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24May2016

A Tale of Two Forums … Take #2

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1453 hits Updated: 24 May 2016

Who uses Kunena as a support forum?

Reasons to use Kunena as a support forum

Joomla-based forum products

Revised impressions of Chronoforums

What′s next?

We all make mistakes—tactical decisions which, with the benefit of hindsight, we wish we hadn’t made—but, if we’re honest with ourselves, we try to make the best decisions in the prevailing circumstances.  It may turn out later that the decision was the wrong one but we play the cards we’re dealt or we walk away from the game.  When I wrote my earlier article (A Tale of Two Forums) I had to make a choice:  continue using a forum product that was impossibly stuck in trouble or venture into the great unknown and try something else.

I chose to go with Chronoforums because it seemed like a viable alternative for my needs at the time[1].  I knew the risks, I weighed up the evidence for and against, and I followed my instincts.  A lot has changed with Kunena since I took that decision.  Even though Kunena has changed (and it’s still far from being completely trouble-free) I decided a few days ago to re-install it here.  My journey for the “ideal” forum product is not yet over but I thought I would share some things that I’ve learned in the hope that people reading this will find some usefulness if they’re in a similar situation

As I’ve just written, a lot has changed since I wrote my earlier article.  Let’s begin by recapping some of the background.

Who else uses Kunena as a support forum?

The table below lists the companies who have, at some time, “partnered” with Kunena because their products integrated with the Kunena website in some manner.  It is interesting that, in all but two cases, none of these companies uses K 4.0.  In no case—including the Kunena website itself—does anyone use the new HMVC Crypsis theme!

sForumComparison1605

I had really tried my hardest to use K 4.0—with each successive release I discovered new technical problems; I waited until things settled down.  We all select products based on different criteria:  some people just want the cheapest thing on the market; others want the best product on the market; most of us, I guess, want something that endures, that keeps going and requires little maintenance.

Eight months ago I had finally admitted defeat as far as Kunena was concerned.  I’d lost confidence in Kunena remaining reliable, robust, error-free and easy to maintain. In the end I didn’t have the energy or the enthusiasm to persevere. I was tired of the excuses; I was tired of trying to make excuses for the fact that, in less than one year, Kunena had gone from being the number one forum component for Joomla to being a laughing stock.  It was embarrassing when I met fellow Joomlaphiles who’d ask, “So, Michael, how are things going with Kunena?”  Faced with the difficult choice of endlessly waiting for a version of Kunena that remained stable, go back to K 3.0.8 or change direction altogether I chose the last course.

Of course it’s nice to have new features in new versions of Kunena but not when new releases break the product or completely change the way it behaved in the past.  Adding new features can improve product marketability but when there’s a flood of “new features”—there still isn’t a list of them—and they’re not intuitively usable, it’s how one manages the changes (and mitigates the damage) that’s important.

ktrend1604In short, there hasn't been a lot of uptake in K 4.0.  The big challenge is whether K 5.0 will reinvigorate Kunena or whether the project will ultimately tank.

Reasons to use Kunena as a support forum

As most people would know, I have used Kunena for a number of years; for a brief time I was in the Kunena template-making business.  There isn’t any profit in it.  Originally I established the {kun’ēzē} website to provide professional services (including templates) for Kunena—but times change and I’m taking a broad view.  Because of all the problems I had in maintaining my templates—because the Kunena developers kept changing the core software—I decided to abandon my templates and deal with more general issues.  The forum is still here to answer questions in those areas that I have some experience but Kunena is not my sole focus.  In the end it comes down to asking yourself the question "Why have a forum at all?" and how you respond with the answer.

Before I could answer the question, I had to reassess my requirement for Kunena.

  • I wanted a forum to answer questions when people paid me for the services I offer;
  • I wanted to know that I could count on external support from the developers when I encountered technical problems; and
  • I wanted a forum product that would be robust, easy to use (and administer) and had some “future” in it

The choice to retire from the template-making business was fairly easy; coupled with a declining interest in Kunena and the fact that the competition[3] to attract a shrinking supply of customers is overheated, it was an easy decision. Although people can still download the templates that I′ve developed—as a benefit of subscribing to this website—I will not be maintaining or supporting them in future.  I will not be giving these templates away for free, either—people can download my templates as a benefit of being a subscriber—but they can use or not use them however they like.

I need a forum to answer questions about Joomla, website management, forum management (perhaps even about Kunena itself)—generally about anything that is related to webcraft—but I don′t need Kunena specifically on this website to perform those activities.  I do require websites with Kunena installed, somewhere, for testing and to better understand problems that people may have with it, but I don′t actually need Kunena here.

