Ok, that sounded a little ominous, but hear me out.
Looking into different forum software, since future of Vanilla Open Source is looking a little iffy at the moment.
The development of Vanilla Forums open source has slowed down considerably enough for me to look into a few other options when it comes to forum software. I threw this setup together just by going with what I
think makes a good forum and my (surprisingly lengthy) history of being part of the staff here. I figured I would actually ask you guys what you want in a forum this time around.
Now this is not something that will happen in a few weeks or anything. I need to do a whole bunch of prototyping and figuring things out. The 2019 migration was like two years in the making, but on the other hand I built this whole site myself, so I have more access and am quite a bit better at coding than I was back then, so it should be a lot quicker and might turn up a bit nicer.
For options I've been looking at Flarum
, since those look like forums I might be able to wrestle into a classical
category based forums instead of some awful mobile-first timeline type of deal. Unless a slick modern forum is what you would like to see instead? Let me know.
I've also been thinking about the markup language we use. We're currently set up for BBCode
since that's what the old vBulletin forum used, and I think it's a perfectly capable little language, but I've also been considering switching to markdown
, since that's what Discord uses and it's quite a bit quicker to work with once you get the hang of it. Recent Vanilla updates have also made it very tricky to add new tags to the forum, which was the main appeal of BBCode for me. How do you like to edit your text?
Our Vanilla is pretty damn customized so I thought I'd make a quick list of the things I've added to it:
- Custom theme (7 themes, technically)
- Gamification (badges)
- Liking posts and hooking that up to the gamification above
- App icons in profile
- Social icons in profile
- Commissions open icon
- Thread thumbnails
- Thread prefixes (3D, 2D, Animation and so on...)
- Tagging (Star Trek, Star Wars and so on...)
- A whole bunch of user data improvements like autosave options for drafts, exporting your own data and deleting your account
- Sketchfab and Marmoset embedding (kinda busted at the moment though )
- Necropost tags and warning no one seems to read
- Antispam measures
- A bunch of little quality of life things
I guess the main question is, which of these features you enjoy and which you can do without? Are there ones you particularly dislike? Are there any absolute must haves for our potential new forum?
So, three quick questions for you:
- Which forum software would you like to see us use in the future? Stick with Vanilla? Flarum? NodeBB? Discourse? Something else entirely? The goal will be a classical forum setup in any case. None of these tagged timelines nonsense, if I can help it.
- Which markup should we use (ie. how do you want to write your posts? Stick with BBCode? Markdown (like Discord)? Some fancier WYSIWYG editor?
- Which features must be included in the potential new forum? Are there any features we're missing currently?
I would say, since you're doing the work, go in the direction with software and languages that most interests you.
Definitely would not like to see a "mobile-first" forum package, though! If I want to interact with the community on mobile, that's what Discord is for. I feel like forums should be aimed at the desktop experience first, possibly with support for a mobile experience, but not as the focus. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur, but there's definitely a clear demarcation for me between "stuff that's mobile" and "stuff that's not" and forums fall squarely into the latter category.
No strong feelings about Markdown vs BBCode. Both have their strengths, though Markdown does feel like a more widely-used option these days.
Hope that's useful!
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Like, I doubt my WIP thread could last 12 years on Discord without being buried and hard to find like it would be in a chat feature. But I do get immediate responses on Discord, so both work well in tandem. Having that record here is an amazing achievement on its own!
I haven't felt the need for basic forum coding beyond embedding images and basic text formatting. Though some of the gamification badges stuff could use a bit more explanation with a mouseover or page describing what they are. I still don't know what some of the badges I have are from. For example, Level IV? What is it and why do I have it?
The notification dropdowns on the right-hand side of the screen appear mostly off of the screen so I can't read what they say. That's pretty much my only concern. Well, not concerned since I hardly use them and the notices pop up at the top of the page as well.
I'm a PC user and mobile enhancements on other pages do nothing for me except compact content into the center of my screen. Oftentimes making it difficult to see what's posted while I have plenty of real estate to the sides of my widescreen monitor.
BBcode, Forum code, basic HTML, any of it is fine for me. I really do like the click features where the forum adds it in for us, so that's a nice quality of life feature.
Really, as long as things are simple on the user end and work as they should, I'm a happy camper.
- Mike Oldfield
Doesn't need to be attached actually. It just grabs the first image tag it finds in the first post and uses that. Attached images get auto-resized for the index to save some bandwidth and page load times, but other than that attachments and hotlinking work the same.
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It's just a bit of fun and games, and a number you can increase. It may also tell a casual observer who has been around a while and who is just starting out on SFM. Basically there's a running score (think of it as reputation or XP) next to your profile. You get points mainly from people liking your posts, although there are other badges for anniversaries and post count milestones that net you a couple of points. Level IV just means you have reached over... *checks notes*... 600 points.
From what I'm reading though, the gamification maybe isn't really adding much to the user experience from an average user's point of view, so maybe that's a feature that can be dropped or at least reduced somewhat. I was going to use them as rewards for challenges, but we haven't reached the critical mass of people and interest to run any yet.
Also, technically @MadKoiFish already won Scifi-Meshes, since he hit level X a while ago.
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In terms of overall functionality/features, I would hate to stray any further than necessary from what we currently have. I like it as is, though I might modernize the design a bit.
Just my 2 cents :-)
As per your questions:
Custom theme (7 themes, technically): Always good to have alternatives.
Gamification (badges): Meh....
Liking posts and hooking that up to the gamification above: Liking is good, gives another level of interaction.
App icons in profile: Can be helpful for quick browsing
Social icons in profile: Could also be useful.
Commissions open icon: I suppose so.
Thread thumbnails: They are quite vital I feel.
Thread prefixes (3D, 2D, Animation and so on...): Not necessarily something I'd regard as necessary or needed, but I can see their use.
Tagging (Star Trek, Star Wars and so on...): Oh yes, please!
A whole bunch of user data improvements like autosave options for drafts, exporting your own data and deleting your account: They are these tiny little things no-one notices until they're gone....
Sketchfab and Marmoset embedding (kinda busted at the moment though ): Well, I've no use for them so Iabstain on a comment.
Necropost tags and warning no one seems to read: Yea, good idea, but you know how warning labels work... Never observed, hardly recognised...
Antispam measures: Yea, you can never have enuff of them.
A bunch of little quality of life things: Go on.
Which forum software would you like to see us use in the future?: To be perfectly honest, Vanilla seems the best bet right now. You know, don't change something that isn't broken... IF a switch is needed, I'd feel NodeBB or Discourse be viable.
Which markup should we use?: Keep it simple but effective. Not everyone wants to bother writing the codings of BBCode to get their posts look the way they envision it. Embedding images and whatnot are easier done in more WYSIWYG-focussed editors.
Which features must be included in the potential new forum? Are there any features we're missing currently?: None come to mind for me, but then again, there are always things that only become a valuable addition and necessary tool of life-quality until after they were added....