If you have participated in the FF forums you probably are aware of the current bugs and performance issues. If you are new to the site, this is the primary reason the forums are not as active as they were in the beginning and the top complaint among users who stick it out and still post in the threads. They are terribly cumbersome and slow.
There are good days and bad days, but overall, the current forum software we are using, FireBoard, just isn't cutting it. To add to the problem, the developers of the FireBoard forum software are not very communicative and seem to get on the defensive even when approached about the communication issue, which doesn't help.
I have looked at migrating to other forums but doing so would either risk losing some features, require a bridge to the site that would necessitate separate forum memberships, possible loss of existing topics and posts, or all of the above. I really don't have the time or resources to deal with it, either.
The developers of Fireboard promised a new, improved, completely rewritten, compatible and faster version of this forum component. The downside to all this is that they won't tell us when. All we know is it is "90% complete" and that it will be released "soon". Apart from that there is no updated roadmap, at least not one that is publicly available to view.
So, that left us with a very difficult decision. Do we go ahead and migrate to something else that will require a separate database, membership, with no guarantee that we will be able to keep our posts or do we just sit and continue to wait indefinitely for a better version of the current component that may or may not arrive this year?
At first I decided to wait it out, however doing so has definitely affected participation in the forums due to current issues with slow performance. However, during the past few months I decided to stick with my decision on the promise that Fireboard 2.0 would be released "soon".
Recent events have caused me to reconsider.
While some may think we as users can't complain about the development and shortcomings of an Open Source component (unless we contribute code or $$ to it ourselves) we still invest a lot of our own time and effort learning it, working with it and supporting it ourselves. It is easy to say the users have no cause to complain but I think some forget that without users there is no one to fully test the component in a real world environment and without users there is no point to development in the first place.
Awhile back I wrote a long diatribe in one of the FireBoard community forum threads about support and community. I was frustrated with the lack of response to queries by the developers of FireBoard and attempted offer some insight as to how communication with the users and keeping them informed would help get the community more involved. I returned to find that there was less communication than before.
It seems like there is a we/them attitude between the developers and the members of the FireBoard community. That is exactly what hurts any Open Source community. I kept up with a lot of the FireBoard forum discussions and I found that many members of the FireBoard forums support each other and the product as best they can. They help each other find fixes, patches and work arounds to code they didn't write and are struggling to understand themselves. That takes real dedication and loyalty. It also takes work. Collectively, the community is the support arm of the project. For this reason they are as much a part of the development of the FireBoard forum software as the developers are.
For this reason, in a sense, they do have a right to complain. At the very least, they certainly have a right to be kept in the loop, and not in the dark.
I went there in search of answers. Instead I found a site with more ads than answers and other users of FireBoard just as frustrated as me. If there was more communication between the developers and the users there would be a lot less frustration. Why? Because a strong bond of communication bonds the community. Users would feel like they were a real part of the project and would become more involved themselves, they would understand what the developers go through better and would be more patient with the development process (especially when there are delays) and they would be less prone to complaining because they would have a greater sense of what is happening and why. They would give the developers and FireBoard more loyalty, support and sympathy. There would likely be more donations. This should be a symbiotic relationship, not a we/they conflict.
Okay, it's an Open Source site, but can you blame some of us for our frustrations?
Yesterday I visited the FireBoard forums again in search of an update on its progress. Instead, I found a thread started by someone else in search of the same. Unfortunately, he was "silently" told to take a hike.
So I posted. Again I explained the importance of keeping the users in the loop and again I explained the importance of community to the health and survival of an open source project.
Today, I finally received an answer. The entire thread was removed.
At first it appeared we were censored. Several members who had posted and monitored the thread started another one to inquire about the missing posts. By the afternoon the missing thread was restored, with an apology from one of the mods and an explanation that it was removed accidentally while moving around the forum categories.
I wonder if it was done as a reaction to the new thread. (Supplemental Note: I published this blog post and linked to it in the new thread an hour or so before the missing posts were restored; whether this post had anything to do with it or not is debatable, but the timing was interesting). I will add that the entire thread was restored, but locked to prevent further posts. The act of locking the thread says volumes.
This is very disappointing. Instead of acknowledging the problem and rallying developers and the forum community together, they didn't like what they heard and chose to "silence" us. I suppose if they could have they would have simply shot us in the middle of the square instead?
This does not build community. It only serves to alienate members more.
Well, I guess this was their answer. So much for community. I guess it really is "we" and "they" and they want it to stay that way. I guess they really don't want us to meddle in their project.
I was planning to just try and stick it out until the release of FireBoard 2.0 and I was defending this decision in discussions with the members of The Force Field because I believed in the FireBoard project. It is now clear I made a very poor choice installing and supporting FireBoard on our site and I should have just listened to our members. I apologize to each and every one of you.
I spent a lot of time and effort writing numerous posts in the FireBoard forums during the last year on this one topic of communication and getting the community "involved" by keeping it in the loop. Removing or deleting the thread was a slap in the face and very disrespectful to the very users who could help propel FireBoard to the top of the heap of Joomla! components - the FireBoard fan base.
Well, I'm done. It is clear there is no real community there or the developers of the FireBoard project have no interest in building one. If there really is a FireBoard 2.0, they can have it. Until the attitude from the FireBoard team changes, FireBoard will receive no more consideration from me and no further endorsement.
All right, I'm ticked. I trusted the FF forums to an open source project and got burned. It's my fault, really. I trusted the site with a project that showed promise but really wasn't ready to fulfill it.
Then again, it does go against the mantra that Open Source is supposed to espouse, that of building free and open software by building a community.