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Brainstorming on the sense of a OS powered community forum

R_JR_J Ex-FanboyMunich Admin

All that talking about self-building Vanilla from the sources, the lack of "official" support and some personal annoyances made me think about better alternatives.

But at first: which annoyances are there from my side?

  1. I hate searching for the correct config debug setting if people ask about "Whoops" errors
  2. I hate telling people which of the features in this forum are not available to them
  3. I hate telling people that I don't see any claims for official support ;-)
  4. I hate seeing releases made only annually
  5. I hate having outdated addons available although there are newer versions on GitHub
  6. I hate the addons sections layout
  7. I hate seeing an Activity log full of spammer
  8. I hate seeing a meaningless "Best of" page
  9. I absolutely hate the bitchy "Rich" Editor!

Do I see better alternatives? Yes, for each and every single point in my list. Some of them would be quick wins, some of them would require much more work.

  1. Auto Answering (quick win)

Do you know about that great bot plugin from Linc? Let's see if it still works: ^5 @Vorgo

Why not make him listen for "Whoops"? "@Vorgo Whoops" should cause the bot to give a detailed explanation and what the best next steps are

2. False promises (quick win)

Showing people features that aren't available might be a way to acquire new customers, but most of the time it simply is disappointing for curious people. Features not available to the open source version shouldn't be available.

3. Big one, I skip it for now and make it the last point

4. Community releases (quick win)

Anyone can create a "release"! I did it today by running the build script. I made a test install, found one thing to fix, but after that I could have uploaded it so that even the people who do not feel like they would be able to run the build process can profit from my work. All that is needed is some work from somebody who has time, ability and credibility

5. & 6. Addon section rework (major change)

The addons section gets no love and I think that's for a reason. From my point of view it needs a complete reboot. Strict rules for all new plugins enforcing standards and most important: no uploads. Only links to GitHub repos from which all info about current version, last update time and so on will dynamically be fetched and certainly you will find a download link there. I love how it looks at ProcessWire.

I would even go one step further and only allow the plugin repos README.md as description.

But that alone would fill a discussion. I just wanted to share my vision

7. Profile Spammers (might be easy, not sure)

Two of the profile fields here allow links. That's rubbish, but even if I allow links, I would vote for a short profile for new users. Only allow normal profiles for users with somehow defined "reputation". Yes I know this is very vague, but my preferred solution would require a new plugin which allows a community to build up a "trusted" user base.

By the way: the biggest Activity log "spammer" is the minion which is somewhat awkward and has no benefit at all.

8. "Best of..." (quick win)

As of know the best post here consists of four letters "Done". As long as there is no flood of posts where it is hard to make out the good posts, that feature is useless. Just switch it off.

9. Bitchy, glitchy "Rich" Editor (quick win)

It has been too early. That thing is not production reads. Please release us. Replace it with Advanced Editor.

And now the last one which is the main reason for starting this discussion

3. "Official" Support Forum

This is the official support forum run and owned by Vanilla Inc., run on their official domain - but it is only for the open source version. I understand why everybody expects support by the official developers here. But that only leads to disappointment. Disappointment also comes from people who see this forum and get something different when they install their own forum.

Personally I don't see a benefit of the OS support forum being hosted by Vanilla Inc.

It just came to my mind that it would make much more sense to run a open source Vanilla forum for the OS support.

People would really see what they get, because their should be a discussion telling which plugins the page is using.

We as a community could influence in more detail how our community would work (e.g. there are some of you amongst us which I would have already given moderator rights)

I would get rid of bitchy "Rich" Editor 😎

The downsides are, that it would cost money and time. Time for setting it up, time for keeping the forum up to date, time for testing the most current master branch, time to implement a better addon section. And last but not least: I think it might be against the will of Vanilla Inc. which I could understand in some terms.

Some of my points from above could be done without creating a second inofficial official support forum. It would be sad to loose reactions, though. Keeping them and creating a "@Vorgo YAGA" might be a good compromise.

Maybe this just came out of frustration: I never imagined I would ever experience "lockdown" and "curfew" in my own country and I have the impression, it has a bad influence on my temper.

But anyway: I took the time to write my frustration down and I am eager to read your opinions on that - the more the better!


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    phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP
    edited January 2021

    @R_J: I guess we all feel the pain. And there have been refreshed conversations on this topic on other channels already. I put you in the loop in a PM.

