vBulletin review - how Internet Brands have killed off vBulletin

Stuart Wright

AVForums Founder
Staff member
vBulletin's Heyday
We first adopted vBulletin (vB) back in 2001 when AVForums outgrew Ultimate Bulletin Board software and, needing better technology, migrated to vB2.

vBulletin was created by James Lim and John Percival and its history is available to read at the vBulletin Wikipedia page.

vBulletin was owned and developed by a British company with largely a British development team of Mike Sullivan, Scott MacVicar, Jeremy Hutchins and Freddie Bingam with Kier Darby taking the lead developer role.

If it wasn't already the market leading forum software, vBulletin soon grew to be with vBulletin 3, which sustained its popularity for years. AVForums upgraded from vBulletin 2 to 3 shortly after it was released in 2004 and I recall the process being relatively painless.

During its 2001 to 2007 heyday, vBulletin was adopted by most of the forums in the world including some of the largest still running. At that time I unreservedly recommended vBulletin and was a staunch proponent of the platform. One February I enjoyed bumping into Kier Darby and Ashley Busby at the Bristol Sound and Vision show where AVForums was exhibiting. I felt part of a thriving community of friends.
At that time I would have given a full 5 star review to vB3.

The writing on the wall
Unsurprisingly, Jelsoft got on the radar of big US company Internet Brands (IB). vBulletin runs most of the community websites which IB own, and they bought Jelsoft in 2007. At that point I had mixed feelings about the takeover. On the one hand a big company can help with resources to develop software better and quicker. On the other hand I felt strongly that the key people in charge of steering vBulletin needed to continue doing so.

With many other forum admin, I had been hoping for a rewrite of vBulletin for the next major release - version 4, and this had been promised by Kier in mid 2008. However, that decision was reversed by the CEO of IB, Bob Brisco, because it would delay the launch of vB4 too much.

I was disappointed but still optimistic for the future of vBulletin until in 2009 when Mike Sullivan, Kier Darby, Scott MacVicar, Jeremy Hutchins, Ashley Busby and others all left the company and the UK Jelsoft offices were closed. I now had grave concerns over the future of the software because the new developers were an unknown quantity. I expressed these concerns over at vBulletin and the (then) product manager Ray Morgan answered them directly. His words did not reassure me.

AVForums was using 3.8.2 at the time and I decided not to upgrade further until I was certain that the next release was good enough. By which I mean coded well and functioning reliably. As it happens we never upgraded.

Fears realised
So vBulletin 4 was released at the end of 2009 and in my opinion was terrible for vBulletin users. It had many bugs and was not an easy upgrade (the vBulletin forum itself was down for 28 hours while it upgraded).
It had well publicised security problems and a PR disaster of a new pricing structure. The admin community was not happy and many consider that we had to wait for over two years for a stable version of vB4 in the form of vBulletin 4.2. Of all the major versions of vB, 4.2.x is the one most commonly used (by a small margin over 3.8.x).

In a nutshell the management driving the development of vBulletin simply weren't up to the job. What they needed to do was replace the original team with quality coders and a lead developer with the experience and autonomy to drive vBulletin in the right direction.

Furthermore, they evidently still aren't up to the job. The release of vBulletin 5 Connect in September 2012 was even more nightmarish than the release of vBulletin 4. It was available to purchase in beta and only exited beta the following February. Coders have examined vB5 Connect and have heavily criticised it.

The owner of Digital Point, Shawn Hogan comments
"Definitely will never upgrade. Too slow, too many queries to render a page (100+), too much bloat (CSS files about 450KB, etc.)".
(Source)

"vBulletin after being taken over by Internet Brands became a total failure, looking at vBulletin 5 should explain what I mean."
"The current condition of vBulletin is dire and we don't know when Internet Brands will pull the plug on vBulletin if they stop generating positive revenue."
(Source)

"you must see the writing on the wall.
a> VBulletin 4 is no longer developed. It's a matter of time before it becomes too obsolete.
b> VBulletin 5 is a failed software. The current market share of VB5 is about half a percent.
Hence it is only a matter of time before VBulletin completely dies or at least becomes too insignificant to consider any investment by a third party wishing to start a product around VBulletin.
"
(Source)

Since its first release, development of vB5 Connect has continued with bugs removed and features added, but most admin are not prepared to upgrade to it, I think most probably because they do not consider it to be a viable forum platform.

