• Happy World Photography Day!

Alternatives for this site's future

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,883
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Connecticut
As DaveO last posted in the "Status of IT Issues" thread, he and I are collaborating on exploring technical and financial alternatives for this site's future health and growth. Since I have the time, I'm doing most of the research.

Although we won't have concrete alternatives for a few weeks, I thought I would start a new thread to clear up one possible misconception and to outline the things I'm exploring.

First, neither I nor anyone I know is thinking of starting a competitor site to this one, both operating at the same time. The idea is to find a technically and financially feasible successor to this site, possibly including a full migration of all posts and data if affordable.

There are five services needed to run a forum.

1. An available name must be legally registered and paid for every year. We can probably keep the "CanoeTripping" name, but if not, another will have to be selected from the registry.

2. A license for a forum software package must be obtained. A couple of the forum software packages are free. The others, like vBulletin, require an upfront license fee plus periodic update fees. Each package has different features and costs. I think it's fair to say that both Dave and I preliminarily feel we have to move off of vBulletin for a variety of reasons.

3. A web host has to be hired and paid for monthly or yearly. This is a company on whose server computers the forum software, and related support software, runs. There are many web host companies and at least four different types of hosting available: dedicated, shared, VPS, and cloud. Each has different features, storage, bandwidths, and costs.

4. A service provider has to be hired to fix bugs, glitches and all the types of problems that we have been suffering.

5. If we want to save and migrate all our threads, posts, registrations, usernames, etc., that technically can be done. But a migration service costs upfront money and many glitches can occur in the process if our database has problems. If migration is not affordable, the new site would have to start afresh with everyone registering anew.

Some companies offer combinations of all or some of the above five services. I am researching all of these, technically and financially. It will take me a while, and in the meantime this site will have to continue on as is. I anticipate that I will ultimately recommend a higher and a lower cost solution package to Dave, at which point we will post them for comment.
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
Messages
3,964
Reaction score
1,710
Location
Appleton, Maine
I might have said this already but I believe it's worth repeating for the final time.

When I took over this orphaned site I had no clue about what it took to keep it running and growing. I think we had 120 members at the time.I had two requirements, canoes and keeping it friendly. Thankfully that has continued to be one of our strong points.

Finding a reliable and committed IT guy was my biggest challenge. Compared to that, everything else was easy. Everyone was cooperative and friendly on the forums, vetting new members was easy and interesting.

I experienced a few hacks before the vetting. Suddenly a guy named Jugdish from eastbumfuck became administrator via a well timed hack and at the time the IT fee's where on my dime. It was worked out with the IT guy at the time, vetting new members became all important and I learned these IT expenses where not sustainable for a small site like ours.

Three things happened around this time. First, our hosting company notified me that we had outgrown our bandwidth provided in the plan we had at the time and the new monthly fee was going to be substantially more moving forward, an annual fund raiser was formed and was a great success and I found a company called upwork.com. to handle our IT guy issues.

By using upwork.com I found an IT guy from offshore. The company (upwork) provided me with a list of independent contractors with hourly rates and experience. All where vBulletin experienced. I used their services and while not everyone was ideal, they all where much better than I had experienced with stateside IT guys and much more affordable. I found them to be young men and woman trying to build a resume and my positive comments meant a lot to their future. They all had a can do attitude. I used maybe 3-4 different contractors during the time I was administrator. The only problem I had with them was when they got a real job their time for me got put on the back burner, at which time I found a new contractor from the list provided by upwork.com. It was an easy solution to the IT problem I was having. $20-30 per hour vs. $75-100 per hour. I never felt I was short changed by them.

Things where going well but the physical and mental effects of 2 different cancers brought on by my exposure to agent orange caused me to hand over the site to Doug. He choose to release my IT guy and found the current IT guy..

