Important State of the Forum Address 2019

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
My fellow Orbinauts;


I know things have been quieter around these parts than they used to be, and I want to make it clear that this in no way means our board is being neglected. All the active forum staff are dedicated to keeping the public boards clear of spam, and that takes a lot of effort behind the scenes that you might not see from the public perspective; that means it's working! I've also been putting a lot of work in the last 18 months to get the technologies our servers use and the software we rely on to the latest and most secure versions I can.



To that end, you may have seen my call for vBulletin-5 compliant style assistance a little earlier this year. As long time customers of vBulletin, it initially seemed to make a good deal of sense for us to move from our current, ageing 3.8 version of the software to the newest offering from the same developers, because the upgrade path to that newer version seemed like it would be most straightforward, as compared to migrating to an alternative product. This, however, has not been the case; the call for styling went mostly unanswered, and I hit several other niggling issues with migrating the data onto our test board that I couldn't see a simple path to resolve. On top of this, vBulletin 5 hasn't been the huge stride ahead in modernity that we'd expected, and there are a number of deficiencies in the offering the developers don't seem to want to solve directly, relying instead on the goodwill (and voluntary time) of third-party extension developers.



So, over the last week, I've been looking at alternatives, and I've hit on a couple of likely candidates, the frontrunner at the moment being xenforo. This looks, from front and back-end, like it ticks most of the boxes we want, while having built-in capacity to import data from our version of vBulletin (among others). As well, the developers have given me some assurances that if it proves not to be a solution for our board after a few weeks of usage, we would be able to get a full refund of our license cost, which we'd then potentially put towards a different product.


You can request a free demo of XenForo on their site, and have a click around, both front and backend - it's pretty slick and straightfoward, but crucially, it's a supported piece of software, which is more than can be said for even the current version of vBulletin. The licensing costs, however, are where we've hit a bit of an issue, and before I go into how we got here, I'll just show you a screenshot from this morning when I went to the Orbiter Forum PayPal account to check our balance - something I generally only do once or twice a year;


paypal.png


All the way back in 2015, I made a post about some issues we were facing with PayPal suspending our account because we had too much money in it, and we'd exceeded a (seemingly arbitrary) threshold wherin they wanted us to prove our identies. Because of the nationality of one of our founding members (that'd be Tim, if you're curious), Orbiter Forum is established as an Australian "company", though not one that turns a profit. At the time, we had a balance just north of 1,000 AUD, which was something like 740 USD on the exchange markets at the time.


PayPal didn't like the evidence we submitted the first few times and eventually suspended our ability to take payments. We couldn't access our funds, and, importantly, all regular donations to the PayPal account were disrupted. PayPal still don't let you pause and resume a recurring payment; either you're paying someone, or you aren't. So when we eventually settled the matter with them, through some serious hard work and repeated phone calls Tim had to make, we had access to our existing balance again, but the recurring donations were gone.


A lot of very observant and generous members realised this and came back to re-establish their recurring donations. Some didn't realise, or just didn't decide to re-start their donation. We take donations extremely gratefully, and I'm really grateful each and every time anybody chooses to donate to our coffers to help cover our server bills. However, it became clear after a month or so that our regular income had diminished after this incident, greatly, and we had to re-balance a few things at the time to keep things as they should be, and we soldiered on.


In 2018, it happened again. Now, I perhaps could've seen it coming the first time, what with the balance slowly increasing and such, but the second time came as a real surprise to us all. We had, or so we thought, resolved the identity issues with PayPal, and once again I had to drag Tim out of his busy life and ask him to get on a phone and argue the toss with PayPal again. This dragged on for a bit, but had the same impact on our PayPal account; once more, all the regular subscriptions were discontinued. We had 1000 AUD in the account at this time, around the start of 2018.


Since then, we have been receiving about 25 USD monthly from our remaining regular donators. I am, and I will remain, extremely grateful to anybody who chooses to part with their hard-earned cash by donating some of it to the forum, but the reality is this;

  1. We take 25 USD in from donations on a monthly regular basis
  2. We haven't really taken any one-time donations recently
  3. Our monthly expenses for operating the site is 60 USD
As you can see, there's a pretty big deficit in terms of what's coming in, and what's got to go out to keep this place the way it is - much less consider doing a big forum upgrade to ensure the security and stability of the forum for the next ten to fifteen years of operation!


So this is in part an appeal to those of you who might have had recurring donations in the past, or might not have realised the situation that we're in, but if you can spare a small amount monthly, we'll be able to keep the lights flashing in the server room for a good while to come. I want to be clear, though, we have also a buffer in our hosting provider - about 100 USD - so there's no immediate danger of Orbiter Forum suddenly going offline when the PayPal account runs dry; having been burned twice by PayPal this seemed like a prudent course to take.


