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Thread: Costs to operate a forum like this?

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    Costs to operate a forum like this?

    Hey Uwe,
    I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing how much it costs to operate a forum like this? I was just promoted to a new position at the company where I work and they have given me the task of creating an effective technical and safety training program for our field technicians. I work in utility scale solar operations and maintenace. Our industry is growing fast and we are growing along side it.

    I thought that this format would not only be a good place to house our training materials and all relevant discussions but also a place where various managers could communicate and that there would forever be a record that could be referenced. I have a pretty good list of pros but it's really not necsessary to lay them all out here.

    So it would not be a public forum in this way and would only have 40-50 users (as of now). I'd like to be able to embed videos they way you can here among other features.

    I've got at least one of the guys on board with this idea but necessarily we want to know what this would cost us before we can really move ahead with a commitment to change at that scale.

    Thanks!

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    Benevolent Dictator Uwe's Avatar
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    I'll have to ask Santos or Tom. Bump this thread tomorrow during the day to remind me.

    For a forum with only 40 or 50 users, and strictly internal to the company, I'd do it differently than what we're doing here. We have this forum hosted with a company that somewhat specializes in forum hosting. For the use case you've described, I'd run it on my own hardware.

    FWIW, if I were setting up a forum from scratch today, I'd use XenForo, not Vbulletin.

    -Uwe-
    Lock-down of sick people: Quarantine
    Lock-down of healthy people: Tyranny

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    Verified VCDS User DV52's Avatar
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    Uwe: I don't pretend to understand the tribulations, or the cost of forums from the host's perspective, but I've been visiting various other examples for many years now.

    Without intending any criticism of RT's current facility, or vortex which also uses Vbulletin (I have no complaints of either forums), there are some nice extras from a user perspective on www.golfmk7.com which uses Xenforo. But these are more, nice-to-have features, rather than being serious omissions in forum functions IMHO. The problem with comparing forum features is that i never knew that I needed a missing function until I see how useful it is on another forum!!

    @runonbeer: Hi. Again, I don't pretend to be an expert on forums, and I don't understand the details of what you're contemplating - but in a past life when I was interested in building value for another shareholder (I'm retired now and there is only ONE shareholder that has my focus), I invariably started these investigations by asking users what they wanted! It was very comforting to have validation of what I thought users wanted. But more importantly, it was always much-more informative to have responses that weren't in my own assumption-list.

    Don
    Last edited by DV52; 07-08-2020 at 07:13 PM.
    VW Golf MkVII (MY13) - A3 8V hatch (MY17)

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    Benevolent Dictator Uwe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DV52 View Post
    Without intending any criticism of RT's current facility, or vortex which also uses Vbulletin (I have no complaints of either forums), there are some nice extras from a user perspective on www.golfmk7.com which uses Xenforo. But these are more, nice-to-have features, rather than being serious omissions in forum functions IMHO. The problem with comparing forum features is that i never knew that I needed a missing function until I see how useful it is on another forum!!
    Yep. I do frequent another forum (not work or car related) that transitioned from Vbulletin to XenForo a few years ago. At first I wasn't too keen on the new software, but it really does have some very nice features that I've come to like a lot:
    • Notification when someone quotes a message of yours. This is not terribly essential for me personally because I read literally everything posted to this forum, but very nice for a normal user.
    • The ability to page a user. For example if I were to post a message with '@Santos' in it, he would be notified that someone "mentioned" him in this thread. This would be very handy for me when I want to drag some of the other RT employees into a particular thread (some of them have expertise that I do not).
    • PM's are "conversations", basically private threads rather than atomic messages.
    • The ability to select/highlight a portion of a post and then reply to (quote) just the highlighted text. I often reply to posts that are quite long because they contain scan data, and quoting all of it, rather than just the part that provides context to the reply is gauche, so I have to manually trim the quote.
    • When someone is gauche and quotes an entire long post, much of the quote is hidden, but you can 'click to expand' if you wish to see the whole thing.
    • Much better embedded media support.


    Then there's also the very important consideration that the Vbulletin 4 software that we're using is no longer being maintained, at all. Of course, we could switch to Vbulletin 5, but that doesn't appear to be a whole lot easier than switching to XenForo, and I suspect there are reasons with Vbulletin 5 isn't very popular.

    Of course there may be some potential downsides to such a switch as well.
    • There may not be an acronym decoder available.
    • I've heard the learning curve for the Admin functions is fairly steep.
    • It appears to be difficult to theme it as compactly as we have things here. Most XenForo implementations I've seen are not very efficient with their use of screen space.


