fighting over whether this is even desirable!
But what’s pure genius is the ability to use any WordPress theme! bbPress ships with a bbPress TwentyTen theme, and if your active WordPress theme does not have special support for bbPress, that is ok, because bbPress will use bbPress TwentyTen’s styling to present the forums in your active theme. Genius! Pure genius!
Add to this the fact that because bbPress is a WordPress plugin, there are additional benefits such as: SSO with WP, ability to use WP plugins (like Use Google Libraries), extendability, lightness, etc.
It is a massive shock to me that the number of people are using bbPress is incredibly smaller than what it should be.
I’ve thought about my experience, and think that the following factors could be critical in this regard:
1. Discovery: Discovery is an issue. I don’t know what the relationship is between Automattic/Wordpress/bbPress/BuddyPress, but I am sure you have considered putting bbpress.org link in wordpress.org’s “See also:” footer and decided against it. But what I do struggle to understand is wy wordpress.org would not even permit you to put a credit line (Powered by bbPress) in wordpress.org forums. That is a bit harsh. To add insult to injury, if I search for forum on wordpress.org forums (http://wordpress.org/search/forum?forums=1), Mingle is at the top and Vanilla forums show up on page 1, but bbPress doesn’t.
Google SERPs aren’t much better. bbPress is not on 1st page for any of “forums script”, “opensource forums script” and “php forums script”. I’m sure that would change if you could convince wordpress.org to show you a little more love.
2. Freshness: Even if someone chances upon bbPress plugin on wordpress.org (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bbpress/), there is little joy. The bubble is burst as soon as the explorer clicks on forum posts (http://wordpress.org/tags/bbpress?forum_id=10). There doesn’t seem to be any support and users appear to be completely lost without a paddle.
Of course the main reason for that is that you handle most support here at bbpress.org but the poor visitor doesn’t know that. He looks at wordpress.org forums for bbpress, concludes there is lack of support and goes away.
I think unifying support in one place (at wordpress.org forums), will be good for the community. You can have a clearcut, loudly stated division – bbpress WP plugin support at wordpress.org forums, legacy bbpress standalone support at bbpress.org
3. Migration: bbPress needs to face the fact that most people who want a forum, have already had a forum. The *new* market for forums is much smaller than the *installed base* of forums.
Consequently, most of the people who would want to use bbPress probably are already using another forum script and need help migrating. It is collossal mistake to leave this for community plugins.
If I have a forum software in a production environment, then one of the major factors influencing my decision regarding migration is whether or not there is a robust, stable, tried and tested and reliable migration path to the target software. This is extremely important for me. In fact, I would suffer a somewhat inferior software willingly rather than move to a better software if there is no clear migration path or there is a high degree of risk in migration.
It is a mistake on part of bbPress to leave migration to community plugin developers. Even if there were some plugins out there that did the job, it would be much less reassuring to prospective users compared to a migration/import path created by the bbPress team. As it happens there are only 2 import plugins (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/forumconverter/ and http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bbconverter/) out there and both of them are broken and not supported.
WordPress does it right in building an importer directly into the core.
I think it would be greatly beneficial to the project if the bbPress team build a bbPress importer that supports the top 4 forum software: phpBB, Invision, SMF and vBulletin.
Over the next 18-24 months, I expect to see a mass exodus from phpBB as they rewrite the software from ground up (http://area51.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=41583). If bbPress provide a good migration path, it stands the chance to capture some of fleeing population.
4. I18n: 80%+ translations of bbPress are available in 13 languages, which is nothing to be scoffed at. But delivery is shambolic.
It is a nightmare trying to figure how to get bbPress working in a language other than English, even if you do the translation yourself.
There are 2 places to find translations: http://svn.automattic.com/bbpress-i18n/ and http://translate.wordpress.org/projects/bbpress/plugin
You can also use the .pot file found in /wp-content/plugins/bbpress/bbp-languages folder to create a translation, or you can translate at http://translate.wordpress.org/projects/bbpress/plugin with proper access.
