I'll give you an example. And I'm sorry if it offends you, but...
Remember when you guys brought in quick reply a couple of years ago, and it really was the most grudging half-hearted thing in the world? How it wasn't on by default and how you made everyone press a button to actually use it? Do you remember how every other forum on the web considered Quick reply a core feature about a decade before you did that? It is absolutely shocking that, to this very day, Phpbb's default Quick Reply still doesn't come with at least a bbcode bar and smilies. That you STILL need mods to make it fully functional.
I will say that again, because it needs repeating: Phpbb, now in it's 17th year, still requires you to add most of the quick-reply system yourself. And you can still see bbcode tags in raw text.
That is Phpbb in a nutshell, as far as I've seen. Most forums way back in the early Phpbb 2.0 days just came with it, or at least had it modded in. Every forum I ever went on had it, modded or not. There have always been quick reply mods for Phpbb, and the devs always had the option of asking the makers to let you add them as standard. But you did not. In fact, I think it's very telling that you guys still don't have it on your main website. There's set in your ways, and then there is this. I'll give you another example:
When someone clicks the 'backup', 'restore', 'prune users', or 'email all' function on any other worthwhile forum system the task actually gets done. They don't stop 10% in and pretend it's done. They just keep chugging until it's 100% finished. When I first started a Xenforo forum and deleted all my 1000s of spam users in one go, it felt like... I can't even describe the feeling. It was like I had been living in a cave and had finally saved up enough to buy a house! And yes, I did have to pay. I spent years appreciating the fact you guys never made me pay, and I know that Phpbb is a work of love. I used to love it myself! But the cave is still a cave. And cave is such a good metaphor for the entire phpbb experience, it really is: It may be free, it may even be pretty, but holy crap it's still a cave. When I finally made the switch to the other forum my system admin thanked me profusely. My users thanked me. The server load plummeted. The spam bots dried up like someone had installed a door and walls to keep them out. Everyone was overjoyed. Especially me, because I had been fighting a loosing battle with spam for the whole of the forum's existence.
Before I switched from Phpbb, we were getting near DDOS levels of spam every day. We suspect they were altering the actual install itself. There was all kinds of hacking. Now? It's just gone. We haven't had a single drop of spam ever since. I don't even have to do anything. Granted, this is partly because Xenforo is very much a less popular forum software... but it has security. It has lots and lots of inbuilt security and most of it is on by default.
Which reminds me, don't you guys think the ugly default CAPTCHAs on Phpbb need replacing? I mean, all of them were broken back in the old Phpbb 2.0 days, so why would they ever be used on a real forum? Why isn't there a set of professionally made modern CAPTCHAs as default? Or even the most basic Spam Cleaner and SEO software installed and active out of the box? Every other decent forum I've looked at while hunting for a replacement has an entire selection of free anti-spam tools as standard. I realize that putting them on a forum as popular as Phpbb is an invitation to have them broken, but that's not an excuse to still be using that original broken CAPTCHA that actually puts off new users rather than bots!
I think we need a dedicated anti-spam tab on the ACP with every single spam related tool right there, including the ability to customize the registration page to throw off bots, and to install and maintain things like Stop Forum Spam directly from the ACP.
But whatever happens, and this is vital, we need to stop the Newly Registered User group from posting any URLs in the forums or their signatures by default, and alert the admins if they try it. This is an incredibly important secondary level of defense, and it is by far the best way to stop human spammers and even robots once they get into the forums. I cannot stress this enough: stopping new users posting URLs kills the incentive for spammers to target your forums in the first place. The fact that most people involved with Phpbb seem to be against this is daunting. It wasn't until the spambots started hacking my forums and finding ways around my URL blocker mod that they became a totally unmanageable problem. Stopping spammers at registration is great, BUT, and this is the part Phpbb really fails on, you need a powerful fallback. And this is one of the simplest and best ones there is because even human spammers absolutely hate having to take part in your community for 5-15 posts only to be deleted instantly. Robots are way too stupid and obvious to even do this. It's like a magic off switch for spam, and I can't recommend it more. Coupled with any central list of blacklisted urls and emails, it's practically unstoppable.
