vBulletin: A Users Guide

By Adrian Kingsley-Hughes , Kathy Kingsley-Hughes
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  1. Introduction to the vBulletin Board

About this book

Written specifically to allow you to create a discussion forum, vBulletin, provides all of the tools, features and functionality for you to set up and develop a vibrant community. Because it specializes in this one aspect of your website, all the features are geared towards this goal, and you can leave the improvement and additions to the vBulletin developers while you get on with managing the rest of your website. If you are either already running a community forum based on vBulletin, or are planning on establishing one, then this is the book for you. This book will guide you through installing, configuring, managing and maintaining a vBulletin discussion forum on your own website. The book begins with the initial installation and configuration of vBulletin on your system. You will then go on a tour of vBulletin and its features, for both users and administrators. This will grow your understanding and familiarise you with the power and possibilities of vBulletin. vBulletin's Administration Control Panel is where you can control every aspect of your board. From users, forums and word filters to skins, templates and maintenance, everything can be done through the web-based control panel. The book devotes significant sections to covering these, getting you up to speed on the options available to you, and offering advice to help you make the right choices with your board administration. To make your forums stand out from the rest, we cover skins and templates to take your first steps in customising your forum. vBulletin is one of the most popular forum platforms available. Well known for its power and speed, it drives many of the most popular discussion forums on the Internet.

Publication date:
April 2006
Publisher
Packt
Pages
244
ISBN
9781904811671

 

Chapter 1. Introduction to the vBulletin Board

Before we see how to install vBulletin, and how to customize and hack the board, let's take a little time to look at the board, the company behind it, and a little of its history. We will also show you what other people have accomplished with this most versatile and powerful board.

What is vBulletin?

This is a good place to start!

vBulletin is software that is loaded onto a web server to allow you to create and manage online forums or discussion boards. It is designed and developed by Jelsoft Enterprises Limited.

If you have spent a little time on the Web, you will undoubtedly have come across a variety of discussion areas on websites that allow visitors to interact with each other. These discussion areas are generally known as 'forums', 'boards', or 'communities', and they are becoming very popular.

Why Have a Discussion Board?

But why have a discussion board? Well one good reason is that there is a tendency for a website to seem like a one-sided conversation with the webmaster talking to the visitors, but by adding a discussion area the webmaster can bring the benefits of two-way discussion to the website and in doing so create a community.

By spending the time, effort, and money needed to give this foundation to a community, the webmaster can make visitors to the website feel that they are part of something bigger. As a consequence they will visit the site more often, spending more time there, promoting it by word of mouth, and sharing links on their own websites, blog entries, and signature lines on other forums. Online communities take on a life of their own, and they can bring a whole new level of life and energy to an otherwise static, slowly evolving website.

All of this means the website has an advantage over similar sites that don't have a discussion area.

Benefits of a Discussion Board

Here are just a few of the advantages of having a discussion forum on your site:

  • A relatively quiet forum generates a steady stream of new content on your site—this means that people visit your site more regularly in order to read the new content. You can find out interests and preferences directly from your website visitors, enabling you to target content more specifically to their needs.

  • A discussion forum allows people to become more than just passive observers of your site. It allows visitors to pose a question, post a comment or share a review. When someone posts something, they come back to see whether there's been an answer or comment posted in response. This is how a community begins and is a path to site growth.

  • A discussion board quickly creates a pool of knowledge on your site, especially if you have a website that is devoted to a particular subject or topic.

  • Due to the diverse nature of discussion forum posts, you end up with a lot on your website. This means that you get entries in search engines for a wide variety of topics and search criteria, which will very effectively improve your overall ranking.

  • Each member on your forum is a pair of eyes—you can sell advertising space on popular forums based on good membership levels and revisiting statistics. The bigger the forum, the more you can charge!

  • A forum is a great way to build a circle of friends with similar interests.

  • A forum is a great way to support a commercial product or service—you find that other members answer questions for you! It's also a low cost solution, and you quickly develop a handy knowledge base of information.

