Dolphin 7.1 (Osho) - Forums (UPDATED)

Andrew Boon posted 16th of July 2012 in Dolphin.pro News. 47 comments.

Perhaps the most anticipated update in Dolphin 7.1 is finally ready for public scrutiny. Forums have been deliberately postponed to the latest stages of Osho development due to a number of questions that just refused to find easy answers. So, after a lot of discussion, research, pondering and, finally, development we came up with this...

 

General Improvements

1. Naturally, default Forums look and feel has been updated to match the new Dolphin template. Here's how it looks:

 

2. Search function now supports "fulltext search", which translates into a more "intelligent" searching functionality where the system wouldn't omit queries with incorrect words order for example, but would consider positions and would adjust results accordingly. 

 

3. Just like in BoonEx Forums, user thumbnails are now displayed in Topics and in Search Result pages.

 

4. Forums now can correctly handle usernames with spaces (thus potentially supporting Full Names).

 

5. Pagination added to My Topics, Flagged Topics, Subscribed Topics and Search Results.

 

6. Quick/Simple search function added to Forums Homepage.

 

7. Post Permalinks added. Now users can share links to specific posts.

 

8. Topic creation without the need to open some Forum page first. Just clicking a "New Topic" button would open a page for New Topic posting and a selection of destination forums. Looks like this...

 

 

Topic "Pagination"

Drumroll... ok, first some background and general info... 

Pagination in Forums isn't as obvious as it may seem. This feature can be implemented in a number of ways, which all have their own pros and cons, implications and complications. Until now we have been choosing to simply not support any pagination in Topics, but, naturally, this can't go on forever - some topics can grow to hundreds of posts and would be simply too big a load as a single page. 

 

Potential Solution #1 - Classic Paginate. The most obvious way would be to add a classic "pages" support, splitting every topic into a number of pages with an N number of posts on each. This is a commonly used method and it's also now implemented on all other "lists" within the Forums module. When it comes to pagination in Topics though, there're a few serious problems with this method:

 

- Subpages are neither user-friendly nor search-engine-firendly. I bet you have found yourself on "search engine versions" of different forums topics, where all posts are merged into one, with images and styles stripped. The reason is that good posts may end up "buried" too far away at pages that aren't even accessible from the first page of the topic. Say, when the topic has 100 pages - search engine or a user would have to open Page 20 first, and then hope to see a link to Page 25. This complicates so many things: often when we search for something and find a forum link in Google and open it only to realise that the text we look for isn't there (it may be relocated due to different pagination setting, edited posts, redirect from SEO to "user-friendly" version, etc.); links to specific pages may end up having different content; in order to keep faraway pages closer to the "surface" for search engines forums often cram in at least 10 of them on one page, making them too small to be convenient in mobile browsers; etc, etc.

 

- Classic pagination complicates design of the entire Forums functionality. Search results have to consider "pages", link to them correctly, and preferably group posts from one topic, making it difficult to show results snippets.  Page counts need to be added to topic lists, cluttering them and adding load. A slew of settings for pagination need to be added. It just goes on and on!

 

- Fluid nature of topic content (again, due to potential moderation changes and settings re-application) makes it very difficult to create permalinks to posts that properly stick to the proper page. Dolphin Forums now have post permalinks feature, which has become possible thanks to the method of "pagianation" we've chosen.

 

- And finally, even when/if it's all said and done, after, say 100 pages in one post you would HAVE to split the topic or risk making new posts being tucked away too far for search engines to care about, or people to reach to.

 

Potential Solution #2 - Dynamic Load. This is a fancy, modern way to load older posts - something you see at Facebook, Twitter and most of the newer "feeds". The page just loads additional posts as soon as you reach the end or click "load more button. It looks and works great for some things, but isn't very suitable for forums. Search engines won't find "hidden" parts, and users won't be able to use Page Search for what's not loaded yet. Long posts can also end up being too big for a browser to handle. 

 

Our Solution - Auto Split. So, we decided to implement what we believe is the most simple, straightforward, yet very "friendly" way to separate topics - we auto-split them.  Once the topics reaches more than 50 posts, a robot user called "Autopilot" will close current topic and will create a new one with "Title - Part 2" name. The new topic will have a link to the original topic as an opening post, and it will further split into "Title - Part 3" if it grows to over 50 posts, too. Nice and easy! No fuss in search system, plain and effective SEO structure (with friendly links), handy links and no buried pages. Such topics are a lot easier to manage and this method is often manually used by moderators of well-managed forums, so they won't confuse users. Here's how it looks:

 

As you may expect the new topic looks and works just like any other topic, plain and simple:

...note how old topics are getting locked and the new ones appear with "... - part 2" moniker.

