jMonkeyEngine Migrates Community Site Away From BuddyPress and bbPress

Migration Featured Image
photo credit: Karen Apricot New Orleanscc

jMonkeyEngine is a game engine made for developers who want to create 3D games following modern technology standards. The framework is programmed entirely in Java aimed at wide accessibility and quick deployment to desktop, web, and mobile platforms. Established in 2003, the jMonkeyEngine community forum has gone through at least four migrations.

phpBB → SMF → BuddyPress Forum → bbPress 2.0 → Discourse.

In late October, the jMonkeyEngine community hub went offline. When the site came back online, the team discovered performance issues. Due to performance reasons and a change in philosophy, the jMonkeyEngine project is migrating its community and forum from BuddyPress and bbPress to Discourse. This marks the fifth different forum migration in 10 years.

Why BuddyPress and bbPress Were Initially Chosen to Run The Community Hub

buddypress-logo-blueIn a post announcing the change, jMonkeyEngine Community Manager, Erlend Sogge Heggen, cites the biggest mistake he made is using the forum component bundled with BuddyPress. In his grand vision for the site in 2010, Heggen envisioned the community site to have the following features:

  • Forums
  • Social
  • Galleries
  • Wikis
  • Files
  • Advanced user profiles
  • Unified search

BuddyPress was chosen because it offers many of these features out of the box and integrates seamlessly with WordPress user tables. Over time, two particular problems arose.

  1. No one on the community management team would touch the BuddyPress code because of its complexity.
  2. Even though BuddyPress has the features Heggen wants, it doesn’t do any of them particularly well.

This brought about the realization that his community didn’t care for the galleries, wikis, or the advanced user profiles. Heggen says it’s the forum user’s cared about most, “So now we were stuck with a sub-par forum that everyone used, and a bunch of other sub-par features that no one used. In pursuit of the all-encompassing solution, I had downgraded the heart and soul of our website, and by extension our community: The forum.”

Separate Software For Specific Tasks

Heggen says they’ll continue to use WordPress for now, but only for blogging. “The only users WordPress will handle is our small team of authors; it really isn’t designed well for anything other than administrative use anyhow.”

Instead of using software that fulfills multiple purposes, Heggen will use software specific to the task at hand and use APIs to bridge them together. “In the age of JSON APIs and SPAs, you don’t need that ‘one foundation to rule them all.'”

When is bbPress The Right Choice?

bbpress

jMonkeyEngine has determined that BuddyPress and bbPress are no longer the right choice to build its community on. In a follow up post, Heggen asks, is bbPress even right for anyone? According to Heggen, the custom post type is a lie and the project never gets the attention it deserves. “It’s under the official WordPress umbrella, but it’s not part of their product strategy, so in effect it’s just another plugin developed by hobbyists in their spare time.”

Unlike bbPress, Discourse has a team of paid developers working full-time to create the best community engagement/discussion software on the web. In less than two years, it looks and feels light-years beyond what bbPress offers. It’s worth noting that, like bbPress, Discourse is GPLv2 licensed.

Heggen recommends using bbPress only if it’s going to be a small subset of the site’s entire offering but says, “You should strongly reconsider whether it’s worth having a forum at all, because in my honest opinion a forum is an ‘all or nothing’ sort of deal. It’s either a key component of your website, or it’s going to become a graveyard quicker than you can say ‘Welcome to our community!'”

Still Hopeful For bbPress’ Future

Despite moving the jMonkeyEngine community off of bbPress to Discourse and his gripes about the project, Heggen believes it can still be a viable competitor, “I still firmly believe in bbPress as a competitor to the likes of Muut and Disqus. It hasn’t lived up to its potential yet, but with a full-time developer, it very well could.”

If John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo campaign is successful, there will be at least one paid full-time developer to work on both bbPress and BuddyPress for the next six months. With nine days left, he still needs over $5,700 to reach his goal.

Community Engagement Crossroads

Automattic, the WordPress project, and bbPress are at a crossroad. The comment system in WordPress leaves a lot to be desired and could use some serious improvements. Meanwhile, Automattic is sitting on a dormant commenting service that hasn’t made any progress in years. bbPress development continues at a snail’s pace since it doesn’t have a committed team of developers and there are no signs of improvement on the horizon, outside of Jacoby’s campaign.

