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Boards.ie update - 25th November 2021

  • 25-11-2021 4:43pm
    #1
    Boards.ie Employee Posts: 124 ✭✭✭✭✭ Boards.ie: Odhran
    Boards.ie Employee


    Hi all

    I am very aware that it has been sometime since our last update.  I said previously that I would post here when we had something to say... Unfortunately however our progress has not been where we needed it to be for a number of reasons which I will outline below.  The purpose of this update is to give a timeline over the last few months, where we are today and what the future looks like.

    Why move and why Vanilla?

    I have called this out a few times but Boards.ie has been losing money for years and being propped up by investment to a point where the decision was to either shut it down or invest once more to try make the business viable.  The decision made was to get new investment and as a result Boards.ie is now part of a new company called Boards Software Ltd.

    Crowdfunding was something many users suggested which is much appreciated and while might have got us a little further down the track - would not have been a long term solution.  Boards really needs to be able to stand up on its own.

    Part of the terms of  the investment was that we would move off vBulletin to a fully hosted solution.  This was as a result of the old platform being unsustainable and costing more each month just to keep in maintenance mode.  We knew in doing this that we would have to sacrifice certain functionality that would have been part of the original platform and any change would be a bitter pill.  Something similar was attempted several years ago and there was massive push back so the team did not go ahead.

    This did not change the reasons for needing to move however -  issues kept getting worse and costs kept increasing and the years of sticking plasters brought us to a point where the platform was going to fall over. Ad revenue alone is not enough to pay the bills and while a very lean operation, costs are significant and include wages (4 staff at the time), Infrastructure costs, third-party fees, liability insurance etc - the latter being a chunky annual fee (we have been sued in the past and lost - that unfortunately costs).

    The platform was started over 20 years ago and was falling over.  We had two developers on the team, one whose job was solely to keep the site live and the other who's role became that of a bug fixer.  We were unable to build out new features as we were spinning wheels so much just trying to keep the lights on.

    Vanilla was chosen as our new platform for a number of reasons including:

    1. They are a fully hosted solution that matched the majority of both functionality and ability to customise.  

    2.  We would be able to develop a certain amount of bespoke features but not be then tied into maintaining the entire code base

    3.  Cost matched our ability to pay and would allow us get to breakeven

    4.  They already host large communities at scale.

    What happened during the migration?

    Both Boards and Vanilla have to share responsibility here.  We had a few false starts on migrating which lost us several months.  Migrations have to be scheduled well in advance and we missed a few key dates - but again due to a lack of resources and one Dev who has to put out fires on the day to day while also building our new system. This was mainly down to our data not being ready to migrate, themes still being built and lots of custom work that had to be done still while we got everything else ready. 

    Basically we were way under-resourced and no amount of time was going to get us live.

    We went into read-only mode which was meant to be for about 4/5 days.  Our go live then fell on a Friday but Vanilla devs don't work weekends.... so a massive breakdown in communication with the migration team there. Our PR was merged into a very old test version of our theme.  Just as we were about to push live our Dev spotted that it was missing chunks of code everywhere and we had to try to figure out what went wrong.

    We also had to fight a lot to get attention from a Senior dev in Vanilla.  There was a breakdown in communication between our Account Manager who had us in a 'you are in a queue' position versus our team who were screaming to get things done. We finally got connected with a Senior developer there who was a life saver.  He worked with us through several of our many all-nighters and got things 'sorted'. When we got the theme live we found a lot of the work we had done was missing.  To fix issues like this you have to create a new pull request ... each costing both time and money to execute.  We had to bulk in as many as possible to get things sorted as quickly as we could.  We were down to one developer at this stage.

    We finally got the platform live and had to start the long task of trying as best we can to recreate Boards of old (as much as we could). Maybe we tried too hard to recreate exactly what we moved from and perhaps a bolder step of a fresh platform would have saved us a lot of time and energy.  But we had to move and a more consultative approach was not possible so this had to be our first step.  

    Why did you go live if it was not ready?

    We had no choice.  I go back to the original reason for doing this.  Boards has no money.  We had to make a move quickly.

    It looks like nobody tests things?

