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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?