    Everyone interested feel free to contact me. :)

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
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    R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    Why not doing this in public? Talking about what could and should be better is something that anybody could add benefit to and get benefit from, is my opinion. So no, please don't do such a discussion offline. I'm still interested on getting feedback to my thoughts from above

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    phreakphreak Vanilla*APP (White Label) & Vanilla*Skins Shop MVP

    First of all. I agree to every point you made (from 1 to 9) and I am happy you brought it up. I guess that most all old Vanilians could place a checkmark behind the suggestions you made. And I look forward to every response here.

    Although my personal opinion is that this community is too devastated and depressed already. I have brought this here and there up and the discussions were not too fruitful. The community is in the diaspora.

    Also, I do not want to do this in private, everyone can join the conversation, but we should collect the people interested in participating in this and go to a place that "sparks joy". This place is already in the works and everyone is welcome to create its stake. But someone has to dig the foundation.

    • VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
    • VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
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    K17K17 Français / French Paris, France ✭✭✭
    edited January 2021

    @R_J really, thanks for your voice.

    I do agree on everything. GitHub runned addons repo would be really nice.

    One of the worst problem of the addons repo we have here: there is no way to allow new maintainers on an addon. Like, YAGA for exemple.

    We also agree on Rich Editor being a mess:

    • Terrible UI (i'm sorry but I tried to make users on one of my forums used to it but non way)
    • Terrible performance (even on a Ryzen Threadripper with 64gigs of RAM I have Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Brave, and Edge2 struggling to get this editor working, even here on open.vanillaforums.com)
    • Way too strict output (how to quote only parts of a post while still being linked to it ? Avdvanced Editor can do that with BBCode. Tables ? Possible with Markdown, even without avdvanced Editor)
    • Rich format is a mess in the database: slow performance on page rendering.
    • WTF: you have to hover text to select bold, Italic, strike and link ? Can't you just insert what you need ? But that's where mobile phones can put their "copy/paste" overlay 🤦

    Then the "OSS comunity runs on cloud". open.Vanillaforums.com is actually an ad for cloud. That's why vanillaforums.org now link to the cloud vs OS software page.

    They did activate reactions, best of, custom titles, a real polls plugin, etc because that's the only showcase where they can put "Vanilla" everywhere they want.

    Let the OS commiunity running on the OS Vanilla forum ? They would have virtually no place to show their name.

    One of the only cloud customers that shows the Vanilla logo is EA on the forums "The Sims". (And they use avdvanced editor 🤣).

    Oh but do not forget to put like 6 of the same copyright notice on the only theme/keystone/custom.css file.

    This commiunity is already dying. Flarum 1.0 is around the corner, and a lot of people already started to use it in production.

    phpBB is still the well know and first choice commiunity plateform for almost all the internet while being trash.

    Discourse get a lot of interest. While being a company they still makes ALL their software OPEN SOURCE. Oh and few Vanilla Cloud customers are now Discourse ones. (CarTalk ?).

    And there are some more sh*t happening.

    6 years here, they broke theming 3 times. 3 times.

    Almost all the addons in repo are not working anymore.

    Why can't we use SVGs as logos in the Branding section of the dashboard ?

    Why Vanilla will almost never use rewrite by default even if you select "Use Vanilla htaccess" ? On all 3.3 installs I did I had to set $Configuration['Garden']['RewriteUrls'] to true.

    Why the Vanilla Exporter and Importer do not Always understand eachother ? (phpBB is a nightmare to migrate, even stock phpBB)

    Locales had not being updated since november 2018. But still let's use transifex to auto-push updates.

    Contributions done today only serve Vanilla Cloud. Free work for real money.

    I did recommand Vanilla in the past. I'm not sure to do it anymore.

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    K17K17 Français / French Paris, France ✭✭✭
    edited January 2021

    Actually I had to write this post on 3 times because my web browser crashed while trying to load Rich Editor or saving drafts.

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    R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    Although I understand your frustration, that wasn't meant to be a place for miscrediting people we do not know.

    I would like to get this back to a "where we are" and "how can that be improved" discussion without blaming somebody.

    The current support situation is not new and I think we better just accept it as a fact without judging it. Let's gather some constructive ideas how to improve the situation! 👍

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    K17K17 Français / French Paris, France ✭✭✭
    edited January 2021

    I don't really intented to blame someone. That's just how I see the current situation.

    Frustration is real, because we are in a situation that makes no sense.

    All I said is still true and can contribute to improve the current status quo.

    That's just plain frustration. A potentially great piece of software, for sure, but today it starts more to feel like abandonware, not because it isn't maintained, but because how it is maintained.

