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The Community and Vanilla - Please Read

ToddTodd Chief Product Officer Vanilla Staff
edited June 2013 in Feedback

Hey it’s been a while. We’ve been really busy focusing on the business side of things. However, I want to address some complaints from a few loud people. A small number of community members have been making noise complaining for a while now, and you know what? It really sucks. But I don’t want to let a few people keep me away from the community that I’ve been a part of for so long.

So I’m going to address the criticisms here in hope that it explains where Vanilla is at, where it’s going, and who we are. This is an amazing community made up of really smart and interesting people with many different and valuable viewpoints, and we love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Transparency is something that is part of Vanilla’s DNA, and I want to look forward to participating in the discussions and sharing the reasons for our decisions. I’d love to hear from you even if you don’t agree with me, but only if the conversations are constructive—or at the very least cordial. I just don’t have the time, and honestly, I don’t really care to hear from anyone who thinks they’ve earned the right to insult my co-workers/teammates and me, just because they’ve been here a while and have a different opinion.

So I’m just going to brain dump some fundamentals about Vanilla and then say what I want from the community.

Vanilla Produces Open Source Software (OSS)

Vanilla is open source software (oss) licensed under the GPLv2. Being oss means a whole lot more than being free. It’s fine if someone doesn't know all of the history and implications of oss, but it’s worth it to get familiar with the basics of its philosophy. There are a lot of different types and takes on oss. We get it. We think about it a lot. We actually speak to a lot of other companies and we know a lot about how we compare to other oss projects.

One thing that you need to understand about the GPL though is this: Once something is GPL it will always be open source. Vanilla can't legally close source what we've already released under GPLv2. Don't
worry about us doing so. And please don’t accuse us of doing so.

Vanilla Makes Money by Hosting our Software and Customizing our Software

We have a hosting company at vanillaforums.com that provides hosting to people and businesses using our forum software. We also provide services to customize our hosted software to those businesses.

There are lots of other ways of making money, but this is how we do it. Some members of this community want us to make money a different way, and some get angry that we are doing it our way. Some
people get angry that we make any money at all.

Again, we have thought a lot about other ways of making money. All startups think a lot about how to make money. We've even tried making money in other ways. It seems to me though that a lot of people that want us to fundamentally change our business plan think that a) we've never thought of it before, and b) it's trivially easy to do so. Neither are true.

Vanilla Does Not Open Source All of its Software

Vanilla produces closed source code alongside open source code. We have a very sophisticated hosting infrastructure that is closed source. Vanilla makes some add-ons that are closed source. Vanilla develops customised middleware for customers that is closed source. There are several reasons why we do this and we've talked about them many times before on this forum. I understand how some people can find
this controversial, but it's not going to change.

The number of companies that are 100% open source is almost zero. The difference is, we are maybe too honest and transparent about it, so we draw a target on ourselves for some open source purists. We believe in open source and doing everything we can to not abandon it, but we need people to cut us some slack and let us also earn a living.

Vanilla is a Small Business

Vanilla is not a giant faceless corporation. We are a small business. This means several things, but first and foremost it means that Vanilla is run by human beings just like you. We have feelings. And sometimes we speak with imperfect human emotion. We also make mistakes. We don't have a PR department.

Right now Vanilla is small enough that I should be able to talk like a human being. I really want to do this. Remember, I am a developer, not a social media professional. Please afford us the leeway of our imperfection in the same way that you expect us to afford you leeway with what you say.

Vanilla is Growing

Vanilla has started growing faster and faster over the past year. This is fantastic news. There is a “but” though. This is fantastic news, but our rate of growth means that we are incredibly busy and stretched thin right now while we look for talent to join our team. This means that we can't devote as much time as we’d like to the community right now, so we want the time we do spend with the community to be more productive.

But mostly this means that our future is incredibly bright: both for our business and open source. There is so much we have in store for Vanilla and we want you to be there with us.

What do I want from the Community?

Fundamentally, I want to be able to participate in this forum, make comments, respond to questions, or just drop by and be available to the awesome members of this community without it devolving into an endless argument.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with what I say or not respond to it, as long as it’s civil. We value and respect the members of this community, and their fierce devotion to open source. We ask for the same in return.

So please:

  • Don't engage in an endless debate with us. I promise, we think about these things just as much if not more than anyone.
  • Please don't needle us with mentions after we've said our piece. Don't restart discussions on stuff you know we've talked about before.
  • Please remember that we believe we have good reasons for doing what we do. Try and understand that we think about Vanilla all the time.
  • Don't speculate on what we may or may not be thinking or planning. Don't put words in our mouths. Especially don't voice speculation in this community in a way that could confuse other people.

