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Our take on managing successful online communities

Matt
 

Team Talk: How did you first come across Invision Community?

Invision Community has been going strong for over sixteen years now. Many of those who work for us were customers first before they signed away their souls and became staff. This month, we part the mists of time and ask:

How did you first come across Invision Community?

Andy (Developer and man of mystery)
Way back in 1998 I was involved with an online investment club in the UK (of course you were - Editor) and we set up a directory of national share clubs with a threaded “bulletin board”. This was based on a freely available perl script (as everything was back then (did they claim it would always be free? - Editor)) but it just wasn’t up to the job. This was my first exposure to writing web based software as I started customising it for our needs. Soon after, we switched to UBB which moved away from messy layouts and to a more structured forum, topic, post experience. With the release in 2004 of Invision Community 1.3 we switched again and I’ve been working with Invision Community software ever since (and you had such a promising life planned out - Editor).

Around the same time the investment club moved to Invision Community, I also started up two other sites, one for modified cars which was an extremely popular niche at the time and one for my home town of Bedlington which is still running to this date. When developing for Invision Community I find it very useful to have that historical experience and real world insight. A lot of my input when we discuss new features as a team comes as a direct result of this first hand experience.

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I was part of this Investment Club when I was younger

Marc (Support and fan of bouncy castles)
My first real experience trying to set up forums/communities for myself was somewhere around 2000 (lol slow down grandpa - Editor). Me and a few friends used to host gaming servers for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and wanted something for storing stats on, so I set up UBB which I remember thinking was really cool at the time. I never really did much with it other than setting it up for people to use, and remember at the time backing things up on a 1mb hard drive (can't even fit a picture on that these days (need a push on that rocking chair? - Editor)).

Over the years, I ran a few more sites and the software at some point became vBulletin (cant recall when, but just seemed to happen) which I ran through version 2 and late into version 3. At that point I was starting to add things for myself, usually learning from other peoples "FIND abc, AFTER ADD, xyz" which is how we all used to add our own modifications at the time. The thought of an upgrade at the time, I know used to make me cringe.

At some point during vBulletin 4 release, I was becoming a little disillusioned with the whole community software scene in general (other disappointing platforms are available - Editor), and hadn't really used Invision Community before, but ended up using that for a site for my wife.

I was using Invision Community more and more. Purely because it was the site that was most active at the time. This led me to becoming very interested in the new Invision Community 4 release, and was becoming a bit of an social addict on the alpha forum that was released, helping out people who weren't sure of things, and generally asking questions. It was around this point I was asked to join the team here at Invision. And you guys have had to put up with me ever since! My sincere apologies for that. (apology accepted - Editor)

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This has nothing to do with Castle Wolfenstein but it's late and I need this blog entry done

Mark H (Support and keeper of Dropbox)
The internet was in its infancy in 1985 (and there goes 80% of our readers - Editor), and I was using BBS's on a dial-up 1200 baud modem. In 1986 I took over a BBS from a friend, running it on a 2400 baud modem and single phone line. It was just a few years later that I got my first look at the real "Internet", using Netscape and now a 9600 baud modem (we just lost another 10% - Editor). At some point I discovered online communities, then only "Forums" with perhaps photo gallery software similar to Coppermine.

My focus was gaming at the time, so I gravitated to forums for such things as (like Marc) Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, and the first RPG-type text-based games.  I also joined a number of MUD's (multiplayer real time worlds - Editor), and am a (now retired) staff member of the MUD, Ancient Anguish.

I've seen the progression of technology and software which, today, we take for granted. But back then if someone had told me where we would be today, (oh boy, here we go - Editor) I'd have been...... skeptical. Over the years, I've used a verity of "forum software" but well over a decade ago started using Invision Community version 1.3a. Today I am a partner with another person running a site using Invision Community software, and it's the highest-ranking result at Google for its (admittedly niche) speciality.

Since I was using Invision Community, having purchased it at version 2.3, and given that background, it seemed a natural progression to join Invision Community as an employee when the opportunity arose, and I have never looked back! (must be dangerous when reversing - Editor)

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Actual footage of Mark listening to an internet podcast back in 1985

Jennifer (Designer and sock fanatic)
Communities, for me, started on AOL. The chat rooms was where I started. I evolved to javascript chat rooms later and eventually into Neopets clubs followed by a community software called Avidgamers and eventually stumbled across InvisionFree forums. It was while I was adventuring through Avidgamers that I discovered an art type called "pixel" art which truly explains my passion.

