vBulletin review for 2013

By on September 14, 2013


I’ve been using vBulletin since its first public release and at one point, I admit I jumped ship once thinking that maybe the grass on the other side of the fence would be greener. You may say that I’ve had a love and hate relationship with vBulletin. Sometimes I’ve switched back and other times ran for the hills.

I’ve been using forums since forever. I remember when most people called them bulletin boards. Some people will argue those are two completely different things, but to me they’ve always seem generally the same in concept. And I’d rather not debate that.

I’ve had the honour and privilege of using v1 of every current major forum development from free to paid (that I’m aware of).

Which in its self doesn’t really say much, except that I believe I have a good understanding of what I want & need, with a wide range of history to compare it all against. And like with any review, these comments are based upon my own personal opinion, but also not to forget my own personal experience thus far. Take it as you will.

While the above is true, I typically try my best to write any review from a “noobs” point of view for easy reading… ie… Someone who isn’t technically aware and is completely new to forum communities.

The general goal is not to only go into detail with my own opinion and experience, but a small sampling from trusted individuals who really are not “geek smart”.

I find reviews are often used as informational sources people use before adapting a product or service. And while I could get very technical and describe things in complete detail; I’m fairly confident that there are already such reviews & also such review can be a little intimidating.

And finally, when reviewing community software, I believe the community surrounding the software is just as important as the software its self. Simply because support and development extends beyond just the core developers and support / employees. So my review will also include a breakdown of the community as well.

The Software Review
vBulletin Software Pros:
  • Secure

Between August 2012 – August 2013, 1 year, current with this review; vBulletin has had only 2 security announcement / patch (link 1, link 2).

Making vBulletin fairly secure with a minor manger of error.

In that time for comparison XenForo has had zero and IP. Board has had a total of 7 security announcements / patches – 1 (link), 2 (link), 3 (link), 4 (link), 5 (link), 6 (link), 7 (link)

  • Customized able / flexibility

Overall vBulletin is easy to customize the style, layout, and raw editing of the file codes to suite your own personal needs.

  • Easy to adapt & learn

Your users (members) will have little to no difficulty figuring out how to navigate and generally use all the feature and options provided to them. The general interface is fairly straight forward. From an administrative point of view its also very straight forward & finding setting usually are where you would expect them to be.

  • Easy to install 3rd party add-ons.

vBulletin makes it fairly easy to install 3rd party products. It’s usually as simple as uploading a single XML file or uploading some php files manually.

  • Resources

Overall I found vBulletin (v 3) to use very few resources and their newest update working with php 5.4 / 5.5 to continue that trend.

vBulletin Software Cons ( oh noes ! )
Where there needs improvement:
  • Resources

Overall I found that vBulletin (v4, v5) was heavy on resources and need a lot of optimization or more “heavy server” and is not idea for shared hosting or small VPS hosting.

  • Unstable

The level (amount) of open, confirmed, and non-resolved bug reports is beyond reason and as a matter of an opinion is insane. I know of no current forum development with this many known open bugs for the extent of time they remain open with no resolve.

  • Slow

Not everyone in the world has a fast broadband connections. Believe it or not, there is still a vast majority, world-wide who are surprisingly not using T1, T3, High Speed DSL, Cable, Fiber, or any other high speed connection to connect to The Internet. There are indeed people who still have a dial-up Internet connection or if they’re lucky, maybe lower end DSL.

So when I say slow, I mean even using optimum services to host vBulletin, I found vBulletin to be slower loading and not optimum for low bandwidth connections.

The Developer Review

Developer Pros:

  • Active

vBulletin’s developers seem to be very active in their progression & progress between releases.

  • Compatibility

Release are commonly released in such away as to prevent incompatibility from previous releases. This meaning that fewer add-ons, styles, or personal customizations require updating… ie… Things done in the next version usually don’t break things.

  • Communication

There are 5 kinds of developments in regards to communication. Those who talk only to promote themselves, those who only talk to make announcements, those who interact with their community in regular conversation, those who only address support, and finally those who say nothing at all.

vBulletin Development would be an overall mix between promotion, announcement, and regular “chit chat”.

  • Support

The developing staff actively involves themselves with addressing support issues both via ticket support.

The Developer Cons ( oh noes ! )

Where there needs improvement:
  • Indifferent

While the old saying is true, everyone’s a critic. Sometimes you should accept alternative which you, yourself disagree with. It’s called compromising. When you have paying customers, you sometimes do have to do so.

There have been a few concepts which have been suggested repeatedly the last 3 years. And while the development may not have those in mind, clearly everyone else does.

** It is worth noting that this is not exclusive only to vBulletin. Generally it seems more paid productions are having a growing trend of stamping their foot down generally assuming that ignoring or dismissing something will make it go away. History shows this is not the case though.

  • Communication

There are 5 kinds of developments in regards to communication. Those who talk only to promote themselves, those who only talk to make announcements, those who interact with their community in regular conversation, those who only address support, and finally those who say nothing at all.

vBulletin Development would be an overall mix between promotion, announcement, and regular “chit chat”.

