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.
Great thoughts and great feedback. All the issues you raise are totally valid.
I deleted your cross-post over at WordPress.org. There may be two different audiences, but your opinions are directed mostly towards the development of the project, so this is the best place to talk about that.
It’s amazingly simple to point out the places where bbPress can be improved. It’s also amazingly difficult to dedicate oneself to volunteering on a daily basis. Break this very long topic down into smaller, more manageable topics, and create trac tickets as enhancements for the new features you’d like to see. Then others can pick which line-item they are interested in helping with, and focus on it.
There’s a lot of love and attention that goes into bbPress, even though it may not seem like it on the site itself. If you want to be part of the solution, come hang out in #bbpress on freenode on IRC. It’d be great to have you start working on fixing some of these issues with me.
Will create the tickets.
Will check out #bbpress.
Unfortunately, I can’t code, so won’t be much help on that front. But I’ll be more than happy to help with the website cleanup, end-user documentation, etc.
Please can you change my login name to OC2PS? Thanks!
Can’t change your login, sorry. It’s linked everywhere throughout the .org sites, so it will break other things if we change it.
It’s hard if you can’t code, since the things you’re mostly emphasizing are things that need to be coded, or documentation that requires understanding the code base. It’s one of those times where there’s no shortage of opinions and ideas, but there’s a huge shortage of labor.
I understand that you could use some help with the large volume of work that bbPress generates. I also appreciate the good work that the team has already put in.
However, bbPress is already a very good script. Some of my suggestions e.g. #1 #2 and #5 are almost completely non-technical and basically require some manual labor, which I am happy to provide.
I beg to differ with you on documentation. You are right that technical documentation, esp. for plugin developers etc would require an understanding of the codebase. However, I am talking about end-user documentation…in moving to bbPress, that is one of the hurdles I faced. I have also noted a pattern of big concerns of prospective and new users, both here and on WordPress.org
I think if the non-technical parts are dealt with, along with ONE technical part (migration), that would make an immense difference to the adoption of the software. And, of course, a significant number of users will generate interest among developers.
One thing I missed in the long post:
I appreciate the reason why you sought to create a standalone version of bbPress.
The plugin makes sense because it provides access to a large captive base of WordPress users. But on the other hand it ties bbpress down to WordPress, making it usable *only* with sites that use WordPress.
What if someone who doesn’t use WordPress wants a forum software?
Well, I have a suggestion. bbPress should ONLY be developed as a WordPress plugin (as I believe it is now).
However, a standalone package should be available at bbpress.org. This would basically be a bundle of WordPress and bbpress, where bbpress is active by default.
Additionally, by default, the forum root would be selected as the static page that appears as home. You will need some help from your colleagues at WordPress for this…at the moment only pages (and not custom post types) are allowed to be selected as home. (update: https://core.trac.wordpress.org/ticket/19958 )
To sum up, it will still be WordPress with a bbPress plugin, but would be *sold* as forum software. The distinction being target market. bbPress plugin is targeted and marketed to people who use WordPress and are LOOKING for a forum software that integrates with it. The standalone package is targeted and marketed to people who are looking for forum software.
You might think this is a zany idea, and it probably is. It just might work, though.
Alright, jjj, have at it:
Hi, I’m just stopping by, but I think I may be able to some help with coding.
I can do some simple PHP, mostly without the classes/objects stuff (I’m currently in the process of learning PHP, so would really like some practical experience other than tweaking plugins).
I’m better with MySQL. I can devote perhaps 2 to 3 hours a day.
I’m located at the UTC+8 timezone (although I probably can’t get up at 5 AM to attend the dev meeting).
But I have to second the standalone package idea. That sounds like it would open up very interesting possibilities.
Wow, I just about to use bbpress as a private forum based on recommendation of a co-worker and just realize this huge differences along with other avail forum software’s.
And about standalone package idea, I disagree with it since as part the wp plugin is the best reason I going to use it.
Some pretty neat ideas! Partcular thumbs up for #3 (official migration tool) #7 (forum sidebar) #9 (custom header code) #10 (standalone package)
I just noticed that the “Docs” tab above has a different destination https://codex.bbpress.org/
On the page it says “you are welcome and invited to modify any of the pages you see here.”
Question is – how? I don’t see any “Edit” links on any of the pages…
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