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Transitioning is hard business.

#1
I am running a pretty sizeable professional community with close to 20,000 members and 190,000+ posts. Ever since its inception many many years ago it has been powered by vB. I used to be a huge fan of the software, especially back when forums were a thing. There was no competition, so people at vB were as comfortable as people at Blackberry. Perhaps the two even had their own private little forum where they would compare sales and share cute memes around. What they were clearly not blabbing about was the need to evolve and innovate, or at least stay in line with changing social trends. And I understand them - business was good and memes were a lot of fun.

Fast forward a few years. Suddenly the vB/Blackberry underground forum went quiet. There are new players in town. Lots of 'em. And the only memes around are suddenly of the companies they work for, and its kind of awkward to share. Everyone is sweating, but still - nobody can think under pressure. The products they put out is still tired forum software with next to zero innovation, that is quickly becoming irrelevant.

Its all fun and games, until you realize you are a client who've invested heavily into the product.

It is now evident no innovation is coming out of vB and theme customization is still a headache. I can simply no longer afford to invest in it.

So, after investigating all the possible options out there (and there are some incredible innovative products out there), I've taken my time to look at XF, read around the forums, see how people manage themes and custom styling, what designers are available for custom work. And even though my personal choice for a communication platform would have still been a lot more radical (not going to name those software products, but they start with letters "V", "D" and even "F", while we are at it), my people are very close to persuading me that XenForo is the way to go. Maybe people are more old-school than me, maybe I am seeing the overall trend of how people communicate online change from traditional forums to more open and fun messenger-type ecosystem. But even with all the apples on the table - most of my members I've had conversations with name XenForo as their preference. And you know what, I am starting to believe they are right and I am wrong. While V, D or F have a lot going on for them and they have some very clever and trendy social features, the road ahead is still exceptionally long. Plus, from what I've seen, I am starting to realize that some of those juicy and sellable features can probably be implemented here as well (correct me if I am wrong). If not through custom code, hopefully as part of default features in coming releases. I could name at least 3-4 such features, but I'd be shifting away from the topic.

If you got this far in my post, thank you. If it isn't too big of an ask, here are the things that I would like to ask the established XenForo crowd:

- are there any respectable developers-members around who people like to recommend or who people turn to for help in anything code-related: migration, custom modifications, add-on development, dealing with all things tiny and small?
- those that have gone through this process before, how painful was the transition from vB to XF? How and in what way did it affect your forum? How did the ranking fare in the short and long term?
- those that used vBSEO product, does it complicate migration? I assume I lose the product with this transition, which I don't mind btw.
- how different is the the plugin/add-on coding from vB? I have a few custom plugins developed and was wondering how time consuming it is going to carry them over to XF.
- in your day-to-day experience, does XF have any innovative moderating features or processes vB doesn't that you are frequently using?
- who are some of the best graphic designers (either freelancers or agencies) that work specifically with XenForo?


Your experience is everything to me right now as I am heading into this transition.

Thank you very much in advance for any comments and insights.
 
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Mark T

Active member
#2
those that have gone through this process before, how painful was the transition from vB to XF? How and in what way did it affect your forum? How did the ranking fare in the short and long term?
It was hard for me. I love vB, but I needed to bring my site forward to accommodate responsive viewing, as well as to set me up for stability for a few years.

Last January I finally upgraded my server php and sql, and my vB4 crashed hard.

It took me the good part of every weekend to get my site back where I needed it, and now I am glad I did even though my site had to take a hit to get me there.

Most of my visitors are on devices now. No more pinch and zoom for them now.

in your day-to-day experience, does XF have any innovative moderating features or processes vB doesn't that you are frequently using?
Moderation is moderation. Personally, after a learning curve, I find the XF addon system, permission system, and styling templating system to be very good once you come to learn it.

But for me, and short of my server problem, the biggest benefit for my members has been the responsive design.

I love it.
 
#3
@Mark T Thank you for the insight. Just wanted to specify - the work that you put into it on weekends was in relation to the server crash or due to a hit as a result of transition to the new software?
Did you happen to run vBSEO as well, or it was it a pure install? Did you have any add-ons that you had to either migrate or lose in the process? How did you deal with that?
 

Claudio

Well-known member
#4
- are there any respectable developers-members around who people like to recommend or who people turn to for help in anything code-related: migration, custom modifications, add-on development, dealing with all things tiny and small?
Welcome to XenForo

There are many developers and people who provide XenForo services on this section: https://xenforo.com/community/forums/third-party-services-offers.42/
In our case we provide maintenance and migration services.
 

Mark T

Active member
#5
@Mark T Thank you for the insight. Just wanted to specify - the work that you put into it on weekends was in relation to the server crash or due to a hit as a result of transition to the new software?
Did you happen to run vBSEO as well, or it was it a pure install? Did you have any add-ons that you had to either migrate or lose in the process? How did you deal with that?
The server crash and reasons behind it only took a weekend to fix, but instigated me to reconsider all options before rebuild.

No on vbseo, on mine.

The next month was setting up and learning the software, as well database migration.

I did use the thanks system, and have integrated the thanks points into the addon for taking likes to the next level.

I lost the post comment feature and comments. But that vb addon was very buggy and no support. My members loved that feature.

Also in my case, I had a certain amount of post cleanup to do which was exaustive.

