I just want to say this before hand: this is solely based on my experience for the most part (though some of the things listed below have also been echoed by other forum admins who have used, or still use XenForo as well). I know some XenForo fans get defensive and aren’t open to criticism of the software
Background: We’ve given XenForo 3 chances. Once in 2013, Once In 2014 and Once in 2015. So we have more than enough experience with it.
I hope you are ready to read a long but detailed review (I made this review back in December 2015, we’ve since moved back to IPB4).
Our experience with XenForo has, more or less stagnated activity, as the community either flat out dislikes it, or tolerates it enough to not flat out leave.
Let’s get this out the way: XenForo is not a bad software. It really isn’t. It’s actually really good. However, its fanboys will lead you to believe that because many sites are moving to it, that means it is the best out there! We all should know that popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to being best. They’ll lead you to believe that XenForo is the only option, when there are some amazing products such as IP Board (3 and 4) and Woltlab Burning Board that do offer a lot more.
For us? Why is it underwhelming?
1. The Support Community
As active as their community is, and as helpful as their community happens to be (as well as the excellent support response time), there is a recurring theme that if you so much as speak negatively against the product, you will find yourself attacked. You’ll find yourself needing to be on the defensive when you rightfully criticize the product about what it lacks, or the various usability it currently has.
This thread shows what I mean (As well as another on the largest ‘admin’ site): Negative responses on suggestion threads.
Even speaking with long time (Since Day 1) XF users, many will say it is a blessing and curse, simply because while the support is great, the moderation team tends to plays favorites with the fanboys, thus allowing them a bit more free reign to do/say as they please, against lesser known or lesser liked individuals.
Not to mention the scandals and what not, that some of the Xenforo developers have been involved in. That definitely makes you nervous about downloading various add-ons for the software. Do a google search, and you will find that is always drama going on. For such a young forum software, the company itself originated from drama (Vbulletin lawsuit).
Two big forums (Anime forum with about 10,000,000 posts and a Korean Music forum with 11,000,000 posts) were considering a XenForo switch, but based on various things within the community, as well as the sketchiness of various developers and XenForo’s slow-to-act stance on various situations, they decided to go elsewhere. A 3rd big board Korean forum, running on IPB v.4 skipped a conversion to XenForo as well.
2. Xenforo Feature Set:
The reason why we feel XenForo is underwhelming, is the fact there are compelling products that offer more. Woltlab Burning Board, for example, is almost half XF’s price while offering nearly the same feature set, and more. The only reason I went XF (a 3rd time), was because of our community requesting it, and I particularly wasn’t too fond of WBB’s looks/themes.
IP Board is about 35 dollars more than XenForo, but it offers a full suite of apps that can extend your forum, and make it into a lot more.
IPB and XenForo are both Paid Forum Softwares, but their approaches are rather different. XenForo focus mainly on forums (and it does well enough), but IP Board is more of a jack of all trades of forums. Not necessarily a master of forum softwares, but it has a bit of everything (good and bad).
I dislike XenForo simply for the growing need of add-ons we require, in order to replicate features found in many competing forum softwares. As I mentioned earlier, early versions of XenForo lacked very simple features (such as merging users), that you’d expect a forum software of $140 to have from the start.
While XF has came so far, it still is finding itself playing catch up with features. One only has to look at their “Have You Seen” forum to see this. (Have You Seen…?)
While it is a cheap product compared to Vbulletin and IP Board, Xenforo (at least in our experience) begins to get very much more pricier than even VB and IPB combined, simply due to the fact that in order for you to get the same features sets, you have to start buying add-ons. And those addons have their own renewal period as well!
(Don’t point this out to XenForo fans, as they will quickly say that you are simply just adding prices of the add-ons, to make XF look bad.)
3. Xenforo’s “Apple Like” Mentality
Several things in XenForo make zero sense to me, in part because the developers think that they are giving the forum admins the right to choose what they want, so they give them less to work with.
Biggest example is Profile Comments. YOU ONLY GET 140 CHARACTERS. What do you think that sounds like? Twitter? Exactly. Their reason behind this, is that it makes it easier for posting it to Twitter.
Okay, cool. Good to be straightforward with connecting with Social Networking. So why not let admins have the choice to do so, eh?
Because of the developers, I always have to download a friendly add-on for $5 or more to get the control I need, instead of it being part of the core software.
4. Lack of Compelling 1st Party/Reliance on 3rd party
Let me start by saying, not even Invision Power Board is perfect or even great, however you at least have the option of getting a cohesive product. IP Board (Forum), Commerce (Store), IP Downloads, IP Chat, IP Blog, IP Gallery, and IP Pages (CMS). At least you will know that ALL products made by IP Products will work together with little to no issue, and that you don’t have to configure them to work together, and worry about Product A clashing with Product D because they are made to work together.
Having 1st Party Software is a major benefit, but as I said, not all IP products are created equally, and some could use a lot more love and focus.
Xenforo pretty much doesn’t offer much in the 1st party way, that could accurately compete with IPB’s entire suite. I am also not entirely sure how it compares, or competes with, WBB’s suite of products.
