"I want to migrate my forum to Kunena because Kunena has a future and, for me, it's the way to go." Whether we're discussing Kunena or any other web-based forum application, this is probably a question that every website owner has encountered and wants to know the answer to. It's not simply a case of how to convert from "brand-X" forum - and you can substitute anything for "brand-X" - to Kunena but it's also a matter of how do you preserve the cultural history of you web community, something that you and your users have invested their heart, their time (and possibly their money) into as well. How do you capture and preserve the essence of the community to keep it alive and to prosper and thrive with the reassurance that Kunena is a product with a future and that it will also support your community as it continues to grow?
Successful migration: reality or just a dream?
Several years ago I had been managing a thriving community of people using a forum as the core of its activities. One day I received a notice from the people who maintained the proprietary forum software that I had been using (for free) for many years with the news that they were getting out of the business and that I (and the thousands of other users) would need to go elsewhere. It would be an understatement to say that this news was not greeted enthusiastically. It was not a mere ripple in the ocean the extent to which people voiced their disapproval, lobbied and pleaded with the developers not to abandon their user base who had enjoyed (for free) this platform for many years. But no amount of campaigning by the users would change the owners' minds because the platform was tired, outdated, riddled with technical problems and there were insuffucient good business reasons for them to remain in that niche market. However, the developers did not totally abandon their users; they offered a migration path. The choice that they offered did not, however, appeal to me and I sought to take my interests (and my community) in a different direction.
At that time there was a lot of debate among the various communities that I was a part of, whether it was wiser to migrate from the existing platform or to start all over again. I chose the latter course but, for others, migration was the better choice and, for them, carried lesser risks. On the one hand, starting over raises the prospect that your users will not move to the new platform and they will abandon you to seek "greener fields". This happens. Other technologies were also beginning to make inroads into the social networking space. Facebook is one such technology and I know that many of my former users are now quite content to use it in preference to what they had used before. I don't think things have changed even today and the debate continues even if the circumstances and the players in the game are different. Such is life.
That's when I discovered Joomla and, with it, Fireboard and later Kunena. I have never looked back and I think that I made the right decision. I think it was the right strategic decision to use Joomla and Kunena because I controlled my destiny instead of being at the mercy of others changing their business model if, or when, it suited them.
Can we reasonably expect to pick up everything that's in our existing "brand-X" forums and transfer them elsewhere and carry on as if very nothing had happened? Do we expect that someone or something will magically transport us - everything we've built up over years, together with all of those who've enjoyed the ride - to a new "promised land"? I'm sure that many of us do expect these things ... but maybe a lot of people do because it sounds tempting.
What is it about our forums that we'd like to move across somewhere else? The discussions? The images? The funny stories (perhaps) or lists of things we like? The localisation? The membership base? How do we honestly expect to migrate these things without, effectively, starting off anew and building up from "scratch" by re-using/salvaging/cannibalising the resources that currently exist? Is it a possible that this migration, by whatever automagic means, is only wishful thinking on our part? When the circumstacnes arise for each of us to pursue a new direction maybe we should use the opportunity to take stock of what we've got and what we really need to carry over. When that time comes, that's also the ideal opportunity to clear out the excess baggage and clutter that's littered our forums and dispose of it for good.
There are a few things that I wouldn't want to try to take across to a new forum. For example, I wouldn't attempt to force the entire membership go elsewhere. I could happily live without some of the features and many of the discussions enjoyed years ago by people who have long since resigned. Looking over the sites that I developed years ago I would do them very differently today just as I would also be freer to exploit new features and new opportunities offered with newer technology.
I think that one of the most important things we want to retain is one's identity. I don't mean your username, I mean who and what you are and what is uniquely significant about your community. Sometimes migrating isn't the answer because, even though you can transfer all the things that your community felt comfortable using, you may also transfer a lot of what you would rather leave behind. Sometimes the best option is to start over again, from scratch, to learn from the mistakes you made in the past and do things better the next time around.
The journey never ends. People are continually searching for the "perfect" forum solution. As soon as they migrate from "brand-X" to something else, there are new alternatives that emerge. People go from "brand-X" to "brand-Y" and then to "brand-Z", then they have regrets and want to use something different or they may want to go back to something they used before. Some of these migrations are one-way; sometimes there's no "going back". No matter how much effort is put into developing a "brand-X" → Kunena solution, someone else will want a Kunena → "something else". Other people may only want to use Kunena as a transitional medium, to take them from "brand X" → "something else".
Why it's important to the Kunena project for a forum migration tool
Other forum platforms offer migration services. This is a good selling point - it would put Kunena ahead of other forum alternatives - and it's clearly something that's missing in Kunena. Obviously there should be a simple, straightforward way to allow users of "brand-X" to go to Kunena without having to travel bizarre or pointless diversionary paths in the process (e.g. "brand-X" → "brand-Y" → K 1.5.x → K 1.6) just because there already exist mechanisms to go that way ... or because no one else found a better way to do this. How are we to achieve that solution?
Eight or nine months ago, the Kunena project team began the design of a way to migrate other forums to Kunena. The basic design has been made but it needs further work to prove the concept. Proof of concept also involves having people willing to work with the project team to fully exercise such a tool so as to ensure that, when other people come to use it, it will work properly for everyone. With only a small team of developers, a very limited budget, and competing priorities (the most important of which was to prepare the way ahead for Kunena 2.0) this task has not progressed beyond what began eight or nine months ago. In the meantime, the world has changed and there are even more pressures on site managers to consider Kunena as a forum of choice for their needs. Without mentioning names, some of the alternative forum developers have gone out of business or have changed their business practices in ways that do not attract people to use them. During this time, the appeals from prospective users of Kunena - those who want to migrate from "brand-X" - have not been met. I sympathise with those people and I wish that we had a good answer to give to them.
We have discussed this very real need among the team. We recognise the importance of meeting this genuine user requirement. The fact is that, even with a design for a conversion process already completed, it takes time and money to see the work achieve a working solution. As everyone knows, there is no company behind Kunena; we're all hobbyists and enthusiasts, volunteers every one of us, who do this work for nothing. Our reward is seeing our work shared and in that everyone in this community benefits from our efforts. But, at the end of the day, we are people who have businesses of our own to run, competing priorities for time and money, and there's only so much that is humanly possible. While the team understands the feelings of frustration that many of you have in not being able to make progress with your current strategy we, too, are constrained by time and money.
In short, a simple straightforward mechanism to convert from "brand-X" to Kunena is a necessary part of the core business of the project. What is needed is to define the "brand-X" in this statement. Each person will have their own definition. But, just as each person will have their own definition, we should also not overlook whether it's always the right thing to do to migrate from something old, tired and possibly irrelevant to one's current circumstances, either, and, as I wrote earlier, the search for that perfect solution never ends.
Having laid before you the situation, I believe it is appropriate to make an appeal to the community for your help. If we were able to obtain some community financial sponsorship to move the forum migration idea forward then everyone will benefit. We are currently discussing ways to do that. Before making any announcements about how that may be achieved, I would like to submit this for your consideration that the community could run a donation campaign to raise funds to employ a programmer full-time so as to build a conversion utility. What do you think?
Feedback and support
What we have discussed in this article is only one of many suggestions that we've received over time for new initiatives with Kunena. We are always keen to hear how the community feels about new ideas and we encourage you to keep sending them to us. In this article we've talked about migrating from "brand-X" to Kunena but, obviously, "brand-X" really needs to be given a name. Some people have a particular preference for which of these alternative forum platforms should be tackled first. In order to help the project prioritise that work, please use the Feedback page to submit your ideas or to vote for the ones that people have already contributed.