I was personally never good at it but I found a community called "Eden Enchanted" where all these really awesome pixel artists were. So I started to develop my own Pixel art community (because back then I thought I might eventually get good at it so I should admin). I started on the free community software of "SMF" but envied the ease of use and the beauty of Invision Community (which this awesome pixel community used (they have outstanding taste - Editor)).

After what felt like forever, which mind you was really only like 2-3 months, I bit the bullet and purchased an Invision Community license. I wanted this gorgeous piece of software and I couldn't live with the second rate free stuff anymore (there's our new advert slogan - Editor). So I bought Invision Community 2.3 and delved in (this was back in 2007). I really haven't looked back since. I've been developing skins since I got it and I've made a few mods/applications on it back in the 3.0 days.

I've owned and ran many communities, and roleplays, on Invision Community since. My current community, which has officially been running on Invision Community since December 2013, was transferred from InvisionFree (not my choice but god were we happy when we left).

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Ah the memories. Terrible, terrible memories

Brandon (Developer and XP log in screen enthusiast)
Back in roughly 2004-ish I got into customizing Windows XP (specifically I created custom login screens (this was actually a thing? - Editor) but knew a lot of people who did the full alternative to Windows Blinds by hacking dlls) and eventually opened a site to host my work and to allow others to share theirs: bfarber.com.

I used Invision Community v1.3 which was free at the time (2.0 was just getting into beta testing as I recall) and needed a file manager to share my work and to allow others to do the same. I downloaded a free file manager by a modder named 'parkeet' and after installing it on my site (which required those good ole "find X and replace with Y" PHP file modifications) I found that it was lacking in a few areas, so I set out to customize it.

From this desire I taught myself PHP (I was already familiar with HTML, CSS and javascript) and learned how to modify the modification. Eventually, the original author left the mod scene (this was back in the ibmods days for those of you who have been here a while (I have - Editor)) and turned the work over to me. I was hired by IPS back around 2006 and shortly after I came on board I built a new Downloads manager from the ground up as a core offering for the company (Now I know who to assign all Download tickets to - Editor). While I don't run my own site anymore (especially a third party hack site for Windows XP), I do have fond memories of my roots. This was both my start with web development (beyond building a few static HTML pages in the early days of the web) as well as my start with forums specifically.

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Never used this, apparently it was OK

Stuart (Developer and owner of large computers)
My story is rather similar to the other ones here (selling this story from the off - Editor). My story starts around 2000 when I started a car club with my brother, being the technical one, one of the first things to do was to set up a forum. We started with Ikonboard (imagine Perl & flat-file databases etc), we swiftly followed Matt over to his new PHP-based project "Invision Power Board" (pretty sure the restraining order prohibited that - Editor). With the introduction of the new licensing structure unfortunately with being very low budget we had to then move over to WBB (er... - Editor). Soon after we moved back to Invision Community (It was the best and totally worth it! (I made him say that - Editor)) and I started to get interested with PHP (up to this point, I had only really used HTML/CSS) and learning how to make some changes that we needed for working with 'members' and tying our website in with our community. -- A really simple SSO type approach where the main website would show the user that's logged in and save data they submit, such as a tech spec and images of their vehicles.

That community is still using Invision Community and in the meantime I've also converted (and run) some other car club communities that I've been involved in over the years. From there, I was asked to start writing SSO (single sign on, you're welcome- Editor) integrations in early 2014 for Invision Community and soon after became a full member of staff.

I still run a number of communities to this day which gives great insight into how end users interact with the software and generally what their feelings of the platform is. Quite often, I'll deploy Alphas to these communities to gather feedback. 

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Oh, he said Car Club...

 

Jim (Support and his name is a bit like the lead singer from The Doors)
The first community I really heavily participated in was around 2003. Being a nerd and liking wrestling at the time (Ultimate Warrior FTW- Editor), I joined a wrestling forum that ran a very beginning version of IPB. A lot of time was spent on this website and after becoming a moderator, I really feel in love with IPB.

A sub-forum on this community that was pretty active was around graphic design. Feedback/showcases and competitions with the main point of focus around the wrestling world. This really took my interest and while my interest in wrestling kind of faded, graphic design led to the next step in my life and naturally joining graphic design communities.

After being a part of quite a few graphic design forums (that were ran quite badly (honesty is always good - Editor)) came time for me to try my hand at this. Being technically inclined, I thought I could run a better show. We started out on PHPBB due to cost but after some frustrating moments, I persuaded the move to Invision Community.

