When WordPress Mods was first launched in 2010 I chose bbPress to power the discussion forum. Developed by Automattic (the developers of WordPress), it was, and still is today, a very basic script. Back then it was a standalone script and despite it’s limited features, it was a good choice for a forum for WordPress powered websites due to an official bridge that allowed you to use the same user tables from your WordPress database.
I later removed the forum due to problems with spam and inactivity in the forum. Those of you who read WordPress Mods regularly in 2011 may remember the roller coaster of emotions I experienced when I learned that bbPress was being changed from a stand alone product to a WordPress plugin. WordPress owners who were looking for a bug-free forum plugin no doubt shared my views.
Initially I was excited about the plugin, particularly when they rolled out the third beta release a few weeks after the first beta was released. Everything looked rosy.
Beta & Release Candidate Releases
The full stable released was scheduled for the end of June 2011 however two months later it still wasn’t released. I expressed my disappointment with the slow progress of the plugin and the complete lack of documentation and support available to those who were helping to test it.
Progress Since bbPress Was Released
I watched the progress of bbPress closely after the first stable release of the plugin. 2 months later I made the decision not to use bbPress for the WP Mods Forums. At the time there was no documentation for using the plugin. Installing the plugin was easy but theming it wasn’t and with no documentation explaining how the plugin worked, I was unable to integrate it with any website.
The forum software which I chose for WP Mods was XenForo. I’ve since used it on another 3 forums. It’s a fantastic forum script however it’s not always the perfect solution for every website. For example, I have a few small content websites that wouldn’t work well with a fully functional forum script. bbPress would be a much better choice for smaller websites don’t get enough traffic to sustain a forum community as it would allow visitors to post simple questions and answers.
So how has bbPress moved on since version 2.0 was released in September 21 2011?
- bbPress 2.0.1 was released on November 13 2011.
- bbPress 2.0.2 was released on November 28 2011.
- bbPress 2.0.3 was released on June 13, 2012.
I was actually surprised to see bbPress get an update two days ago as there hadn’t been any updates in several months. It seems this was done to tie in with the release of WordPress 3.4.
All three updates since 2.0 have been maintenance releases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as bbPress was designed to be simple however it would have been good to see some additional features over the last year such as improved social media integration. The biggest problems with bbPress 2.0 was always documentation and support.
Support remains hit or miss but this is no different to the support forum of any other free script (including WordPress). You’ll be glad to hear that documentation has improved considerably. The bbPress Codex now has a range of articles such as Getting Started with bbPress, Themes and Templating and a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Custom bbPress Theme. It’s not the best organised codex but there’s a lot more information there than before and examples of how certain functions can be used.
The Future Of bbPress
The initial adopters of bbPress are all still using it for their discussion forums. WP Candy, Jigoshop, DevPress and GetShopped remain great examples of the potential of bbPress and what can be achieved once you know how it works.
I still feel that for non developers it’s a bit more difficult to get the most out of bbPress though admittedly, the same argument could be made about WordPress. The big difference is the availability of bbPress themes. We need more free and commercial bbPress themes to be released to the community. There are a couple of designs on ThemeForest that come with a matching bbPress design though I’ve yet to see any standalone designs for bbPress 2.0+ released. A quick search on Google for bbPress themes brings up no designs for the bbPress plugin; all of the designs were released some years ago for the stand alone version of bbPress.
The same situation exists with bbPress plugins. Plugins would go a long way to addressing the limitations of bbPress and its lack of features. Unfortunately no plugins have been released on bbPress for over a year and only two have been updated in 2012.
Clearly, bbPress needs more support from the community in order to grow. It needs themes and it needs plugins. That support won’t come until Automattic puts bbPress higher up on its priority list. bbPress is a simple plugin with a lot of potential though I don’t ever see it reaching that potential whilst it is Automattic’s forgotten project.
Those of you who need a forum solution for your WordPress website should consider trying out Simple Press (as well as bbPress). It’s updated regularly, has a lot of great features and there are lots of plugins available too. In order to get support for the plugin you will have to purchase a Simple Press membership at $39 for 2 months of $99 for a year. I know this may not suit many of you but I’d personally be happy to pay for support if it meant getting help when I needed it.
The business model that Simple Press raises the question: Could bbPress be a success if it was relaunched as a commercial product? Automattic run premium services such as WordPress VIP, VideoPress and VaultPress so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could develop bbPress more and release it as a premium product.
Most Automattic scripts such as WordPress, BuddyPress and bbPress have been released online for free whilst they have charged for services such as WordPress VIP and VaultPress. Perhaps they could stay true to this and copy Simple Press’s business model of releasing the script for free but charging for premium support.
Unfortunately, Automattic have done nothing to suggest over the last few years that bbPress will become a priority. Despite my difference of opinion with bbPress developer John James Jacoby over the progress of bbPress, I have respect for him and other developers for giving up their time to help the script progress. I do believe however that it needs to become more than just a side project of Automattic if the plugin is ever going to be improved.
I’d love to hear from those of you who use bbPress and those who considered using it. What’s your view on bbPress? Would you like to see Automattic put more emphasis on the project?