Someone here makes an addon to help with your vb url structure.

But the remaining portion of weekends were/are getting the look/feel/functionality the way I want it.

And of course you may know that is a never-ending endeavor for any webmaster.
 

empire

Well-known member
#6
- are there any respectable developers-members around who people like to recommend or who people turn to for help in anything code-related: migration, custom modifications, add-on development, dealing with all things tiny and small?
We used @Slavik for our big board migration (over 5 million posts) and I know there are some other good migration specialists also. For developers, the best are often busy, and some are working on transitioning their add-ons to XF2. It could be an awkward time to have a lot of custom work done on XF1.5.

- those that have gone through this process before, how painful was the transition from vB to XF? How and in what way did it affect your forum? How did the ranking fare in the short and long term?
It was about four months solid preparation, not including the initial research and testing phase. I made staff training exercises and made sure that every staff member could use the new software. We put together a FAQ for members and really did everything we could to make it an easy transition. And from the members' perspective it was, but there was a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make that happen.

Beyond purely technical considerations, I think supporting staff is the #1 most important thing to do in a transition, and failing to do so is one of the biggest mistakes I've seen on other sites. I cringe when I see transition threads on forums where staff are making mistakes and saying things like, 'we're learning all this new stuff too.' If every mod on your site knows XF 100% and is confident in supporting it on rollout day, they can do a lot to help members get used to the changes.

(And not that you asked, but the other common mistake is to drastically change the look of your site and attempt a rebranding at the same time as the change in forum software.)

We made the change in 2015, at a time when membership was dropping off drastically month to month. We are now holding steady with slightly more active members than we had in 2015. There will always be people who criticize, but the response to the changes was largely positive. I do not think our community would exist anymore if we'd stayed on VB.

I didn't use VBSEO and am not a developer, so cannot address those points. We also didn't use a graphic designer, but I've seen great things from @Russ at Pixel Exit.

in your day-to-day experience, does XF have any innovative moderating features or processes vB doesn't that you are frequently using?
It may just be a difference in the way we do things now, but I think reports may be different in XF. The infractions system is pretty much the same as far as I recall. The mod controls are good. There's a learning curve, but all our staff were able to learn to use XenForo without too much trouble. Also, @Siropu's Ads Manager cut down on a lot of the work I had to do managing advertising sales before. I also recommend looking at @Xon's 'essentials' add-on series as those replace some of the functionality from VB that isn't default in XF. @DragonByte Tech have also ported some of their great VB add-ons to XF.

The best thing about XenForo though is @Bob's add-ons. Showcase in particular is very popular with our members. VB was dead as far as adding big new features was concerned. If we want to stay competitive, we need to offer things that other sites don't have, and that's where XF shines above other options like Flarum, etc. I'm not sure how relevant new features are for a small professional community though, so you'll have to weigh your options.

On the downside, there is no replacement if you're using bananalive's Easy Forms on VB; it's the biggest thing we miss. There are also no supported add-ons for classifieds or events, though I'm hoping this will change with XF2.
 
#7
There are many developers and people who provide XenForo services on this section: https://xenforo.com/community/forums/third-party-services-offers.42/
In our case we provide maintenance and migration services.
Thank you for the welcome and for pointing me in the right direction. I see that you have quite the positive track record yourself in the field. I have already identified two strong resources that I will approach to discuss when I am ready to move forward. You are one of them. ;)

I did use the thanks system, and have integrated the thanks points into the addon for taking likes to the next level.
[...]
I lost the post comment feature and comments. But that vb addon was very buggy and no support. My members loved that feature.
[...]
Someone here makes an addon to help with your vb url structure.
Thanks for the breakdown, Mark. I have seen your forum, it is a very nice and clean install, but I wanted to ask you further about these three points you made.

1. I am using the thanks add-on as well, do you mean that you award points for members that receive likes now?
2. This one sounds important. Kill me, but I just can't think of a comment feature on vB... Was it part of the suite? Was it an add-on?
3. Umm, also important. What is changing the URL structure done for? Why did you specifically need to change the URL structure?
 
#10
@empire You, my friend, is a walking encyclopedia of references! Much appreciate the thoughtfulness and completeness of your response. :)

I have actually identified Slavik as one of the coders I'd like to speak to in preparation of migration. I also looked through every single other reference and it is true, there are a couple of specific things that I already like and marked down for future. Thank you for that.

You are raising a valid point, though. It is true that my timing can be seen as both great and awkward. The latter is because XF 2.0 is coming out at some point this year (and I definitely prefer it over 1.5), so doing much of custom coding now would not be the smartest idea until we know for sure how different 2.0 is. At the same time my timing could not be better because I will be transitioning into something more exciting. Since my process is going to take a few weeks with integrated custom design, I hope 2.0 can come out before the big moment.

I absolutely agree with you on preparation and can be often caught spending too much time planning ahead. Staff training is critical and something that I will definitely have to go over. My members in general are always well informed about my plans and upcoming changes, which we discuss together as their feedback is vital to the course I take. So in terms of big re-launches I won't have to face many surprised folks, as I think they actually crave one.

Luckily I wasn't too heavy on vB add-ons, although I do have a few custom coded ones, which shouldn't be a problem to replicate.

Once again, thank you for sharing your experience!