A little bit of history first, the Internet. You’re on it, I am on it, everybody you know is on it. And it started somewhere, and many of us who have been there from the start remember the bbs telnet connections. The more dynamic guest books, and more advanced CGI powered discussion boards. Many of you might only know Blogs, and understand that there are sites with a forum on it.
Conversing with your friends, social interaction and networking with groups and all that has become a daily, hourly activity. Being part of an on-line community has been a strong core element of the Internet, and bulletin board system software helps many site owners interact with their target audience.
Being in this market has always been a smart and strong move, and it still is.
Personally I felt that blogging was a threat to online communities. A site owner is in control of the community, and the content gets created by the visitors, in a blog world your audience doesn’t need your site anymore. They can start their own with a click.
And personally I felt that social networking such as Twitter and Facebook is a threat as well. What does a visitor have to share with you when they just updated their status and informed their social connected friends?
But I have always known my theory is wrong. Don’t underestimate the feeling of ‘being part of a community’, and don’t underestimate the power of content is king. You can’t express yourself in a (micro) blog the same way you can with a full fledged thread on a niche topic board. And I am not talking about the lack of emotion, but the ability to easily search for answers first, find your topic/post again, find additional information, or share additional information with links, rich media, and threaded responses. Just an example.
I remember that a business would invest in UBB because of their early adoption of innovating features, and it came with a business price. For a consumer UBB wasn’t worth the investment (imho) because of poorly implementation of their features. The technology of cgi/html3 and lack of ‘web 2.0’ where we barely talked about UI/UX/PE didn’t really help.
I feel that phpBB and SMF, or IPB and vBulletin were a second generation worth considering around 1998-2001. Some obviously better than others, but certainly an affordable consumer ready solution for many. My preference leaned towards vBulletin (version 2).
Through the last 8 years vBulletin has grown from version 2 to 3, and was so successful that a corporation using them for 80+ of their sites invested in to the company by acquiring it. Allowing them to revamp it with version 4 to their liking. Lead developer Kier Darby and team (including Ashley Busby and Mike Sullivan) engineered version 3 and it was clear that the forum market had a strong number one: vBulletin.
The involvement of Internet Brands resulted in the company having a different idea about how to deal with customers, policies, support and prices. The product took a path that had an original vision to be modern, a revamp, and extended with add-ons such as a blog, cms, product manager, gallery, etc (based on public posts I read). But wasn’t something more than a handful of the team, including the lead developer, and a huge chunk of the customer-base felt it took. Many converted back to version 3, left to the competitor or were hoping for a new fresh player to join the market.
Kier, Mike and Ashley felt that they could do better, build something from scratch using a framework, their many years of experience engineering and architecting products, and apply modern technologies such as jQuery, Ajax, User Interaces, User Experiences, and Progressive Enhancements. They started XenForo Limited and introduced to the world in 2010 their first product XenForo (forum software).
And it’s showing. Not six months in and their site has over 6,000 registered members making over 150,000 messages. And their product ‘first ever’ release got a first impression of “Wow”, and “This really feels stable, already”. It soon after moved from Alpha to Beta and is now out for stable release at a price of $140, which is very affordable, very competitive.
And compare that against vBulletin’s version 4 first impression of “Very disappointed”, and “This Gold release is NOT a stable release”, at a valued price of $499 currently being offered at $289. Yes, that’s version FOUR compared to a FIRST BUILD. It’s no surprise then that Internet Brands doesn’t welcome competitors to the market but in response filed claims against the company and its developers in both US and UK courts, in an attempt to financially bleed competition dry and out of the market.
A step back, because this blog is not about competition, it’s about a new startup that understands their customers, the market they are in, and know how to use a framework, modern technologies and how to engineer a product that’s ready for consumers, small business, big web sites and big business. And despite pending cases in courts, thousands have purchased one or multiple licenses and are converting their sites from phpBB, SMF, UBB, vBulletin or IPB to XenForo, or simply starting a new community.
And they’ve sold enough that XenForo Limited recently announced they’re now required to charge VAT to certain countries. It seems this startup is maybe not the next Facebook Inc with 500 million members, but in a forum market, knowing the history of the Internet and how forums always have (and will) be an important role, it’s a startup to keep your eyes on. And I am, via an XF fans site : http://xenfans.com/
The reason I bother to write this blog entry is a) because I have explained XenForo to my friends and now I can link them, and b) because I haven’t seen it a lot that a new startup is successful from day one. http://xenforo.com/