Unless your forum is full of security vulnerabilities that let them have free reign despite it, that is.
Slow and overly complicated are the words I would use here! Nothing is dynamic. Nothing invites the user to hang around and chat. All other forums are moving steadily towards instant replies, if they don't already have them, but Phpbb still requires you to wait for emails or hit refresh. Posting has long been a multi-page process, for no reason, and we need to strip back that kind of delay. The mchat extension is a notable exception, but I'm talking about Phpbb out of the box. (And even Mchat still lags far behind other chat systems.) If you wanted to do something interesting, let every forum have its own main icon that can be changed. It doesn't even have to grey out if there are no replies, but if it does it should do it the instant the user enters the forum vewtopic as otherwise it almost never will grey out. This will get rid of marking forums as read.
My number one suggestion here is to team up with the people who made Phpbb Sitebuilder and integrate it into every forum. This would give them a sophisticated modern feel right out of the box and encourage modders to make all kinds of interesting widgets and inventive new things for Phpbb. Teaming up with other mod makers to offer a few that add core features during the install would be a huge boost to Phpbb.
A built in mod uploader, a mod browser, and an invitation to mod and style your forum at the end of the install would also make for a very good experience. Not to mention encourage people to customize!
It's a mess! The page is still covered in ugly text URLs instead of dynamic buttons. We need more options to make each forum look visually different and interesting and the forum lists really should be dynamic. The dropdown menus have no mouseover. There is no way to make a global announcement without mods and no modern forum is complete without a modular sidebar, as in Phpbb site builder. Above everything, though, the forum needs to be much more dynamic, with topics and replies updated in as close to real time as possible.
And I notice the forum is still using gibberish random URLs instead of short user and SEO friendly names based on the titles of posts! That should never have been a thing in the first place.
Thread icons should be either the user's avatar, or an attractive graphic you chose (such as with Font Awesome). It should not be just be a long row of generic icons down the page with squashed on symbols for locked and so on. The current system somehow manages to be both a mess and very bland at the same time. Topics really need to be twice as tall and pop out at the viewer. For preference, they should have a mouse-over synopsis of what they are about (with the OPs avatar, as in the popular mod). They should also be something you can click anywhere (A feature I last saw in a very good Phpbb 2 mod).
And, really, please ditch the ability to give every reply to a thread a different topic title like it's an email! Nobody ever uses or even reads that!
Quick reply with dynamic side-by-side previews that change as you type. Automatically turn links into previews. Don't have visible BBCode tags in post editing, unless you click a tab button to see it (Like with Wordpress code viewing) Make all the fonts a bit larger so they pop off the page on modern monitors. Replace the topic icon with the user avatar, or a list of font awesome icons from a dropdown menu that grey out when there are no replies. Make Phpbb detect replies as they are made and give you a popup saying 'show X new replies'. And if you build all the tools you need to post in the Quick Reply box, there is no need at all for a dedicated 'post reply' page that takes you away from the thread and leaves you isolated from it. Ideally, you should also have a bar magnetized to the bottom of the screen that can act as a quick reply with all the stuff you need, as well as maybe your bookmarks.
Oh my God, the UCP. Where do I even begin?
Don't take this the wrong way, guys, but it looks like you are trying to confuse users and scare them away. I don't think any of the Phpbb designers really realize how bad that thing has gotten, or what that thing looks like to a new user! Let me show you the main Xenforo user control panel, fresh out of the box. It's a nice little dropdown menu with everything easily seen and accessed.
All the basics flow neatly from that one panel. You don't even have to go to a new page to change your avatar or signature, then get it confirmed, then go back to the main UCP feeling a bit lost. You just click avatar, there is a popup box, and you upload and press okay. Almost everything that can be is done like this, and it make the forum very easy and quick to navigate. The way it is designed means that you have probably already found everything you need by mousing over that one menu, yet if you browse a little deeper you'll find there are at least as many advanced options in there as in Phpbb.