 

We have played with new forums quite a bit now and can confidently assert that the new pagination, improved search, one-click access to "New Topic" and all the smaller improvements make Forums noticeably more user-friendly and should not brake anything when you upgrade from your existing Forums setup.

 

Voila! New Forums!  :)

 

UPDATE:

We have just added editable "stickies" - so that you can ad or remove "sticky" status for existing Topics; and improved attachments handling - pictures in attachments are now recognized as image files and open in browser instead of downloading as generic files.

 
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zugul
congratulations, I hope that soon I will be able to use this fantastic version 7.1 to create my little site.
Many thanks for the great work you are doing all the BoonEx team
Perhaps I do not write English well, I'm not a great programmer or a large graph as a simple person but I like everything you're doing.
presscon
Certainly looks like a move in the positive direction. Well done!
shnelson
Seriously bummed over here :( While these minor enhancements are nice, it still does not bring the forums up to a functional standard in my opinion.

The auto split feature seems like a decent solution, but I fear the approach you've taken on it is only confusing. The process should be more fluid than having a robot user named autopilot visibly spawning new topics and locking the old one. "Archiving" might be a better term and more user friendly, with an icon other than a padlock (which see more indicates a moderator closed a thread due to negative activity).

I would honestly prefer traditional pagination. Google crawls it just fine. When I ran my site off phpBB, SEO was incredible and I had a lot of organic traffic.

On top of that, I'm afraid you missed many key features:
- Topic titles need to be editable
- photos/video and other modules need to be tightly integrated with the forums. My users should be able to quickly insert an image into a forum post directly from their gallery, or choose to upload an image with a forum post and have it inserted into the gallery (this same functionality would be swell for blogs & articles too btw).
- Better moderation capabilities
- Forum membership type should be pulled from site membership. Administrator and Member don't cut it here.
- Additional member details should be displayed in their forum post info. IE - Avatar, location, post count, online status etc. Quicklinks like befriend & message would be helpful too.

I do appreciate the minor enhancements you have made, but have to ask why on earth this module is still using different/more complex framework than that of which the rest of the platform uses? Makes it very difficult for me to sit in my corner and be quiet about this requests as I can't just integrate them myself like I can with the rest of the site :(. I can't even find a developer that will touch it for modifications.
Nathan Paton
I also think traditional pagination is better. Also, we need to be able to edit stickies. Currently I need to head into the database to make an existing topic a sticky. Same for when removing a sticky.
Andrew Boon
Some solid suggestions, thank you!

Well, indeed a lot of constrains with deeper integration with other modules come front the fact that Forums are based on what used to be a separate product (Orca), using a "newer" framework. Makeover would be not just a matter of development, but a serious problem with upgrades, so we try to continue gradually connecting the main Dolphin and the Forums into one system.

We're considering/working on some other things you mentioned, but the pagination see more system, the way we've decided to implement it, is what we believe a superior way to handle long topics. I will elaborate more in a comment below.
shnelson
As long as it is tune-able, it'll satisfy most of us. Bonus points for allowing me to choose whether to paginate or auto-split within the configuration panel :)

Thank you for your consideration on the rest of the items. I truly look forward to the beta release of 7.1.
christraeger
Yea, the pagination thing I would rather have a long thread with multiple pages. This system, I feel would confuse the user. An option to have traditional paginate would be best.
buzz_lightyear
Hi Andrew,
great stuff! Many thanxs...

I'd like to ask:
Are those 3 pagination options configurable or Boonex decided for one of them?
Is the ORca/XSLT backend the same as it was before?

thanx
m.
Andrew Boon
The amount of posts per Topic before it's split can be configured through a config file. And yes, the Forum backend is still the same.
geek_girl
Should be configurable through the backend forum module; not editing a config file.
paansystems
hopefully we are able to disable the robot!?
for me its better to stay with the old way ...

as many mentioned already, it would be nice to have at least the following features:
- editable topic
- editable sticky
- media upload

thanks!
Andrew Boon
You can configure this robot to split after, say, 10,000 posts. (you DO want to split after 10K posts ;) ).
Andrew Boon
We have now added editable sticky and better handling of attached images (they're now recognised as images and open in browser instead of downloading as generic files).
houstonlively
Autosplit?? I hate to be the first one to say I hate it.... sorry. This methods has so many readability problems, I don't even know where to start.
houstonlively
Pretty please with sugar on top... don't do it this way.
Andrew Boon
We did it this way.

