bbPress 2014 Survey Results Show Users Are Still Disappointed with Lack of Features

The results of the 2014 bbPress survey are now available. The survey was conducted between March 7 – April 11, 2014. 183 people from 37 countries participated. The survey gave users a chance to give feedback and shape the direction of bbPress development throughout 2014.

A common complaint I often hear is the lack of documentation and articles within the bbPress Codex. 73% of respondents said they did not contribute to bbPress development. Out of those who have contributed to the project, only 7% have written articles for the Codex.

bbPress Codex Articles Are Hard To Come By
bbPress Codex Articles Are Hard To Come By

It probably doesn’t help that in order to log into the bbPress.org website, you need to log into BuddyPress.org first. Then after you login, you’re not redirected to bbPress.org, you’re stuck on BuddyPress.org. If newcomers are looking to contribute to the Codex, you won’t be able to learn how because the Codex Standards and Guidelines document links to a 404 error page.

When asked what are the strengths of bbPress, the top four answers are what I’d expect. It’s free, open source, is an official plugin, and easily integrates with WordPress and BuddyPress.

Top Four Strengths Of bbPress
Top Four Strengths Of bbPress

When asked what are the weaknesses to bbPress, the answers don’t surprise me. In fact, it’s the same set of complaints I’ve read and heard over the past few years. It lacks features out of the box compared to other forum software which leads to using several plugins just to bring it up to par. What surprises me most is that 54% said they were not sure about the future of the plugin.

Uncertain Of The Future Of bbPress
Uncertain Of The Future Of bbPress

It’s been four years since bbPress switched from being a stand alone piece of software to a WordPress plugin. There was a lot of uncertainty about the project around the time of the switch but that was four years ago. I’m curious as to why 54% of respondents are not sure about the future of the plugin. In those four years, John James Jacoby, Stephen Edgar, and several other contributors have made substantial improvements to the plugin. How could those improvements lead to uncertainty?

The requested improvements and new features list are similar to the list of most popular bbPress plugins activated. While attachments took the top spot with 42%, most of the votes were evenly distributed. This leads me to believe users would like to see every feature in the list added to bbPress. Take a look at the list of features and tell me which are not already available in most forum software.

Top Requested bbPress Features
Top Requested bbPress Features

88% of respondents said they evaluated other forum software before deciding on bbPress. Of those evaluated, phpBB took the top spot with 72%. The SimplePress plugin took second place with 44%. Despite its lack of features out of the box, bbPress was chosen by many of the respondents over other popular forum software. Considering the price tag on vBulletin, I was surprised it ranked so high.

Other Forum Software Evaluated
Other Forum Software Evaluated

bbPress Has Come A Long Way But Has So Much Further To Go

In 2009, I explained why I chose vBulletin over bbPress to power the WP Tavern forum. Many of the reasons in that post are still valid arguments for why I’d probably not use bbPress today. It makes me sad to see so many huge walls in front of the bbPress project. As an end-user, the lack of features in bbPress is a detriment, not a feature itself. The code that makes up bbPress is some of the best you’ll see in a WordPress plugin but great code doesn’t equate to mainstream use.

bbPress has a lot going for it. It’s a WordPress plugin so it works with WordPress as if they are one entity and being a plugin, it’s simple to install. The default theme compatibility enables it to blend in with just about every WordPress theme. It’s free, open source, and considered an official plugin and there’s a passionate community supporting it.

If bbPress is ever going to be on par with other forum solutions, it’s going to have to pack more punch into its default feature set. I’m not the only who thinks so. Take this survey comment for example:

Needs a lot more focus on adding front end features both for users and mods/admins. There is a serious lack of traditional forum features that people expect to have, and it really holds bbPress back.

I think users would love to have something that suits most of their needs out of the box and then add plugins for additional functionality. Unfortunately, bbPress requires several plugins to be installed before it can even be considered on par with its competition.

Will bbPress Ever Be Mainstream?

There are other forces at work besides what is going on internally with bbPress. The nature of social interaction on the web is radically different from 10 years ago. Forums were like watering holes for specific topics with like-minded individuals. Today, most of the conversation happens on one or more social networks. There is also an ongoing trend of large websites turning comments off.

One of the signature features of bbPress 2.6 will replace WordPress comments with bbPress topics. You’ll be able to replace your comment form with bbPress and merge together community conversations that forums provide with directed topics of conversation via the blog. It’s a marriage of functionality I’ve been wanting for years but it might be too little too late.

Will this feature spark a renaissance of forums, community, and on site conversations or has managing such things become too much work? Will we ever see the day when the percentage of sites using bbPress is as closely monitored as that of sites using WordPress?

14 Comments


  1. “73% of respondents said they contributed to bbPress development.”

    The bar graph says 73% did NOT contribute to bbPress. Which is correct?

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  2. Thanks for the post Jeff, just like the survey which I am still digesting, there are a few things for us to think about here, some obvious such as core features requested and others more ideological in nature such as the role forums play in the new web ‘social’ era.

    I have most of the bbPress codex saved in bookmarks and I end up where I need to be after logging in if needed, I’ll go take a look at the weird login problem you mention shortly.

