OK, well, here we go. This rant which will follow is a culmination of a lot of different things I have been feeling about what is broken with the Invision community, and why I'm coming to the decision about what may place in this community will be going forward. For those of you who know me and have followed my work, or are just wanting to get some perspective on what a very experienced user of this community feels are the major negative points of this software package and community, I do truly encourage you to read all of this.
So let me start with some background. I have been around this community for over 9 years now, since the IP.Board 1.x days. I first got into this community by helping a small Final Fantasy related site with some technical things, since I have been a professional software developer for a while and wanted to use these skills to help a site I liked. Over time, I got more and more into PHP coding and working with IP.Board specifically to the point where I was one of the most popular (if not the most popular) modification authors around. I created a lot of original stuff, took over and improved existing mods, and helped countless new modders get started in the business. I've always enjoyed making products and helping when I can, but over the years I have seen so many things about this environment which I feel are things that need addressed but there are no signs of them truly being taken care of.
Let's start with one bad thing about the Invision software line which users and contributors have brought up again and again: documentation. To put it bluntly, the way this software is documented is extremely poor, and not up to the standards one should expect from an industry leader. To be clear, there is documentation needed for both developers like myself, as well as new users. While the developer documentation might be fairly decent (it still suffers from poor organization and documents that desperately need more fleshing out), the documentation for new users is essentially non-existent.
I've recently started doing some work for personal interests with Wordpress. It is free software, unlike IP.Board, and I have found it to be miles ahead of IP.Board, documentation wise. Coming into this Wordpress community, I was a complete newb, so I had lots of questions about how to set things up the way I wanted. I found that I was able to use the documentation on the Wordpress site to quickly find these answers. You cannot do this with IP.Board.
Consider this scenario: You are a brand new user of IP.Board, who has never used it before. You have some experience with forums, maybe coming from phpBB or something, but IP.Board's Admin CP overwhelms you. You want to find out how to properly create a new forum. So where do you find out how to do this? Starting at the main home page, you see the word 'Support' at the top. You move your mouse there and, whoah, it's actually a dropdown triggered by hovering your mouse. One could guess that's the case given the triange beside the word, so let's assume they didn't simply click on the word straight away (had you clicked on it straight away, you'd likely be in an even harder to understand spot). From that dropdown, you click on Documentation, this brings you to the Guides section. So where on here do we think we need to go to find how to create a forum? Maybe under 'Install and Getting Started'? The 3 latest articles it list don't mention anything about forums, so let's click on the 'See all 5 guides' button. Looking through the list, nothing there seems close to what we want. There's an Admin CP Overview article, but it presents very basic info. So back we go to the Guides page. Nothing else out there seems close, especially considering how few articles are in each category. Right now, the 'Advanced' category has 200 articles, all the others combined don't even have 50. So apparently, 80% of what IPS feels needs to be documented falls under the Advanced category. But this is just Guides we're talking about here, try looking through the Knowledge Base section and see if anything there seems like it will answer the question.
A lot of what I see out there in the documentation ends with linking to the client area or forums if you can't find what you're looking for. But that is now what users expect anymore. It should not be a hard concept to assume that a robust set of documentation should exist to help new users, so that they don't have to either bother staff or other community members, and so they can get answers immediately rather that lob their questions out there and await a response. I'm not saying that every single CSS class and setting needs a paragraph explaining what it does, but every section in the Admin CP and other public sections should be explained in the documentation somewhere.
One common theme that this reinforces to me is that IP.Board is way too developer focused. Speaking as a developer, one would think I'd be fine with this, but I also know the frustrations of new customers as well, as I've been seeing them on the forums for years now. If it were up to me, I would suggest that IPS strikes a better balance between developers/support techs and those whose job it is to make the product more usable. At the very least, IPS should have at least one dedicated documentation writer, they are certainly of sufficient size of a company to warrant this. Something needs done so that there is not another aborted attempt to provide documentation like what is currently offered.