It still doesn’t work. Very frustrating.
As it turns out, what you need to do is go to http://translate.wordpress.org/projects/bbpress/plugin, download language file by exporting to .po file, use poedit to covert to .mo, and upload it to wp-content/languages/bbpress/ (not to /wp-content/plugins/bbpress/bbp-languages which has the .pot file or /wp-content/plugins/bbpress/languages as most other plugins would). And the name of the file should be somewhat like bbpress-de_DE.mo not the standard de_DE.mo
Who would be able to figure that out? There’s not a single word about this in the documentation.
What a mess!
While some of the sharpest web developers comes from non-English-speaking countries, a high proportion of non-English-speakers are quite venturesome and decide to handle the technical aspects themselves as site owners, instead of farming them out to expensive developers, who are busy charging high rates for remote work.
These are the people that greatly appreciate the simplicity of WordPress. And these are the people who are a captive audience for bbPress, only if bbPress could make life a little bit easier for them.
bbPress should either be delivered in multiple language-specific packages like WordPress, or should be delivered with all translations included like most other plugins.
The .pot as well as language .po .mo files should be located in /wp-content/plugins/bbpress/languages
5. Documentation: This is another disaster area that is dragging a good software down. Documentation is just plain bad.
First of all, bbPress should clearly mention on the home page (http://bbpress.org/) and the download page (http://bbpress.org/download/) that while standalone version continues to be supported, it is not being actively developed.
Secondly, all the current documentation (http://bbpress.org/documentation/) is about the standalone version, and doesn’t say anything helpful for plugin users. This should be reversed.
6. Lack of basic features: Forum users, whether or not they own/manage forums, have come to expect certain basic features like:
– quote, multiquote
– topic view stats
– unread posts link
– Profile photo/avatar
– WYSISYG editor
– forum search, context search
– uploading images
– members online
– private messaging
– forum moderation
– user registration approval
I understand that bbPress is built to be modular, and I think bbPress is right in leaving this functionality to plugins.
However, there are 2 problems:
– On wordpress.org plugin directory (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/) there is no good way of listing all bbPress plugins. Perhaps you should create a special nomenclature or special tag that bbPress plugins should use?
– If you look at bbPress plugin browser (http://bbpress.org/plugins/), most plugins are quite old…updated in 2010, 2009, even 2008! This is not very reassuring or confidence inspiring. Now, many of the old plugins may still be working fine, but when I see the “last updated” date is June 2010 for a plugin, I assume it is outdated, not developed and not supported anymore. I perceive that this will be a trouble plugin if I install it, and consequently end up with less functionality than I want. And I blame bbPress for it, saying bbPress doesn’t have all the features I want.
My suggestion is this: Every time there is a new version of WordPress or bbPress, the bbPress plugins should release a new version too, even if the only difference is to add a comment line that says “compatible with version so and so”. This will go a long way in reassuring prospective users that can install the plugin with confidence.
7. Forum sidebar: There is a plugin called bbPress WP Tweaks (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bbpress-wp-tweaks/). What it proposes but in my experience fails to do should be part of the core software. bbPress WP Tweaks was created so that the admin could relace the WordPress standard sidebar with a forum-specific sidebar on forum pages. This, in my estimation, would be useful for 90%+ of all bbPress users.
8. Custom fields: One of the most powerful features of WordPress is custom fields. bbPress should not disable this for forum pages.
9. Custom headers code field: bbPress should have provision for a custom header code field, wherein the admin can put in some code, which bbPress then inserts in the header on forum pages. In one flick, this would make bbPress customization so much more powerful.
To sum up, it takes a lot of persistence and determination to love bbPress. This is not great to attract new users. The software has a lot of potential, and I believe the number of installations can be increased multifold if the above issues are tackled in earnest.
Thanks for listening to my ramblings. And if you went tl;dr I have only myself to blame.
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