From my experience, I feel the only way this site can remain ad free and function at a reliable rate is to use the services of off shore contractors for the IT issues. The growth rate of this site is so small we will never be able to pay what a stateside IT guy demands.
While I commend Glenn's efforts, I would not like to see all the old posts go nor would I like to see advertisements. I don't think ads on this small site would generate much income anyway.
 
Joined
Jan 31, 2013
Messages
2,305
Reaction score
98
Location
Warren, Manitoba
would it be possible to download this entire site to external hard drives or such to save the content? Would be a real shame to lose all the older material as it cannot and will not be replicated. Then if it cannot be moved if that happens, it could be re-entered at a new site or left here and linked as content.

I rarely open ads on sites and never actually buy from them but that is just me.
 
Joined
Aug 20, 2013
Messages
380
Reaction score
71
Location
Eastern NC
it’s all working for me, on both my iMac and my iPad, with Safari. Of course, we can’t hear from those people for whom it’s not working.

I just logged in from current generation Ipad. Will try to post this response.

I had been experiencing some navigational issues with buttons not working, all seems much better recently.
 
Joined
Dec 17, 2014
Messages
960
Reaction score
278
Location
Pickwick, MN
I'm just happy I could finally sign in again but only on my laptop. I'm using chrome and t seems to work fine. On my andriod phone it lets me see everything like a guest, which is a big improvement from the last month or more but it won't let me sign in.
 
Joined
Dec 25, 2017
Messages
458
Reaction score
204
Location
Hogtown
Is it just me or is everything working? Seems in good order to me.

On my desktop using Firefox I've had no issues of concern other than a few missing buttons and the coming and going of the header image. I was away for 3 weeks in May/June but on my return I was able to log in without a problem.

That said, no luck at all trying to log in using Chrome, also no ability to try to register via Chrome.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,883
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Connecticut
I would really prefer that this thread does not become a litany of solved or unsolved problems. We already have at least three other current threads for that subject, including Status of IT Issues and Are you having trouble posting and Troubles with CanoeTripping.

This topic is solely about options for the future of the forum, including new software and support platforms, which I am researching.

I've already spent more than 30 hours talking to various companies and posting on their support forums, and sense that lots of changes have occurred in web hosting over the past 10 and even three years. I also sense that vBulletin 5 has been a market disaster because of all its bugs. It could be that lots of our problems started after our VB5 upgrade, but I don't really know.

I am highly confident that there are several options now on the market for this site not only to survive, but to grow, on a much more stable and feature-friendly platform than VB5 and with much better professional service than we have ever had before. For prices yet to be sorted out.

Please be patient. Don't give up on the site. We will need you all in the improved future.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,883
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Connecticut
Just to make some things clear:

My higher cost alternative will include full migration of the forum. That means all the existing threads, posts, pictures, videos, usernames, passwords, permissions, registrations -- all data -- hopefully including the site name and banner, will be migrated over, unchanged, to a much better forum software platform. My almost-no-cost alternative will not include migration. Both alternatives will include full and professional service by established experts who specialize in hosting and servicing the specific forum software chosen. Neither alternative will require ads on the forum.

Zeroing in on the exact software platform, migration service, and IT service for the full alternative is what I am doing now, but requires some technical info only in the hands of DaveO and our current web host, plus an exact understanding of how much money we have in the kitty for the upfront costs. I'm also trying hard to accomplish the technical and service improvements while actually lowering the site's total annual costs from rough historical estimates I've gotten from Robin and Doug. But I certainly can't promise that.

The full, migrated alternative will require continued member contributions unless a some wealthy person is dying to be administrator here. The almost-no-cost alternative will not require member contributions. If I'm the administrator, i would absorb the small annual costs.

I'll lay both alternatives out in detail when ready.
 
Joined
Dec 25, 2017
Messages
458
Reaction score
204
Location
Hogtown
I would really prefer that this thread does not become a litany of solved or unsolved problems.

Sorry about that!

FWIW - Myccr runs on phpBB, there have been a few issues over the years but really nothing to serious and some of them are simply because of the parameters set by the operators (image sizes).

