Interesting tidbit to this picture. ^ Kier Darby took it in an Indian Restaurant in Reading, when Scott visited him and Mike, when the IB lawsuit broke out.
Now on the the Admin Talk Interview of Scott Molinari
When will you be jumping over to Xenforo or IPB? The grass really is greener.
To be honest, I don't think I'll be jumping over anywhere, as I am not really interested in running any forums per se and also not interested anymore in being dependent upon someone else to produce quality. Internet Brands taught me that nice lesson. I don't doubt XF or IPB will stop producing a decent quality product any time soon. It is a matter of principle for me now. I want to be independent.
I will say, our new project is using Xenforo as our "project kick-off discussion forum", mainly because I had bought an XF license and it was unused and I really like the UI in XF the best. It is just more…..fun.
Can you tell us a little history on vb-germany?
Hmmm….where to start? I'll try to keep it short.
I had looked around the Internet in 2001 for a script, so I could learn PHP better and stumbled across vBulletin. At the time, it was still version 1. I fell in love with it. Don't ask me why, I don't remember really. But I did. I remember the really positive atmosphere the community already had at vBulletin.com and the way John Percival (co-founder of vBulletin) was as a person and at the time leader. He impressed me. He is a very positive person in general. Maybe that is why I fell in love with vB. I really liked the leadership at the time.
Then version 2 came around and I decided to start a German support forum for vBulletin and also got to know John and James Limm (the other co-founder of vBulletin) a bit more. We discussed starting a partnership to sell vBulletin localized for the German market, which both were very open for, but wanted to wait for Version 3. It was going to be built with a "Phrase System" to properly add localizations to the software (and is still the same system vB4 and most likely vB5 uses). Around that time, I also met up with my friend and partner in crime Stephan Pogodalla (Pogo). It was his "Hanoverian" German that made vB-Germany the professional localization it is. You see, I am actually an American and at the time my German wasn't even close to being good enough to do a professional translations. It still isn't, LOL!. I also gained a couple of other valuable team members over the years, namely Mike Koenig (Mystics), who helped a lot with the support and also with the translation work and Dominic Schlatter (captainslater), who also helped with the translation work. I also gained a great and trusted "super" PHP developer, Andreas Kirbach (Kirby, now Andreas), who administered www.vBulletin-Germany.org for us for several years and made it a great place for add-on help for our customers. He was also responsible for a large number of very popular add-ons for vB and was a great asset to the vB community in general. They are all very smart, good and professional people and I am very proud to have been able to work together with them over the past years. It was a lot of fun.
To finish answering the question, once version 3 was made public, we were finally given a contract as the official German distributor, I believe in 2003. (Side note: Can you believe vB3 is going to be 10 years old next year in March?) Since the release of vB3, we've been selling and supporting vBulletin for the German market quite successfully. Well, successfully until around the end of 2009, when all hell broke loose.
Do you run any forums now?
Just vB-Germany.com, vB-Germany.org and now a (still private) forum for our new project.
What is your view on vBS / IB management?
They are in the wrong business, when it comes to community software development. They are great at M&A. I'll leave it at that.
How do you see the future of vbulletin in Germany?
Dead for two reasons. Internet Brands has made it clear, they want to do the localization and support work for vb5 "Deutsch" out of California. We are no longer needed. Their loss and from the way I see it now, our gain. Clearly, our gain. I say dead for vB in Germany too, because Internet Brands has yet to deliver a top quality product and if you can't do it in English, then you just aren't going to get the same job done any better in Germany either, or for any other country for that matter.
How do you think vbulletin, as a community, has changed since Jelsoft was sold?
Simply put, vBulletin.com has completely lost its charm, because it mirrors exactly what IB is as a company and software vendor. It mirrors their mentality, their way of doing things and their attitudes. None of these are really, truly customer oriented and even worse, IB isn't willing at all to change their ways and that is what is unbelievable. It is unbelievable for them to think they can constantly deliver poor quality and be successful at it. The things that made vB great are practically all gone. Quality releases, not just in code, but in features that are exciting are missing. The number of helpful customers helping others is down to only a very few. The number of designers making styles for the system are a rare bread. 3rd party developers too. IB is falling behind the eight ball on too many issues like PHP 5.4 support for vB4 and at the same time, doing it with the biggest team of people vBulletin has ever seen. How can that be? Unbelievable……
And now, the whole concept of "community" on vB.com has been practically killed by version 5, because no one is able to concentrate on anything positive now that vB5 is "not gold" but "not beta" either. IMHO, no business circumstance in the world can explain such a poor decision to "release" such a poor quality product and call it anything other than beta. None….. It should never have been brought out of beta. And due to this craziness, the negativity is amplified. Customers are concentrating much more on the negative and any positive feedback is completely overshadowed by all the negativity. IB can't seem to do anything right currently. It is a viscous circle that only IB is responsible for. And even worse, whoever is really responsible avoids publicly taking responsibility for the situation and I feel, until that person comes to terms with his customers and actually starts leading them and the product properly, starts showing they care for them both and shows a passion for them both too, the downhill slide of vBulletin.com and vBulletin will continue. I actually see vB.com and vBulletin dying, sooner or later. We are seeing the UBB.classic scenario repeating itself.