The next question is simple:  what are the other forum alternatives to Kunena?

Joomla-based forum products

There are four[2] forum products for Joomla (excluding forum bridges).  These are:

ProductFirst appearedCostRatingNo. of reviews
Kunena 2008 free
250
Chronoforums 2012 free
10
EasyDiscuss 2012 $79.00
67
CjForum 2015 $45.00
1

Each forum product has different features, different back-end management tools, different frontend GUIs and varying degrees of material to learn how to operate it.  For each product there is a different user experience [UX]; obviously, the UX will be different for each person and everyone′s experiences will be personal and subjective.  My evaluation “methodology” may also be different to others but, for what it′s worth, the following is a list of the factors I used to help me decide what′s a good “fit” for what I need:

  • meets mandatory minimum requirements;
  • product is easy to use and yields a positive UX, overall;
  • training materials are available, current and comprehensive;
  • low mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR);
  • economical in terms of projected cost containment and overall cost-of-ownership; and
  • product exhibits professional workmanship and pleasant aesthetic appeal.

Cost of software alone is not a reason to eliminate any of these alternatives.  The decision should be based on an analysis of the cost/benefit and whether the product's developers continue to provide quality after-sales support to their customers.  I did not rule out EasyDiscuss or CjForum (both unknown to me) purely on the basis of cost.  I found Chronoforums at the JED, read the reviews, looked at the demo site, liked what I saw and downloaded a copy for evaluation. After using it for eight months and not impressed by the developer’s enthusiasm to answer questions, I started to feel uneasy; that is what prompted me to undertake this review.

Revised impressions of Chronoforums

As I discussed in my earlier article, the learning curve to adapt to Chronoforums after using Kunena was not easy.  There are differences in terminology, differences in the software architecture—Chronoforums is not based on Joomla MVC—an absence of user documentation and (in a general sense) it felt like going back in time.  Also, as I became more familiarised with the Chronoforums community, the support from the developers seemed to disappear.

Overall, however, Chronoforums is acceptable if you do not have high expectations, if you’re looking for a “no-frills”, cheap forum product, if you can live with its limitations and if you don’t want any problems fixed.

What′s next?

As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, my journey—my quest for the best forum product—is continuing.  I may not have explained fully what it was about Chronoforums that led me to reassess my plans last September; perhaps it was just that I’ve turned my interests in a different direction.  My decision to return to Kunena wasn’t easy.  I still have doubts that the Kunena project will recover from a disastrous past three years.  As I wrote at another time, I have better things to do that revisit that sorry history.  In spite of the difficulties we have had to put up with over the past year, K 4.0.10 seems to work—even if it took me a year to learn how—and, with K 5.0 expected to be “even better”, it may be true that Kunena has a future.

But before I finish this article, I would like to comment the latest announcements about K 5.0:

The Kunena team is thrilled to announce the fifth public beta release of Kunena 5.0, a native Joomla extension for Joomla 3.5Kunena team blog, Kunena 5.0 Beta 5 Released, 16-May-2016

and

K5.0.0 Beta 5 is stable and we are aware that people will discover software defects.  We encourage you to use the forum to report defects, as soon as they are discovered, so that the development team can work through the problems before the release of K5.0 as a more stable product.Kunena forum announcement, 16-May-2016

If the Kunena team continues to announce each new beta release as “thrilling” and “stable”, then where is it?  If it is stable (as the developers claim) why doesn’t the team use it to demonstrate its stability?  Why has it taken so long for people to see a live demonstraton of the new template design that everyone is talking about?  Therefore, people may be curious to see a working example of the latest stable version of Kunena—K 4.0.10—running on the latest version of Joomla, with the latest version of the Crypsis template.  The Kunena website is still stuck in a J! 2.5 time-warp and still using the Blue Eagle template.

If you would like more information about Crypsis, read my article Kunena 4.0.10: differences between Blue Eagle and Crypsis.

[1]  I didn't completely abandon Kunena; it just didn't suit my needs as a support forum at this website.

[2]  In September last year there were five forum components listed on the Joomla Extensions Directory. Since that time, Agora Pro from jVitals has disappeared.

[3]  A short list of alternative/third-party templates available for KunenaRoundtheme; 9themestore; TemplateKunena.com; RocketTheme; templateBlender; Shape5.com; JoomForest; Studio42 as well as many others too numerous to list.  All of these template designs are based on Blue Eagle and none of them will work with K 5.0.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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