I hope you can come up with a workable plan to ensure the future of the site.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,883
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Connecticut
I have finished my research, have two alternative plans, and am hoping to finalize a recommended path with DaveO in the next couple of days.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,883
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Connecticut
This will be the report of my research and recommendations for the future of this site. I'm sure DaveO will soon voice his opinions, and then you all can comment for a few days before we finalize anything.

I'd first like to respond to questions raised above as whether it is worth trying to salvage this board as it currently is on vBulletin 5. In my personal opinion, the answer is definitively NO. My research reveals that vBulletin 5 still has over 1,000 open bugs after 9 years, that this site has numerous and unexplained additional bugs, and on top of that we have no IT guy. He quit or disappeared. Robin and Doug spent inordinate amounts of time finding various and different independent IT guys. I certainly would not volunteer to administer this crippled site under such conditions.

Therefore, both of my alternatives for the future of this site recommend moving off vBulletin to a different forum software package and using an established turnkey hosting and service provider.

First, I'll review approximate current costs and funds available. We don't have any imminent costs in the future for vBulletin because we already have a paid up license. Aside from that, we pay:

-- $120 per month for web hosting by Siteground, which doesn't include any service I'm aware of.
-- $20 per year for the "CanoeTripping.net" domain name. I'm not sure who this is paid to; Dave does.
-- Unpredictable and highly variable amounts for IT service, but surely averaging many hundreds if not over a thousand dollars sometimes per year.

We have about $1200 left in the bank account, pending the IT guy's last bill and any other unforeseen expenses. If I've got any of these current or rough historical figures wrong, Dave, Doug or Robin can correct me.

I promised an inexpensive alternative and a full migration alternative. I strongly prefer the latter if we can get contributions, but here are both.

INEXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVE

I would recommend going to ProBoards, probably the world's largest provider of free discussion board software on the internet with reportedly over a million forum customers. For no charge at all, they provide forum software with many selectable themes, free updates and free service. The domain name is also free and could be "CanoeTripping.freeboards.net".

So, what's the catch? How do they make money? Answer: By putting whatever ads they want on the top and bottom of each page. Their terms make you promise not to use an ad blocker. If you do anyway, you get a pop-up nag message on every page reminding you not to use an ad blocker.

HOWEVER, the site can buy out of ads for $6/month or $72/year, which is certainly worth it. We could also use our registered domain name of "CanoeTripping.net" if we keep paying the $20/year registry fee and another $20/year to ProBoards to implement the custom domain name.

Pros: We could run the site for about $115 per year.

Cons: All we would have is an empty shell of topic names. All our past threads, posts, pictures and data of every kind would be gone. Everyone would have to sign up again, just as you have to sign up for any new website you join -- create usernames, profiles, avatars, etc. We would be starting a brand new site from scratch and lose all the Canoetripping.net Google rankings and other SEO that help bring in new members.

FULL MIGRATION ALTERNATIVE

Based on dozens of hours of researching various alternatives, asking questions on various providers' service boards, and demoing products, I recommend moving to Xenforo forum software and hiring a turnkey company specializing in Xenforo for web hosting, performing a full data migration, and providing follow-on service.

Xenforo (XF) was formed in about 2009 by a group top programmers from vBulletin who disagreed with vBulletin's direction and left to form their own company. XF is feature rich, phone friendly, as easy to use as any, and has a universal reputation of being "night and day" more rock solid and bug free than vBulletin. XF has continually grown in worldwide forum software market share over the past 10 years as vBulletin has simultaneously plummeted.

The base XF license costs $160 and $55/year to renew. I also like an advanced feature that costs $55 and $10/year to renew. Renewals are not necessary. These prices include a year of included service from the very programmers who created the product, and the service renews for a year each time you annually renew the product. I've been asking these very programmers questions on their pre-sale forum and their response time is sometimes within an hour.

