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  • vBulletin Support - Large Boards.

    I have a question about supporting vBulletin on large boards which is where it would seem vBulletin shines. Most of all the large commercial boards out there are all vBulletin. It seems that more often than not when you are having a problem (just about any problem) you get the same answer from support.

    To troubleshoot this, first reupload all the original vB non-image files (except install.php). Make sure you upload these in ASCII format and overwrite the ones on the server. Also be sure to upload the admincp files to whichever directory you have set in your config.php file. Then run 'Suspect File Versions' in Diagnostics to make sure you have all the original files for your version and that none show 'File does not contain expected contents':

    Admin CP -> Maintenance -> Diagnostics -> Suspect File Versions

    [Note: In some cases you may also need to remove any of the listed .xml files in the includes/xml directory.]

    Next, disable all plugins.

    Note: To temporarily disable the plugin system, edit config.php and add this line right under <?php

    define('DISABLE_HOOKS', true);



    Now while this may in fact be a good way to trouble shoot and help you come up with a solution, what do you do when you are using a few mods, portal software such as vBadvanced and have thousands of users on your site? When support finds out that you have a portal or any mods of any kind they seem to run the other way until you disable everything. I mean who really runs totally box stock vBulletin software?

    So the question is, how do you go about disabling everything and reverting templates on a live site with thousands of users? How do you troubleshoot forum issues without disrupting members? How do you solve problems with out taking the entire site back to stock?

    On the other hand I’m a regular member of rcgroups.com, one of the largest vBulletin boards I’ve seen. We’re talking over 250,000 members and almost ten million posts. At anyone time there are five to eight thousand users on-line. The board is highly customized, rock solid and has been around for many many years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it down. Are they so big they pretty much ignore vBulletin support and employ their own PHP / vBulletin programmers?

    I’m asking all this because I’ve been a long time SMF / Tiny Portal user. I still have two of my sites running SMF/ TP but on the third site I’m switching to vBulletin as this site is going to be a fairly large commercial board. I have the cut-over planned for this Friday but honestly I’m scared to death that once I get the members moved over if I have problems to deal with it’s going to be hell if I have to put vb back to stock every time I need to fix a problem.

    There are things about SMF that I love and are far and away better than vb. Forum stats for one (I'm going to miss those), and second a tightly integrated portal that’s the best I’ve ever seen, and third is how you upgrade the software. One click of a button and you are done. Fourth I guess would be that fact that you can get help fixing problems and not have to start reverting your boards back to stock to figure out what the problem us.

    The major problem with SMF among other things is their theme system which totally sucks including their default theme, if you want a different look you better be a theme designer or get ready to pay someone. Then if something in their software changes you are screwed again. It’s a real pain.

    Now vBulletin kicks butt in these areas. I love the fact you can change up the look just by some simple template edits in admin. The new features in 3.7 are awesome and far superior to anything out there and thank you for finally putting in ad placeholders in the templates. I also like the fact that pretty much anything and everything is configurable through admin.

    What I don’t like are the statistics which are well behind the curve as far as usefulness. VB can take a lesson from SMF on this one and for commercial software you really need to address this. The other is their stance on mods. I’ll say it again, who really runs totally box stock vBulletin software?

    I pondered long and hard about moving my commercial board from SMF to VB. I hope I’ve done the right thing because there’s no going back. I think I have.

    Anyway, what’s your thoughts?

  • #2
    Originally posted by dklassen View Post
    I have a question about supporting vBulletin on large boards which is where it would seem vBulletin shines. Most of all the large commercial boards out there are all vBulletin. It seems that more often than not when you are having a problem (just about any problem) you get the same answer from support.



    Now while this may in fact be a good way to trouble shoot and help you come up with a solution, what do you do when you are using a few mods, portal software such as vBadvanced and have thousands of users on your site? When support finds out that you have a portal or any mods of any kind they seem to run the other way until you disable everything. I mean who really runs totally box stock vBulletin software?