    We do test.  Again we are a very small team so some things we push live without testing - get feedback and fix quickly where possible.  Other things we leave ‘broken’ as it takes pull requests, review cycles etc and we might prioritise other issues first.

    A very tragic loss

    One of the main issues reported was the look and feel of the site.  Vanilla allows you to tweak various elements on the site using 'pockets'. Essentially you can edit the CSS using these pockets without having to do a pull request.  One of our Community Managers, Mark, had been learning CSS during lockdown and started putting his new found skills into practice.  He was hoovering up issues and fixing key elements on the fly.  We were posting daily updates - inserting new navs, fixing mobile view, adding and moving fast and really turning a corner.

    Unfortunately Mark died suddenly in his sleep in August. Everyone was and still is devastated.  We posted a thread for people to pass on their condolences to his family who get much solace from the kind words.

    Why does it take us so long to fix things?

    Primarily a lack of resources.  We called in help from the team at Square1 who have been a great help but we can only afford so many days per month.  While our dev was working on building plugins we were able to get them to work on some core functionality, css, google ads and much more.

    There are many things we need to do.  We were never going to do a copy and paste and have the exact same platform.  We underestimated the time it would take us to fix and update. However if we look at where we are today it is a long way from going live.

    Terrible mistake, whose decision was this?

    Look... we are fully aware that the migration did not go well.  We have commented on that in many posts - but the longer time goes on the clearer it becomes that we would never have been able to deliver Boards of old. There was way too much tangled up in the platform which was part of its downfall - an infinite number of settings to do an infinite number of things.  It's not sustainable and you just can't replicate 20 years of features with one dev.

    So as I have said before that the buck stops with me on the decision to a) go with Vanilla and b) go live and as we are thankfully still here today - I stand by both.  We were dangerously close to shutting down the site.

    Discussions with Vanilla

    I had a very productive call with the CEO recently.  We discussed in detail the issues we have experienced and in particular covered: 

    - Lack of a technical PM / Developer dedicated to our account for pre/post migration

    - Site speed issues which were a major reason for us moving to Vanilla in the first place

    - Search being broken

    - General issues

    We were given commitment from the team that the above issues would be addressed and there was additional investment going into managing our account from tech resources to support.  We are seeing the results of that already with PR’s getting reviewed faster etc. That was how we got here.  We now want to look to the future with Vanilla.

    Priorities and output

    Mod tools... These have taken us way too long to get sorted.  We now have forum bans live which will help but we need to scope out other tools to help mods more. We plan to move to a scheduled release with monthly output.  We will share more about that in a separate post but we want to give more visibility of what we are working on so you can see progress.  The list might not be massive but we intend to continue to take community input alongside our own roadmap.

    Next stage in development

    Now that we have taken this step to move, we are in a place where we can start looking at new features and different ways for the community to interact.  Part of this would include us Boards evolving into something more modern - but still the discussion forum that you enjoy.  We will also now be in a position to take a consultative approach to doing that.  We are working with Vanilla on getting a staging environment set up where we can invite users in to see and test these features as we go.

    Updates

    Over the coming days we will be updating the following:

    • Fixing Top navigation layout to allow access to all forums
    • Trending tab sorting order
    • Thanks tab on on desktop 
    • Showing users who thanked posts on mobile and desktop
    • Fixing ad on homepage (right hand side unit)
    • Followed forums to be developed (this will take a little longer ... but to be expected in coming weeks)

    I am happy to answer any questions you may have and I will collate them together and reply over the next few days.

    Thanks

    Odhran

    Post edited by Spear on


«134

Comments

  • Registered Users Posts: 9,148 ✭✭✭ DaCor


    Thanks for the very honest review and update



  • Registered Users Posts: 17,815 ✭✭✭✭ Ads by Google


    Search isn't broken. Vanilla has a great search if it's implemented correctly.

    See this link on desktop with the proper settings:

    https://www.boards.ie/search?domain=discussions&sort=-dateInserted&scope=site&types%5B0%5D=discussion&types%5B1%5D=comment



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  • Registered Users Posts: 10,504 ✭✭✭✭ Leg End Reject


    It's definitely on the posters concerned, but Odhran should have been more active and stepped in.