How long are you going to keep running vBulletin Germany given how how much distaste you have for Internet Brands and vBulletin 5? Are you going to keep it running forever, or will you eventually decide it's not worth running anymore?
I don't hate or have distaste for Internet Brands or the people working there or for vBulletin or vBulletin 5. If I did, I wouldn't be making such a ruckus about them. It is just I have opinions and I think they jive with most customers and I am trying to help them, believe it or not. Either it will work one way, or another.
To answer your question. I'll support vB-G.com as long as our customers want it to be available and it doesn't cost me an arm or a leg or until IB decides to do the right thing for those customers and take over (buy-out) the data for vB-G.com, vB-G.org and the other "properties" I own to give them what we've been giving them for so many years. A great place to come and talk about and get support for vB, but in German. For now, and for the most part, the vB-G forum is a customer to customer support forum and there are some great customers still helping a lot. It is these kinds of customers, the real community leaders like here on Admin Talk, who actually helped make vBulletin great and they are becoming a dying bread. As long as there are even just a few of these customers there still willing to help, I'll keep vB-G.com running for them and also for the vB3 and 4 customers who are still looking for help.
With the release of vb5 have many people from vbulletin Germany gone across to vbulletin.com?
I don't know to be sure. I'd say, as a guess, there aren't that many. This is why….
Before IB took over vBulletin, vBulletin-Germany was a constantly growing business. At our peak time in 2009, we had 5 people working on vB-G.com including myself, just to support the German version of the software. Right after the Jelsoft buyout, we had a big spike in business with the vB4 pre-sale and gold release, but after that, it was all downhill and a continuous loss of business and weaker results. The lost business was not covered by the spike in business created with the pre-sales either. And the issues with vB4 caused a lot of trust to be lost, which is probably why business dropped too. Also the fact vB4 was only very slowly improved over the next two years didn't help much either.
What has contributed to the downfall of business was IB's decision to not allow us to offer a German localized version of the Mobile Suite or the Facebook app (which was probably a good thing for us as a company too anyway, as they both still have serious quality issues as products). Because of the principle of the matter that German customers were denied these additions to vBulletin, many German customers were rightfully even more upset and very dismayed with Internet Brands.
And then came vB5.
So, many German customers aren't likely to be running to vB.com very quickly, unless they just don't know better.
I will say too, there was a short lived period, when I thought IB finally got, well at least partially, their act together and that was when Allen Lin took over the vB4 development/ project management. It was a really short lived moment and not too long after that, IB cancelled our contract. So it was adding insult to injury. Something IB seems to be spectacular at.
To get back to your question and answer it. A lot of German customers were already very dismayed about Internet Brands, before we lost our distributorship and that also means transferring their licenses to Internet Brands via vBulletin.com is out of the question for them. A number of customers openly said this on the vB-G.com forum too. How many customers have lost faith in Internet Brands and understand what it will be like to get into a business relationship with IB and its risks, I don't really know to be honest. Although there are millions of forum users out there and thousands and thousands of owners, I think the forum world is actually quite small, because any really good or really bad news spreads through it fast. It is the nature of the beast. So I'd say the number of "informed" customers is actually quite high, which means the number of customers moving to vB.com will be relatively low.
Are you going to run a German site for IPB or XenForo soon?
No. As I said above, I really want to be independent now. I also think after so many years serving as a support person, it is time I do something much more creative. I think my experience with vBulletin and with all the great customers over so many years has given me a clear view of where "on-premise" software still gives our customers so much pain. Everyone is actually numb to this pain, because there are no other choices, but the pain is there and I want to give them the other choice to take away those pains. The pains I am talking about are finding a good/ the right hoster, having to constantly manually update the application software and facing backward compatibility issues with the design or with 3rd party add-ons or extensions, issues with support software compatibility, when the hoster changes to a newer version or doesn't change to a new enough version (like with PHP), server inadequacies, when traffic spikes, costly server hardware upgrades and the data migrations for each upgrade, patching to protect your system from security issues, etc, etc. I want to get rid of these pains for community owners and I think I have some pretty cool ideas to get it all done.