    So the question is, how do you go about disabling everything and reverting templates on a live site with thousands of users? How do you troubleshoot forum issues without disrupting members? How do you solve problems with out taking the entire site back to stock?

    On the other hand I’m a regular member of rcgroups.com, one of the largest vBulletin boards I’ve seen. We’re talking over 250,000 members and almost ten million posts. At anyone time there are five to eight thousand users on-line. The board is highly customized, rock solid and has been around for many many years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it down. Are they so big they pretty much ignore vBulletin support and employ their own PHP / vBulletin programmers?

    I’m asking all this because I’ve been a long time SMF / Tiny Portal user. I still have two of my sites running SMF/ TP but on the third site I’m switching to vBulletin as this site is going to be a fairly large commercial board. I have the cut-over planned for this Friday but honestly I’m scared to death that once I get the members moved over if I have problems to deal with it’s going to be hell if I have to put vb back to stock every time I need to fix a problem.

    There are things about SMF that I love and are far and away better than vb. Forum stats for one (I'm going to miss those), and second a tightly integrated portal that’s the best I’ve ever seen, and third is how you upgrade the software. One click of a button and you are done. Fourth I guess would be that fact that you can get help fixing problems and not have to start reverting your boards back to stock to figure out what the problem us.

    The major problem with SMF among other things is their theme system which totally sucks including their default theme, if you want a different look you better be a theme designer or get ready to pay someone. Then if something in their software changes you are screwed again. It’s a real pain.

    Now vBulletin kicks butt in these areas. I love the fact you can change up the look just by some simple template edits in admin. The new features in 3.7 are awesome and far superior to anything out there and thank you for finally putting in ad placeholders in the templates. I also like the fact that pretty much anything and everything is configurable through admin.

    What I don’t like are the statistics which are well behind the curve as far as usefulness. VB can take a lesson from SMF on this one and for commercial software you really need to address this. The other is their stance on mods. I’ll say it again, who really runs totally box stock vBulletin software?

    I pondered long and hard about moving my commercial board from SMF to VB. I hope I’ve done the right thing because there’s no going back. I think I have.

    Anyway, what’s your thoughts?
    I can tell you why they do this. From a software design standpoint, vBulletin supports vBulletin. They will support the software they write but cannot support software they do not write. You would not call Microsoft and ask for support on Adobe products although just because they are installed on a Windows Machine. The same holds true for vBulletin.

    They have no idea who has written the mods for a site and have no idea how those mods may affect the vBulletin core. For all they know, the mod may delete all posts from a forum. This is not a vBulletin bug but rather a bug in the mod which vBulletin did not code

    They have you disable all plugins/mods and have you check for suspect file versions so they can ensure you are only running vBulletin and no mods. That way they can support their product

    Comment


    • #3
      I understand what you are saying and I'm not knocking vb but wouldn't that then be true for all forum software scripts? I can get support for SMF without first disabling everything and reverting back to default templates. vBulletin does offer a way in admin to import mods from places such as vbulletin.org so modding a forum is widely accepted.

      So I guess one of my questions is, how do people deal with this on LARGE busy commercial boards that have been highly customized?

      Comment


      • #4
        Pretty much what RGF said and I think its pretty much a given that when you have a board that size, you have at least a pretty good idea of basic trouble shooting skills. You may not know how to rebuild a car engine but you can change the oil so to speak.
        Plan, Do, Check, Act!

        Comment


        • #5
          So I guess one of my questions is, how do people deal with this on LARGE busy commercial boards that have been highly customized?
          Most will roll out changes on a test board first to see if there are any issues before they go live. If any issues are spotted, they will deactive the mods to track down whether its an issue with the vb core code or with an addon that isn't playing right and go from there.
          Plan, Do, Check, Act!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by dklassen View Post
            I can get support for SMF without first disabling everything and reverting back to default templates.
            Well, SMF only makes money off of support, right? Jelsoft might annoy people slightly if they insist on people disabling hacks, but they probably won't lose many licenses. Every paying SMF customer who's told that they aren't eligible for support will cease all payment to them, so I imagine they can't really afford to deny support on any basis at all.