It does have a gallery (which is really good), and a downloads application that they call the Resource Manager, along with the forum itself. But you’ll still find yourself with a reliance on 3rd party products.
3rd party add-ons technically aren’t bad, it actually gives those developer’s more freedom. Of course with 3rd party add-ons, you run the risk of not being able to upgrade your software, due to the developer not keeping his project up to date, or he may have abandoned his add-on. Remember, there is a lot of shadiness with a number of Xenforo 3rd party developers.
More importantly, whenever you need to find a simple feature, you are constantly told “No, it can’t do that. But there is an add-on for it.”
As you purchase add-ons for your forum, it becomes bogged down, due to the software itself being anemic.
The chat-room solutions on XenForo are also abysmal, IMO.
As an Administrator, at-least compared to IPB 4, the usability on XenForo is annoying.
There is no Moderation Control Panel, due to it being coded to have many of the moderator actions inline with the forum itself. That may be cool, but there are many things I am forced to log into the ACP to do, that I can do from the Mod CP on IPB. Actually, I lied. There is $45 add-on that can give me a XenForo Moderator Control Panel, with a lot of features. It has a $25 renewal fee.
Want to easily see how many people are in a group, and all of those who are in a user group? You have to go through hoops to do it with XenForo, when it is like 2 steps on IPB.
Want to set user group colors? Well on IPB, it’s a simple hook you install. On XF, you have to not only install the hook, but you have to manually go in and edit theme templates. If you have multiple themes, that becomes a very tedious job.
Want to easily arrange the layout of the forum’s boxes? It requires some tweaking. In comparison, IPB 4 simply has a drag and drop approach, that allows you to move the boxes/modules around.
Forgot to add a tag for someone? ([USER=10133]@User[/USER]) will not do that. Even though you can add it, it wont tag them. With IPB 4, all you have to do is a simple edit and add [USER=10133]@User[/USER], and it’ll tag them.
Want to easily delete your PMs from your inbox? There isn’t an option to delete the messages, but there is “Leave Conversation”. I can download an add-on for $45 that will give me a lot more features than XF does by default. Oh, plus a yearly $25 renewal fee on top of that.
Want to allow your user’s to change their name? By default, there is no feature. Yet an another add-on is required.
Maybe you want to have Animated Avatars? Might want to check to make sure your host/server has proper extension set up, because unlike IPB where you simply hit a toggle button in the ACP to switch it on/off, I have to contact my host to let them know “I need this tweaked”.
I can go on and on, but the biggest offender is next.
6. User Groups:
User permissions in theory make a lot of sense. All users are in the default registered group, and you can set permissions that way by utilizing secondary groups to do so.
Problem with this is, first of all, the usability of permissions suck on XenForo. You sometimes go setup the permissions in the actual user group itself, and then you may even end up having to go into options, or even go into the specific add-on to set additional permissions to make things work right.
I prefer IPB’s way: you install the add-on, and then you toggle the permissions within that particular add-on. Nothing else. Why? Because if you have a crap ton of Add-ons, you’ll soon find your user group permission lists growing to the point, where it becomes more difficult to find an add-on and its particular section for permissions.
Secondly, having to utilize secondary user groups is annoying! You wind up having a user with something like 20 different user groups! Let’s say you run into an issue where there is a permission clash somewhere. You have to look in all the groups to find out where it clashes. More importantly, with those secondary user groups, if you have user group styling set up for them, you have to set a display priority so the correct style and group shows up as it should.
There is no reason why someone is promoted to another user group, that they need to be retained in the former group they just left! We’re born infants, we then grow into toddlers (no longer called infants), and so and so forth. A 80 year old is not considered a child, however using XF’s mentality, they are an infant, a toddle, a child, a teen, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, a senior citizen, etc etc.
It’s an utter mess and not user friendly.
As I said Xenforo itself is not a bad product. And it powers around 30-40 percent of the premium software world’s forums based on various stats compared to IPB’s 13 percent. And that doesn’t make it better. In fact, I am willing to bet that IPS is still a more profitable company than XenForo is. But it’s fanboys will have you think that Xenforo is god’s gift to man. The developers are all Gods, and the moderation team are kings.
In reality, it’s a forum software that is pretty good, but isn’t really much better than anything else. It just looks pretty, and even then, XenForo’s stale and dated design makes almost every theme look a bit unattractive, save Pixelexit and Audentio themes.
3 times we tried XenForo, totaling 30 days so far, and XenForo isn’t anything revolutionary or exceptional. It’s just popular. So is Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian. Doesn’t make them great people. It just means they are liked.
I appreciate XenForo’s ease of use for customizing styles. I appreciate the excellent notification system and I truly applaud XenForo’s cool add-ons, such as post ratings. There are a lot of amazing mods, but then there are allot available for IPB, even without the developer scandal, because IPS offers a little more protection to users.
In the end, A lot of hype masks a product that is nowhere as amazing (FOR US), as its fans want to try and make everyone think it is.
Thank you for reading this, feel free to comment below, and add any comments of your own.