What are your thoughts on the current state of forums, specifically, and forum software in general?
Firstly, Forums or online communities are the best things on the Internet, because of the intrinsic value they give to their users. That value is the ability to get and share knowledge and opinion between people AND because this sharing is across a common interest or topic. This simple concept coupled with the open form of forum software (unlike social networks) makes finding the knowledge relatively easy with any search engine. This knowledge given by selfless community members is transparent and thus usable and very valuable. That is the power of forums and I think this will NOT go away any time soon.
That being said, the forum market IMHO has stagnated and I believe it's because you have social networks stealing user time and interest and more importantly motivation to even start a forum. "Why start one, when everyone is spending so much time on Facebook or Twitter, right? Also, "there are already so many forums out there", many of those who want to start their own community may say. That isn't really a reason to not start a forum, but some let it be a reason. I think a lack of creativity is missing in the online community software world too. This needs to change.
One of the worst things I am seeing currently are the "Disqus" and "Facebook comments" kind of embedded discussion happening around the Internet. They don't really solve a problem, which I think is very big currently….. an online community software based around a discussion engine. Let me explain the issue I see. Most forum software out there have built a forum first and then try to extend from that. What you end up with is a half-ass CMS or some bolt-on article system for the "front-page". And most CMS systems try to integrate a discussion system into the CMS. So you end up with a half-ass discussion system and a forum with a lot to be desired and neither are integrated really well. The software that has a great discussion system, which is an integral part of the CMS, will probably be the winner in the future. At least, that is my vision. Because, as I said, I feel "online discussion" is actually the most important concept on the internet. Between people and their interests, their discussions are the most interactive and more importantly useful resource out there. Facebook caught on to this interactivity, but Facebook connects people by personal relationship and not really by their interests. Forums do this and do it well and I feel there is still room for a lot of improvement with online community.
Firefox, Chrome, Safari or IE ?
Actually, all of the above and even Opera, but mostly FF because of Firebug. Although, I like Chrome, because it is fast. I am surprised how well IE has improved. It was badly needed.
Do you still have an active involvement in vB Germany?
Yes. And as I said above, it will continue as long as our valued customers need it or until IB does the right thing and actually takes it over, which they won't. They actually think they can do it better. Lol….
How does vB Germany differ to vB.com?
Technically? Well, during the vB4 and vB3 days, it didn't differ much at all, except everything was completely in German. Sales, ticket support, the community support forum, everything. Most people don't know this, but vB-G.com is run off the same very rudimentary but effective CMS system that Mike Sullivan created for the vBulletin.com site. Once IB changed the vB.com site to sell vB5 though, they split the systems and created the new vB.com site on, I believe, Magento. Well, I know their shop system is Magento. The customer area and ticket system on vB.com is still the same system the Jelsoft crew created many years ago though, believe it or not. This is also what we use.
Does IB run vB Germany?
No. My company, Adduco Digital, runs vB-Germany. However, the site is hosted on IB's servers (and we've had a number of performance issues in the past too….go figure.)
Is vB Germany a Reseller, or an official vBulletin-owned site?
We were a reseller/ distributor. That contract had been cancelled by IB in the fall of 2012, so now we are just stuck with all the German vB3 and vB4 Suite customers, who don't want to leave and we are obligated to help. I don't mind though. It is just frustrating having to help them and also concentrate on our new project. It is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. We'll get through it for sure though.
What was the first forum you ran, why did you start it?
vBulletin-Germany.com - Because I wanted to support the vBulletin software in German.
What was the first forum you joined? Do you remember? Are you a member of many forums, or do you stick to administrating them?
I am a member of a number of forums and also different forum software, both as a user and as an admin.
vBulletin.com was the first one, of course! Since then, I think I've joined about 20 or so forums for personal reasons and 100s for vB support reasons.
Apart from vBulletin, which forum software is your favorite?
Um. vBulletin was my favorite. It is no longer my favorite, not by a longshot. I still have a passion for it though.
Currently my favorite software is XenForo. It has most of the "fun" vBulletin had while KAM was working on vB. If you don't know who KAM is, go over and visit www.XenForo.com. I like the atmosphere in the XF forum between the customers themselves and the team and I think having that positive atmosphere around your own software is of monumental importance and the only way to sell an "online community" kind of product for money. I mean, as a prospective customer, how can you really get excited about paying money for a community software, especially with so many free versions out there, when you don't see a real positive buzz around the software in its own community forum? It is practically impossible! And, I'd venture to say every single customer who is interested in buying a paid community software also looks at the software's own customer community to see it and the software "at work". Thus, inadvertently, that customer will also very clearly see the issues and the good stuff the software has to offer. They will also see how well it is supported too, which is a very important purchasing criteria. If the prospective customer takes even a short period of time to look around the forum, he or she will also inadvertently "feel" the atmosphere of the community. If the software sucks and the atmosphere is even worse, you just won't sell much software.