    -Uwe-
    Lock-down of sick people: Quarantine
    Lock-down of healthy people: Tyranny

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    Verified VCDS User DV52's Avatar
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    ^^^Uwe: thanks. Sounds like the kernel for a decision has been planted in your psyche; it's germinated and now seeks nurturing and growth before a possible confirmation?

    Don
    VW Golf MkVII (MY13) - A3 8V hatch (MY17)

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    VCDS Distributor Mike@Gendan's Avatar
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    From my own experiences of running a forum 10-15 years ago (I used to run ImprezaSport.net), the costs will vary greatly depending on how the forum is used.

    When I started the biggest expense was the forum software license. With a small user base bandwidth wasn't really a concern so I could use a cheap monthly hosting package.
    As time went on though, the popularity of the site grew, so member numbers increased and bandwidth usage went up.
    Towards the end the popularity of the site dropped off, but the bandwidth usage kept going up (largely due to spambot registrations).

    The internet has changed since I hung up my admin underpants back in 2013, but if you're planning to keep it small, with restricted registrations, then I'd assume the license will still be the main expense, especially if you can host it internally and not have to worry about bandwidth.

    If you do host externally, then the more the site is used the more bandwidth costs become an issue, especially if:
    • you're externally hosted
    • you allow public registrations
    • you allow file uploads (users always want this but images use waaaay more data than text)


    The other cost you can't account for is time.
    If the forum gets busy it can take up a surprisingly large amount of time, especially if you allow public registrations. You'll probably get spam bot registrations, so will either have to retrospectively nuke crap posts and accounts, or proactively moderate registrations.

    Advice I'd give? Go for a forum software that has all the features you want out-of-the-box.
    Most of the big forums can have features hacked into them, but anything you change may be lost the next time the software is updated, so you'd have to hack it all in again.
    Also (as I learned at my cost), it really is worth staying up to date with the software, as any vulnerabilities that are discovered tend to be exploited, as it's easy to find sites on a given version of a specific forum software.

    Reading that back it all sounds a bit doom-and-gloom. I actually enjoyed running a forum for all those years, but it does come at a cost.
    Apparently I should put something witty or profound in here.....

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  9. #7
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    The Vbulletin license cost us $249 back in 2014. Hosting runs us about 500 a year through HomepageUniverse. Then we have SSL certificate costs, antispam plug in costs, (cant be more than a couple hundred).


    Before setting up this forum, i played a lot with PHPBB. It is Open source and is regularly maintained. You can probably get a forum running for less than 10 a month.

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    Benevolent Dictator Uwe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DV52 View Post
    ^^^Uwe: thanks. Sounds like the kernel for a decision has been planted in your psyche; it's germinated and now seeks nurturing and growth before a possible confirmation?
    Oh, the seed was planted quite some time ago (in a pot, in a certain employee's office), but he hasn't been watering it, and it hasn't actually germinated.

    -Uwe-
    Lock-down of sick people: Quarantine
    Lock-down of healthy people: Tyranny

  12. #9
    Benevolent Dictator Uwe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike@Gendan View Post
    the bandwidth usage kept going up (largely due to spambot registrations)
    Yeah, spam-bot trying to register can be a big problem for any forum that's accessible to the public.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike@Gendan View Post
    If the forum gets busy it can take up a surprisingly large amount of time, especially if you allow public registrations. You'll probably get spam bot registrations, so will either have to retrospectively nuke crap posts and accounts, or proactively moderate registrations.
    We've taken the latter approach here since the very beginning. When we first started, we saw a lot of bots trying to register, so we implemented the "Random question" (which isn't random at all) on the registration page, and that kept them at bay for a number of years, but then all of a sudden (roughly a year ago?) the bots figured out the correct answer, and the number of bot registrations that had to me manually rejected during proactive moderation spun completely out of control. This led us to using a spam-bot detection service that checks the e-mail and IP addresses of attempted registrations for known spam activity before they even get to the manual moderation queue.

    This stuff may not be a big consideration for runonbeer's use case. If I were running an employee-only forum, I'd either not make it accessible via the public internet at all, i.e. make it accessible only via our internal network, or I'd restrict registrations to e-mail addresses on our our domain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike@Gendan View Post
    Reading that back it all sounds a bit doom-and-gloom. I actually enjoyed running a forum for all those years, but it does come at a cost.
    Agreed.

    And the biggest cost is the time to "curate" a forum, and the time required to do a workman-like job of that is quite considerable.

    -Uwe-
    Lock-down of sick people: Quarantine
    Lock-down of healthy people: Tyranny

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  14. #10
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    Guys thank you so much for this discussion.

    Right now we are in the chicken/egg moment where we have little to no content (relative to what ultimately will be needed) and we also have no good place to put it.

    I want to go big in the right direction. I donít want to chicken out but I also donít want to have egg on my face😃

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