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Custom Vanilla Forums Work by Trademark Productions

Published by Chris Coyier

It's been a little over two months since the CSS-Tricks Forums were switched over from the beastly phpBB to the lean-and-mean Vanilla 2. They are better looking, easier to use, more SEO friendly, and have features that forums should have like RSS, bookmarking, and email alerts. And the best thing of all? Spam has been way, way down.

But right after launch, it was clear there were some things that were not perfect. I started keeping a list, and that list grew and grew. I kept staring down at it, not envying the likely days of work it would take me to fix all those things. Many of them being in development territory I'm not the most comfortable in. So ultimately I decided, in order to really do this right, I'm going to need to call in some professionals!

I posted on the Vanilla's own forum looking for help, and got a few leads. After talking to one freelancer who was basically a joke, I was happy to end up going with Trademark Productions, an agency out of Royal Oak, Michigan who does custom Vanilla Forums work.

Trademark was very professional and did good work on this job. After talking to me about my needs, they sent me a formal quote. I had to pay 50% up front, and 50% upon completion, which is more than fair especially since we've never worked together before. As always They tackled each of the issues I presented them with to my satisfaction. They stayed communicative through the processes and met the deadline we talked about early on.

I also got a discount for agreeing to blog about them and this project, which is what this is. However note that, as always, I don't say things that I don't want to say. So, should this project have gone bad, I would have cut the cord and paid full price for whatever work was done rather than blog about it here.

Here is some of the work I had them do:

  • Write custom scripts to clean up the database. The included fixing up much of the old funkiness that came from phpBB like how code was presented among other things
  • Create custom functionality that the forums moderators suggested, like a quicker way to mark a thread as "[Solved]"
  • Create custom "Mark All as Viewed" functionality
  • Fix the way HTML markup was dealt with from the editor

What is especially impressive, is that their developer clearly knows what he is doing and knows how to be a good member of the open source community. Vanilla is open source forum software. So when it was clear that some of the fixes he was doing for me could benefit the open source project as a whole, he committed them (and they were accepted) into the Vanilla core code base.

Beyond that, many of my requested functionalities made the most sense to be plugins. These plugins are now open source as well, available on Trademark's GitHub repository. Here they are:

  • Mark All As Viewed: Seems like it might have been core functionality, but there was no way to do this until this plugin. This makes it way nicer for frequent forums visitors to keep track of what is new in a cleaner way.
  • Auto Paragraph: The current text editor, turns every single return into a line break tag. I much prefer double-breaks to signify the end of one paragraph and the start of another, how the WordPress editor works. This does that.
  • Discussion Prefix: Allows the creation of custom post title prefixes, which you can apply via a checkbox when creating or editing the post. Comes with custom permissions, so you can give this power selectively. This helped the CSS-Tricks forums, for moderators to more quickly mark a thread as solved so other folks don't waste time with it if they are out scouting around for folks to help.

So thanks again to Trademark Productions for their help with this. If you need custom Vanilla Forums work, or anything else they specialize in, hit them up.


  1. Jack Nycz
    Permalink to comment#

    “They are better looking, easier to use, more SEO friendly, have and features that forums should have”

    Were you going for “more SEO friendly, and have features that forums should have”?

    Other than that thanks for pointing out a Friendly-Forum-Fixer!

  2. Sounds like a win-win-win-win to me! (You, Trademark, the forum users, and the greater Vanilla 2 community). Not often you get a win*4 :)

  3. Permalink to comment#

    Wow, I was about to ask if that code was to be commited into the Vanilla project. I’m really glad it worked out this way.

    I’ve been waiting for an online community to grow enough to have its own forum for a while now. Once it does, it’s gonna be Vanilla.

  4. Permalink to comment#

    I actually had a look at Vanilla today which is a weird coincidence.

    The theme structure looks similar to Drupal in the way it uses overrides. But some of the way it is written is really mindf*ck.. I especially hate the fact that they have used spaces instead of tabs everywhere in their code and capital letters for every PHP function etc.

    Just makes things more time consuming, they really need some good documentation as well.

    I’m also confused at how they’ve sorted the categories, just seems weird to have it structured like that.. I really want to like Vanilla, but I can’t. I much prefer the look of bbPress, but yet lately thats looking like its had a funeral.