So, yes. XF all the way. The XF team understand the concept I mentioned above very, very well. The concept is basically, "practice what you preach" and a forum software, as a point of support for your product, is basically an exact mirror of what you practice. The topics and discussions will show your fallacies and your strengths, unless you are constantly deleting and closing threads and banning people who are critically outspoken about your poor practices or you even hide your whole customer feedback forum from the public. Simply said, you have to have a good community around your own product for it to be successful. (that actually goes for any product, doesn't it?) Producing a quality forum or online community software is only part of the whole equation to be successful at it and I know personally the XF team understand this too and live by it as much as they possibly can and that is why XF is my favorite. They made vB great. They will make XF great too, if nobody else gets in their way.
What was your involvement in the early days of vBulletin?
We definitely helped out with the localization functionality of the software. Unfortunately, the internationalization parts ideas we had never got attention. Other than that, our main goal was to support the software for the German speaking market and that is what we concentrated on and I think we did and do a pretty good job at.
We did also have a few Christmas parties where we went over to England and we met during the day before the party and talked to the Jelsoft team about the new upcoming stuff and we also discussed some of the wishes our customers had. The great thing was, we didn't have to tell the Jelsoft team much. They pretty much already knew what had to be done. I really liked seeing the forward looking stuff Kier and the team had presented and being able to give direct feedback to really open minds. It was refreshing. Gee those were really good times.
What software had you used before vBulletin?
None. When I started with vBulletin, it was the early days in the Internet for me personally. I had looked a bit at UBB, but disliked Perl as a language and was also caught up in the PHP movement too. You could say PHP brought me to vBulletin and I haven't left either since.
How did you envision the future of vBulletin in the 3.0.x days?
I wasn't the creator of vB, so I really didn't envision its future. That wasn't my job and it didn't need to be. Kier was doing a grand job of it at the time.
But then again, holly cow looking back, had I have known what I know now back then, I would have made a ton of different decisions. That's just life though, isn't it? 20/20 hindsight. You just can't paint a complete and real picture of the future you may want to have and expect it to actually happen. You can only work towards it. How the outcome of your life actually looks might be similar to what you dreamed up or envisioned it to be, but it will definitely not be exactly same. Maybe, with a little luck, it will actually be even better. Usually, with the right mindset and perspective, it is!
How did vb Germany come about, why not keep all support at vb.com.
James Limm and John Percival (and also Kier and Ashley later on) understood as a business concept that to properly gain deep and positive traction for your products in non-english speaking countries, you must have partner businesses in that country. They knew those partners understand the language, the culture and the mind-set of the citizens of those countries and thus can serve them much better. Plus and more importantly, especially for Germans, being "local" simply lays much better grounds for building trust. So, we got the distributorship, probably too, because we had already gotten a good following behind vB-Germany.com forum, which was actually running before we became a vB distributor.
To answer the second part of your question, if the vB software had supported languages in a totally different way, it might have been possible to run it all from vB.com. But, vB just doesn't do that kind of i18n well and was actually the weak link to make that happen. I bet it still is with vB5 too.
And to add to this a bit, what sort of disappointed me in the end was vB didn't get more distributors on board. I think that was just a lack of the conscious business decision to go deeper into other countries and a real strategic plan to get that done. The infrastructure was there, ready and waiting for more distributors. Jelsoft tried with vB China and Hungary, but they didn't work out over time and I think the reason was the missing strategic planning and the support for it. That is just my guess. From what I understood of Ashley's and Kier's job, it wasn't to deal with the strategic planning of the business. I bet if it were, there would have had an even better vBulletin business. Oh wait! It's XF now…... Hahaha…..
Where do you see forum software in 5 years?
Well, if I had any word to say in the future of forum or online community software, I see them coming together more and actually sharing THE user base. Yep, that's right. I don't see users of forums as users of those forums. They are everyone's users and no one's.
Hmm…how can I explain this better.
The forum users out there are people and there is only one base of "people" out there. If you have a user on your forum, that person isn't "your" user. They are "a" user of your forum, on your site and they could very well be "a" user of another forum on another site (even your competition). Sure, they might have a different username, but they are still just one person. It is this "but they are my users" attitude of too many forum owners have or even the ability to differentiate users between forums (and the anonymity), which is hurting us all against social network sites like Facebook. Facebook doesn't have a user ownership or differentiation problem. Most Facebook users are "real" people too. Well, for the most part they are.