Why vBulletin?

Let's be clear from the start—vBulletin does far more than build a discussion area. vBulletin is a complete solution to the community needs of website owners. It's a commercial product (as opposed to a free product), which perhaps rules it out for the smaller, more low-key websites. (Although if they have an eye to future growth, then they might do well in choosing a product that will grow with them right from the start.)

Note

The commercial advantage

One great feature of vBulletin is the exceptional level of support that the developers provide—if you run into trouble, you can expect to receive support in a matter of a few hours (sometimes minutes).

Another big feature of vBulletin is that because of its popularity there are a huge number of add‑ons and modifications available, some commercial but many available free. This means that you need not be stuck with a discussion board that looks, feels, and behaves like all the other discussion boards on the Web.

History

vBulletin has been a success story right from the start.

The vBulletin discussion board software was developed and marketed by Jelsoft Ltd., a UK-based new media company specializing in developing low-cost, high-performance web applications. Jelsoft has over six years experience in the online communities business and has been working with community-driven websites since the birth of the Internet as we know it today.

vBulletin is its flagship product—it is a product that has been designed with speed, security, and flexibility in mind. Jelsoft's goal with vBulletin was to create a product that would both give the site administrators the tools that they need to get the job done, and give the end user effective communication and an enjoyable experience. The end users have a variety of tools at their disposal that allow them to communicate effectively with others, while administrators and moderators have powerful tools that allow them to move, edit, or delete posts, threads, and users, as well as a powerful control panel to control the look, feel, and function of the discussion board.

Development

In over six years of development a lot has changed in vBulletin, but at the same time a lot has stayed the same—speed, flexibility, and security have always been at the core of vBulletin.

vBulletin was originally developed and built to power the VB-World.net community forums, which were some of the world's largest and busiest communities of Microsoft Visual Basic programmers. At the time many products were tested, but none could be scaled up to meet the demands of these communities, so vBulletin had an instant niche. vBulletin has now attracted a large and diverse list of clients from small, special interest sites to big, broad discussion groups.

Another feature important to the vBulletin developers is stability and performance under load. Jelsoft is proud to have been able to test vBulletin under huge loads with over 1000 users taking part in discussions on the board at once. With vBulletin the site owner doesn't need worry about too many posts slowing the board down, as vBulletin has been tested and proved to run smoothly with over 30 million posts held in the database.

Note

Big boards

Of course, the bigger the discussion board you have, the more power it will need. Big boards will require semi-dedicated or even dedicated servers (don't expect to run a popular board on cheap shared hosting), but you can be sure that, if you choose vBulletin, no matter how big your forum gets, you will be able to deal with it.

 

What is vBulletin?


This is a good place to start!

vBulletin is software that is loaded onto a web server to allow you to create and manage online forums or discussion boards. It is designed and developed by Jelsoft Enterprises Limited.

If you have spent a little time on the Web, you will undoubtedly have come across a variety of discussion areas on websites that allow visitors to interact with each other. These discussion areas are generally known as 'forums', 'boards', or 'communities', and they are becoming very popular.

Why Have a Discussion Board?

But why have a discussion board? Well one good reason is that there is a tendency for a website to seem like a one-sided conversation with the webmaster talking to the visitors, but by adding a discussion area the webmaster can bring the benefits of two-way discussion to the website and in doing so create a community.

By spending the time, effort, and money needed to give this foundation to a community, the webmaster can make visitors to the website feel that they are part of something bigger. As a consequence they will visit the site more often, spending more time there, promoting it by word of mouth, and sharing links on their own websites, blog entries, and signature lines on other forums. Online communities take on a life of their own, and they can bring a whole new level of life and energy to an otherwise static, slowly evolving website.

All of this means the website has an advantage over similar sites that don't have a discussion area.

Benefits of a Discussion Board

Here are just a few of the advantages of having a discussion forum on your site:

  • A relatively quiet forum generates a steady stream of new content on your site—this means that people visit your site more regularly in order to read the new content. You can find out interests and preferences directly from your website visitors, enabling you to target content more specifically to their needs.

