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I want to migrate my forum to Kunena …

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Successful migration: reality or just a dream?

Why it's important to the Kunena project for a forum migration tool

“I want to migrate my forum to Kunena because Kunena has a future and, for me, it's the way to go.” Whether we're discussing Kunena or any other web-based forum application, this is probably a question that every website owner has encountered and wants to know the answer to. It's not simply a case of how to convert from “brand-X” forum—and you can substitute product name instead of “brand-X”—to Kunena but it's also a matter of how do you preserve the cultural history of you web community, something that you and your users have invested their heart, their time (and possibly their money) into as well. How do you capture and preserve the essence of the community to keep it alive and to prosper and thrive with the reassurance that Kunena is a product with a future and that it will also support your community as it continues to grow?

Successful migration: reality or just a dream?

Several years ago I had been managing a thriving community of people using a forum as the core of its activities. One day I received a notice from the people who maintained the proprietary forum software that I had been using (for free) for many years with the news that they were getting out of the business and that I (and the thousands of other users) would need to go elsewhere. It would be an understatement to say that this news was not greeted enthusiastically. It was not a mere ripple in the ocean the extent to which people voiced their disapproval, lobbied and pleaded with the developers not to abandon their user base who had enjoyed (for free) this platform for many years. But no amount of campaigning by the users would change the owners' minds because the platform was tired, outdated, riddled with technical problems and there were insufficient good business reasons for them to remain in that niche market. However, the developers did not totally abandon their users; they offered a “migration path”. The choice that they offered did not, however, appeal to me and I took my interests (and my community) in a different direction.

That's when I discovered Joomla and, with it, Fireboard and later Kunena. I have never looked back and I think that I made the right decision. I think it was the right strategic decision to use Joomla and Kunena because I controlled my destiny instead of being at the mercy of others changing their business model when it suited them.

At that time there was a lot of debate among the various communities that I was a part of, whether it was wiser to migrate from the existing platform or to start all over again. I chose the latter course but, for others, migration was the better choice and, for them, carried fewer risks. Starting over raises the prospect that your users will not move to the new platform and they will abandon you to seek “greener fields”. This happens. Other social networking tools and technologies may be more preferable to “going it alone”. Facebook is one such technology and I know that many of my former users are now quite content to use it in preference to what they had before. I don't think things have changed and the debate continues even if the circumstances and the players are different. Such is life.

Can we reasonably expect to pick up everything that's in our existing “brand-X” forums and transfer them elsewhere and carry on as if very nothing had happened? Do we expect that someone or something will magically transport us—everything we've built up over years, together with all of those who've enjoyed the ride—to a new “promised land”? I'm sure that many of us do expect these things … but maybe a lot of people do because it sounds tempting?

What is it about our forums that we'd like to move across somewhere else? The discussions? The images? The funny stories (perhaps) or lists of things we like? The localisation? The membership base? How do we honestly expect to migrate these things without, effectively, starting off anew and building up from “scratch” without re-using/salvaging/cannibalising the resources that currently exist? Are we deluding ourselves that this migration, by whatever magical means, is within our grasp? As the need arises to consider such questions maybe we should use the opportunity to take stock of what we have and what we really need to “migrate”. When that time comes, that's also the ideal opportunity to clear out the excess baggage and clutter that's littered our forums and dispose of it for good.

There are a few things that I wouldn't want to try to carry across to a new forum. For example, I wouldn't attempt to force the entire membership go elsewhere. I could happily live without some of the features and many of the discussions enjoyed years ago by people who have long since resigned. Looking over the sites that I developed years ago I would do them very differently today just as I would also be freer to exploit new features and new opportunities offered with newer technology.

I think that one of the most important things we want to retain is one's identity. I don't mean your username. I mean who and what you are and what is uniquely significant about your community. Sometimes migrating isn't the answer because, even though you can transfer all the things that your community felt comfortable using, you may also transfer a lot of what you would rather leave behind. Sometimes the best option is to start over again, from scratch, learn from the mistakes you made in the past and do things better the next time around.

The journey never ends. People are continually searching for the “perfect” forum solution. As soon as they migrate from “brand-X” to something else, there are new alternatives that emerge. People go from “brand-X” to “brand-Y” and then to “brand-Z”, then they have regrets and want to use something different or they may want to go back to something they used before. Some of these migrations are one-way; sometimes there's no “going back”. No matter how much effort is put into developing a “brand-X” → Kunena solution, someone else will want a Kunena → “something else”. Other people may only want to use Kunena as a transitional medium, to take them from “brand X” → “something else”.

Why it's important to the Kunena project for a forum migration tool

Other forum platforms offer migration services. This is clearly something that's missing in Kunena. From a marketing perspective, if Kunena had something similar, it would put Kunena at the at the top of the forum product alternatives. Obviously there should be a simple, straightforward way to allow users of “brand-X” to go to Kunena without having to travel bizarre or pointless diversionary paths in the process (e.g. “brand-X” → “brand-Y” → K 1.7 → K 3.0) just because there already exist mechanisms to go that way … or because no one else found a better way to do this. How are we to achieve that solution?

About four years ago the Kunena team began to design a way to migrate other forums to Kunena. The basic design was done but the development halted because of lack of enthusiasm. With only a small team of developers, a non-existent budget and competing priorities (the most important of which was to prepare the way ahead for K 3.1) this migration tool fell into disrepair. In the meantime, the world has changed and there are even more pressures on site managers to consider Kunena as a forum of choice for their needs. Without mentioning names, some of the alternative forum developers have gone out of business or have changed their business practices in ways that do not attract people to use them. During this time, the appeals from prospective users of Kunena—those who want to migrate from “brand-X”—have not been heard. I sympathise with those people and I wish that I had a good answer to give to them.

There is no doubt that many people's decision to choose Kunena is entirely dependent on the ability to migrate their old forum data. Many people simply reject the possibility of losing their existing [non-Kunena] forum and starting again. I understand that people insist on converting (or migrating) their existing forums to Kunena but, while people are within their rights to insist on their need, there are costs. The costs may involve money, or time, or loss of opportunity while trying to decide which is the best decision to make. There are no right answers; there are no guaranteed solutions. There is a risk in everything one chooses to do.

I believe that it's important to the marketing success of Kunena if there was a migration tool available. Ideally, it would be nice if this migration tool was available at no cost but we have to be realistic. In summary, a simple, straightforward mechanism to convert from “brand-X” to Kunena is desirable; what's missing, however, is a definition of “brand-X” in that statement. Each person will have their own definition but, just as each person's definition will differ, one should not dismiss whether it's always right to migrate from something old, tired and possibly irrelevant to one's current circumstances, either, and, as I wrote earlier, the search for that perfect solution never ends.

This article is based on the author's previously published work written for the Kunena website.
About the author:

is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and an active contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

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