Before we can really think about updating to newer software, we need to get the server bills being paid. If we can get the forum's coffers back up to the levels of last January, I can take some of that capital and invest it in a XenForo licence, and this unlocks a few previously locked avenues for further community development, some of which I'll list here;

  1. Single-sign on to a new OHM website using your OF handle - a real, oauth2 SSO, not some janky shared database or cookie hack
  2. Proper OHM integration - again, none of this shared database nonsense. I need an API endpoint on the forum side that just doesn't exist in vBulletin.
  3. Further SSO to services like the Orbiter Forum Discord Server
  4. More, yet to be developed and announced, features involving Orbiter itself.
So, let me close by thanking again everyone who has chosen to donate to Orbiter Forum in the past, who continues to do so, or who can't donate financially but find other ways to contribute to our community, even if that's just by being a stand-up member of it. It's been a privilege to administrate this community for as long as I have (that sounds ominously final, but I'm not going anywhere), and I'm excited to see what we can do for the future of our site, and our little group of probe-hailers.


:hailprobe:
Thanks for reading.
 

Notebook

Addon Developer
Addon Developer
Donator
Joined
Nov 20, 2007
Messages
11,068
Reaction score
59
Points
123
Willing to help, but I haven't seen the donation screen in a while.

Is it obvious in plain view and I can't see it? It used to be a horizontal bar on one of the menus.
I thought you had gone onto some other finance?

Edit: found it, on the blue title bar on the main page highlighted in green.
If I can suggest it needs more visibility, I wouldn't have noticed till your post!
 
Last edited:

Traveller

Donator
Donator
Joined
Apr 25, 2012
Messages
27
Reaction score
0
Points
1
Donate link in green, center of the bar up top. My annual donation will be coming Real Soon Now.
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
Willing to help, but I haven't seen the donation screen in a while.

Is it obvious in plain view and I can't see it? It used to be a horizontal bar on one of the menus.
I thought you had gone onto some other finance?

Edit: found it, on the blue title bar on the main page highlighted in green.
If I can suggest it needs more visibility, I wouldn't have noticed till your post!

Honestly, I only view the forum in the Orbiter style, and I hadn't considered how it looks on other styles. What style are you using?
 

Notebook

Addon Developer
Addon Developer
Donator
Joined
Nov 20, 2007
Messages
11,068
Reaction score
59
Points
123
Honestly, I only view the forum in the Orbiter style, and I hadn't considered how it looks on other styles. What style are you using?
Haven't changed anything, default style.

Not a problem now I remember where it is!
 

dbeachy1

O-F Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Messages
8,582
Reaction score
57
Points
123
Location
VA
Website
www.alteaaerospace.com
Thanks, all!! FWIW, I'm now a monthly donator as well. :tiphat:
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
We have considered quite a few forum engines, some free, some paid. I've been sorely tempted to write my own because of the available product range. An incomplete list of the considered products follows:

  • vBulletin 4.x
  • vBulletin 5.x
  • phpBB 3.x
  • simple machines forum
  • Invision powerboards
  • NodeBB
  • Conrod (dummy name for a bespoke one written in house)
  • XenForo 2.x

To date, XenForo has been the only commercially supported product that ticks a vast quantity of the boxes we need ticking. Commercial support really helps us if we have issues with the product, and while I'm a big believer in FOSS and commercial-free software, I operate OF similarly to how I run services at work, with a high degree of caution.

I hope that answers a little bit why I think XenForo is a good way forwards, despite costing money. If you look at the demo, and compare that experience to phpBB (many phpBB sites exist, most clear one is the phpBB community site), I think that makes it quite clear that XenForo is a much more complete and slick experience.
 

Face

Addon Developer
Addon Developer
Beta Tester
Joined
Mar 18, 2008
Messages
4,111
Reaction score
43
Points
73
Location
Vienna
To date, XenForo has been the only commercially supported product that ticks a vast quantity of the boxes we need ticking.
Could you elaborate a bit on what those boxes are? E.g. features, security (you mentioned proper OAuth2 for SSO, so that's a point, I suppose), technology, activeness etc.?

If you look at the demo, and compare that experience to phpBB (many phpBB sites exist, most clear one is the phpBB community site), I think that makes it quite clear that XenForo is a much more complete and slick experience.
I must admit that it looks very plain to me, compared to other boards. But that might just be personal taste regarding "modern" designs. I guess as long as it offers a stable place to put threads on - with the ability to format posts with things like code, formulas, enumerations and basic font styling - it is a good choice from the PoV of the users.

Thanks for caring for the past, present and future of the forums, BTW!
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
Could you elaborate a bit on what those boxes are? E.g. features, security (you mentioned proper OAuth2 for SSO, so that's a point, I suppose), technology, activeness etc.?



I must admit that it looks very plain to me, compared to other boards. But that might just be personal taste regarding "modern" designs. I guess as long as it offers a stable place to put threads on - with the ability to format posts with things like code, formulas, enumerations and basic font styling - it is a good choice from the PoV of the users.

Thanks for caring for the past, present and future of the forums, BTW!

