If geeks love it, we’re on it

How the search for new forum software changed my life

How the search for new forum software changed my life

Vanilla ForumsBy the end of 2008, my love-hate relationship with vBulletin had become intense hate. Between the difficulties in working with the product and my loathing of how I’d been treated as a loyal customer (I controlled three licenses by then), the breakup had started.

If you’re not familiar with Icrontic’s history, we’re an 11-year old community that’s always used vBulletin. The entrenchment is as deep as it goes. A member since 2002 (this was my first online forum!), I’ve been working heavily on the site since 2003, and became a co-owner in 2005. We have numerous, intricate customizations (especially our in-house WordPress integration) and I’m the only developer. Change around here happens at a glacial pace, because they often involve monumental migrations. And I love it to death.

Ditching vBulletin

In early 2009, I started combing the Internet for a forum replacement and stumbled across Vanilla (version 1). I immediately loved it, but it became apparent it would be a tremendous amount of work to migrate to it. Vanilla is a simplicity-driven product focused on using plugins to customize your experience. A lot of the plugins I needed simply didn’t exist. Luckily, like WordPress, Vanilla is an open-source product, which means anyone can jump in and start working on it. So, I started tinkering.

Fast forward to August 2009 when Vanilla 2 source code was first released. This was a big leap forward over Vanilla 1 and I decided this was my new forum software. But the same problem existed: it was a pre-release product with precious few plugins. There wasn’t even an importer for vBulletin. So I rolled up my sleeves and began to code. As a long-term vBulletin user, I wrote the vBulletin importer for Vanilla 2 from scratch, then re-wrote it. Perversely, because Icrontic has gone through so many upgrades over the years, I was able to code in every anachronistic detail about how vBulletin has stored data over the years—it still makes my brain hurt to think about it.

Helping to build Vanilla

By December of 2009, I had a working copy of Icrontic running on Vanilla 2. It was nowhere near complete, and ugly as heck, but it worked. Having been unemployed for several months, I’d had time to complete the major legwork to get things moving. Then, a terrible thing happened in January: I got a new job. I worked at a web agency for a year and nine months, and it ate my life. I learned a tremendous amount, but long hours and burnout meant progress slowed terribly. But I pushed forward, inch by inch.

Somewhere along the line, I realized I loved working on forum software. Not only that, but I’d been running communities since 2003 and realized I actually knew what I was talking about when it came to forum software and community management. I had (intense, vitriol-laced) opinions about where it should be going, and Vanilla 2 was running my playbook.

December 2010 saw my other community NewBuddhist move to Vanilla. Throughout 2011, I’ve been checking off the hurdles listed in my notebook as the Vanilla team and I knocked them down: Improving the importer, custom Vanilla/WordPress integration, an achievement system, better category management, moderation logging, better spam control, and much more. I finally joined the Vanilla team full-time in September, and recently rolled out my custom WP/Vanilla integration on IntoDetroit and then NewBuddhist.

In 2008, a mediocre PHP developer set off in search of better forum software. Three years later, I find myself working for a funded Internet startup doing the best work of my life on what I’m most passionate about: you guys. I stumbled into this place nine years ago, never suspecting it would be the most important thing I did that year (and it was the year I graduated high school and started college).

Lincoln and Brian destroy Icrontic... again...

We seriously know what we're doing. Promise.

But you know what I still haven’t managed to do? Migrate this damn site to Vanilla. Well hold onto your butts. It’s happening tonight.


  1. Thrax
    Thrax This seemed apropos:

  2. Wattyz
    Wattyz am I holding it open or closed?
  3. Straight_Man
    Straight_Man Um, well, WHEN???? I can't wait - I think... I will be up late, so go ahead and go for it. But, WARN us if you can, ok??? :D
  4. fatcat
    fatcat midnight - 2am EST is the rumor...
  5. Linc
    Linc In his defense, I put that in the header AFTER he posted. :D

