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The Forum That the Users Built
Posted by Daniel Tonks on August 16, 1999 at 1:00 AM
RC News Story
When I first began the message forum en masse last September it had a very crude user interface and few frills. Soon enough, users began requesting various changes that I completely agreed with. Sure, I could have saved myself a lot of time programming (and learning more about Perl than I really wanted to) by using a forum package such as the Ultimate Bulletin Board, but then my site would look like 50,000 others (or so the sales claims of UBB say). Today, you see what the results of a user inspired forum are. While some changes are impossible to implement - such as spell checking and user editing of posts (the latter of which would require user accounts, something I wanted to avoid right from the start), Iíve still managed to work in plenty of changes requested by users. Namely:

Paged viewing. The original version displayed all messages on the same page and was extremely slow to load - as many users reported. The new program displays 50 threads at a time, resulting in quicker load times when there are thousands of threads.

All messages on one page. Users got tired of viewing separate pages for each and every response to a message, so one of the first things I worked out (after a few failed ideas including several ways of quoting the previous post) was displaying all responses to a particular thread on a single page.

Sorting by date. Originally threads were displayed in the order they were first created, which, though slightly faster to process, made responding to really old posts pointless as no one would ever see your new message.

Forum overview: This is a handy single page view of all forums, including total messages and a "last post" date. Handy for checking whatís new and where.

Forum searching. This was the largest and most useful request - and the one that most tested my programming abilities. Once the Pronto forum reached a thousand posts it became nearly impossible to find old threads that answered current questions. So, the searching program was born. Right from the start there were effective percentage calculations and wildcard searching, but the original version was coded to display a maximum of 50 results, period. Soon after I brought over the same paging system as used by the main forum to allow users to view hundreds of results if they so chose. Unfortunately, each time they switched pages the search had to be performed again. Plus, as the forums got larger and the server load heavier, the program began to time out due to the thousands of files that had to be checked. My most recent changes last week split the searching task into smaller bite-sized chunks the server could better handle, and cached the results so flipping through pages of results is near instantaneous. Other user-requested additions were the ability to place complete phrases in quotes and searching for non-standard symbols.

Duplicate post checking. This one is intended to merely catch accidental double posts (often the result of clicking twice on the SEND button).

Thereís quite a few more behind-the-scenes changes, but thatís all of the major visible ones. Despite some rough spots over the past few months itís worked out fairly well. So: what Iím looking for are any suggestions you, the user, might have for the forums or this site in general. Have a great day!

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