Please also remember that we’re trying here, but sometimes we can’t answer your every question or address your every concern. Sometimes for different reasons, but the main one usually being we just don’t have the time.

This is a Starting Point

I've recently come to realize that I’ve just got to start talking about Vanilla more. Some of that
discussion will take place on vanillaforums.com and some of it will take place here. What I really want from the community is a mutual understanding that we can base that discussion on. This is our starting point.

lifeisfoohgtonightperegrinevrijvlinderUnderDogelwizard50sQuiffShadowdarebusinessdadAdrianphreakEdelAliKswiftLarkSrggamerwrmichaelkezmeercatlixValkarenrcomputercurtisMohamedH
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Comments

  • R_JR_J Cheerleader & Troubleshooter Munich Moderator

    I want to give you a short feedback of how I, a newby, see Vanilla and why I am here.

    I'm looking at forum software, social networking scripts, and the like for 7 or 8 years now. Not always very deeply but I have a dreamed of creating a community and so I was looking for a framework that could help me build a community centered around a forum.
    And that's the crucial point: Vanilla has a real framework and this has been designed for a forum. That's why Vanilla is the best forum software I can think of. I have written plugins for MyBB but they were so bad, I had to keep them for myself.
    But for Vanilla, it didn't take long and I could create a module and even a plugin in nearly no time! There are some things that I do not understand by now, but extending vanilla seems to be more intuitive than in any other framework or dedicated software that I've looked by now.

    So I'm really happy with what you did, because I love to have this framework. You did a real good job with it.
    As long as you share your work on the core with everybody, you'll never see me even thinking of complaining!

    Well, in fact that's not completely true: I could imagine to complain about documetation and if you tell me that you have docs that I can not see, I'll whimper and whine like a young dog who begs to get the steak you're about to eat... ;-)

    hgtonightLinc
  • ToddTodd Chief Product Officer Vanilla Staff

    Thank you for your kind words @R_J. Documentation is certainly a weak spot that we acknowledge and will be working to remedy. We've talked a lot about this recently internally.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    @Todd

    I'm pretty sure you'll find the vast majority of regular (and probably occasional) users on here are incredibly grateful for the work the Vanilla team do.

    I know you know this, but it is still worth saying:

    Don't let the few colour your perception of the majority.

    I run a relatively small forum, and still occasionally feel like saying 'stuff it' and closing it down when I get what I feel is ungrateful flack, so I can only imagine how much it must grate on you after all the efforts you and the Vanilla team put in.

    hgtonightEdelAli
  • peregrineperegrine MVP
    edited June 2013

    @whu606 said:

    Todd

    I'm pretty sure you'll find the vast majority of regular (and probably occasional) users on here are incredibly grateful for the work the Vanilla team do.

    I am GRATEFUL too. I don't use a forum. but the "core software and add-ons and themes" is an incredible tool to sharpen your skills and learn coding techniques.

    I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.

    hgtonightvrijvlinderAdrian
  • TamaTama United Kingdom ✭✭✭

    Having previously worked with communities powered by the major paid platforms ( Xenforo, vBulletin etc...).The choice of vanilla by the lead community manager for my current project was surprising and I admit I was apprehensive at first, due to the differences in features within the core of vanilla compared to Xenforo for example.

    Boy was I in for a surprise, the community here is great and the level of support is unlike any other forum software I've seen and the best thing is support is public and community contributed, allowing you to grow your knowledge of vanilla.

    Customizing vanilla was fun and simple, unlike other board platforms; for someone who only has a years worth of experience with php ( front end can get boring ). It was a great framework to work within and has helped me improve my coding standards and skills greatly.

    No matter the differences between the .com and the open source vanilla, great people within this community have provided or are willing to create plugins that show off the incredible possibilities of garden ( and by extension vanilla ).

    hgtonightvrijvlinderLinc
  • Posts like this are great for my motivation, since im just starting out

  • 50sQuiff50sQuiff ✭✭
    edited June 2013

    Todd, I think the OS version you provide is a great framework on which anyone can build and realise their ambitions. It also gives the casual forum operator a simple and intuitive platform to create their community.

    I wish you and your colleagues all the best with your business. I appreciate how you have to combine commercial pragmatism with open-source idealism and you do a great job with this balancing act.

    vrijvlinder
  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    Yes I agree, also with Tama about this community support is better than any other forum, I tried the others and soon found out I was on my own. But when I started with vanilla this community was ever so helpful that I would not want to go with anything else. I was not sure if I had the knowhow or intelligence to learn this, but to my surprise some how I did and I am sure it is due to the way this was built. It allows for anyone to quickly become familiar with the coding and start creating themes and plugins .

