posted on 11:44 AM, January 4, 2012
Introduction to Forums
Forums are places where your website visitors can engage in discussions on topics of their choosing.
In the simplest case, you simply create a single discussion forum, and your visitors can go there to post comments on any topic. If your forums draw a lot of traffic, the number of different subject areas that get mixed together can be confusing. In this case, it may help to create multiple forums, each devoted to a particular topic. In this way, visitors have an easier time finding discussions of interest to them. If you create too many topical forums too see at a glance, it may become hard to quickly identify a particular topic of interest. In this case, it may help to add one more level of organization: categories that individual forums can be grouped together in.
Creating a Forum
The easiest way to set up a Forum is to use the Forums plug-in. This is a simplified variant of the E-Zine plug-in, designed especially for forums. (You can also use the E-Zine plug-in, which will give more options and controls than are described below, but it will also include additional options that are not pertinent to Forums.)
Using the Forums plug-in, click Create a new Forum. If you have defined some categories to group your forums, you can select one here. If not, don't worry about it, just select "no category", and press Continue.
Next, enter the title of your forum, and submit. If you are making a simple forum, call it something like "General Discussion Forum", but if you are making multiple topical forums, specify the topic in your title. Once you submit, your forum is ready, and can start accepting posts.
If you have a large number of forums (10 or more) you may want to break them into groups for easier browsing. First you must add some categories - use the + add category link when creating a new forum.
Enter the category name/title, and click submit. Then go back to create a new forum, and you will find your new category there.
Note: a forum category is considered as a "book" in the lower-level e-Zines subsystem. If you have other books defined, those will also show up as possible categories for your forums. Just ignore any books that do not belong in your forum listings - they will not be shown if there are no forums categorized with them.
By default, categories and forums are sorted alphabetically by their title. To change the sort order of forums, configure the forum and add a "sortkey" to use for alphabatic sorting instead of the title. (You can do the same for categories, but you must use the E-Zines tool to access the categories.)
Posting to the Forum
Enter the forum by clicking on its title in the forum directory. Then click the comment button to add a new post. You will be prompted for the following information:
Replying to another post works the same way. The previous post may be quoted for your convenience. Delete the parts of the quoted text that are not relevant to your reply. Use the quote button to (re-)copy the previous post back into your reply.
Comments are generally posted in plain text, but they are formatted for presentation in the following ways:
Forums can be configured to allow attachments on posts. If allowed, users may attach images only to their posts. However, this can create a significant burden on the website in some cases, so it is not allowed by default.
Non-iomage attachments can also be allowed if you add the following configuration setting to your Forum configuration file:
However, this is a dangerous practice because it means anyone can add any kind of file to your website. This brings with it the same problems as e-mail attachments, since some of these files may include viruses and malware. These files can also add up and create a significant storage burden. Non-image attachments are not recommended for most forums.
The index is the listing of current discussions under each forum. There are several popular index types for displaying forums:
To change the index type, use the configure button under the forum title.
The forum automatically expires old articles and threads into your archive area. Readers can click the archive button at the end of the forum to find older articles.
Articles are automatically archived based on the following forum configuration parameters:
The first two parameters can be customized for your forum, using the configure button for the forum. The last parameter is a system setting, which can be configured in your forum configuration file by the webmaster.
In addition to automatic archiving, you can explicitly archive posts that you want to expire ahead of time. To do this, use the configure button for the comment, and change the comment status to "archived".
If you want to remove posts from the forum, you have a few options.
E-mail notifications can be sent out when new posts are made. Notifications must be enabled in the Forum configurations, using the following setting:
This will send a notification to the person whose post was replied to. If it is a top-level post (new thread), the notification will go to the owner (moderator) of the forum.
Notifications will also go to the moderator if pre-moderation is turned on (see below).
Moderation is a form of censorship, allowing you to approve or reject comments made in the forums. There are two methods:
Post-moderation means you moderate comments after they are posted. They will appear on your site, but if you don't approve of them, you simply go in and remove them in the same way you would remove a post (see above). Post moderation has a few advantages:
Pre-moderation means you moderate comments before they are posted for public view. Nobody sees the comments until you have moderated them. Your webmaster must enable moderation on forums (or on certain forums only) using a setting like this in the Forum configuration file:
Then each new comment will require your approval before it goes live. You can moderate (approve/deny) comments from your administrator view, or from your email. The advantage here is that inappropriate comments can never sneak onto the live forum without your explicit approval. Denied comments are kept on file, and you can always change your mind and approve them again at a later time.
When viewing your forum in an administrator view, active (apporoved) comments are shown with a green check icon, while pending (unmoderated) comments are shown with a flashing warning icon, and rejected comments are shown with a red stop icon. You will see approve and reject options on any comments that the system thinks you might want to moderate. If you want to re-moderate a comment that does not show these options, go to the configure button, and set the status using the drop-down selector.
You also have the option of setting a forum to be members-only, so that only logged-in users of your website can post to it. This can be done using the comment policy setting when configuring the forum.
Presenting the Forum
Creating the forum and adding some posts to it may not be enough to actually present the forum to the public. This is because your website needs to know where the forum should be placed and how it should be styled.
Publishing the Forum
The forum must be added to a web page for it to be viewable to the readers of your site. Choose the page that will contain the forum directory, or create it, using your preferred CMS tool (eg. "My Website"). Edit the body of this page, and use the Web Application tool in the HTML editor to insert the "Forum" plug-in. It will offer you a choice of forums to insert into the page; select default to insert the main forum index. This page is now the location of your forums on the website. It can be given a title, menu label, and position in your site map that is appropriate.
The forums page should be dynamic or private (members-only), so that it updates automatically.
Design and Layout
Forums are output with lots of HTML code to allow them to be styled in different ways. In the administrator view there is some basic CSS that styles the appearance of the forum to make it readable, but in the webpage that you use to display the forum, you may not have any such CSS. You will want to add the necessary CSS code to your template to make your forums presentable.
There is a Forum.css file that is used in the adminsitrator view, which can be studied for ideas on how to style your forums. There is also some help documentation in the E-Zine plug-in that gives some general descriptions of the CSS structure of E-Zines, including Forums.
best practices (5)
content management (12)
data handling (7)
graphic design (21)
html formatting (7)
plug-in modules (28)
visual tutorial (29)
web protocols (9)