    I really liked Vanilla compared to other solutions. But nowadays.....

    And @vanilla13, forum desertion is just a consequence of centralised social networks growth. Projects like Vanilla, Flarum etc are the solution to this. And yes, I still like Vanilla (because I would not be here to complain about the current situation). I want to contribute in the project, and I try to be constructive.

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    R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    Okay, coming back to a few of the (on topic) points:

    @vanilla13 I do not see a chance for a Vanilla redesign and that's way beyond my intention. My motivation is more to present a "vanilla" open source Vanilla version. WYSIWYG for the forum. Everything that the user sees can be recreated by plugins available to the forum users.


    • I would love to have a GitHub based addon catalogue with sort features like "recently updated" so that it would be no problem to have e.g. 5 YAGA plugins: one original and 4 forks. With a strict acceptance requirement like the plugins info key "requiredVersion" there might be even better sort option. Combined with some curated user actions like "report as working with version x.y", there could be an even better filter.
    • The problem is not that not working addons could not be over taken by other users. In theory, if the plugin author accepts a new maintainer, the owner of the plugin could be changed. And one very, very easy thing is to "Ask a Question" from a plugins page"I fixed plugin BLABLA to work with Vanilla 3.3" or whatever. Upload the fixed version to that discussion and allow the plugin author to use this version. That way people can find the updated version and the author gets informed about your support. One community problem is that things like that almost never happen.
    • SVG support, export, import - things like that are features. Yeah, new features are always nice. But I think it makes sense t concentrate on things we can achieve. That might grow in the future, some may dream of an enhanced fork, but I have the impression that our current resources are not enough for plans like that
    • Not updated locales: yes, it shouldn't be that way. But Vanilla Inc. does not do it. It's a fact. So the most constructive way to work with that is to think about solutions. I do not have a focus on translations. Can they be downloaded from somewhere? If yes, it would be great if somebody downloading the language package would upload it so that it can be found. By now the best way again would be a "Ask a question" on a language pack site. As I have said: I do not look at translations. But are there any users sharing their work with others? If not, then this is a community problem, again.

    The solution to all our problems will not be "Vanilla Inc" changes somehow. We have to deal with it. If anybody has doubts about it, read up the definition of "Open Source" and "Free Software" and try to find something like "obligation for support" in such definitons. If you find it, we should raise our claims (but please in a new discussion). But I promise you that will not even any obligation to that at all. Open source and free software is a gift.

    Some of the things mentioned above could already be better if we as a community would improve. But I know that "work" environment is a very important factor when we speak about performance. I find it hard to "perform" with all the obstacles mentioned above. That's why I personally came to the conclusion that an open source support forum driven by people who want to give support and showing what can be reached and telling how it can be build could become a more healthy and inviting community.

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    K17K17 Français / French Paris, France ✭✭✭
    edited January 2021

    Ahah of course as I said before, i don't blame someone. I just describe the situation as frustrating as it is, at least for me. We could provide our own packages for Vanilla of course, that's the power of open source software.

    For locales, I'm kinda focused on it since I need it myself. And you have to get access to the transifex Vanilla page (so you have to be a translator) to download it. And I am so I can do it. And I did. I'm just sad the "auto push" isn't working, would be easier 😅

    The only thing I don't actually like is that Vanilla Inc. fully control the OS Community, while the OS community being driven by the community itself. That's causing a gap between the os community and the actual os software. I really think there should be a community owned and driven support. (and I have actually a spare domain name that I just renewed who can fit this situation xD its mutiny-project.org 🤣)

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    R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Admin

    I love the idea to have the plugins in a git repo

    • Leaving the "where" aside for now, I would love to be able to have an API where i can get info like "last update" and the like from.
    • Not having to upload any files to my server frees me from a lot of hassles. I wouldn't need to check for malicious uploads, don't care for bandwidth etc
    • If plugins would be in a public repo, developers could easily fork them and work with them. I would love to see a huuuge amount of developers working on Vanilla plugin.
    • Vanillas source is hosted on GitHub and a lot of plugins are already hosted there, too
    • GitHub is the git SaaS with the most users.
    • I don't love GitHub. I love simplicity and efficiency. Letting people use the eco system they are used to makes sense to me
    • If Bill Gates is the child eating devil and Microsoft is the root of all evil we're screwed anyway :-/

    Not hosting the files has a different downside, though. A perfectly harmless nice little plugin could bear malicious code in the next version without anybody noticing it. But on the other hand: plugins uploaded here aren't tested either before they are released.