(despite rather unnerving look of shnelson's (he gave your comment a plus) avatar)
geek_girl
yes, and it is not a good solution. Andrew, let's be honest here; the best way will be the way that the major stand-alone forum applications does it. They only work with forums and have years upon years of working to get it right.
prolaznik
as long we can rename autopilot/robot i like it :), would be nice if you could assign an avatar to it?
Andrew Boon
I think "Autopilot" sounds cute for the purpose. AlexT came up with this name on development stage and it just stayed, because it seems right and cool :)

You can change the name of course and modify the forum a little to change the icon if need be.
Andrew Boon
RE: AutoSplit
-----------
We did expect that our choice of going for AutoSplit instead of simple Paginate would be controversial, but we firmly believe that this method is superior. To wit...

Yes, in most cases search engines will index long topics with pagination just fine, but indexing is just the tip of the iceberg.

First, with modern search engines you want your fresh content to appear "often" on your "important" pages. Google (we'll use it as an example of any SE) see more treats your Forums homepage as important, and will index it regularly. So, whenever something new is posted, you want it to be linked to from the homepage. With classic paginate new posts are tucked away into subpages - they are not directly linked from the homepage, or if they do (in case you add pages links to the homepage) you risk littering your homepage with so many links that Google wouldn't care to go through all of them, or would treat them as less important. AutoSplit is a perfect workaround - updated Topics are bumped to the homepage and entire content of the updated topic is accessible in one step. You get all the benefits of the newer SE algorithms, like "live search", "panda" and time-sensitive search tools.

Second, by creating deeper than necessary steps of Forum links hierarchy you basically tell Google to treat your end content pages as less important, distributing less of what used to be called "PageRank" (and it still matters, they just don't call it PageRank anymore). Ever wondered why blog posts have always been performing/ranking better than forum posts in search engines? It's because if their flatter structure and the latest updates pushed to the "frontline".

Third, it's a BAD idea to separate a semantically discrete content item like Topic into several "physical" pages, because Google will treat it as separate items (for it only understands Internet as a collection of domain, pages, and links) and will direct referrers to them as to separate pages. For example, you have a 10-page topic about "Triumph Bonneville" and on page #8 someone mentions "Thruxton" (a variant of Bonneville). Google indexes it and remembers that it's one page #8. Later, some moderators remove a few posts, the posts are reshuffled and page #8 doesn't contain the post with "Thruxton" anymore! Have you ever had an experience of searching for something in Google and clicking a result link only to end up on a page that doesn't have the words you were searching for? Smart ones know that they may need to browse through a number of topic pages, but most people just leave. Unfortunately, with classic paginate you can't "freeze" positions of posts on pages, because you may end up with "empty" pages. You have to reshuffle. Major forums developers know about this issue very well and they offer a bucketload of workaround functionality that complicates the script and may easily get you into even more trouble. They would offer you a SE-friendly version of the topic - a text-only single-page variant, which confuses the hell out of even experienced users, kills image-heavy posts and greets newcomers with lifeless experience. In some cases they feed search engines with those pages, but would redirect users to a standard variant,except they don't know which PAGE to send you to and often you end up lost and frustrated. They would also add numerous little " [1] [2] .... [58] [LAST] " links to forum homepages in attempt to level-off importance distribution, but at the same time diluting importance of ALL links in those pages, also serving the freshest ones with the worst possible "anchor text" (like "LAST" or "58").

Well, it may be possible to find ways, tools and approaches that would make standard pagination work, but this would require a major bunch of settings for reshuffling, freezing, page-counts displays, search results view options, grouping, permalinks redirection, etc, etc, etc. We can, technically, do that, but we just don't it as a good approach.

So, it all boils down to reliance on (the correct interpretation of) the simple Occam's razor principle. AutoSplit MAY not be the best solution just because it is the simplest one, but the benefits of its simplicity far outweigh potential benefits of developing, supporting and managing a more complicated option.
houstonlively
RE:"AutoSplit is a perfect workaround - updated Topics are bumped to the homepage and entire content of the updated topic is accessible in one step. You get all the benefits of the newer SE algorithms, like "live search", "panda" and time-sensitive search tools. "

Sorry, but this is the reason I constantly get Google search results, follow the link, only to find out that the terms I searched for don't exist on the page I landed on.

