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vBulletin Licensing Changes
And an unmissable case study of forum behaviour
vordmeister




msg:4007732
 5:39 pm on Oct 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

It seems vBulletin are planning to change the terms of their licensing. But they've not gone about it all that well and it looks like it might become a fantastic case study in the behaviour of forum communities. Driven by the people who actually run forums.

<start of background information>

In the past:-
Previously it was possible to buy an "owned license" which would allow the current version of the software to be run for ever. The license allowed the download of newer versions for one year, and if you wanted access to newer versions after that year a support fee was required (roughly 20% of the initial licence per year).

Proposed changes:-
The proposed licensing arrangements appear to be for customers to pay a one off fee, approximately 25% higher than the original licensing fee, which will allow the level of software and all of it's updates to be run forever. (ie we're looking forward to the 4.x series and would need to pay the same fee again for a 5.x in a couple of years).

Why customers are upset 1:-
The new cost structure will be a fair bit more expensive than the old one (Assuming the current rate of incrementing versions is maintained).

Why customers are upset 2:-
There doesn't seem to be much differentiation in the new pricing structure between customers who bunged $70 across to vBulletin for the cheapest package 3 days ago, and those who bunged $260 across for an expensive package at the same time. It seems all will have to fund the same extra fees.

Why customers are upset 3:-
A discount to existing customers has been offered on the forthcoming version of the software, but that discount was announced 2 weeks before the expiry date after which the limited information suggests that existing customers who have been sending money to vBulletin for years will be treated in exactly the same way as new customers.

There is very little information available about the new version (a few screenshots, no demo and no indication of a launch date) and customers don't know what they will be getting and when. I had to ask this morning whether the URLs were going to stay the same!

That's my reading, but the information has been poor so I apologise if I have made any mistakes.

<that's the end of the background information - phew!>

The fun thing for me is the case study of forum behaviour. This is a big change that affects all members and one that appears to have been poorly communicated. Pretty well every member will feel it is unfair.

It's a fairly large active forum, and while there is no dedicated section for complaints, every section where complaints could be made was instantly filled with threads about this issue.

Moderation is in place over there but will take a whole load of time and is ineffective when the majority of members aren't inclined to be helpful.

The fun bit when you ask "how are they going to get out of that?"

I'm guessing for them it's down to cash flow problems - I've also spent the last year developing cool new things with no fixed delivery date and can understand the cash flow side of things.

How would YOU get out of that?

 

bill




msg:4008091
 8:05 am on Oct 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

I've followed this and it looks like they simply announced the licensing before they had everything formalized and explained to their staff. They may also want to extend their pricing offer, but it's certainly their prerogative not to.

A lot of the noise appears to people repeating the same complaints over and over ad nauseam. To be honest the new licensing and pricing looks fair to me. vB has been around for 10 years and they are just reaching version 4. If they're averaging 3+ years for each version, and you're paying $40 a year to maintain the owned license, the new license costs about the same with their current pre-sale offer. It's the people who just bought an upgrade from vB who seem to be the biggest complainers. My guess is that they'll work something out to appease them.

vordmeister




msg:4008324
 4:28 pm on Oct 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

I don't think I will be any worse off under the new licensing regime, but will probably wait until there's something to look at before buying. Probably I will end up buying as I don't fancy redirecting thousands of URLs.

Their moderation has been quite impressive. They've taken to quickly closing (not deleting) the posts that are just insults and leaving the rest to run. Doing otherwise would probably end up with a barrage of "censorship" complaints.

Also the staff members are remaining calm and not getting drawn in to arguments.

I find the whole thing very interesting. A carrot offered a couple of days ago was shot down by miffed members who would have shot anything down. I suspect people are being allowed to cool off.

rocknbil




msg:4008500
 10:04 pm on Oct 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

If they're averaging 3+ years for each version, and you're paying $40 a year to maintain the owned license, the new license costs about the same with their current pre-sale offer.

Here is my problem with this.

I signed up with vBulletin in '05, "owned license," the renewal agreement said "$40 to renew." No problem.

Earlier this month I get an email, "Renewal is $60." Well, inflation and all, okay, . . . note that this notice is dated 10/03/09.

Today I go to renew and can't. $195 or nothing. There is no renew option, only upgrade.

So going by the previous history, if I fork up $195 for 4.0, what's to stop them from forcing more policy and upgrade changes next year? By the history they've laid out above, I don't think I trust JelSoft today.

The up side is, according to an official post, you can continue to use your old version forever, even after expiration, without legal implications. This doesn't sit well with me; I like to pay for my software. I don't like owning anything labeled "expired." I'd be more than willing to fork up $60 for renewal. But over 3 times that . . . with a big dent in trust that may equate to something far worse in the future . . . I'm not so sure.

