Interview with Shawn Hogan, owner of Digital Point
We’re fortunate enough to get to sit down and interview Shawn Hogan owner of one of the largest webmaster forums on the web. Let’s get right to the question that we’ve all been dying to ask.
What’s your daily routine like?
The only thing that's really routine is that there is no actual routine. Lately it's been a mix of managing the existing site as well as rewriting everything that we already have (some of the stuff that's still in use is >15 years old now, so rewriting everything from scratch will yield a more modern codebase to make things easier/less work in the long run. The rewrite is quite a project... Somewhere around 1.2M lines of code that was basically thrown away and everything rewritten from scratch.
In all honestly, did you see the Digital Point forums becoming the #1 webmaster forum on the net?
Nope... it certainly was never a goal. It wasn't even a goal to have it be *a* webmaster forum. It's just sort of what it evolved to on its own. The forum was started in a large part because we needed a support venue for users we already had using our products/tools.
What were some of the problems that Digital Point has faced over the years and what were some of your growing pains?
The biggest problems we used to face was denial of service attacks and vBulletin's search function wreaking havoc on the DB servers and causing database issues. We no longer use vB's search function (we built our own) and we have DDoS mitigation hardware in place now that has done a decent job at just dropping DDoS network packets into nothingness before they get to our network.
You were on the NY Times a few years for making a lot of money, how has your income raised over the years?
Income isn't really static... certainly not like I get a paycheck or anything. So it fluctuates... goes up, goes down, etc. As long as you can pay your bills when the lows are at their lowest, it's all good.
If you didn't create tools for Digital Point, where do you think it would be today?
Well, the forum probably wouldn't exist. The tools predated the forum, and the forum was a support venue.
How come Digital Point hasn't moved on over to Xenforo?
Well, vBulletin works okay for us for one. Secondly, it not really easy task to migrate between platforms when you have over a million lines of code built around the vBulletin framework (all the tools and everything were rewritten to be built around the vBulletin framework). That being said, that question could be asked about *any* platform.
Are you a huge vBulletin fan? If giving the opportunity to work for vBulletin, would you do it?
vBulletin gets the job done. Does it excite me? No. Would I ever work for vBSI? No. I don't work well in a corporate environment and it would be a *massive* pay cut on top of it.
We saw vBulletin 5 was announced at Forumcon, what do you hope to see in vBulletin 5?
Hopefully they throw the existing software out and rewrite it from scratch (basically like what I'm doing with my own software). If you have a 100 year old building, you can remodel/retrofit it continuously, but at some point it makes sense to tear the building down and rebuild it.
In order to hire new moderators, what do they have to do to get hired?
Nothing really... moderators are asked if they want to be moderators... they don't apply. Existing staff just talks about who we think would be a potential candidate.
Are your staff members paid?
How many servers currently power Digital Point?
15 I believe (obviously not all needed for the forum).
Do you feel that Digital Point is in its own class of webmaster forums, since it’s the largest? Do you see any forums on the net as being your competitors?
I honestly don't care about being the biggest. But I do think we offer some compelling things that competitors don't. Our tools, our vBulletin Sphinx Search, Digital Point Ads, etc. I'm in the mindset that if you build cool things, people will come (and they do apparently).
How do you keep up with the sheer volume of activity?
There are a lot of automated processes I've built to help. As far as discussion, I don't... just not realistic to read everything any more.
Do you trust your moderators to do the right thing?
Yep... if you don't, they shouldn't be moderators. And if they do something "wrong" hopefully they learn from it. If they do anything malicious, they are dismissed without discussion (it's happened).
Do you get annoyed with the 'ankle biter forums'; the new forums that crop up and slam Digital Point for Various reasons then claim they're so much better?
Lol... no... I really don't have time to read it. And in the end, even negative comments about me or the forum is publicity.
What are your thoughts on xenforo?
Well, I care more about the internals of any platform. And internally, it's quite amazing. The guts are not only the best designed forum software I've seen, but the best designed software, period.
Do you plan to move Digital Point over to xenforo?
Well, part of my rewrite is making everything I've built platform agnostic... so I could fairly easily migrate it all too any platform (including XenForo). As far as when/if we do... who knows. It would be more a thing where one day it just happens. Nothing really to talk about beforehand.
Do you like xenforo better than vBulletin?
Purely from a developer standpoint, then yes. XenForo's internals are amazing. vBulletin's work, but you are also dealing with 10 year old code.
We've seen a few plugins on xenforo, will you be making more, are you still sharing the vbulletin versions at vbulletin.org?
There probably will be some more. And yes... I still publish some at vbulletin.org. Neither place will get everything I've built for either though. Have to keep some stuff for myself.
Had you ran a forum before starting up Digital Point?
We've seen your tools subdomain and the the backlink checker, when did you make that section and do you have plans to upgrade it (possibly within xenforo?)
The tools pre-dated the forum... but they were rebuilt around the vbulletin framework in the last couple years.
How do you feel about vbulletin5?
No clue... can't really say until I see it's internals (or even its public-side).
Will you convert to vbulletin 5?
All options are open. It would be silly to commit to anything one way or the other blindly.