That make this a very bad, bad see more argument on your part. Tell me again, because I just don't understand.... What exactly is wrong with the way vBulletin paginates posts?
Andrew Boon
Well, I think I've explained it twice now. As you said: " I constantly get Google search results, follow the link, only to find out that the terms I searched for don't exist on the page I landed on" - THIS happens because of vBulletin-like pagination system, due to reshuffling and/or "optimised" all-in-one version serving during indexing.

Just because it's vBulletin doesn't mean they're right. They have to support existing structure now matter what and to do that they have see more to code a MASSIVE platform to serve a simple purpose.
houstonlively
Give me one example of the problem you describe, because I'm not sure I have ever encountered it on a VB site. You should be able to come up with an example on vbulletin.com
houstonlively
Better yet, let's see an example from this VB forum: http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/

For most VB or IPB forums, each page shows 10 posts. Over 10 posts, and readability suffers. With your auto split method, a 100 post thread will be split into 10 different topics?? This makes sense to you? I don't know anyone in the entire forum world that does this. Over time, the thread fragments will get chronologically spread out all over the place. This just doesn't feel natural. I can't believe the see more folks around here are just eating this up like it's a good thing. It isn't, and you will all find out the hard way.
Andrew Boon
Let's take this one: http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/49540-1000-post-club-51.html

I've searched for "TEIN and Hoopy" - a unique query which is originally resided on page 51. What would happen if moderators delete a few posts, or, say a member with all their posts? The "TEIN and Hoopy" words would move to page 50.. Google wouldn't update it's index for page 51 and 50 often because it's not clued that those page are refreshed, since they'd be only accessible from pages 40-60 see more of an old thread. Fellow searches ends up on the page that doesn't have the words anymore, despite Google thinking other wise. I don't have an offhand real example, but I DO encounter them often and they are frustrating.

Also look at this page - http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/the-lounge/

Once a new post is added to a topic, the topic is pushed up looking like this:

[1000 Post Club ( 1 2 3 4 5 ... Last Page)]

Google is presented with a 6 OLD PAGES and only one updated page with crappy anchor test "Last Page". Instead Google could have been fed with a refreshed page with great anchor text. Bad SEO.

The forum you suggested as an example is clear case of something overwhelmed with massive amount of links pushed to the top, which doesn't improve usability much.

----


The way your forum works may also lead to "imputing" a different use patterns. Forums at http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/ have a bunch of super-long thread, which, per se, is NOT a good thing and the structure practically encourages their further growth. So, you get the situation when same questions/answers are posted within same Topic only because people don't' bother to go through hundreds of pages anyway. AutoSplit MAY (I don't know for sure, yet) indadvertedly force people to keep topics/discussions more succinct.

Again, I don't imply that Auto-Split is better in every respect. I am suggesting that going by that "Occam's Razor" principle and considering the burden of development, implementation, support, etc, etc the simple solution is preferable.

I can already see how we could improve AutoSplit and make it close the gaps where it's inferior to paginate, but those add ons still feel a lot more simple and intuitive than the original paginate.

We used to have no paginate or auto-split, and yet forums DID work, even if only for us here at BoonEx Unity. Auto-Split is one good step to improve them. Let's see how it goes.
houstonlively
OK... let's take that same example and do it your way. We'd end up with

49540-1000-post-club-part1
49540-1000-post-club-part2
49540-1000-post-club-part3
49540-1000-post-club-part4
...... everything in between
49540-1000-post-club-part204

(your way will need the thread ID in the url so you know where all the parts belong)

Now you have 204 parts with very similar names, as opposed to 204 different pages with their own unique url. Why would Google treat this any better than standard see more pagination? The only difference is that one is a dynamic url, and the other is a static url. Does Google really preference to static urls? How would Google know the difference?

I really don't see how your way will improve Google indexing. I do see how, in large forums, your way will create a spaghetti bowl of threads with similar names.

Congratulations! You have invented forum navigation from hell.
Andrew Boon
URLs would be pretty much the same, static or dynamic doesn't really matter. Difference is in "anchor text" at the moment of indexing and in supplying the freshest page right from the Forums homepage.