Come sometime around 2008 or 2009 and my new passion around cars had reached its peak, I came back onto the forum scene. In 2010, my favorite brand had become defunct so I decided to open a community dedicated to keeping its memory alive. First and only choice was to come back to Invision Community! (Believe early version 3 at the time) This community is still alive and I still have a lot of fun with it!

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I've been waiting months to post this GIF

Rhett (Hosting and boasting)
My time on forums started in the late 90's, with a few motorcycle and photography forums I visited often. During the years as time progressed some of these went astray from what the core members wanted, so I started a few of my own Motorcycle forums with the core members following, that lead to other online communities such as Android (is that the cheap iOS knockoff? - Editor) in the late 2000's, and a few other communities. In about 08-09 I had enough of the main platform we were using and made the move to Invision Community (a man of fine taste - Editor). I started digging in, converting all the sites to Invision and haven't looked back (seriously, how do you guys get out of parking spots? - Editor). It's a great product, a great team, that I'm proud to be a small part of.

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Instagram in the 80s

Daniel (Developer and owner of a shop and spa in Arendelle)
My Journey started 2003 at an Austrian electronical music forum which was also written in perl.
After years where I was only a member, the owner lost interest and a handful of people(incl. myself) took it over (hopefully you asked nicely first - Editor), but we realized that perl was such a pain to work with (I could have told you that - Editor), so we restarted the whole project with phpBB.
This was also the time, where I got really interested into coding and customizing stuff.
After a long journey from phpBB, to vBulletin(2006), and others, I landed finally here (the best one of course (someone's getting a bonus - Editor))
The forum doesn't exist anymore , I blame facebook and all the european laws, but TBH, I'm just too busy to run one ?

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Probably not Daniel

Those are our stories, but we'd love to hear about your first experiences with Invision Community. Let us know below!
 

Edited by Matt


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Jim (Support and his name is a bit like the lead singer from The Doors)
The first community I really heavily participated in was around 2003. Being a nerd and liking wrestling at the time (Ultimate Warrior FTW- Editor), I joined a wrestling forum that ran a very beginning version of IPB.

Ha! Mine is the same story from the same time, @Jim M! My familiarity with those boards as a user until around 2007 was enough for me to know that I wanted to find a reason to use that same software myself one day. I got started when 3.4.x was around but held off on doing anything once I'd seen a blog about i18n from Mark for the forthcoming 4.x; my board needed to have two languages and this looked to be perfect. I've had tonnes of fun tweaking the CSS and templates; it's been a really good learning tool.

 

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I got involved with forums soon after I got married (in 2003). My husband had a job with extremely late hours, we had no kids yet, and I was home from my own job by 6:00 and very, VERY bored. My husband is an avid fan of the New York Yankees, and really wanted me to join him at the games, so I started to learn a little more about baseball. I wanted to sound halfway intelligent, so I began spending time on the YES Network forums to see what other fans were saying. (Solid choice, Esther, hang around with crazy trolls. Excellent decision-making skills.)

After a couple of months there, one of the more active members decided he was fed up with the sheer number of trolls and total lack of moderation - there was 1 moderator for nearly 1 million members. This guy was asking around to see if anyone could help him get the site up and running. As I mentioned, I was VERY bored, so I figured I'd do it.

The site was running IPB 2.2, and I started poking around and learning how to customize things. Taught myself PHP by implementing the modifications, then started making my own. 

Our site ran for nearly 5 years (and was really popular) before we had to shut it down simply because we had no time to run it. By then I was distributing my own minor modifications and doing really small custom pieces. 

In 2010, I quit my job to go out on my own and do this full time. I love this job. I love that my customers never ever want the same things twice, I love that nearly anything is possible with IPS. I'm really enjoying watching the framework "grow up", so to speak. 

Edited by HeadStand

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I started with IPB in 2004. I was with phpbb before that. we were using 1.3 back then. Every time there was an upgrade I would have to pull an all-nighter to edit all the skins and files for modifications. Crazy days. We have come a long way since then.

 

Edited by WOFman

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I needed a forum software but at that time I only knew about vbulletin  phpbb and smf. I don't like vbulletin, and the others don't look professional to me. So I needed to goggle for options.

Instead of googling "forum software", I did what I normally do to find competitors. I typed in google "vbulletin vs " and all the options appeared to me.

