New GTR website design forum software - an explanation

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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
In case any people missed it

What / why...

There is no prospect of a debate on the forum software migration. That decision was based on multiple reasons, including;
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[*]Development on vBulletin 4.x.x seems to have ended, and migration to vB5 is not a viable option because it is a disaster.
[*]Our experiences of vB tech support echoes the comments others have made; arrogant, incompetent, rude and patronising
[*]The forum’s traffic had outgrown vBulletin’s ability to cope with the load and it was coming apart at the seams.
[*]Unlike the majority of forums, GT-Rider has always been image-intensive – at total of 6.5 Gigabytes within the vB filesystem
[*]The unfortunate manner in which vBulletin stores filesystem images meant that David’s directory had over 5Gb (10,000 images) in it
[*]Another 3Gb of images used in vBulletin Threads and posts were stored in WordPress galleries.
[*]The recommended solution to help resolve vBulletin’s known shortcomings under high loadings was a high-spec, dedicated server and that’s at least a $400+ a month option
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External Commentary on the Future of vBulletin

Other Issues
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[*]At the same time our OpenX Ad Server had entered its death throes, and replacing it with Revive was an unattractive option. Operating 3 separate systems on the GT-Rider site (WordPress, vBulletin & Openx) has always been painful.
[*]We already had WordPress as the outer shell of the GT-Rider site and it has served us very well. It has some 400 pages & posts and dozens of galleries and provides a stable and secure environment with which we are very familiar.
[*]Therefore, the most logical forum replacement choices were either bbPress or SimplePress which are fully integrated with WordPress, or Vanilla Forums which is a separate program but has outstanding WP integration factored in.
[*]Implementing the WordPress forum bbPress made the most sense from an integration perspective.
[*]That allowed us to integrate WordPress, Forums and Ad Server apps into a single software system.
[*]At the same time, installation of a site-wide premium caching system can only help improve page load times
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vBulletin has more features and functions than bbPress?

No argument… we’ve used it for years! We also know that most members never used the majority of the bells and whistles available. All they wanted was the easiest possible way to write and post a Trip Report.

From a non-technical administrator / moderator perspective, vBulletin is a challenging environment to manage. Under heavy loads, its a nightmare, with database crashes and slow load times brought about by clunky database functionality and the disk-intensive page loads due to massive amounts of uncompressed images!

The main issue the majority of members have had with the GT-Rider forums per se was posting images.
  • here’s the trade-off – a simpler system, but you can once again load your images onto our server….
  • forum purists and vBulletin enthusiasts may scoff at bbPress… but there are over 200,000 installations of it out there…
In a nutshell, the way we see it is  that it came down to two choices;
  • a simple, basic forum running on the world’s most popular content management system
  • a forum on its deathbed with no viable upgrade path…
Background has been experiencing problems with the old vBulletin forum software for well over a year. The visitor growth and massive volumes of image content had pushed the old-stlye database technology well past its limits! As an example, there were over 26,000 visitors online at once on a peak traffic day in Jan 2015.

We migrated the site to a new Hostgator VPS server with greater resources in March, albeit not without a few difficulties. 2Gb of RAM, double that which the previous VPS Server had, plus dual core CPU and 120Gb of disk space. That did not solve the underlying problems though.
At the same time we have been busy behind the scenes redesigning the WordPress-based front end of the site. This was not optional either! The goal was to ensure that the entire site was properly “mobile responsive” to give visitors on smartphones and tablets the best possible experience.

– On 21st April Google implemented severe penalties for sites that did not pass their “mobile-friendly” assessment.
Forum Software
Changing forum software was not something we could postpone because the situation had become untenable. The only real choice left was what software to move to. Incorporating the forums into the front-end of the site with Single Sign On, and the ability to allow login via Social Media accounts at some point were the most important considerations.

Making everything a lot less complicated to manage for non-technical administrators & moderators was a high priority!

All things considered, we opted for bbPress – a part of WordPress. It’s a very fast and simple platform without the usual plethora of bells and whistles that remain unused by most members.

Conversion of the 14,700+ Threads, 90,000 Posts and over 7,000 registered members was complicated by the 6 Gigabytes of images posted into vBulletin over the years the site has been operating. Thousands and thousands of images… Plus thousands more in WordPress galleries that were also loaded into Forum Threads! Added to that, not all images were in the vB file system – it appears that at some point someone changed the settings and several hundred images got loaded into the database before the settings were changed back.

A huge effort has been put into reduction of image file sizes by downloading and batch processing all forum and gallery images. The average file size reduction is 75% which will no doubt have a positive impact on page load times!
It is not just about the Forums!
GT Rider is a large website in addition to the forums but if you only look at the forum you may perhaps either have forgotten or been unaware of the main GTR website. For us, it’s important to also present this information in the best and easiest way possible.

If you only use your desktop for looking at GTR forums and liked vBulletin, a few of you may not be as happy as you were before in that comfortable old vB environment.

However, if you access GTR on the road for information via your mobile phone or tablet, you should quickly realize that the new version is far superior and in this day & age that is extremely important.

You might not have noticed the new Super Search function is extremely efficient & seems to pull in everything – even archived posts. Basically, we have our own private Google Search Engine loaded.

This again is superior to the previous vBulletin search tool, not least because it extends across the entire site (Pages, posts, topics and replies).

Overall we think our GTR wine glass is more than half full & not half empty (most of the time.)

Power on” is the way to go!
User Accounts
Whilst all user accounts have been transferred over, everyone will have to request a new password in order to login.

Go to the “Lost Your Password?” page:
Log In
The section is located on the top left of all pages, but in Forums and Topics you will find it under the ‘twin heads’ icon at the right of the menu line.

NB: the first time around, you will have to go through the “lost password” process.
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