    Yes, we'll be down from midnight to 2am EST. Obviously the end time is a guess.
  6. Thrax
    Thrax (As an aside, anyone running ad block plus can't see your header message. I forgot to turn it off on my laptop for IC. :))
  7. Linc
    Thrax wrote:
    As an aside, anyone running ad block plus can't see your header message
    Guess they're screwed :p
  8. Snarkasm
    Snarkasm Seems like it's midnight EST and I SEE NOSSING!
  9. Nate_LapT
    Nate_LapT Thanks for the great work on vanilla, cant wait to see the future it holds. I incorporated it with my community few months back and they've been impressed with its current progress. Cant wait to see what you've come up with.
  10. fatcat
    Snarkasm wrote:
    Seems like it's midnight EST and I SEE NOSSING!

    when you posted, it was 23:18 EST
  11. Linc
    Linc First Vanilla comment!
  12. primesuspect
    primesuspect Here come the complaints! :D
  13. pigflipper
  14. Myrmidon
  15. Canti
  16. UPSLynx
    UPSLynx I believe I hold the record for first moderated posts now.

    Seriously, guys, go to your profile page. It's so good.
  17. csimon
    csimon Sorry I missed the invocation last night. I was too busy watching ULL beat San Diego in the New Orleans Bowl ...talk about painting the town RED!!!!!!!!!!!!! woot

    Linc will be ever get animated avatar's back? Do I need to reupload???
  18. Straight_Man
    Straight_Man Looking good... Except once I drill down how do I get back up to the top view except by pressing back button multiple times.... :( I wish it would tell Firefox 8.0.1 to spawn a new tab when posting/commenting, drilling down, etc. Just for the wish list, I guess.... :)
  19. QuadWhore
    QuadWhore I can't believe there is a mobile version now. When I went on discussions with my phone I was shocked.
  20. clifford_cooley
    clifford_cooley Opera 11.60 doesn't like the new forum software. I'm using Firefox 8.0 to post a comment.

    Opera loads the page completely and when I scroll, the scroll is slow and then freezes the browser. I've had three or four cores bouncing in usage while waiting for Opera to stabilize during the time I wrote this post. This leaves me no option but to kill the process for Opera. I've checked twice today before I decided to leave a comment.

    I hope this is seen as feedback and not a complaint.

    Not sure what took so long for Firefox to post. I was trying to open the page in a new tab before it finally posted.
  21. Leonardo
    Leonardo Congratulations to Lincoln and Primesuspect! I really like the clear, readable format. The private messaging area is great! It is so user friendly.
  22. QuadWhore
    QuadWhore I'm running Opera and the new website is running smoothly. Strange problem.
  23. primesuspect
    Congratulations to Lincoln and Primesuspect! I really like the clear, readable format. The private messaging area is great! It is so user friendly.
    Thanks Leo, that means a lot to both of us. I think that as everybody settles in and gets used to things, they'll find all kinds of little things that make this a way, way better experience than vB ever was :)
  24. swithdrawn
    swithdrawn I love it. Using vB these days is like watching a 1995 Charlie Rose tech interview and laughing at how everything is completely different. Congrats!
  25. primesuspect
    am I holding it open or closed?
    Best comment of the day, IMO.
  26. Linc
  27. Thrax
    Thrax Whoa. You can @ comment people. @Primesuspect.
  28. UPSLynx
  29. Linc
    Linc And it pings them when you do :)
  30. Jokke
    And it pings them when you do :)
    Unless you turn it off.
  31. fatcat
    fatcat @Jokke @Jokke @Jokke

    what about people with two words with a space thou @Gnome Queen
  32. ardichoke
    ardichoke @Gnome%20Queen?

    Edit: Nope, apparently not.
  33. Thrax
    Thrax "@Gnome Queen"


    /edit: Nope

    @Gnome_Queen (underscores?)

    /EDIT: Nope
  34. ardichoke
  35. fatcat
    fatcat guess Jackie will just have to change her name to @GnomeQueen
  36. Linc
    Linc I'll probably strip spaces from names.
  37. fatcat
    fatcat @I Need A Better Name is gonna hate that :P
  38. Jokke
    Jokke Or force everyone to have underscores instead of space, like @straight_man
  39. Ilriyas
    Ilriyas Can I get Coles Notes on how the new forum software works? XD
  40. primesuspect
    primesuspect We'll all figure it out together :D
  41. clifford_cooley
    clifford_cooley Update:
    Opera is finally scrolling without freezing.
    I'm not sure what the glitch was.

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