One of my favorite quotes from Matt Mullenweg is from 2008, when Automattic acquired IntenseDebate. In the announcement, Mullenweg said the following:

Long-term, I think that comments are the most crucial interaction point for blogs, and an area that deserves a lot of investment and innovation. Comments really haven’t changed in a decade, and it’s time to spice things up a little.

I realize 2008 was a different time on the web, but in six years, I’ve seen very little innovation with comments. Instead, large sites are shutting them off or moving to third-party services such as Disqus and Livefyre. Jetpack Comments isn’t the solution because it’s just an iframe that is not easily extendable by other plugins.

I don’t know what the answer is to having a great community engagement/discussion experience in WordPress but Jetpack Comments, bbPress, IntenseDebate, and the native comment system isn’t cutting it.

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16 Comments


  1. I’m a big fan and user of WordPress, and I don’t really have the right to criticize as I don’t contribute to these projects, but having said that, I’ve had a really bad experience with BBPress.

    I finally resolved to move over to Discourse when I realised that BBPress cannot easily import Forums from another instance of itself.

    BBPress has an air of respectability because of it’s association with WordPress and Automattic, but based on my experiences I believe that it is best avoided.

    I think this article gets it dead right – use the right tool for the job and don’t try to do too much with WordPress. Rather, use it for what it’s really good at – managing Websites and blogs.

    The JSON API is opening up all kinds of new possibilities too.

    My experience with Discourse has been second to none. It features an amazing Docker based installer that just completely hides the complexity and makes it simple enough for anybody to install.

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  2. Moves like this aren’t personal, though it’s easy to take them that way. When months of work result in continued frustration, it’s clear something else needs to change for the better.

    Erlend isn’t wrong that in the time since I joined Automattic, projects with full time attention like Discourse have made huge strides towards better representing what a modern piece of community software looks like.

    I think it’s important to remember that just like WordPress, BuddyPress is more toolkit than turnkey. No matter how quickly the installation goes, no matter how low the barrier to entry is, the step up to mastery is enormous, even for professionals.

    Posts like Erlend’s make me wish I could have stepped in earlier to see if there was opportunity to work towards a different outcome. But once a ship sails, all you can do is continue improving what you can and be ready if that ship returns some day.

    Hopefully the next time Erlend pops his head up from Discourse and looks around, the bb’s will be their next obvious choice, again.

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    1. Thanks for chiming in John. What you say about BuddyPress being more toolkit than turnkey is very true, and I’m the one at fault for thinking BuddyPress was more than what it said on the tin. I figured since WordPress enabled me to build a pretty website all by myself, BuddyPress would enable me to build a community site all by myself. For this same reason though, I’ve always felt that BuddyPress would be better off “sold as individual parts”, but I won’t keep beating that dead horse now that I don’t even have a horse in the race.

      p.s. I just read your “week 2” update. I had no idea there was a fee of 5% (wham!) for not surpassing the goal in flexible funding. That’s kind of ridiculous. I noticed Justin suggested hiring a designer for bbPress, and I think that’s a great idea. Maybe a designer affiliate of yours could draw up some snazzy bbPress mockups for a last PR push?

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  3. I really enjoyed this article. I have been eyeing up Discourse for a while now. Heggen’s quote,

    “You should strongly reconsider whether it’s worth having a forum at all, because in my honest opinion a forum is an ‘all or nothing’ sort of deal. It’s either a key component of your website, or it’s going to become a graveyard quicker than you can say ‘Welcome to our community!”

    really made me consider my forum situation.

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  4. I agree that BP code is sub standard (for many reasons. no finger pointing here, just stating a fact that is obvious to anyone that tried to do anything in BP) but thinking that some JSON will solve his main problem is wrong, it will just add complexity to a complex system, making any debuging or understanding of code flow much harder.

    O, what is his main problem? He codes first (or install software first) and only then he tries to design the system. This approch rarely ends well for any non trivial system..

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    1. BuddyPress’s code is not “substandard” unless the standard is pristine RESTful OOP such-and-such, in which case: how could it be? BuddyPress’s code is years old and founded in a PHP4-compatible world where monkey-patching WordPress is the norm.

      Someone could just as easily say, without pointing fingers, that the above assessment of BuddyPress’s code is subpar (for many reasons) and that it should be obvious to anyone reading these comments. I wouldn’t say it because criticism like that isn’t constructive or helpful. :heart:

      If your assessment is correct and BuddyPress’s code really is *that* bad, your talents would be hugely useful to the project and it would be great to have your help improving it, even in small ways.

