Interview: Brian Claridge, IGN-VNBoards programmer and administrator
VNBoards were installed first, on their own user database. IGN boards came a few months later and were co-registered with IGNís existing user system (my.ign.com). All messages for both systems exist on separate databases. Since the communities support different genres of games and gamers, it made sense to keep them separate. Not to mention, itíd have been a technical headache to merge the boards and topics into one database.
What is the moderation policy on IGN/VN Boards ?
I tend to stay away from this aspect of the community. Our TOS is posted here.
What are the main characteristics of the software running IGN/VNBoards ?
Pretty basic feature set. We havenít changed much in a few years:
- custom built
- flat topic view only (oldest reply first, pages separating large topics)
- custom user db integration
- private message system
- topic notification system
- favorite user, post notification
- user profiles (integrated and remote)
- scalable architecture, just add more servers as traffic increases
- separate admin interface
- skinnable headers/footers
- custom ad injection
- HTML codes
- moderation features: ban/prune/unban request queue/ip research/delete topics, etc
- user notes (moderation log on user history)
Being the software engineer, you must have kept a close eye at hacking attempts. Are they happenning often, did any of them ever succeed ?
Nothing dramatic -- like whole boards getting deleted. Weíve had users get their password cracked via XSS attacks or just plain guessing of passwords. Overall, it has never been a major issue.
As a developper of a custom bulletin board system, have you ever tried the different softwares available on the market, and what do you think of them ?
I havenít installed any, but the current market is saturated with impressive products. I think (Off The Shelf) that products with the source code are a great way to get started, as long as you have engineers that can quickly become comfortable with the code and design pattern. Weíve considered using OTS systems, but it comes down to how much work would be involved in porting over all the custom features needed for our business. Proven scalability, ad injection, specific subscriber only features and using a separate user database keeps us from moving to anything new.
I think itís difficult to step away from custom code once you have a large community. Personal experience has been that users hate change (even if itís minor) in their forum system. Forcing them to use a new system without making it mostly transparent is a recipe for disaster.
How was the switch to a pay subscription system received by the community ?
At the time, there was of course some negative feedback, but I think most users understood the position we were in. The economy was horrible at the time and we really had no choice. Technically, we left the basic features in place and introduced new subscriber only features (html codes, icons, private messages, subscriber boards, etc). We didnít completely abandon those users who wish to stay on the free registration.
Overall, it was a good transition and didnít impact growth.
What in your opinion is necessary for a community to successfully switch to a pay subscription system ?
Take it very slow. Use it as an excuse to add new features. Donít alienate your community, not everyone can afford a subscription, so make sure those users can still contribute in some way.
In your opinion, why are most large corporations staying away from online communities, and what could it bring to them ?
I donít think thatís the case. Look at Sun/Microsoft/IBM. They all have communities where it makes sense. Software developer communities for example. Also, blogs are everywhere and I think it wonít be long before a logical combination of forums and blogs occurs Ė if it hasnít happened already.
Thank you Brian !