All of the talk right now from IPS is for their new Social Suite 4.0. They have been posting lots of blog posts about this, but unless I am missing it, these all seem to be again focused on the code, not functionality. The only thing I know of so far that really is a functionality change in 4.0 is the ability to not use certain applications which may have been required before. So maybe you want to run a site with the Invision core, but you don't need the 'forums' aspect to it at all. In 4.0, you can apparently do that. It sounds cool, I suppose, but I simply don't see that there's going to be more than a small handful of sites that would need this. Most everything else they have posted is about new ways they are coding things so that developers can interact with them easier. Where is the unveiling of stuff that the majority of forum owners will care about?
So my next big issue that has me frustrated with IPS lately is their lack of responsiveness to the actual issues developers are bringing up. A couple of months back, I started a topic in the Contributors forum at IPS where I vented some issues I and others have been having with the Marketplace. Lots of modders have been either leaving the community or pawning their works off onto other modders, and I wanted to start a discussion about what our problems are and what we can do to help. We had lots of good discussion, and I think we did manage to come up with a few workable issues that IPS could address to help the situation, but so far absolutely nothing has come of this. Similarly, there was a 'Contributors Chat' a couple of months or so before that where we all threw out some ideas to help, and again, nothing ever came of it.
I don't know that it is enough to ask for there to be a dedicated employee of IPS in charge of issues like this, but if there were it would help a lot, some sort of community liaison. Right now, since the staff is so developer/support staff centered, no one seems to be able to find the time to address what the community brings to them. This is 2013 and this is an internet based industry, in fact it is a community based around a community-driven discussion platform, we have a right to expect a certain level of responsiveness when we do bring issues up.
My third big issue with IPS is the IP.Nexus product. I have never been a fan of this product since it was introduced, and I have made my position on this clear to IPS. I tried using it to let modders use it for a mod request system through the Support module, but doing that required people to log into the Admin CP, which is clunky, and no one would do it. Reporting this to IPS, I was told that "I wanted it to be done that way", since there is potentially sensitive customer info there. I, as a customer, should absolutely never be told what I want, I'm supposed to be the one who says what I want. If IPS doesn't want to do that, they don't have to, but then they should have someone say that a bit more judiciously to the end users instead of the developer. Developers often feel their code is the best code ever, and are typically not able to discuss their code objectively with others.
In addition, IPS made the decision to encode IP.Nexus. While I can appreciate the fact that they want to protect end users from vulnerabilities since this application deals with finances, it is a glaring example of Security through obscurity, which is not at all an acceptable means of protecting end users from vulnerabilities. In addition to being bad practice, it turns the software into a black box, preventing any true modding, or even the most basic support, opportunities. If anything goes wrong in IP.Nexus, you have no means of figuring it out yourself, and you are beholden to IPS to answer questions for you.
I have dozens of other smaller issues with the product line (don't even get me started on the editor fiasco), but at the end of the day, IP.Board is no longer fun for me. It used to be a community where everyone just had fun. Modders would make big products, for free, and customers appreciated them. People would post for support and they'd get answered by other community members. Staff would work with the community and implement what we asked for. Now, the community we have has modders charging for everything they make, customers pitching a fit when they don't get an immediate response from either the staff or third-party authors, and we have a staff that seems to be working more off of their own internal goals rather than what we're asking for. I used to spend hours helping out forum questions and throwing new mods together, now it seems like if I try that I'll either get someone not listening to what I have to say or not showing any appreciation for my work. That sort of experience is not very motivating for me.
So where do I go from here? I still am very thankful for my actual customers, and I want to make sure you guys know I will remain loyal to you. But I don't see much point in being a general Invision expert that just goes out looking for people to help. I am considering branching out into other software development avenues, such as mobile app development, or just more general web design. But I do want to maintain my existing product line, and will likely also take up custom work again. If I don't have to devote time to answering support questions in random topics, I should have more time to do custom work.
So keep an eye out for changes coming here. Most likely I will kill off all parts of this site not dedicated to my own Invision work, as I don't really want to be running a third-party support site anymore. If there is any feedback you have to this, or you have any questions for me, please let me know.
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