 

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I started with I think was some forum that was a cgi script every post was a file on the server - blew past all quotas very quickly. Then went to UBBThreads that had a database back end - was good their till development team fractured and started a new company InteractivePHP and their product FuisonBB then development tapered off (they all had day jobs) and like many came to IPB, been happy here ever since.

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A trusted friend recommended you to me and said it would be great if my taste was for something more professional... I dipped straight in early 4.0 :D and have not regretted that decision.

Great work from the team here.

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A good read! I originally used to hang out/post on some old car forums back in 2000/2001 and eventually got involved helping out as mod/admin. Back then it was Ikonboard 2.x and then the jump to 3.x. I then remember the excitement of IPB starting up and the first build of the forum back in early feb 02 I guess? I used to love the pre beta 1.0 skin. At the time I was working as an electronic engineer but good friends with the boss of a local IT/Software company who hosted the football forums for both clubs in the area. I eventually convinced him to take the leap from an old text file threaded board to IPB in 2003 as there were MSSQL drivers available back then  (big up the Wilzor!) - by 2004 I was working for the software company and have done ever since. So that's the job of the last 14 years thanks in part to IPB and then also I met my now wife through that very forum around the same time and we'll have our second child in July.  I probably owe @Matt a meal at Frankie & Benny s sometime.. its' been a while! 

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23 hours ago, Tom_F said:

A good read! I originally used to hang out/post on some old car forums back in 2000/2001 and eventually got involved helping out as mod/admin. Back then it was Ikonboard 2.x and then the jump to 3.x. I then remember the excitement of IPB starting up and the first build of the forum back in early feb 02 I guess? I used to love the pre beta 1.0 skin. At the time I was working as an electronic engineer but good friends with the boss of a local IT/Software company who hosted the football forums for both clubs in the area. I eventually convinced him to take the leap from an old text file threaded board to IPB in 2003 as there were MSSQL drivers available back then  (big up the Wilzor!) - by 2004 I was working for the software company and have done ever since. So that's the job of the last 14 years thanks in part to IPB and then also I met my now wife through that very forum around the same time and we'll have our second child in July.  I probably owe @Matt a meal at Frankie & Benny s sometime.. its' been a while! 

Your place or mine? Can't believe we were in Bristol the week you were away!

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I originally started out on vBulletin 2! Started making modifications for vBulletin 3 on vB.org. Very disillusioned with vBulletin 4, I was one of the first members on XenForo's bandwagon when that rolled along. Offered my services for vBulletin and XenForo for around 3 years freelance, started building my own forum softwares and also supporting the many free forum software such as PHPBB, MyBB and SMF with modifications.

At some point along the way I saw a tech support job at IPS, and had to go for it. Eventually I moved on to maintaining the free Converters, writing Single Sign On's and Managed Services dealing with some amazing clients here. The guys are great and it is still one of the favourite jobs I've had, and I still have fond memories of this place so I thought I had to share my own story. (PS, Lindy my mum still mentions your facebook chats ;) )

I'm still building forum software and all sorts of other bespoke stuff as the lead developer with my own team of 6 very talented guys in a local digital agency, but I really did get my first "real" start here. :)

Edited by Michael Burton

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I skinned Ikonboard back in the days and I then followed @Matt to IPB with version 1.1x something and skinned IPB for a few years before I no longer had the time for that. Been working with IPB off and on the last 10 years or so and now i think i have the itch to build a site based on IPB again :)

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2 hours ago, Michael Burton said:

I originally started out on vBulletin 2! Started making modifications for vBulletin 3 on vB.org. Very disillusioned with vBulletin 4, I was one of the first members on XenForo's bandwagon when that rolled along. Offered my services for vBulletin and XenForo for around 3 years freelance, started building my own forum softwares and also supporting the many free forum software such as PHPBB, MyBB and SMF with modifications.

At some point along the way I saw a tech support job at IPS, and had to go for it. Eventually I moved on to maintaining the free Converters, writing Single Sign On's and Managed Services dealing with some amazing clients here. The guys are great and it is still one of the favourite jobs I've had, and I still have fond memories of this place so I thought I had to share my own story. (PS, Lindy my mum still mentions your facebook chats ;) )

I'm still building forum software and all sorts of other bespoke stuff as the lead developer with my own team of 6 very talented guys in a local digital agency, but I really did get my first "real" start here. :)

Mikey likes it!

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I created a website for teachers in 1998, using FrontPage and it's forum solution. Then I started using IkonBoard and, in 2003, I started using IPB and I'm still using it. :)

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My first board was a Runescape clan site built on InvisionFree back in the mid-2000s. I didn't do much with forums after that until last year, when I got a new job, part of which is managing a community (not built on IPB unfortunately). I'm trying to expand our usage of community within the organization and have pitched using IPB as our next platform to do so.