We didn't invent this method. On many well-managed forums moderators would split long topics, knowing that too many pages is a recipe for troubles. (example - webmasterworld.com - they do have paginate, but they alway split after 5-10 pages. they also use 30 posts per page, not 10).

So, see more yeah, in our case we'd end up with 49540-1000-post-club-part204 but the 49540-1000-post-club-part1 would stay far behind, and Google wouldn't have to reindex it every time it visits your forum homepage.

Basically I am implying that our setup works better from MODERN search engines, that generally prefer more dynamic content with unique updates.
houstonlively
Do you not see how cluttered this will make forums? Maybe the search engines will love it, but regular forum users (humans) will have to wade through a sea of threads. It's just plain nuts.

Can you at least try to think of a way to just display only the parent thread for human users, that loads the individual pages, and let the google bots gorge themselves on the countless component parts? Say when a Google user clicks on a search result called 123-Some-Topic-Part-10.php, when the user gets see more to your site, they will load 123-Some-Topic.php with Part-10 dynamically loaded into it. Is this remotely possible?
RobertRun
That makes, especially now since almost all search engines have gone dynamic..
geek_girl
"Congratulations! You have invented forum navigation from hell."
Exactly!
geek_girl
Forums are not about searching; forums are about the users on the site; not what is sitting in Google's database.
geek_girl
HoustonLively is dead on the mark with this. Autopilot, even if it was your idea Andrew, is not a good idea.
houstonlively
I don't think Andrew wants to talk about this anymore. Another thing that sucks big time, is that you can't quote posts or reply on any part but the most recent autopilot generated topic. If you land on any search result that isn't the last part, people will wonder why they can't do those things, and they won't know to go madly clicking on the next part links to get to the last one, so that they can post something. At first, I though this all was a really bad idea, but now I know it's even worse see more than that.
geek_girl
Being index in a search engine might be a good thing. However, the top priority here is not to be in some search database but to have a solid easy to use forum for your users, not for Google. Autopilot does not provide that for the users.
Denre
I have seen the results of the AutoSplit function, using data from my live site and the results are awfull. I have some very popular subjects with over 5.000 posts. When you go to that particular forum, you see subject - part 150, and below that 149, 148, etc. All other posts just get burried and are getting less interest because of it.

The reasons for intruducing this functions are not logical, or at least the result of brainstorm session that ended badly. Pagination is a much better solution see more and easy to introduce.

When a post is deleted, it does not mean you have to delete the post, you can also update it with a message saying that the post is deleted. In this way, you can use pagination, without having the issue that post are no longer found on the page you expected it to find.

The solution is so simple and would also work for topics made before this function was introduced. I know this comment is a bit late, but it's never too late for positive changes!
Andrew Boon
It took a while, but yes, we do see how autopilot may not be the way to go. We are working on a more traditional solution.
shnelson
Getting warmer!

I forgot to voice my thoughts (complain) about attachments.. In an open & growing community, they aren't typically a good idea. There is nothing preventing my users from attaching something malicious for everyone else to download. Can we get the ability to turn them off?

Nobody wants to click on a link to see an image anymore, unless it is to see it full size. Inline display with the post is where it is at. I'd settle for attachments that display as thumbnails & upon see more click displaying it in a shadow box (never leaving the original page, this is dirty!).
cnbarry
Will Forums be integrated with the Mobile Aps with Dolphin 7.1 or 8.0?
shnelson
This is another critical piece that my purchase of the mobile apps re-brand license is hinging off of...
though perhaps improved, forums not integrated into the core product, and which force admins to deal with Orca, compiling separate language files, etc. don't go far enough to ease the pain. =(
RobertRun
Here is a good comment I found in the main forum: http://www.boonex.com/n/membership-levels-need-enhancing

So, how about the membership levels in the new OSHO?
RobertRun
Can that big giant kitchen sink from the WYSIWYG be toned down? All those options are just unnecessary. How about something really basic and simple that also allows video embeds.
Great improvements. I have a question regarding embedding an image in the forum post. Now you have to do that by linking an image that is available somewhere on the web. I am getting questions from my users that they would like to embed an image in the post itself by uploading the image while writing the post.

Is that a feature that is coming in 7.1? In my opinion this is a must have, ideally in combination with resizing the image to a readable size.
dentech3
I agree totally on that.. we really do need the ability to upload a photo while in the forum to post with a picture! Would love to see that come to pass!
 
 
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