The key difference is that you just aren't bombarded with them on a day-to-day basis. Especially when doing new user things like your avatar or theme. You have to actually want the advanced options to end up faced with anything even half as complicated as the UCP! This is very important - the user should not feel like they are drowning!
Now, the only counter argument I can see being made here is: "We need to give the users all the options in one place at once, so they can control every single part of their experience!" But.... is that what you are really doing? And do you really need to do that? I think you need to work from the idea that most users don't care about the advanced options at all, so they need to be kept back a little from the user. They are still there, but they aren't burying useful day-to-day things in fluff. Phpbb menu tabs are a good idea, but most of them should lead to single pages with clearly labeled sections to stop people feeling so lost. And the settings should, most definitely, not be mixed up with everything else! Here's my take on the UCP options:
- Overview. Stats have no place in the settings menu, they can to go on your user page and maybe be optional parts of your footer or sidebar.
- Bookmarks. Who's going to use or see this buried way down here in the UCP? I keep forgetting we even have them! Bookmarks and subscriptions should be merged into a single dedicated forum browser system along with 'your topics' and 'advanced search'. Subscribing should be opt-out for bookmarks because they are basically the same thing in most cases. How about having it as a sidebar module for this as well? Letting us star topics to change them different pastel colours would be nice, but it at least needs to be an easier feature to get to.
- Drafts. Dynamic forums just save them automatically as you type and and load them up when you press 'Post Topic' in the right forum! If you want it to be a dedicated feature, how about an optional sidebar in the 'Post Topic' Page? Modern browsers save text on shutdown anyway, as Chrome has done with this very post, so it's not worth going nuts with this unless you want history states (Those would be VERY nice. I'd consider coming back to Phpbb for that alone).
- Edit profile and edit signature. Combine them!
- Notification options. Why not just let user click a mute button on the topics and the notification itself? And why are there two settings pages for notifications? Why not merge them? Honestly I don't think this one even needs to exist. If a user has to search around the whole UCP to mute a topic, most won't even realize they can do it and the rest will find the process too long-winded and search intensive: "(Click, click, click) Now, where what this option again? (Click, click, click) No! Not the duplicate again! (Click, click, click) Damnit I give up..."
- Manage “Remember Me” login keys Nobody wants to see this except maybe an admin. I clicked the text box. You remembered me. Done!
- Avatar. Cool. But how about making a side panel in settings with your avatar, and a clickable link beneath it to change it? This is a basic thing users like to do, but they are having to hunt for it. And users hate hunting for things. That this is on the FAQ is a bit of a tell, I think.
- Account settings. Everything in the UCP is an Account setting, so maybe call it 'Email and Password' and make it a popup box from the top menu. Change style, and other common settings, should be as accessible as possible.
- Global Settings These options are great, but the page needs to be a one-stop-shop for common settings.
- Posting defaults. Dear God.
- Display Options. Merge it with global settings as a category. Ditch all the dropdown boxes - these options just don't belong here. They need to go in viewtopic, if anywhere. Even then, you only need the first three. Nobody wants to see a thread upside down, then scroll to the bottom to post. Urgh.
- Notification options. Not a bad page, but might be good to have a copy of the notification box in here to make it extra clear for new users. Adding mute buttons to the notifications themselves would improve the user experience here. The 'Someone sends you a private message' notification should be off by default, but on for emails by default. Why is it this way round? I don't understand why you would want to be notified twice on the forum about one thing, but not be told by email. Baffling.
- Private Messages. Like bookmarks, I really think it should be separate from the UCP, but this is more a matter of taste. I think Private messages should have their own dedicated page, or be a popup.
I don't know if I got everything right, but it took me tow days to get it together so I hope at least some of this helps. It has at least helped me get all of this off my chest after years of feeling that nobody was listening. Thank you.