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I got into forums in 1986. Fidonet and BBS's. Ran a multi-node system for a decade before the Internet came along. All amateurs, We rocked. We could get a message around the world in 24 hours.

When I wanted to run another BBS, I decided easily because my favorite board uses the software and so does my wife's favorite site.

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I created my forum in 2003 and at the time i chose to use IPB 1.2 RC1 that was free, Shit, using a Release Candidate version. Some things never change ?

fTdzQJ7.png

Edited by RevengeFNF

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Starting in 2006 with open source software, I went from MyBB, and thent to Phorum. I was stubbornly hooked on that threaded display format, but in time my community made it clear they preferred a linear layout. Phorum was fun, but I had to do a lot of template and script hacking to get it to do the things I wanted. As we grew, we became too busy for our shared hosting environment, and had to graduate to a VPS server. As technology advanced, the Phorum started to break and the primary developers had since abandoned the project and just one remaining person was trying his best to handle tech support issues. Realizing that I was dealing with dead software that had reached end of life, I knew my best option would be paid software that has ongoing development and good tech support. I did a trial of both Xenforo and Invision, and Invision was the clear winner.

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It's funny thinking back to AOL and dialup. Young people today would probably feel like dialup is torture, let alone pre-internet days. lol.

As for me, I posted a lot on an IPB 2.1 or 2.2 (I forget which) forum site 14 years ago and, like the person @HeadStandmentioned, I got tired of the way it was moderated. So then I started my own sites. Then they really went nowhere, probably due to the too broad scope of discussion. I had paid someone to make me an app and he was always too busy to add new features, so I eventually just figured out how to myself and started making apps meant for only my site, initially...

The person running that 2.x site randomly made some really cuckoo user an admin and he figured out how to cause all kinds of permissions problems. It was pretty funny, though.

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2004 using 1.3. I had no experience of running a website but the first week went well.

ft.thumb.jpg.e9b99bd81a8fb513caed2186826e7baf.jpg

A few days after that screenshot was taken I attempted an upgrade with no backups and lost the whole site, luckily most of those that had initially joined registered again as I had to start from scratch.

Edited by marklcfc

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I remember using SMF back then, (2009) and read some topic about Vbulletin vs IPB as a paid alternative

and I did some research for VB and IPB, finally i choose IPB ?

Edited by lordi

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I started experimenting back in 2003 with YABB and tried VBulletin also. However, I liked the look of Invision and purchased a Lifetime Licence and used the forum successfully until 2017 when I decided to start an absolute fresh install within the cloud servers of IPS. Not being IT Savvy, I rely upon customer care and IPS are always quick to resolve any issues, although I haven't experienced a great deal. 

I am also pretty boring and have no customisations at all, but it all runs smoothly. ?

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Back in 2002 I had the "brilliant" idea to create an "Online Magazine" As a commercial artist/graphic designer I was discouraged with how poor layout and design was on the web back then. I wanted to create an Online presence that reflected the aesthetic of a glossy print magazine. But...this was well before Wordpress, Blog software etc was even available, and repopulating content using Dreamweaver was laborious and inefficient. I was on dial-up as well. Luckily on a whim, I uploaded Ikonboard BB software as part of the Online Magazine. The Board took off like a rocket. Boards/Discussion Forums were generally in their infancy and were the only social media, since Facebook, Twitter, etc hadn't been created yet, or hadn't taken hold. It was the Wild West on BB's back then and a learning curve. Eventually all my available time was taken up Managing/Moderating the Board so the magazine side collected dust. Believe it or not I stuck with Ikonboard until a few years ago. I may have been the last hold out. It was a nightmare and eventually that PERL based Software required a dedicated server at a huge monthly cost. I was pretty burnt out at that point and was contemplating calling it quits running a traditional Discussion Forum, especially since Facebook was drawing so many Members away. But my Members talked me into keeping it going. I researched all the free BB software and other monthly contract BB's including IPS. I loaded a few test versions and was happy and surprised that IPS was the only software that would and could do a complete Conversion of what was a 14 year old Ikonboard BB at the time. My Members helped with the Conversion costs and despite the usual headaches and adjustments, my Board has been IPS based for going on 3 years. This is outstanding Community Software and I still keep things very simple and only use whats native to the IPS Software. Converting to IPS saved my online community.

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