    I have no idea where you came upon the codex article you mention that 404’s, there has never been a page like this on the bbPress Codex. There ‘is’ a codex page with that title on the BuddyPress codex here along with the parent page. The closest bbPress has is this Get Involved page, either or we probably should have something along the same lines as BuddyPress on the bbPress codex.

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  3. @netweb: the dead link is displayed prominently on the bbPress Codex homepage, in the grey footer area under the header WANT TO HELP?

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    1. Ha! Thanks for this, I only went looking for the page, that link now works and a page now exists there.

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  4. phpBB is getting very old now, but it seems to be the only one left worth using for dedicated heavy duty forums.

    bbPress serves a much needed purpose and is the only one I know of which adequately fills that niche. SimplePress is not the way to go IMO.

    If I were setting up a dedicated social community, centered around a forum, I’d probably use phpBB due to all the extra features. All my forums are currently on bbPress though, as I don’t have any heavy duty forums, just simple question and answer type sites. I also hear good things about the performance of phpBB vs bbPress, which doesn’t surprise me since WordPress has quite a few problems in that area.

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  5. For me, a big uncertainty about the future of bbPress is that it’s mostly just JJJ. He has his hands in a lot, leading to slow development on bbPress. If he were to leave the project for some reason, it could die. Unlike Buddypress, which has a number of core contributors.

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    1. The real issue is that no one in bbpress talks about this, they totally ignore it. In fact, it is very simple to remedy! But first you have to accept that there is something to solve or something to improve upon.

      Last post is from November 2013 saying that 2.5 release is overdue:
      https://bbpdevel.wordpress.com

      bbpress 2.6 is more than 4 months late (according to the official timeline – which isn’t saying much since bbpress releases regularly get booted by 1 or more months)

      https://bbpress.trac.wordpress.org/milestone/2.6

      All JJJ has to do is approach wp and say, hey, I really need some help. the project is suffering and falling way behind so can we get 2-3 other devs up in here? thanks

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  6. XenForo is actually a forum package for webmasters to consider. Many large forum sites are moving to the software. The forums are under constant development. The community is fast in helping someone. And replacing/ integrating WP comments is easy with several different available bridges.

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  7. It is really unfortunate that wordpress and the current team which holds the reins of bbpress have both ignored bbpress development. The history of bbpress shows it to be an “ugly stepchild” where it is tolerated at best and ignored most of the time. Development has gone through herky jerky stops and starts spanning years and many months:

    http://www.ohloh.net/p/bbpress/commits/summary

    While other apps – for example muut which introduced their wp plugin recently – have taken the lead, bbpress has lagged behind and is continuing to fall more and more as development stalls.

    This is very difficult for the typical user to understand. If you need more manpower, ask for it. If you need more resources, pipe up and say so! There is no question that many would rise up and answer the challenge to contribute and take an active role.

    But that requires the current “powers that be” to first acknowledge this and to ask for help. They are refusing to do that for the moment and as such they are part of the problem, not the solution.

    What is more astonishing is that they even refuse to acknowledge existing shortcomings of bbpress which are so obvious to everyone else! An example of this is the flat out refusal to even consider that permalinks are broken:

    http://bbpress.org/forums/topic/any-way-to-eliminate-redundancyweirdness-in-permalinks-i-e-forumsforum/

    Hope this changes as bbpress has much unrealized potential.

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  8. The thing that BBPress did right was posts and such as custom post types. It is so deeply integrated into WordPress that I would argue that it pounds the competition when it comes to finding a forum software to use in a WordPress site.

    This is important in so many ways from user management, integration, theming and so on. SimplePress does a good job, but it is still just a shell inside WordPress. BBpress is WordPress.

    It absolutely has a long way to go, it is still hard to theme (but has gotten a lot better) and lacks basic forums features (though, for what its worth, various plugins have been covering lately). My biggest issue is the theming. Having built out a BBPress theme (ironically for the Stargazer theme that this site uses), I spent more time taking stuff away before I could start building it up. I’d like to see (and I mentioned it to the devs when I took the survey) is a default BBPress look that is clean and streamlined, one that looks good on its own (a la Vanilla Forums), but lends itself to customization that doesn’t require tearing it down first.

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  9. Even though there are a few bbPress features I wish for, I know that not everyone needs all possible features. So I’m happy with many things being relegated to plugins.

    I actually see the slim feature set as a plus. A lot of forum software is bloated and hard to use for both users and administrators. I appreciate the light footprint that can be added to as needed.

    Plus, the tight WordPress integration is a killer feature that outweighs a few gaps in other areas.

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  10. I have to agree. I wish I could replace phpBB with BBPress, but it is just not ripe yet. smf, phpbb, vbulletin all have more layout options (e.g. BBPress looks nothing like a forum, and that is a big drawback because forums have been tweaked over years and years for what works). I just upgraded one site to phpBB 3.1.2 and tried converting a different one to BBPress.

    I really like the integration with WordPress, but until it improves to be as feature rich as WordPress itself and phpBB, it makes it difficult to think that converting is a good idea.

    Perhaps plugins will fill in the gaps, but the biggest gap is the look and while there have been a few attempts to revamp the BBPress look with a child theme, I have yet to see one that does it successfully. Let’s hope 2015 is a big year for BBPress!

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