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.