As a result, the vBulletin.com community is littered with dissatisfied customers' complaints. And when customers are silenced by having their threads closed or deleted, they move over to independent admin sites like The Admin Zone where they vent with no official ear to hear them.
Also the vB5 area at vBulletin.org (where users get styles and addons for their vB5 forums) has very few contributors. Considering vB5 has been out for more than a year, one would expect the addon community to be thriving by now. But it's not happening.

Statistics
At the time of writing (February 2014), a web-wide cookie analysis of the use of major versions of vBulletin reveal that only 1% of vBulletin forums are running version 5, while 53.9% are running version 4 and a huge 44.6% are running versions 3.6, 3.7 or 3.8.
temp1.jpg

Source: Cookie Search (Digital Point Cookie page)

Let's take a quick look at the largest vBulletin forums (by the number of posts as of April 2013 as displayed on the Wikipedia vBulletin page) :
  1. Offtopic.com
  2. Something Awful
  3. Forocoches
  4. PBNation
  5. Bodybuilding.com
  6. Fan Forum
  7. SkyscraperCity
  8. Two Plus Two
  9. NeoGAF
and a quick look at their source code tells us that 7 of them are running vBulletin 3, one is running vBulletin 2 and one is running vBulletin 4.

Even vBulletin.org, the official vBulletin addon and customisation site is still at version 3, as are many of Internet Brands' major forums.
Another couple of relevant statistics from the Digital Point cookie page is the analysis of migrations between the major commercial form platforms vBulletin (vB), Invision Power Board (IPB) and Xenforo (XF) and their relative market shares.

Currently over 73% of forum software migrations are from vB to XF with only 4.6% going in the other direction. The net migrations away from vB means that its market share has dropped from over 75.34% September 1st 2013 to 67.51% February 1st 2014 with IPB picking up about 1.5% and XF picking up over 5%.
temp2.jpg

That's a loss of nearly 8% market share in 5 months. If I were Internet Brands, I would be seriously worried.

Migrate or stagnate?
What these facts illustrate is that many forum owners have declined upgrading from version 3 to 4 and hardly any are using version 5. This can only be considered a major failure on the part of the Internet Brands' vBulletin development team.

vBulletin forum admins' concerns have been aired for years and can be found in the forum for vB Licence owners.
This forum is not viewable by non license holders and so is hidden from the rest of the world including Google and people considering purchasing vBulletin.

From what I have seen in admin communities across the 'net, most of the savvy forum owners have looked at the situation, see no future in vBulletin and are migrating to other software. Here is one example. The statistics above show that many forum owners are migrating away from vBulletin. However, many are not.

The problem for big board owners is that it's not easy to migrate. It's a tough process because over time, owners tend to add specific features and functionality to their forums that they don't want to lose.
Examples of highly customised vB3 forums are Money Saving Expert and Digital Spy.
And those features and functions are not always available in other software. When we migrated AVForums to Xenforo, we had to have a whole bunch of addons written.

It took us months to prepare, but with some planning, we got 1.6 million threads and 19 million posts across to Xenforo, and AVForums back up and running in 7.5 hours. Like us, most forum owners will find the migration process a challenge.

The problem for forum owners which makes this a pressing issue is that while vBulletin 3 and 4 stagnate, web users are getting used to the latest features of social media sites which bring a richer experience. Unless forums can keep up, they will start to look and feel dated. Those admin who sit back and declare that they are happy to stay with vBulletin are, in my opinion, making a grave mistake.

The conclusion - vBulletin is already dead
For vBulletin forum owners like me, Internet Brands should undoubtedly be seen as the villain of this story. IB bought, and have ruined the forum software that we have based our forum, our passion, our business on. By making vBulletin untenable, IB have forced us to invest a significant sum of money migrating AVForums away from vBulletin to different forum software.

I don't set the blame at the front line vBulletin support staff, whose job it is to respond to complaints. I don't really blame the coders, either. They are as good or bad as they are, and any poor code that they produce is the responsibility of the management who have employed them. Personally, I lay the blame directly at the door of Bob Brisco. It is he who is responsible for the decision not to rewrite vB4 from scratch. It is he who put the original development team in a position where they felt they had no choice but to resign. As the CEO of Internet Brands, the buck stops with him.

Brisco's biggest mistake was underestimating the value of the original vB coding team. Those people created the market leading software and yet Internet Brands put them in a situation where they chose to leave the company. (The reasons for Kier's departure are referenced in his witness statements in the Internet Brands vs Xenforo trial.).

vBulletin has no future. Its management is bad and its coders are creating bad code. vBulletin 5 Connect is a retrograde step. It's slower, more buggy and lacking essential, basic features of vB4. Compared to other forum platforms simply does not work to the standard required to run a community. And given the track record of Internet Brands over the last six years, there is no reason to expect the situation to improve.