I think it's time to export the DB and get it onto something else, this is just too much money for a message forum (in the context we are using it.)

rogerd




msg:4011577
 3:20 pm on Oct 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

Perhaps vBulletin is willing to let some of its "hobby" use go away if it can make a bit more money from commercial and other users. A couple of hundred bucks is a trivial expense for a business app, and there are solutions like phpBB for those who have no budget for software.

rocknbil




msg:4011679
 5:59 pm on Oct 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yeah, probably true now that you mention it . . . and I can imagine low-budget hobby type uses of it are the most annoying and taxing on support.

Kind of leading into a similar condition that affects corporations, as it gets bigger, less attention to smaller customers.

SwitchFX




msg:4016614
 1:36 am on Oct 31, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think it's time to export the DB and get it onto something else, this is just too much money for a message forum (in the context we are using it.)

I would recommend going to IPS, better known as Invision Power Services. They've gotten hundreds of customers who weren't happy with the moves Jelsoft made.

Perhaps vbulletin is willing to let some of its "hobby" use go away if it can make a bit more money from commercial and other users. A couple of hundred bucks is a trivial expense for a business app, and there are solutions like phpBB for those who have no budget for software.

That's incorrect. vBulletin has always been an expensive script. vBulletin or IP.Board step up to the plate where other softwares such as phpBB lack. They made a smart decision in having two packages instead of a total branch out.

Yeah, probably true now that you mention it . . . and I can imagine low-budget hobby type uses of it are the most annoying and taxing on support.

Kind of leading into a similar condition that affects corporations, as it gets bigger, less attention to smaller customers.

The Low-budges or hobby users use the support forums as they can be faster. Plus the forum's search system allows users to find answers without opening a ticket.

--

I wouldn't describe vBulletin as "pricey". There are forum scripts out there for companies that start around 1K up to 15K dollars.

Hawkgirl




msg:4021103
 11:02 pm on Nov 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I knew the change was coming, and I knew it would cost me - but I became a new customer a couple of months ago. I didn't feel like i had the time to wait, so now I'll end up paying more than I had hoped to get the new release, and I'll have some yucky development messes when I upgrade.

But I AM happy enough with the product, and rocknbil's idea of migrating to a new system gives me a headache.

rogerd




msg:4023977
 7:19 pm on Nov 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

>>vBulletin has always been an expensive script

Compared to free, perhaps. Compared to other business software, it's cheap. Just dealt with a CMS for which the annual license renewal was five figures. (Canceled that deal, but that software firm has plenty of users.)

maximillianos




msg:4028251
 7:03 pm on Nov 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

At Pubcon last week I learned that vBulletin was now owned by Internet Brands. They use the software on all their properties and wanted to make sure it continued to grow in a good direction. Bob Brisco (the owner) seemed excited about the new features coming down the pipe for the software. I think webmasters will be surprised with the direction they are going to take it.

That said, why not use something free? bbPress from Wordpress comes to mind. I use it. Very solid software and lots of plugins. And it is free.

Swanny007




msg:4028557
 4:53 am on Nov 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

I've used phpBB since 2001 and own a copy of vB. Personally I prefer phpBB, I never saw what was so magical about vB that makes it worth so much more than... oh, $0 :-) I have a forum with over 100K members running phpBB and aside from a recent avatar issue I have no complaints.

Remember Internet Brands is also a publicly traded company and they need to keep their shareholders happy. So they need to make more money every year.

SwitchFX




msg:4029192
 6:50 am on Nov 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

At Pubcon last week I learned that vBulletin was now owned by Internet Brands. They use the software on all their properties and wanted to make sure it continued to grow in a good direction. Bob Brisco (the owner) seemed excited about the new features coming down the pipe for the software. I think webmasters will be surprised with the direction they are going to take it.
That said, why not use something free? bbPress from Wordpress comes to mind. I use it. Very solid software and lots of plugins. And it is free.

What new features? The ones that have been on competing software for a few years now? The really bad skinning system? The really bad aesthetic value? The variation in core code? I guess it's so great that their customers were 'silly' to switch over to other paid platforms that didn't give people trouble.

vordmeister




msg:4029658
 5:02 pm on Nov 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

I ended up stumping up and downloading the beta for a test installation. I had been worried by the increased bloat, but download speeds on my server are similar to the current version (apart from the first visit which does seem to take a fair bit longer - so not an improvement for search traffic).

I'm not convinced it is still the best software for my application, but the alternative would have been moving to different software and suffering a change to all my nicely ranked URLs.

I'll not be surprised by the direction they take the software. Unless they reduce the features and streamline it so it's really quick and effective as a forum. Then I'll be surprised.

Take all that with a pinch of salt - I'm still miffed by the licensing changes. Bad year for it.

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