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
In 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:
- 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.
- No one on the community management team would touch the BuddyPress code because of its complexity.
- 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?
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.