If sites like AVForums and Digital Point, myself and Shawn Hogan previously loyal to vBulletin, have made the choice and the considerable effort to move away from vBulletin, then what does that say about the situation?

Admittedly I have not used vBulletin 5 so it might seem unfair to review it or make a recommendation one way or the other. I do, however, trust the judgement of coders (better than me) who have looked closely at vB5 Connect. And I have read the threads (mostly hidden from public view, though some may exist here) from vB5 owners who are complaining about bugs and complaining that their communities are dying and requesting refunds on the purchase of the software.

vBulletin 5 Connect gets zero stars in my review, and vBulletin as a product is dead. Avoid it.
 
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Dillon Lawrence

Novice Member
I agree with this article 100%. I do wonder if Internet Brands will actually reply but it's unlikely. I'd say there's a 0.000001% chance they will.
 

bncloud

Novice Member
What are Mike Sullivan, Scott MacVicar, Jeremy Hutchins, Freddie Bingam, and Kier Darby doing now? Are they available to create the net generation discussion application? Perhaps it's time to make a monumental leap.
 

Stuart Wright

AVForums Founder
Staff member
What are Mike Sullivan, Scott MacVicar, Jeremy Hutchins, Freddie Bingam, and Kier Darby doing now? Are they available to create the net generation discussion application? Perhaps it's time to make a monumental leap.
Mike and Kier created Xenforo (with Ashley Bushby is doing their marketing). Scott went to Facebook. Freddie stayed with Internet Brands for some years but was fired mid 2013. Freddie Bingham | LinkedIn
Jeremy Hutchings
 

ActorMike

Novice Member
Thanks for the post! We have had a Vbulletin forum since 2003 running 3.x. Recently because of the mobile friendly requirements from google I purchased the Mobile suite. One business day later, the piracy department erroneously starts sending messages to multiple addresses saying we are unlicensed and lying and claiming it was a coincidence they sent it immediately after our purchase. Really? After they acknowledged the mistake, they didn't even apologize and went on to the next demand that we put "powered by Vbulletin" in the footer. Sorry, but the legal contract doesn't say that specifically in the agreement! You must have copyright notice, but it doesn't specify what.

Once we finally got that straightened out a few hours later, Mark Bowland who apparently answers both sales & support tickets around the clock now because they have a skeleton crew, posts an update to my support ticket stating"I'm sorry, until your site is license-compliant, we are unable to provide any support. That is, and always has been, company policy."

He basically just ratted himself out as the "anonymous person" that reported our site for piracy after 12 years because when he sent the message, the site was license compliant and I had a message confirming it and apologizing. Proves they were the ones emailing the other department erroneously reporting our site for piracy.

Instead of supporting the software I purchased, they found reasons not to support it. Obviously they were accustomed to saying/doing whatever they wanted to people back in the hay day. Now they have something called competition.

People are creatures of habit, but not when they are treated like this! We're moving to Xenforo ASAP!

I suspect some of the software they've made over time isn't going to be the only thing obsolete. I think they only reason they are still in business is they have employees performing multiple duties around the clock. It's just a matter of time. Companies with leadership this poor don't survive.
 

facebook123

Novice Member
What you said is 100% correct, I have a vbulletin 3.8 forum which was started 3 years ago.After vb4 came into picture i faced so many troubles in a testing environment to upgrade from 3.8 to 4.
and also coders stopped making plugins so it having very less plugins.My forum is a board with 72k members and more than 57k threads.Its horrible to upgrade to vb 4.But if i want move vb to xeneforo i suppose to start from scratch.Any way vbulletin guys maker people life horrible who using their product. huh.
 

Sean Engle

Novice Member
Oh my...I am coming to this party late!

I'm the owner/admin of EricsonYachts.org: The Starting Point on Ericson Yachts! - we've been using vBulletin since 2000 when the site was created. I had no idea all of this had transpired! It really saddens me to hear that a company as wonderful as this has fallen prey to corporate greed.

I just discovered this post of yours Stuart after purchasing vB 5.25, setting up a test site and attempting to migrate us there - not fun. Reading your post has given me real pause - and now I am seriously considering moving to XF - especially of some of the original talent of vB is there....

Thanks so much for the heads-up - it's invaluable.

Oh - and as an American - my deepest apologies to you and the world for the nightmare that is about to assume power in our country...

//sse
 

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