    • The last I heard with bbPress is that is going to be ported into a WordPress plugin. Maybe even an “official” plugin? But it does seem rather dead. Haven’t heard a peep from it in a while. Honestly I’d be more comfortable with a WordPress code base myself, but I still like Vanilla too. Mostly I like the fresh approach to UI, where 90% of it is front end, and it’s all Ajax’d up.

    • Permalink to comment#

      I especially hate the fact that they have used spaces instead of tabs everywhere in their code and capital letters for every PHP function etc.


      lol … I hate that

    • timd.mackey
      Permalink to comment#

      It’s interesting that you compare it to drupal, because drupal also uses spaces instead of tabs as a standard. The reason for it is that 99% of the time tabs do not work inside of a textarea on a webpage. TAB is reserved for “tabbing” between input/selectable elements.

    • Permalink to comment#

      I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.

      I took it that L1 was referring to using spaces instead of tabs for indenting the lines of code in their php scripts. In the end, this doesn’t affect anything except readability/ editability, and then, it’s still a matter of preference.

      It would make no practical difference at all in a rendered webpage.

    • Permalink to comment#

      As with Traq I think we might be talking about different things. It’s just a pain for when you’re a primarily keyboard user and used to using arrows keys to navigate, it just means that when they have code indented you have 4x the amount of key presses to get to the start of the code on that line. If you’re still confused I mean this (If it displays).

      #logo { padding: 0; } (This is Tabbed so that you press the right arrow only 4 times)


      #logo { padding: 0; } (This has spaces so you have to press/hold the right arrow multiple times/for ages)

      It might not be a big deal when it’s only one line of code, but when there are hundreds/thousands of lines of code it gets a real pain.

  5. Weldo
    Permalink to comment#

    I like to hear about local (to me, I’m not far from Royal Oak) companies doing good. Especially true right now as I’m working on a project that’s growing beyond my skill set.

  6. silvers
    Permalink to comment#

    i like vanilla and have one of their forums on one of my sites, although i did get a comment from someone who took the time to email me about the forum, and he suggested that i get a proper forum!

    it’s funny how people see phpbb as a proper forum, and vanilla as a weaker alternative. i hope this view changes?! but i guess as designers we have to pioneer that change, and chris has succeeded in helping converters.

    i am surprised that chris paid for web services to the forum, but i understand the reasons and i think it’s completely awesome that the changes he paid for will benefit the wider community. Chris you are a legend.

  7. Thank you for the post have never used Vanilla, but congratulations on the outcome and the benefits to the wider developing community. LT

  8. Chris, thanks for the opportunity and the the feedback on our work with Vanilla. Weldo – you know who to contact when you are ready since we are right around the corner.

    All Vanilla and Chris lovers – thanks for the comments and input. We are happy to be a part of the community building a better framework for all to enjoy and utilize. As Mark said and I am well aware of, at some point, directly or indirectly someone pays for the open-source software we all use and love. Chances are too that we were all underpaid. However we were enriched with the accomplishment, praise and contribution. What comes around goes around.

  9. Chris, I really wish you’d posted this say, three weeks ago. I just got done installing a new phpbb forum and I’m still trudging through permissions setup, etc.

    I think the vanilla forums would have been rejected by my client (aka “wife”) but the admin side of it would have saved me from typing so many expletive-laden emails the last week or so.

    I think it’s truly amazing how many person-hours go into all the open-source software that exists, and the work done by Trademark might not have been created had it not been for you becoming their client. Despite the fact that you paid for their assistance, the community at large stands to benefit.

  10. Permalink to comment#

    but i think phpbb is still more popular among forums

  11. Permalink to comment#

    I rather pay for something like

    • Permalink to comment#

      If I was going to buy any community software it would have to be Invision Power Board (IPB). Not a fan of Vbulletin Admin interface.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Permalink to comment#

    Nice shill, Floris.

  13. pbear
    Permalink to comment#

    Vanilla takes a different approach to forums putting the discussions up front instead of hiding all the activity away in “subforums.” You can still view by category (“subforum”) nonetheless. It’s a smart approach, IMHO.

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