  • A discussion forum allows people to become more than just passive observers of your site. It allows visitors to pose a question, post a comment or share a review. When someone posts something, they come back to see whether there's been an answer or comment posted in response. This is how a community begins and is a path to site growth.

  • A discussion board quickly creates a pool of knowledge on your site, especially if you have a website that is devoted to a particular subject or topic.

  • Due to the diverse nature of discussion forum posts, you end up with a lot on your website. This means that you get entries in search engines for a wide variety of topics and search criteria, which will very effectively improve your overall ranking.

  • Each member on your forum is a pair of eyes—you can sell advertising space on popular forums based on good membership levels and revisiting statistics. The bigger the forum, the more you can charge!

  • A forum is a great way to build a circle of friends with similar interests.

  • A forum is a great way to support a commercial product or service—you find that other members answer questions for you! It's also a low cost solution, and you quickly develop a handy knowledge base of information.

Why vBulletin?

Let's be clear from the start—vBulletin does far more than build a discussion area. vBulletin is a complete solution to the community needs of website owners. It's a commercial product (as opposed to a free product), which perhaps rules it out for the smaller, more low-key websites. (Although if they have an eye to future growth, then they might do well in choosing a product that will grow with them right from the start.)

Note

The commercial advantage

One great feature of vBulletin is the exceptional level of support that the developers provide—if you run into trouble, you can expect to receive support in a matter of a few hours (sometimes minutes).

Another big feature of vBulletin is that because of its popularity there are a huge number of add‑ons and modifications available, some commercial but many available free. This means that you need not be stuck with a discussion board that looks, feels, and behaves like all the other discussion boards on the Web.

History

vBulletin has been a success story right from the start.

The vBulletin discussion board software was developed and marketed by Jelsoft Ltd., a UK-based new media company specializing in developing low-cost, high-performance web applications. Jelsoft has over six years experience in the online communities business and has been working with community-driven websites since the birth of the Internet as we know it today.

vBulletin is its flagship product—it is a product that has been designed with speed, security, and flexibility in mind. Jelsoft's goal with vBulletin was to create a product that would both give the site administrators the tools that they need to get the job done, and give the end user effective communication and an enjoyable experience. The end users have a variety of tools at their disposal that allow them to communicate effectively with others, while administrators and moderators have powerful tools that allow them to move, edit, or delete posts, threads, and users, as well as a powerful control panel to control the look, feel, and function of the discussion board.

Development

In over six years of development a lot has changed in vBulletin, but at the same time a lot has stayed the same—speed, flexibility, and security have always been at the core of vBulletin.

vBulletin was originally developed and built to power the VB-World.net community forums, which were some of the world's largest and busiest communities of Microsoft Visual Basic programmers. At the time many products were tested, but none could be scaled up to meet the demands of these communities, so vBulletin had an instant niche. vBulletin has now attracted a large and diverse list of clients from small, special interest sites to big, broad discussion groups.

Another feature important to the vBulletin developers is stability and performance under load. Jelsoft is proud to have been able to test vBulletin under huge loads with over 1000 users taking part in discussions on the board at once. With vBulletin the site owner doesn't need worry about too many posts slowing the board down, as vBulletin has been tested and proved to run smoothly with over 30 million posts held in the database.

Note

Big boards

Of course, the bigger the discussion board you have, the more power it will need. Big boards will require semi-dedicated or even dedicated servers (don't expect to run a popular board on cheap shared hosting), but you can be sure that, if you choose vBulletin, no matter how big your forum gets, you will be able to deal with it.

 

The vBulletin Advantage


What are the key benefits from choosing and running vBulletin? Here are the top reasons to base your community on vBulletin.

Versatile

vBulletin is designed to be versatile and can be run on a variety of platforms.

  • vBulletin is written in PHP, making it fast, efficient, and capable of running on a broad range of hosting platforms. Shared hosting provides the cheapest option, while semi-dedicated hosting solutions offer more power for a higher price. Fully dedicated servers offer the greatest speed, power, and flexibility, but at a substantially increased cost.