Forum owners need to just stop thinking about the users as "their users" and more on how they can make the user's experience better to gain their interest. Interest is what builds a forum, interest in discussing the main topics a forum is built around, interest in adding positively to the knowledge base within the online community by answering questions or even by asking good questions. Interest in sharing opinions freely, openly and decently. Interest in joining and interest in participating.
It is the level of interest that forums need to generate. The number of active users will grow proportionately automatically. It is this "level of interest" that forum or community site owners own. Not the users! Concentrate on the level of interest, not the number of users. They just aren't yours to be had and in the end, if you really look at it pragmatically, the number of users you have registered is actually totally irrelevant. Let's say the level of interest in your online community drops. What then? You probably have tons of registered users, "your users", who aren't even visiting your site. What good are they then? Stop thinking users are yours and simply concentrate on the level of interest you can create. You will do much better as a community leader. I'll guarantee it. The next step is to then unify forum users in some very smart way….
It is also up to the software vendors to make online community software that is fun and easy to use, software that helps elevate the "interest level" through a smart UI and with functionality, which integrates the users more and motivates them to create content, content, content. At the same time, the hurdle to join an online community should be dropped to basically nothing. Joining a conversation in any online community, anywhere, should be just as easy as typing in your comment and pressing the "post reply" button and you are "in" as an active user of that forum. This is a dream of mine actually.
Tell us about your new project.
Well, I can't say too much. It is very early. We have a huge "chicken and egg" dilemma. But, I will continue to fight my way through it. Currently, we are still working on concepts. What I would like to say about our new project is, our system will definitely be a service, meaning, no software to download and install on any servers or web spaces. You sign up and get your own "site" with its own URL, if you want one. The search for a hoster is gone. Once you have a site running, no one will be able to tell it isn't hosted like any other "on-premise" software (like vBulletin, Xenforo, IPB, Wordpress, Drupal, Magento, etc., etc., etc.). For those who know about cloud computing, our new system will be a Platform as a Service. I tell you the name though. It will be called….
Pronounced "sko-pah", with a long "O".
which is a wild, stretching the internet name envelope acronym for
Social Knowledge and Opinion Platform
A major part of the Skooppa core will be a very smart discussion engine, but it won't be a forum. It is a platform for online communities and I'll have to stop there. Sorry I can't spill more beans. We do want to open up some of our basic concepts to the public soon and hope to start a movement. I believe our concepts are so revolutionary to the community software market that people will be interested and excited we put our concepts to code and we need the support. We need more developers, both for Skooppa and 3rd party devs. If there are any programmers out there interested in joining us to make a small but significant dent in the community/ online software universe, please PM me or send me an email scott (dot) molinari (at) skooppa (dot) com.
Who is Scott Molinari?
I am just a nice 48 year old guy and a jack of all trades, master of none. Not sure if that is a problem or a gift actually. Hehehe… I can't do any one thing really fantastically, but I can do a lot halfway decently. I can do house repairs, like plumbing and electrical repairs, but I wouldn't say I am a plumber or an electrician. I can speak German fluently, but with a palatinate slang, which I learned from my lovely wife (I also have a son). I can play golf (used to have a 5 handicap) and tennis, but am far from being professional at them. I understand a couple programming languages and can trouble shoot them, but can't create a program from scratch (working on that though), I can work on web site design, but haven't designed one from scratch either (working on that too). I know what a good UI is, but I don't consider myself a professional UI designer. I've managed several projects, but am not the greatest project manager (who is?). I have learned how to manage a business, also through many mistakes and still have a lot to learn and will still make mistakes. I have learned about Quality Management on my own and when I don't see it being done, I feel the need to point it out. I've learned electronics and was an Air Force technician on Electronic Warfare Systems (radar countermeasures on F4 jets, the last in the Air Force!), I've been a technician on cranes at the company I still work for in Germany and have now for over 20 years. Currently, I am the Service Development Manager there and in charge of our Customer Relationship Management System, which mixes my passion/ hobby with my job. I love it. I am the owner of Adduco Digital e.K. for over 12 years now, which is responsible for vB-Germany.com. I am now the "main dreamer" of Skooppa.
Thank you for this interview. It was nice to think back again to the good vBulletin times and bring back those memories. It is also those kind of memories I want again, but I really want to be able to give those kinds of warm and fuzzy memories to others myself. I am working on it, slowly but surely. Thanks again for this opportunity to share my story with others.