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.
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.