            As a general rule, few software developers are willing to debug third-party code. Jelsoft is very much typical in that regard.
            Originally posted by dklassen View Post
            So I guess one of my questions is, how do people deal with this on LARGE busy commercial boards that have been highly customized?
            They fix the problems themselves. If you know what you're doing, you don't really need support, and any large, customized board had better have at least one person who knows what he's doing. If you do find a problem you can't pin down, one of the most important steps you'll be taking anyway is to try to reproduce it on a fresh install of vBulletin, and if you can do that, you can get support.

            (I've done that once, actually, although I gave up and the problem remains unresolved to this day. For some reason nobody can create new PM folders on my board, and the problem was reproducible when I tried installing a database dump on a fresh vB install.)
            System Administrator, Total War Center

            Developer, MediaWiki

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by dklassen View Post
              Are they so big they pretty much ignore vBulletin support and employ their own PHP / vBulletin programmers?
              Thats exactly what happens.

              Comment


              • #8
                dklassen, that's a great point you brought up! And thanks for bringing it up. First, in all the times they've asked me to disable all that stuff NOT ONCE was that the problem! Not one single time. They often leave me with the feeling they're trying to discourage me from asking for support sometimes.

                Originally posted by rgf207 View Post
                They have no idea who has written the mods for a site and have no idea how those mods may affect the vBulletin core.
                That's not really true. Of course they know about the major mods. And if they don't, they certainly should. Are they really going to pretend a product called vbadvanced doesn't exist?

                It's kind of like this. I've owned and run a web hosting company for 13 years. All we do is host client web sites. We don't write scripts, we don't control scripts that customers might put on their sites, like vbulletin. We aren't php programmers either. BUT, over the years we've come to know about a lot of these products. Some because we use them ourselves and others because many of our customers use them.

                How idiotic would it be of us if someone called and said they had a problem with a script they were running for us not to at least take a look and see if it's a problem we recognized. 90% of the time we'll spot a flaw in their php coding right off the bat and we thus save them the trouble from having to contact their other vendors for support. It's something we can do very quickly and easily and it helps them a great deal.

                Imagine if vbulletin could say "oh, you're using vbadvanced? Okay, we know that product and we know it does not cause the problem you're having... so no need to disable that." That would be really helpful! But I have to tell you I always get the feeling they just don't want to be bothered.

                They know good and well what vbadvanced is and what a lot of other products are. And they know which ones cause certain problems and which ones don't. You can't not learn that when you support a product like this for so many years.

                At my hosting company we know what vbulletin is because we use it. As a result we have many other customers who use it as well. Often they'll ask us if we can spot a problem before they'll contact vB because they know if we know we'll tell them! And they'll get a much quicker and straigher answer that way. Half the time we know the answer and the other half we tell them they'll have to contact vB... and you always hear the "ugh" on the other end of the line.




                For all they know, the mod may delete all posts from a forum. This is not a vBulletin bug but rather a bug in the mod which vBulletin did not code

                They have you disable all plugins/mods and have you check for suspect file versions so they can ensure you are only running vBulletin and no mods. That way they can support their product[/quote]

                Comment


                • #9
                  It's a perfectly acceptable troubleshooting technique to turn off plugins / 3rd party code. Doesn't matter if it's a big addon like vBAdvanced, or a small one. They didn't write it, nor do they have any reason to support it. More importantly, I'm sure they don't have the time to read and pour over everyone else's code for bugs and security flaws. Don't forget some addons have their own addon systems, so you're now getting into another level of modified code.

                  Either way, assuming your mods are all plugins, it takes only a second to turn them all off. Some people have also developed techniques using automatic template plugins, and code comparison programs, where they can upgrade their forum and re-install all of their complex addons in a matter of minutes.

                  I'd agree with the rest in saying that big boards have someone on staff who knows how to interpret code to a certain level.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Yeah, well it may be perfectly acceptable, but it's annoying as hell to customers. Especially when you know they know! And I know they know some of the things they've asked me to turn everything off for had nothing whatsoever to do with any plugins.