    I am very grateful to Vanilla and the team and the community who took me in even as total newb without any knowledge of php . Everyone has been very supportive and I can't thank you enough .

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you Vanilla !!!

    UnderDogAdrianEdelAlidavematson
  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    I don't I can add much more to what other people mentioned. Vanilla, in both its software and company form, has its flaws, but also many points of strength which, in my opinion, make it one of the best forum frameworks on the market today.

    Perhaps, since you are so busy, I should drop my CV to you if I ever happen to find myself in Montreal. :)

    hgtonightUnderDog
  • LincLinc Director of Development Detroit Vanilla Staff

    @lifeisfoo 2.0.17.8 is still here from 2 years ago: http://lincolnwebs.com/vanilla2doc/ I used to drop that link a lot and no one seemed to find it helpful so I stopped generating it for future releases.

    UnderDog
  • lifeisfoolifeisfoo Zombie plugins finder ✭✭✭

    @Lincoln thank you. I hope that in future this link will be more used. Vanilla user (developers) base has grown a lot...

    Need a custom plugin? Contact me via vanilla private messages | Explore my GitHub repository | See my latest vanilla plugins

  • You guys are doing great!

  • subdreamersubdreamer San Jose, CA

    Thank you so much for all the hard work you have put in this amazing software, Vanilla team! :)

  • AprecheApreche
    edited August 2013

    Dear Vanilla Team,

    Sorry in advance for the wall of text.

    We have been using Vanilla as the primary platform for our community since 2005. In all those years, we have yet to find even one decent free alternative. IMHO even the other paid alternatives are not as good. Vanilla is simply the best web forum software ever.

    I am personally very happy to see Vanilla succeed. The people who work hard to make this great software should be rewarded for their efforts. It is great that Vanilla is getting more commercial business. It means that more of the other communities I visit, besides my own, are using Vanilla, making the web as a whole a more pleasant experience. Every time a PHPBB of VBulletin is replaced with a Vanilla an angel gets his wings. I only wish Vanilla even more success.

    That being said, things are starting to get rough for us free users. As someone who has run the open source Vanilla on my own server for so long, the lack of support for the community edition is starting to cause serious problems. I actually wouldn't mind even migrating to the commercial Vanilla hosting, but it is simply too expensive. Our community, although relatively small, has very high activity. We would definitely have to get at least the Advanced pricing plan at $150 a month. I have money, but not that much money. Right now our Vanilla forum costs me merely $20 a month for the Linode it is hosted on.

    There are two major problems that are plaguing our forum, the first of which is search. Our community members desperately need to be able to search for old posts. Without that ability, all 8+ years of old posts may as well be deleted. The search in the 2.0.18.8 is awful. Resorting to Google search is better, but not perfect. The lack of decent search has a significant negative effect on the community losing access to its heritage. It's as if we have a collective Alzheimer's disease since it is so difficult to access our memories efficiently.

    I noticed on the Github issue that you have solved your search problem with Sphinx and some proprietary plugins. I use Sphinx at my own job, and that is great. I also understand the need for you to make some of your code proprietary, but for these particular plugins it is very sad, as decent search is essential to our community for the reasons noted above.

    The other major problem is registration spam. We don't have a high volume of new users registering for the forum. To keep out spam, we do manual registration approvals. This has proved very successful over the years. However, for over a year now we have been plagued with bots hitting the registration form. This causes a lot of work for me having to manually disapprove these bots applications multiple times per day. A few times I have accidentally disapproved valid applicants, causing them anguish. A few times we even approved spam bots, which also caused issues. The high bounce rate of sending e-mails to all the non-existent addresses of these bots also makes Amazon SES upset with us. Oh, and yes, I am using the botstop plug-in. It really doesn't work anymore.

    There are some other smaller issues, but they are really quite meaningless in the face of these larger ones. Most of them simply have to do with the old Vanilla becoming outdated as web technology advances. But these smaller issues will become big ones in the future, such as lack of improvements to the mobile UI.

    What's most distressing is that the only forum that really satisfies our needs is the non-free Vanilla. Perhaps that shows its high price is justified. But as a smaller non-commercial community are we destined to suffer with inferior software?

    What way forward is there for us? Vanilla itself has other concerns besides our tiny community. But what should we do? Should we checkout the newer Vanilla code from Github and deal with the hassle of running alpha/beta code? Should we ruin everything by migrating to a worse platform (and undoubtedly losing data in the process)? I am a programmer, but I certainly don't have time to write a new forum or even to duplicate the proprietary work of the Vanilla Team on my own. We can't let our amazing community die simply because of technological issues, but we don't have that much time left before our current platform of Vanilla 2.0.18.8 is completely untenable.