* The problem about development involving its self into regular “chit chat” on a regular basis is they also get involved or side tract into the usual forum drama as well.

  • Support

The Development does not seem to address support questions on their forums, leaving many questions unanswered.

Final Software Conclusion: C

No production is perfect, although its always nice to both strive for that achievement & in part expect it. The moment either side doesn’t the productions growth and development fails because there are no expectations.

vBulletin has its ups and its downs. There is clearly room for improvement and lots of it.

They can clearly start by patching and resolving the wide range of open bugs they are and not just continuously push it to the backlog in hopes that people will either forget or the product becomes discontinued to make room for another product.

And it really could use a shot in the arm when it comes to speed and resources. Yet despite all those bugs vBulletin as a whole has overall remained overall secure and customizable.

The Support Review
Support Pros:
  • Forum support

vBulletin offers / advertises free support forum to their customers.

Support Cons:

  • Does not address the official support forum

While they do advertise support forum support and there is technically a support forum, questions seem to go unanswered. Inquires regarding this suggest they want you to subscribe to support for $49 a month (or $199 a year) for support.

  • Support appears to be paid only

While they do technically offer a support forum. Supports goes unanswered and you are reminded they offer paid support for $49 a month or $199 a year, in addition to the cost of vBulletin.

  • Productive Ticket Support

The official support staff does not actively engages & involves themselves in reaching a solution in a friendly and timely manner.

  • No Script

The official support staff does seem to defer to a pre-approved & pre-written script and actually provides these replies as answers. There have been times when I would get a reply that had nothing to do with my ticket problem. And has someone “read it” they would have known this.

  • On hand support

The official support staff is unwilling to actually willing to look into the matter & not just give you hits or suggestions.

  • Support virtually non-active on forum support

The official support staff is overall non-responsive on the community support forum. There are threads in there with zero replies.

So while it is technically advertised as included, the technically in my opinion is that its there is a support forum, but I question the use of it.

  • Costly support (no extra cost)

vBulletin does not seem to take their “free included support” very seriously.

They do however seem eager to recommend their $49 a month and $199 plan support upon even the simplest of questions.

  • Community involvement

The community at large (fellow customers) are divided between ignoring the pleas for help from others or contacting your to arrange some sort of payment for answers & solutions.

Final Support Conclusion: F

I can not stress enough how vBulletin does not appear to want or care to support customers who use their support forums. From my personal opinion and experience, I felt almost a scene of false advertisement and was met with repeated hints or replies telling me I should buy into an extra cost for support.

Upon “giving in” the paid support seemed from my prospective to be equal to that which I would expect from customer service in India, reading off of scripts.

The 3rd Party Development Review

The 3rd Party Development Pros:

  • Active
There is an active group of developers showing an interest in making 3rd party products for vBulletin.
  • Support
There is an active level of support from the authors who release 3rd party products
  • Communication
The majority of 3rd party developers make an effort to communicate with individuals politely and professionally
  • Balance Release Ratio
There is a respected balance between the free to paid ratio releases. This implies that the ratio of free vs paid products is about equal
  • Balance Quality Release Ratio
There is a respected balance between the quality of free and paid ratio releases. This implies that the ratio of free quality products equal to the ratio of paid quality products
  • 3rd party developers use vBulletin
Its important that developers not just develop 3rd party products for vBulletin, but they themselves have a self interest in using vBulletin for their own personal use.
The 3rd Party Developer Cons ( oh noes ! )
Where there needs improvement:
  • Deleted Projects
These are projects which may have been functional and the developer elected to remove them for whatever reason. This leave no opportunity for others to enjoy the product or the community to help one another resolve issues that may turn up. It also makes it hard for people who may already be using the project, from re-downloading it for whatever reason.Even if the developer simply wishes to no longer support it, its overall better to say so and not just delete it.
  • abandonment
There seems to be a growing list of abandoned released projects. For this review, arguably abandoned projects are projects which no longer function as designed and no support or updated are forth coming from either the original developer or community at large.
  • “Putting a flag in ground that many people already live on.
I’ve seen this happen to a few developers here (other than myself).
Someone will cry that someone else is using a spacing of 12px and the person will demand they switch it to 11px, because they’re already using 12px. Or someone will use the color 00001 and someone will demand they change it to 00002, because they’re already using 00001.
These are concept idea’s that no one owns.
Not me, not you, not anyone.
I’ve seen someone here try to claim “open source code” from Ubuntu Linux as their own. And I’ve seen people here try to claim Vbulletin Code, which belongs only to vBulletin as their own. http://www.theadminzone.com/forums/i…s/confused.gif
Neither of which are none exclusive among vBulletin customers with the use of vBulletin. Odds are high (guaranteed) that every style or add-on you use has some in it.
But this poor mentality has the potential to limit and restrict further development from outside sources (3rd party product developers).
  • New Development
There are does not seem to be many new developers publishing releases. Rather a repeat of the same individuals, which while is good, it does make for a dependence solely on those developers and could put a strain (stress) of demand on the current developers who are there.