                    That's fine. I mean if they want to give average technical support that's their prerogative. I'm just saying if they wanted to be excellent they might sometimes, just every now and then go an extra inch or two to help their customers out. I do it all the time in my business and my customers really appreciate it.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      VB has always taken a hardcore stance against mods and add-on's. Like you said, they know full well about vbadvanced and routinely send folks over to vbulletin.org, but when is comes to supporting the software more often than not you get the cold shoulder unless you strip your site clean.

                      VB really should change their attitude on this. I don't expect them to support and trouble shoot all the mods floating around but on the other hand it's not always feasible to strip your site down to troubleshoot one small problem.

                      So lets say I have a board with twenty thousand members and generally two or three thousand on-line at any one time. I come up with an issue and the first thing out of the gate is I have to pull down my CMS, all my mods, revert templates, re-upload org files, etc before anyone at VB will even point me in a direction that may get me fixed without doing all that.

                      It's little more than a matter of attitude. If the other forum makers out there can do it so can vBulletin especially since it's a paid for script.

                      It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Here’s one from today. If a member posts a photo too large it will blow out the sides of the forum margins. What’s the answer from vBulletin support?

                      “Sorry, there is no function to do this. This requires modifying the code. We cannot officially support code modifications or forums running modified code, however you can try searching or asking for help with this over at www.vbulletin.org.”

                      Code modification? That isn’t a function, it’s a defect. How about just fixing it so no mod is necessary? Ever heard of a scroll bar within a post? I don’t mind installing a mod to take up the slack but as a paying customer it really pisses me off when they then turn around and blame mods first when you are having issues.

                      I truly wish they would change their attitude on support. Look, I’m not trying to bash vBulletin. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t use it. All I’m saying is they need to step it up a notch. I’m banking the future of an extremely large board with vBulletin.
                      Last edited by dklassen; Thu 26th Jun '08, 9:39pm.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Yes, dklassen, you said it well. Great examples too! And I agree with your final point, they could definitely stand to step it up a notch.

                        I wonder sometimes if being a British-based company they don't just have a more stodgy clunky attitude towards these things than an American company might have. They act like they're almost afraid they might get sued if they give you a wrong answer! Hence the same canned and careful responses to every question.

                        I had an issue awhile back where nobody could upload any attachments or photos. They start off telling me to disable everything. I told them the only thing I was using at the time was vbadvanced. They could have easily said "we don't think vbadvanced has anything to do with this particular problem so let's try something else." But no, I have to turn everything off just to prove the problem still exists.

                        There are situations when we give tech support to our customers of my web hosting company when we tell them what we think the problem could be - when it has something to do with a script they're using that we don't support. But in other cases we just tell them they have to get support from whoever provided the script they're using. After doing this for years and years, we can tell when we know the answer and when we don't. And sometimes we know the answer about software we don't actually support. And in those cases, we happily tell them the answer. In other cases, we tell them to contact their vendor.

                        vB comes across as really rigid and uptight about what they'll tell us. They won't say a thing unless it directly concerns vB.

                        And the thing is there are other companies now, as you mentioned, making great products in different ways that don't have some of these problems you're talking about here.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Just to be fair, there is no perfect software. Trust me when I say all the others have their issues including SMF. In the case of one of my particular forums I have moved to vb for various reasons.

                          I've been a Software Development Project Manager for more than 15 years for several multi-billion dollar corporations so I know a little about creating software, the process behind it, QA and post production support.

                          I have a love hate relationship with vb. I hope eventually I'll be able to leave out the latter.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Yep, that's right. It's pretty decent everything considered. Thing is it used to be truly the best. I'm not so sure if that's true anymore. I'd like to see them regain the top spot though since I'm so tied to it already. But you're right, they're not bad all things considered. And I have to say I've gotten some really good tech support lately. Fast responses and after we get passed the initial pro formas they're pretty good.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              The blog, groups, personal photo albums and a few other features is what tipped the scale for me.

                              I just wish they would close the gaps on the other stuff. < pounding on the table >.

                              Comment

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