  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]


    What's the issue with followed forums mentioned? It works perfectly for me...



  • Boards.ie Employee Posts: 12,367 ✭✭✭✭✭ Boards.ie: Niamh
    Boards.ie Community Manager


    Just to step in here. My Forums is working fine but we also used to have a menu of your Followed Forums where you could access any of those forums at any time (and not just if they had a recent post which is when they appear in My Forums).



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  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]


    Ah, an actual listing of forums you've followed?



  • Boards.ie Employee Posts: 12,367 ✭✭✭✭✭ Boards.ie: Niamh
    Boards.ie Community Manager


    Yes. So if you only check in on your fave 5 forums for example, you can do that easily from Followed Forums rather than remembering them and searching for them individually.



  • Registered Users Posts: 1,853 ✭✭✭ mossie


    Thanks for the update. Glad to see someone finally taking responsibility, even if a lot of the blame lies with the Vanilla system, and could probably have been foreseen. The biggest issue for boards now will be recovering the lost traffic that's so visible on every forum.

    On functionality, what about the option to mark forums read? Is this on the way? That should be basic functionality on any site. I know it can be done at the moment but not from within the forum.



  • Registered Users Posts: 495 ✭✭ Láidir agus Dílis


    Hi Niamh,

    I'm having a lot of trouble with searching. For example I know Neil Francis, former rugby player and pundit, was mentioned a lot on boards threads. But when I type his name into the search bar here I get zero results. Similar experience for other topics.



  • Registered Users Posts: 3,077 ✭✭✭ smuggler.ie


    Perhaps search needs some more working to be done, but odd that for me search for Neil Francis return ~8.4k entries, from 2003 to 2021....

    Note "" marks to eliminate just random Neil and random Francis or you get 10k results




  • Registered Users Posts: 495 ✭✭ Láidir agus Dílis




  • Registered Users Posts: 7,894 ✭✭✭ Pussyhands


    I'd be very surprised if the money saved by not maintaining the old site is enough to bridge the gap between the massive loss in userbase.

    Threads are filled with the same small bunch of users.



  • Administrators, Social & Fun Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 62,191 Admin ✭✭✭✭✭ Beasty


    "Money saved by not maintaining the old site" - you do realise the site was simply not viable on the old platform? I've looked at the accounts (as anyone can if they wish to pay a few quid on the Companies Registration Office website). It made loss after loss after loss

    If we cannot make this new platform work it goes under. No more Boards.ie



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  • Registered Users Posts: 3,077 ✭✭✭ smuggler.ie




  • Registered Users Posts: 7,894 ✭✭✭ Pussyhands


    The initial comment was vbulletin was costing too much to maintain, thus money is being saved by using Vanilla.

    As far as I remember, boards was under pressure financially 6/7+ years ago when usage was way higher. Talk To fora are closed down which was a good revenue generator I understand too.

    It's not looking good for boards.ie :(

    Think boards need to look at accepting offers from IT pro's on here for help.



  • Registered Users Posts: 13,187 ✭✭✭✭ Arghus


    Thank you for that very honest assessment.

    I would suggest stickying this post or at least making it visible on the front page: it's the frankest overall picture of the state of thesite I've read since the changeover happened.

    A lot of people don't venture as far as the feedback forum and I think many people may not realise that boards was in serious risk of going under. That knowledge won't appease some people but it will many others.



  • Registered Users Posts: 495 ✭✭ Láidir agus Dílis


    I don't know what you see but I get 'no result'.



  • Registered Users Posts: 11,290 ✭✭✭✭ Hello 2D Person Below


    To be honest, I forget what the old site was even like at this stage.

    My only gripe now really is the lack of posters - the site itself is functional. Some of my favourite threads have been abandoned and the ones I do frequent are the same old names.

    It's at the stage where someone will start a new thread and before I even enter it I'll know which posters will be in there and what their take will be.



  • Moderators, Regional North West Moderators Posts: 43,150 Mod ✭✭✭✭ muffler


    What a load of tosh. You obviously were sanctioned in some way and now it's everyone's fault but yours. Heard it all before.



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