  • vBulletin uses a MySQL database for storing data and settings. Avatars and CSS stylesheets (controlling the formatting of the discussion board) can be stored either in the database or in the file system. Similarly, attachments can be uploaded and stored in either the database or the server file system.

  • vBulletin is fully scalable. For the ultimate in power and flexibility the database server and the web server can reside on separate computers.

  • vBulletin can be run on any system that can support PHP and MySQL (which means that you have a wide choice, ranging from Linux and Windows to Solaris, BSD, and Macintosh).

  • All client-side code is XHTML 1.0 Transitional compliant, giving consistent and dependable results in almost all modern web browsers.

  • The import facility allows data from another forum to be converted into vBulletin format. This includes users, posts, avatars and private messages. The import facility supports, among others, the following boards: Infopop's Ultimate Bulletin Board, Invision, UBBThreads, OpenTopic, ezboard, phpBB, and Ikonboard.

Performance

No matter whether you site is big or small, you don't want to be waiting around for things to happen. vBulletin is designed with speed in mind, so you and your users, whether on a dial-up modem or a broadband connection, won't be stuck waiting for pages to load.

vBulletin offers:

  • Fast page loading

  • Responsive interface

  • Speedy searches (thanks to effective indexing of the content)

  • New/edited posts available instantly—no delays!

Customizable

vBulletin is easy and fast to customize. Thanks to a variety of in-built tools the interface can be changed with the minimum knowledge of web programming languages.

vBulletin offers:

  • A templated system—all the code for the interface is conveniently stored as separate templates. Users can also pick and choose the style they want.

  • A built-in template editing interface—no need to mess about with text editors and FTP.

  • Full access to all the board settings through a custom interface.

  • Most built-in text is stored as phrases, which makes customizing or adding multi‑lingual support easy.

  • The ability to create and store multiple styles, which can be applied to different forums and users.

  • Conditionals are supported in all templates. This allows you to write powerful and versatile code.

Easy to Maintain

Even the most stable discussion board needs maintenance every so often to keep it running properly. Also, since it is the data stored in the discussion board that forms the backbone of the community, data backup and restoration is vital.

Features offered by vBulletin include:

  • Built-in database backups, style backup, and table repair functions.

  • A Task Scheduler to allow the automated running of many administrative tools.

  • Extensive board statistics (numbers of users, new users, new posts, new threads, and much more).

  • Automatic post pruning to keep database size manageable.

  • Extensive server settings and optimization options.

Other Features

vBulletin offers a whole host of other features for both the end users and the forum administrators and moderators. Over the course of the book we will be looking at a number of them.

Here are some of the best and most compelling features:

  • Private messaging feature

  • Comprehensive smilies and avatars

  • Separate and feature-rich administrator, moderator, and user control panels

  • Printer-friendly versions of threads and posts

  • Linear, threaded, and hybrid display views available for threads

  • Built-in calendar

  • Comprehensive permission system, based on user, usergroup, or forums

  • Moderation queues for user registration and posting

  • Attachments, complete with preview thumbnails

  • Private forums

  • User ranking and notes

  • Paid Subscriptions (using PayPal, WorldPay, NOCHEX and Authorize.net)

  • Banning feature

  • Compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998. For more information on COPPA see: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/coppa.htm

  • Editable FAQ system

  • Search engine friendly—this means you get a better ranking in the search results!

For more information about vBulletin and for purchasing information visit the official vBulletin website at http://www.vbulletin.com.

 

vBulletin Licensing Options


vBulletin is a commercial product, and you must therefore buy a license before you can use it. To offer site owners the greatest possible flexibility there are two licensing options to choose from:

  • Leased license

  • Owned license

Leased License

Purchasing a leased license will allow you to run vBulletin on your server for one year. During this period you will be entitled to technical support and software upgrades.

After this period you will either need to purchase another license or discontinue using the software.