The turnkey migration, hosting and service company I recommend is Driven2 Services, owned by Ken Payne, a Xenforo expert highly recommended on the Xenforo service boards for migration, hosting and service. HERE is a description of a full migration from vBulletin to Xenforo – essentially everything. He also installs and tunes the XF software. The price for a full migration ranges from $175 to $275, depending upon various technical factors in the database currently residing on Siteground. We would not only preserve all our data, but also our name, Google rankings and other SEO.

Ken would also provide all the web hosting, which include IT services for his servers and also for Xenforo. He believes his $39/month cloud hosting plan, described HERE, would meet our current needs. That is a LOT less expensive than the $120/month we're currently paying Siteground for web hosting with no service included. Also impressive to me is that Ken personally responds to emails within a business day. The big hosting and service companies put me in a queue to talk to bots.

Thus, we would have two levels of expert Xenforo service – first from Xenforo itself for XF code problems, and second from Ken for server crashes, hacks and other hardware problems and also for interfacing, if necessary, between our administrator and Xenforo.

The pros of the full migration alternatives are obvious. The con is upfront costs, which would be $160-$215 for the XF license, $175-$275 for the data migration, and $39 for the first month of web hosting. This would be a max of about $525, barring unforeseen difficulties.

In sum, after the upfront licensing and migration costs, we should be on a much better and stable forum platform, with a double layer of expert Xenforo service, at very possibly a lower total annual cost than in the recent past. This alternative is my strong preference. I want to save the entire site.

DaveO and I have agreed in principle it would make sense for me to take over the reins as administrator if we go the full migration route, in which I have already invested so much time and effort. Neither he, nor Doug, nor Robin will be able to help me with learning the administrative controls because the Xenforo control panel is different from vBulletin's.

I can only offer that, as a retired person not doing much else with my life in these times and being pretty good at research, I have a lot more time to devote to the job than a working person and would apply myself diligently to the task. I am willing to front the approximate $525 upfront costs of the move, if necessary, if we can't transfer the bank account over quick enough, which I think is now too low in any event. So, in the hope that many of you are still out there, if you want to save the full site as much as I do and I'm the admin, I would be appreciative of financial support earlier than our usual fundraiser.
 
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
1,192
Reaction score
612
Location
Gaithersburg, MD
Interesting. You might want to put up a poll with the options and get a sense for what folks want and if folks are willing to contribute. I gather the migration is a one-time non-recurring cost?
 
Joined
Aug 29, 2020
Messages
197
Reaction score
120
I stated several times, very deliberately, that our IT guy "evidently" is no longer is available to us. At one point, he e-mailed me: "I think it is time for me to bow out of helping." I responded and vigorously asked him to reconsider, and I did not hear back for some time. Recently, he responded and graciously offered to continue his services with us. I am extremely grateful to him, for greatly discounting his time over the years in consideration that we are a small, self-funded site, and for applying his expertise to help us. I know Doug feels the same way.

This is not to invalidate Glenn's concern about the difficulty of finding the right IT guys. It does not invalidate the problem of the undue reliance on IT guys to so often help us with the vBulletin bugs and glitches. I just want to make sure that we are not incorrectly implying in any way that the IT guy was anything but helpful and responsive.

I will provide other thoughts tomorrow morning.
 
Joined
Sep 4, 2019
Messages
163
Reaction score
77
Location
Ontario
I am not at all tech savvy enough to assess the viability of vBulletin versus other options, but the fact that I still can’t log in or efficiently browse the website on my iPad without some convoluted work-arounds speaks volumes. Your recommended option sounds like far and away the better choice Glen. I don’t mind some limited, background-type advertising but the fact that option 1 doesn’t preserve squat from the existing site makes it a non-starter for me personally. The extra upfront cost of the second option is real but not at all crazy considering what it buys. I’m up for a share of the required extra fund-raising.

Many thanks for what looks like a lot of work put in on this.
 
Top