Final 3rd Party Developer Conclusion: B

No production is perfect, although its always nice to both strive for that achievement & in part expect it. The moment either side doesn’t the productions growth and development fails because there are no expectations.

vBulletin like with any production environment is like a sandbox and we all play in that sandbox. We should be adult enough to share the sand and most of the time we are, but that isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvement.

The Community Review
The Staff Review

The Staff Pros:

  • Living
Ironically, I do recall a bot being used on a forum before. It responded to automated replies. So no, that expectation is not as crazy as it sounds.
  • Active
The staff is generally active in that they are viewable and responsive to comments.
  • Good sense of humor
Its important that the staff not always be to serious all the time.
  • Clear in communication
Its important for the staff to be clear and easy to understand (not be descriptive or drop hints)
  • Aware of spam
Being pro-active in this department is always a plus.
The Staff Cons ( oh noes ! )
Where there needs improvement:
  • Gives warning
Just dropping the authority out of the blue without explanations isn’t productive or fair. Of course the exceptions being example like obvious spam.

Speaking from my experience and the observation of others, vBulletin has recently taken a negative approach & seems swift to enact judgement without warning, stating that the judgement is the warning. Mostly in the form of censorship toward valid opinions and concerns that they unacceptable & that seems to be any negative review.

  • Provides Support
It is important that the staff do not just administrate the forum, but also address support questions on the forum. The official support forum seems overall ignored.

  • Favoritism
People are human and ergo so is the staff (obviously). Though rare, there have been a few actions taken where some individuals were given more breathing room than others
  • Double Standard
Though rarely applied, there are some moments when the rules only apply in select situations or with select individuals.
  • Political Judgement
Though rarely applied, there are moments where the staff acted upon not what was right -vs- wrong, but rather what people wanted to see happen (either by majority or vocal minority)
** It is important to not the these are not exclude to vBulletin and affect even the best of communities. To error is human and we’re all human.
Final Staff Conclusion: C

We’re all human and no matter how hard we try, we’re not perfect. And while it’s nice to reach for perfection, it is not realistic to expect it in our fellow beings. The important part is that we try our best and that it shows we’re making an effort.

For any staff it’s also important to show they care. These individuals must have an active, positive interest in the community they’re a part of. But they also must be helpful and reachable.

vBulletin could use improvement for support and allowing their customers to give feedback in their own words. They would also do good in not involving themselves in the site drama.


The Community Review
The User Base

This part of the review is usually the hardest, because you’re basically reviewing everyone as a whole. And we’re not all cookie cutter examples of one another. So grouping everyone is never easy.

But its still important to address because the “vibe” of that community which surrounds a development such as, vBulletin, can also drive people toward it or running screaming away into the hills.

The community after all are the people others will encounter when the staff and support is away from normal business hours. So completely ignoring the community when reviewing any forum development seems illogical.

A review can be very informative in that most communities are often misjudged by the vocal minority, who are mistaken for the vast majority. A review when done with an open mind, can attempt to close that misconception gap.

The Community Pros:

  • Informative

Knowledge is free and it belongs to the people. This is a concept not lost here on vBulletin’s Community. There are tips, tricks, and general information throughout the community and not just surrounding vBulletin its self, but on a wide range of topics.

  • Newbie Friendly

vBulletin’s community at large is overall friendly to newbies (new members)

  • Community Friendly

vBulletin’s community at large is overall friendly to other members (after newbie status).

This is important because on many software developing sites, people are quick to put on a smile to a new face, but later that smile turns out not to be so friendly.

vBulletins community overall remains friendly to one another.

  • Active

The community on vBulletin is fairly active. There is a new thread, replied post, like, or comment made throughout a full 24 hour period, leaving no hour without some actively from members other than just browsing (lurking).

  • Communication

The member overall make a “best effort” to understand one another.

  • Feedback

Community members voluntarily offer and submit feedback to one another.

Where there needs improvement:
  • Supportive

II can not stress enough on how little attention the support forums seem to get on vBulletin’s official support forum. Usually I would expect a community to “make up” for any lacking from official support.

I can not say there is no support from fellow members. But I will say that it seems they’re “overrun” in that there is more people needing support then there are those who freely give it.

Maybe this is in part why things do go unanswered.

  • Undertone of disrespect (community policing needed)

Sometimes you’ll get a group of individuals who are able to be disrespectful or generally negative, but do it just enough within the rules, that nothing is done about it. This is not uncommon for most communities,

XvBulletin does have such a small group of individuals (very small minority). The community would be better off either ignoring these people or policing them as the need comes up.

Final Community Conclusion: B

No community is perfect and without flaws. But its always good to strive for perfection. The majority of vBulletin’s community is friendly and helpful to one another.

Final Conclusion: C

At this time, vBulletin could use some improvements, most notably in support and open bugs. They should also use a shot in the arm regarding resources and speed.

vBulletin has a long history of having its ups and its downs. I can not completely rule out vBulletin, but until it gets its act together, I can’t totally support it either.

Which is to say that its not all that bad, but it really could do better. And I long for the old days when vBulletin reached higher standards.

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