Remember that what you're seeing on the demo is the base style, I will certainly look to make any solution our own and give users choices of themes where I can.



In terms of boxes ticked that I mentioned earlier, my primary concerns, this time in some semblance of priority order:



  1. Stability; you would be amazed what is necessary to keep vBulletin 3.8 on life support, really.
  2. Security: highly important is that our users and our community are protected against exploits and gaps in the security coverage by the system. We've seen and prevented a few incidents now of exploits to vBulletin vulnerabilities.
  3. Support: the first two tie in to support. No software is bug free, but we need to know there's an outfit looking after their product, keeping it moving forward and fixing issues as they're discovered.
  4. New features or platform for new feature development: those things I mentioned in my previous post, like oauth2 SSO, become possible with a more extensible base.
 

jedidia

shoemaker without legs
Addon Developer
Joined
Mar 19, 2008
Messages
9,360
Reaction score
78
Points
138
Location
between the planets
Would you be planning on just buying a license and running with it for as long as it runs, or renewing it every year to stay up to date? Which payed extensions would you require?
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
Would you be planning on just buying a license and running with it for as long as it runs, or renewing it every year to stay up to date? Which payed extensions would you require?

The base forum, plus the resource manager and media extensions from the same developers, is a one off cost for the year. We'll run on that, and there's options for support renewal and security updates year on year.



I'm not able to guess at this stage at other paid extensions as I haven't had a copy of the software to explore fully in that regard, but from initial impressions I can say that a lot of the functionality we currently get from addons is built in.
 

kerlix

Donator
Donator
Joined
Mar 28, 2010
Messages
276
Reaction score
3
Points
18
Will this have any effect on Tapatalk access? I'm pretty sure I'm one of like 3 people actually using it.

It's just easier as I drive for a living doing patient transport and it's just easier (even though it seems I lose features/certain things don't display correctly, etc.) for me to access via the app between patients and during down time.


Sent from my PH-1 using Tapatalk
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
Will this have any effect on Tapatalk access? I'm pretty sure I'm one of like 3 people actually using it.

It's just easier as I drive for a living doing patient transport and it's just easier (even though it seems I lose features/certain things don't display correctly, etc.) for me to access via the app between patients and during down time.


Sent from my PH-1 using Tapatalk

Tapatalk support will continue. I have been reading up on the state of support for XenForo 2.1, and it seems like they're working on support for it, so it shouldn't go away.



That said, I find the mobile experience pretty solid without TT, I'm not sure how many people do use it (though I'm sure there's stats somewhere if I wanted to).
 

asbjos

tuanibrO
Addon Developer
Joined
Jun 22, 2011
Messages
611
Reaction score
29
Points
28
Location
This place called "home".
Thank you for your (continued) service!

On the FAQ page it says: "Each December any donation balance in the Orbiter-Forum PayPal account beyond one month's expenses is donated to a charity voted on by the forum membership."
Is this still true? I don't have a PayPal, so if one gives a donation intended to last for a year via credit card, is it put into OF/OHM or an other charity?
I don't have anything against other charities, but I would like to know what I'm paying for. :)
 

dbeachy1

O-F Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Messages
8,582
Reaction score
57
Points
123
Location
VA
Website
www.alteaaerospace.com
I remember there was public discussion about that, but as far as I know, no charity was ever decided on and so that did not happen (i.e., the money just stayed in the forum's PayPal account). It's just as well, though, because it looks like the forum would have run out of funds a long time ago due to the earlier PayPal problems that Xyon mentioned. At the time those terms were discussed, the forum had a positive cash flow every month and the subsequent problems with PayPal that resulted in losing almost all of the recurring donations was unforeseen.

I do agree we should revisit that and update the terms, though, because realistically we can't rely on the forum remaining cash-flow-positive each month, and so the forum will need a cash buffer to handle those times. But Xyon can comment further.
 

Xyon

Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
Administrator
Moderator
Addon Developer
Webmaster
GFX Staff
Donator
Beta Tester
Joined
Aug 9, 2009
Messages
6,620
Reaction score
69
Points
123
Location
10.0.0.1
Website
www.orbiter-radio.co.uk
I remember there was public discussion about that, but as far as I know, no charity was ever decided on and so that did not happen (i.e., the money just stayed in the forum's PayPal account). It's just as well, though, because it looks like the forum would have run out of funds a long time ago due to earlier PayPal problems that Xyon mentioned. At the time those terms were discussed, the forum had a positive cash flow every month and the subsequent problems with PayPal that resulted in losing almost all of the recurring donations was unforeseen.

I do agree we should revisit that and update the terms, though, because realistically we can't rely on the forum remaining cash-flow-positive each month, and so the forum will need a cash buffer to handle those times. But Xyon can comment further.

I would completely agree with this, honestly, we're not so often in substantial credit that we can afford to chain on the donation like that - I actually didn't know that line existed!
 
Top