How do we use phpBB

How do we use phpBB

Writing this post was quite easy as we have already written about a way we use project management system and its’ connection to the forum. I decided to add some stats:

Board started: 15/Jan/2009 2:16 am (no, we are not only launching boards at night)
Number of posts: 12705
Number of topics: 537
Number of users: 26
Number of attachments: 2677
Size of posted attachments: 513.56 Mb
Database size: 89.3 Mb
Posts per day: 12.61
Attachments per day: 2.66

These are for three developers who are engaged in work continuously and the system administrator. All other activity is from customers and two guys who have tried to work with us some time ago.

This is a breakdown of posts inside our team:
Igor – 6484
Dmitry – 2516
Alexander – 2843
Vadym (systems administrator) – 252

I decided it will be better to let you see it all first. Taking into account my addiction to screenshots with notes inside I made this screenshot (click to enlarge):

Click to enlarge

And finally, share some of the nuances.

It is important to give topics meaningful names and even more – when you reply change the subject to adjust to your message. You will agree that having one hundred replies on a topic with the name ‘What do you think about …?’ which all have subjects ‘Re: What do you think about …?’ do not make searching and working inside the board very pleasant. This is your team board – take care of it.

Sometimes you start discussing a task inside a topic but it quickly breaks into different subjects all mixed up. I advise to stop and create a new forum and split existing discussions into different topics. In phpBB you can use Merge topic or Move posts to do so. You will most likely do it anyway later. To give you an example we started working on our first web application in family of products and discussions started inside a topic as a product is pretty simple, we thought. It just seemed that a dozen more posts, and we’re done. When it became clear that we are not quite finished and more and more posts were created, I spent about two hours creating the right structure. I created a forum-category, created forums for each product and a forum to discuss common concepts related to all of them in it and then threw the messages to the newly created forums by subject. It is not a disaster, but quite boring work. If you detect this sooner you will have less of it.

When you write a message ‘one more thing’ often comes to mind and this thing often is not related to what you wrote. You write about architecture and this is about design or security. Do not be lazy – finish your current post and create a new post just with this thing in a right place. That is not to create islands of discussion A inside discussion B. When you will need to reread A you will not remember that something important about A is written in B.

Split all forum users into groups (us, clients, apprentices) and administer groups. The phpBB administrative interface is overwhelming for a small group of users, so the less time you spend there – the better for you.

In many forums it is handy to create Announcements or Stickies. For me, there’s no difference as I use them to place a topic at the top inside a forum. For example, in forums where we discuss articles in our blog I mark as announcements not yet published posts. It is convenient to have things you work on now in a separate section which is always at the top. The forum clients have access to uses an announcement topic as a place where updates are recorded. All posts in it are messages about upgrades on production and test systems, which version they run and what changes each new version introduces. But following our rules we do not explain each change or piece of functionality or a bug but just list them and create links to separate forums, clients also have access to, and can follow to read more details.

We try to discuss important things in the forum, and not on Skype and in the mail, because everyone understands that a couple of week’s later things will be forgotten. Seeking dialogues in different places is annoying and takes time. The key to the preceding sentence is the phrase ‘important things’. That is, we use Skype and e-mail of course too. Important points will still find its place in the forum in the form of: ‘We discussed on Skype so-and-so. We decided to do thus and thus.’ With emails it is much easier – Ctrl-c and Ctrl-v but only key information is copy/pasted.

Each of us has developed his unique style of work with the forum. For example, Vadym does not like a forum at all, so we communicate with him by mail, and then transfer important bits to the forum. Alexander & I go in the forum when we receive new messages in the mail, and Dmitry just opens forum home page time to time or uses search.php?search_id=unreadposts and clicks on the unread post icons.

And lastly, our forum is publicly available, but … it is closed with .htaccess and we switched off registration. That is you not only need to pass .htaccess but also have an account to see posts. Are we a bit paranoid about it? Maybe. For now it is not hard for me to switch on board registration, register a client account as if he had registered himself, switch off board registration, activate a new account and explain to a client how to use the forums, mail URL, .htaccess and account login details.

When it became clear, that dotProject’s forum does not suit us anymore, we decided not to fix and adjust it. We started using phpBB, despite of the fact that dotProject’s forum already contained lots of posts (to be precise 8247 posts by the time we swithed to phpBB). We had to visit it quite often at the beginning but with time more and more posts were created in phpBB and dotProject’s forum was visited less and less. Now very rarely. Our team is distributed – USA, Australia and Ukraine, so a forum for us is a must have. One may think that it is not needed if you are all in the same room and can just talk. It will be interesting to find out about your approach.

This is why we advise you not to look for an optimal project management system (with decent forum component) and use what fits best for handling projects, tasks, time tracking and communicate in a specialised forum.

In a list we announced here we have to write about PHP Under Control, I think Dmitry will be able to carve out some time and write about it next time.

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