    "One of simple to do things is to have user friendly installer thing, like single php file that is able to check server requirements and rights, download selected version and automatically install latest plugins."

    That's not simple. And that leads back to the feature wish list. Also that database update procedure.

    "main problem is lack of enough userbase and themes or plugin developers always come after users not in reverse."

    That's true. But I think there are a lot of potential users who experience this forum and then try to duplicate a forum like this with forum OS. They browse through the addon section and they give up. If they get a) realistic impressions of the forum and b) a curated list of addons with good filter possibilites, the user base might grow. I don't expect it to explode, though. I just would expect more satisfied users. I strive for nothing more.

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    K17K17 Français / French Paris, France ✭✭✭

    Myself, I would yet prefer to leave github or other GAFAM services. But that's not actually the point. And if you insist on absolutely not want to just say github, then say gitlab. It's open source and as easy as github.

    I really think you're not right @vanilla13. Vanilla isn't dotclear. It's a full scale forum software. And for updates, we must encourage people to update as soon as they can. That is security.

    Here, as @R_J said, the problem might be the gap between software you see (Vanilla OS support forums runing off Cloud Vanilla with all features enabled) and the real software they get. Difference is not that big in the background. But in features.... Advanced search, reactions, and many more things.

    And the fact that the Open Source vanilla community is almost hidden. All fresh Vanilla Forums installations contain the credit link to https://vanillaforums.com, not https://open.vanillaforums.com, where the only way to know there's an open source version available is to scroll straight to the bottom, click on "Open Source", being redirected to /software page wich list both cloud and open source versions, and then click on Open SOurce community, where you won't find a link that say "Download". You have to know that it is located in the addons repo, or if you have luck and coming from search engines, you may end on this page: https://open.vanillaforums.com/download where you have to fill a form to get redirected to the Vanilla Core addon page.

    There is much more needed than a fancy-but-not-so-easy-to-make php single file installer.

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    Fork vanilla or start from scratch. You are not going to get through to the company or dev team here.

    ...or use Xenforo like everyone else is doing these days.

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    pitkmipitkmi scifi-meshes.com

    1. Auto Answering (quick win)

    I'm aware of some bots around here, but never did find enough info to get one up and running. Bots are neat, and something a lot of forum admins could use on their own sites, so a working example would be awesome.

    2. False promises (quick win)

    I sort of see the issue, but on the other hand a lot of the missing features are certainly doable, so it's something of a balancing act between showing what's possible out of the box and the true potential of the platform. Two very different use cases, but I suspect most visitors here are interested in what they get when they first install it. I guess it also comes down to whether this little forum is seen as support forum for OS or as a demo for the Cloud. Not sure you could have it both ways, and right now it's not particularly filling either role.

    Maybe you need 3. One to demo Vanilla Cloud, one... uh... vanilla Vanilla that shows you what get and one with all the cool toys to show you what's possible.

    4. Community releases (quick win)

    This is something that interests me a lot. I'm mostly interested in the security patches, since I run a highly customized forum and have zero use for rich editor or theming updates. I'm worried that the longer the next release takes, the bigger and more likely to break my current set up it gets.

    Also, a pet peeve: I know it might be difficult to handle otherwise, but I'd really rather if updates wouldn't unnecessarily mess with CSS when not using Keystone or Rich Editor. A couple of 3.x updates messed up my themes, which seemed uncalled for.

    5. & 6. Addon section rework (major change)

    Yeah, I only tend to visit the addon section to find links to github repos personally.

    7. Profile Spammers (might be easy, not sure)

    All text fields are susceptible to spam. I get around it by blocking new members from editing their profiles until they'be been verified as actual people. Ideally that would be automated (a few posts, and a time limit or something along those lines) but right now I'm just doing it manually. It's a pretty small forum, so manageable. Also, Akismet, Stopforumspam and Cleantalk are pretty good for checking newcomers. Also google. If the same profile popped up on a dozen forums about different topics on pretty much the same day, it's probably a spammer.

    8. "Best of..." (quick win)

    Well, Yaga has an option to just turn it off. Maybe Cloud does too. 😋

    9. Bitchy, glitchy "Rich" Editor (quick win)

    Yeah, not a fan myself. I just find it a little unintuitive. Like I can mostly figure out how to get what I want, but the options are never where I first look for some reason. Maybe years of BBCode and Markdown have ruined me and this is simply how the world works now. I dunno. 🤷‍♂️

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