    And that's the way things are.

    -Scott

    ToddUnderDog
  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP
    edited August 2013

    Well, I understand your complaints, however there are newer plugins available to deal with spam , not just the botstop now you can track and ban ip addresses and such . Spam is not something that only happens in this software forums. It happens in blogs and any form they can fill. And determined people.

    The new version for Vanilla will be coming out soon it is over 78% finished . It will have many improved functions and modernizations .

    But as a smaller non-commercial community are we destined to suffer with inferior software?

    The software is not inferior and people are not suffering lol , on the other hand it is superior to any free software for the same purpose. That is why people are shifting in droves to use it. Anything else is old and stale and has reached it's peak all they have left is to copy this software.

    We are grateful we even have this option. At least I am. I certainly could not write it for myself , however the framework allows for growing your own plugins and themes and add what you need. It's flexibility is it's greatest strength .

    It is really up to those who embrace this open source version to take it as far as they can . Not up to the community which are made up of volunteers and users like you to provide forced support. This is a community to help each other. It is a great community of very clever and intelligent and capable coders and designers who chose to help out those in distress. Or to give tips . Everyone gets what they came in for in the end.

    R_J
  • @vrijvlinder

    I went and found that newer plugin for dealing with spam. Works great so far! One problem solved. Thanks for that.

    As for inferior software, I was referring to every other non-Vanilla web forum.

    vrijvlinder
  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP
    edited August 2013
  • vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    yes, that is because Vanilla is so cool it's hot !!

    UnderDog
  • @Todd thanks for the reply. The fact that you replied at all is awesome.

    Sadly, Akismet won't help with our spam issues, otherwise I would be all set. We don't have actual spam comments. We have spam registrations which we then have to sift through manually, as the forum is in manual approval mode. Akismet is only designed to handle comments. Today it was so bad I just decided to make our forum invitation only where I am the only one who has invites. Sadly, Vanilla still displays a link to the application form, but it results in a server error if it is clicked on.

    As for sphinx, I don't quite understand the issue. Yes, obviously you only want to provide support for the plugin you write, and not for Sphinx itself. But in the open source version there is no support other than the community. Are you worried about paying customers trying to use the open source sphinx plugin and failing? I thought all the paying customers are hosted on your servers to begin with, so why would they need help setting up Sphinx?

    Anyway, I know how to setup Sphinx, so if you want to just give me the plugin, I promise I won't share it with anyone ;)

    Looking forward to the day when these worries are behind us.

  • UnderDogUnderDog Moderator

    @Apreche said:
    We have spam registrations which we then have to sift through manually, as the forum is in manual approval mode.

    Uuuhm... I don't know which mode Vanilla is in, but the registrations from real spam users are caught by Akismet.
    They're really obvious though, so maybe I'm too optimistic.

    You can start a topic in the discussions list, so we can all help you think of solutions for the spammer problems and the Sphinx problems.

    Anyway, I know how to setup Sphinx, so if you want to just give me the plugin, I promise I won't share it with anyone ;)

    Oh, good... Can you make a Wiki page for it? Here are the Sphinx plugins:

    http://vanillaforums.org/addon/sphinxsearch-plugin and
    http://vanillaforums.org/addon/sphinxsearchlite-plugin

  • lifeisfoolifeisfoo Zombie plugins finder ✭✭✭

    @Apreche Isn't captcha registration working?

    Need a custom plugin? Contact me via vanilla private messages | Explore my GitHub repository | See my latest vanilla plugins

  • @Apreche, I think StopForumSpam, BotStop (changing your question regularly) and Approval registration really should handle the majority of your spammers.

    In regards to your more general point, you want a superior service and user experience but you don't have something of equal value (money, in this case) to exchange for it. I'm not criticising you. That expectation has become the norm.

    Internet culture as a whole is going to have to address this one day. If you truly have a big community, then just 150 people paying $1 a month will cover your bills at Vanilla, Inc. When the price of a coffee is $5, this is a laughably small amount of money. What is an internet service truly worth? What is editorial or community content worth? At the moment, site operators and their end-users seem to value both sides of the equation at approximately... $0.

    hgtonight
  • businessdadbusinessdad Stealth contributor MVP

    @50sQuiff said:
    What is an internet service truly worth? What is editorial or community content worth? At the moment, site operators and their end-users seem to value both sides of the equation at approximately... $0.

    The sadness of these words is incredible, especially because, often, they represent the truth.

    hgtonightUnderDog
  • LincLinc Director of Development Detroit Vanilla Staff

    @Apreche We changed Akistmet a few months back to also process applicant "Reason for joining" a while back and it's worked pretty well.

    hgtonightUnderDog
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