Finding a successor for phpBB

Of all the open source bulletin boards phpBB is undoubtedly the most popular and successful. phpBB 2.0, the last major version, was released on April 4th, 2002. 44 months later, there have still been no major updates – just security patches. Most webmasters want free and decent bulletin board software. There are alternatives, but nothing matches the familiarity of phpBB. Additionally, no other free bulletin board has anywhere near the same amount of support or add-ons. The downside of phpBB is it’s non-existant release cycle, poor security and the lack of community participating in it’s development (the community coding projects are the closest)

The cost-benefit ratio

Cost of switching from phpBB to another bulletin board:

  • Retraining of all members
  • Zero theme compatibility; need to reskin whole board
  • Zero mod compatibility; need to find equivalent/similar mods.
  • Most other free bulletin boards are still not open source and use proprietary licensing
  • There is still no clear alternative to phpBB; when switching your board your putting a large bet on that bulletin board being developed in the future. With people creating a new bulletin board every week or so, that is a large risk to take. Once you’ve converted to a bulletin board which then fades into obscurity, there is no way to convert to anything else as no one will bother writing a converter.

Benefits of switching from phpBB to another bulletin board: 

  • New features
  • Improved security

To create a successor to phpBB, you’ve got to do more than just write a bulletin board. You’ve got to lower the cost of switching and increase the benefits.

If you’re aiming your product at someone who has never ran a bulletin board before (and this market is getting smaller as blogs get more popular) the same reasons could apply; phpBB will still be more familiar to them and will have a larger skin/modification community.

The cost of retraining can be greatly lowered by doing things as users expect. The further you deviate from the norm, the higher the cost of retraining will be. For example, you could lay out your Admin Control Panel so it vaguely resembles the layout of phpBB’s admin CP. You could ensure that your bulletin board is licensed similarly to phpBB or give it an even more liberal license such as the BSD license. You could even use the phpBB theme (it’s GPL, right?)

Perhaps developing converters from your bulletin board back to other bulletin boards will make users feel a bit more secure and willing to make that big jump. Keep the converters up to date; it really makes it a lot easier to switch to a product knowing that it’s possible to switch back later at any time without losing posts and members.

phpBB 3.0

I believe that phpBB 3.0 will be a lot more successful than any of the alternative bulletin boards simply because the cost of switching to it is lower than alternative boards.

My personal opinion is that phpBB 3.0 has too much BC-breakage, will probably be a while until it gets released and is bloated and moving in the wrong direction.

Forking phpBB 2.0 

I believe that gradual innovation and renovation may be the key; for example you could fork phpBB 2.0, run a security audit on it, add some much needed features and possibly cleanup some existing features. The vast majority of skins and modifications should still work, and retraining should be minimal. It is unlikely the database structure will change much so a converter should take almost no time to write. The existing phpBB community should find it easy to switch sides.

It’d probably also help choosing a name similar to phpBB which retains the familiarity. Perhaps phpBBoard, phpBBD (D for Developed), Open PHP BB, etc. 

If anyone know of any phpBB 2.0 forks please let me know; I actually considered creating a fork but my knowledge of the phpBB code is elusive. 

5 thoughts on “Finding a successor for phpBB

  1. "Zero theme compatibility; need to reskin whole board
    Zero mod compatibility; need to find equivalent/similar mods.

    This can be circumvented, with a little (lot) additional coding, you could build a compatibility layer in other forum software (i.e. Geneone).
    While it may seem like alot of effort, it might help the forum software in question gain a chunk of phpBB’s share.

    I believe OCbb is built upon a fork of phpBB, but don’t quote me on that.
    OCbb still seems to be actively developed though.

  2. It’s not a phpbb2 fork, but you may want to check out the alpha of wtcBB2 while we are on the topic of BBs. It’s open source, and doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere soon. (wtcBB1 was around for 1 year+ with active development and the same seems true for wtcBB2).

    Regarding phpBB3.0, when I last tried it, it was a step in the right direction, however it did give me a bloated feel, like it was just trying to pull it’s self to the level of IPB and vB by adding lots and lots of features.

  3. "I believe OCbb is built upon a fork of phpBB, but don’t quote me on that.
    OCbb still seems to be actively developed though."

    It is indeed.  

  4. I’ve looked at wtcBB before but I’ve never really tried it out properly. One of the main reasons may be because wtcBB doesn’t communicate to me why I should use it over another bulletin board. This phrase on the home page is close to meaningless:

    Well, not only is wtcBB optimized to reduce server load and increase performance, but it is jammed with useful features to allow complete control and customization over your community.

    The home page does give a good overview of the features but I do believe that any killer features are not being given enough prominence and features such as BBCode which virtually every forum supports anyway should be a footnote at most.

    I guess there is also the chicken and egg problem with popularity – until a lot of people are using it then I can’t be sure that it’ll be developed in the future and that at a later date it would be possible to switch to another forum if it becomes abandoned.

    Nothing against wtcBB, just my first impressions when I look at the product website and what is stopping me from switching. 

  5. Hello folks, I just went akross this awesome forum through google and I like the especialy this form. I really like the design and the team does its job verry good.
    I´m Andrew and I´m pleased to be here 🙂


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