      Re: JSON endpoints, I agree they would not have changed this particular outcome. We’ve been dreaming up awesome uses for it in WordPress for so long now that the reality of how difficult building great applications with it truly is, is only starting to settle in. That said, the REST API code itself is solid, and Ryan, Rachel, and everyone else has done a great job so far getting it ready for production, and people have already started to build neat stuff with it.

      Regarding Erlend specifically, he has been using the bb’s for a long while, and is an active member in every open-source community I’ve seen him be a part of. If he decided BuddyPress wasn’t adequate, I’d take his word for it.

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  5. Terrific post Jeff. Pointing out the similar, surprising lack of progress on comments was astute.

    Despite its dominance, I feel that WordPress is in a very strange place right now.

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    1. Can you say a bit more about where you think WordPress is right now? Do you think it has gone in a direction that doesn’t make sense, or rather that the world has changed around it…? I feel that I agree with you on instinct if for no other reason that WP has become complicated and inevitably messy. I recommend it for many client organisations I work with but at the same time feel it tries to do so many things that maybe it is now aspiring to be such a general purpose tool that it will inevitably lose focus.

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      1. “Jack of all trades but master of none” That’s where I see WP is heading.

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      2. I fear you might be right. It reminds me a lot of the development of Microsoft Word.

        Word’s developers kept stuffing more and more into it. This led to more and more people using it, until it came to be thought of, in many quarters, as essential. So you might think that Word must be loved by all and sundry.

        But … well, I think you know the reality.

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      3. John, on reflection I have decided that any constructive criticism I might make would only upset people and make no difference anyway. When you become the phenomenon that WordPress has, it is natural for the main actors to become resistant to the thoughts of those outside the circle and, in any case, it is unseemly for me to moan, they have never owed us anything.

        Suffice to say that the six-year-old Matt quote that Jeff repeated in his post, promising to spice up comments after purchasing and absorbing an innovative comments company, made me wistful, reminding me of a time when I believed that Automattic was the most important company in the world and that WordPress had only barely begun to reveal its potential.

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  6. BuddyPress is an old tool. I think he should consider it for some more time. Any way… Good luck to him.

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  7. bbpress reminds me of phpbb. stuck in the past and slow to adapt so wouldn’t be suprised to see more migrate away from bbpress and/or buddypress when there are other solutions out there that provides “modern” features. discourse is really the one to watch since it handles the forum side, wordpress commenting, better spam protection and much more. replaces bbpress and buddypress in many ways.

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  8. I think that all of this talk of WordPress being somehow in trouble is absolute nonsense. Just becsause BBPress has some issues let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I have been earning my living building websites since 1994. I have used many different open source systems to build with during that time and my only regret is that I didn’t start using WordPress sooner.

    IMHO WordPress is fantastically flexible and remarkably simple to work with for both developers and end users.

    If there is one thing that makes WordPress stand out for me though, it is the community.

    I had the good luck to get my first real introduction to WordPress at MWUG in Manchester UK, hosted by WordPress co-founder Mike Little. The guy is an absolute inspiration.

    Companies like Automattic (and Canonical for that matter) are achieving an amazing balance by contributing so much to the World while at the same time trying to turn an honest dollar. I applaud them.

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  9. This is really interesting! I use bbPress throughout a site (I couldn’t figure out BuddyPress from a user standpoint) and it works very well. When I set it up, I considered Discourse but that was a year and a half ago, although the reasons haven’t changed – mainly integration into the site, ease of customising it.

    I am slightly surprised that no one’s really mentioned that losing WP user management is important to them. It is very important to me. The users have access to a tracker of things and we might introduce paid content, functionality etc etc. Having one system to handle sitewide logins is invaluable — it’s not only easier and less frustrating for users but easier to develop new stuff (or buy it, hey there membership plugins!)

    As I said, I don’t understand how people use BuddyPress – I agree with Erlend on this:
    “I’ve always felt that BuddyPress would be better off ‘sold as individual parts'”

    and very much with this from his blog http://blog.erlend.sh/when-is-bbpress-the-right-choice/:
    “That said, in this case you should strongly reconsider whether it’s worth having a forum at all, because in my honest opinion a forum is an “all or nothing” sort of deal. ”

    I could go on quite a bit. My feeling is that Discourse has a lot of excellent things that bbPress doesn’t have *yet*. Discourse is great and I can see how it’s the perfect solution for some sites. But I love bbPress, although sometimes I feel like the only one anywhere who does.

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