Currently a leased license cost $85 a year. At the end of the lease period you can either renew the lease for another year or purchase an owned license.

Note

Second chance

If you choose a leased license option, you will be given a short opportunity to upgrade your license to a fully owned license with no additional financial penalty—you just pay the difference in price between the two license types!

Owned License

Purchasing an owned license will allow you to run a copy of vBulletin on your server for an unlimited amount of time and allows access to all updates released for one year. After the year you can purchase a renewal of this access.

Currently an owned license costs $160, with yearly support and new version download access costing $30 for subsequent years.

Choosing a License

Choose carefully between the two—making the wrong choice can end up costing you money in the long run.

If you want a short-term forum or you want to try vBulletin out for size, then a leased license is the way to go. However, three years of running vBulletin at leased license prices costs more than an owned license with yearly support and upgrade options would have cost you (and you still won't own the software).

Note

Leased versus owned

As a general rule, unless you are pretty sure that you aren't going to be running vBulletin for a third year, upgrade to a full license at the end of the first year.

For further information about vBulletin pricing or to purchase, visit http://www.vbulletin.com/order.

 

Example vBulletin Sites


By now, if you're not already using vBulletin, you're probably ready to see it in action! If you are reading this book because you're looking to be persuaded to purchase vBulletin or you're getting ready to buy a copy for a project soon, then in the meantime there are a number of good examples of vBulletin discussion boards in action on the Web. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • http://www.vbulletin.com—Official vBulletin site. The support and discussion forums here use, not surprisingly, vBulletin. This site gives you a very good idea of what vBulletin looks like pretty much 'out of the box' from the end-user perspective. If you want to see and test-drive vBulletin from an administrator's perspective, then there is an 'Admin demo' available at http://www.vbulletin.com/admindemo.php.

  • http://www.vbulletin.org—This is the main site for information on hacks and tweaks for vBulletin. This site is an excellent example of some of the things that it is possible to accomplish through modifying and tweaking (collectively known as hacking) the vBulletin code.

  • http://forums.offtopic.com—This is a massive forum and serves as testament to just how big you can make a vBulletin forum. This forum is made up of nearly 2 million threads, which are made up of well over 30 million posts. As of present it has nearly 150,000 members (this is regularly pruned to keep it manageable) and usually has over 1000 members on the boards at any one time. This is a truly massive forum!

  • http://www.photopost.com—This is a commercial add-on for vBulletin that adds a photo gallery to the forum.

  • http://www.vbadvanced.com—On this site you will find a free product that adds a CMPS (Content Management and Portal System) to vBulletin. This will allow you to quickly and easily include different options from your vBulletin discussion board on your site's homepage. It also allows you to easily create and manage new pages in which you can use settings other than the default.

Note

More vBulletin boards

If you want to see more vBulletin boards, then use your favorite search engine to search for vbulletin—you will find literally thousands of examples! Some will be basic while others will be highly customized.

 

Summary


This chapter has been a quick tour outlining some of the benefits of using the vBulletin discussion board software as well as providing the background to its development. For the many readers who are already making use of vBulletin or who have seen it in action, we have provided a brief glimpse of the hidden power of this widespread and popular software.

In the next chapter we're going to be shifting our focus to the installation and configuration of vBulletin.

About the Authors

  • Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes have over a decade of experience in web development and programming, having firsthand experience of most of the popular community-building and blogging platforms currently available. They both work for a UK company specializing in internet development, workflow streamlining, and security. They have authored and co-authored a number of books in the web development, programming, and PC area and have written dozens of coaching manuals that are in use by Fortune 500 companies.

    Browse publications by this author
  • Kathy Kingsley-Hughes

    Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes have over a decade of experience in web development and programming, having firsthand experience of most of the popular community-building and blogging platforms currently available. They both work for a UK company specializing in internet development, workflow streamlining, and security. They have authored and co-authored a number of books in the web development, programming, and PC area and have written dozens of coaching manuals that are in use by Fortune 500 companies.

    Browse publications by this author
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