TurnKey Linux Virtual Appliance Library

Another batch of changes to the TurnKey website

These past few weeks I've been having too much fun offline with my development clone of the TurnKey website, ticking items off of my todo list. Today I finally got around to the complex, tedious, and unfortunately uninteresting task of updating the online version of the website. Ah, a necessary evil I suppose.

On to the changes...

Highlights

  • Post comments by replying to notification e-mails:

    Previously, users kept trying to reply to notification e-mails even though they're sent from no-reply@turnkeylinux.org and include a warning NOT to reply to the notification message.

    I figured rather than fight it I would just figure out how to implement this securely. Also, I'm hoping being able to reply by e-mails will increase community participation in the forums and blog. Just hitting reply on your e-mail client can be somewhat faster and less distracting than having to log into the website.

    Also on a personal note, I'm looking forward to being able to reply to comments even when I'm offline, then flush them out of my e-mail outgoing queue when I come back for air. You see, I prefer working offline when possible. I've found that cutting the cord (figuratively speaking) a most effective weapon in my war of attrition against an ever proliferating, ceaselessly fascinating army of bright and shiny Internet distractions. So when I really want to get stuff done, I do it like a cyber-whale, coming up to the Internet surface only to breathe in the essentials.

  • Making the site search sortable: Many thanks to the ever helpful JedMeister for suggesting this.

  • Rehauling the top navigation links: A drop down of appliance categories is now the first link, as suggested by Adrian Moya in response to the previous batch of website changes.

  • Scare away human spammers: multiple level of spam countermeasures seem to take care of the spam bots, but human spammers still have a go at us occasionally. I figured maybe a little warning on the comment post page could dampen their parasitic enthusiasm by explaining that we actively monitor the site and always delete spam. Zero tolerance. So just you run along now...

  • Redesigned the FAQ

    • New look and feel, with categories and a table of contents
    • Integrated TKLBAM questions into the FAQ, in a separate category.
  • Overhauled anonymous page caching system

    Why?

    Over 97% of the traffic to the website is by users who are not logged in with a user account (AKA "anonymous"). This allows us to save resources and improve site performance by serving cached versions of the site to them.

    Unfortunately in practice you usually want to limit how long you keep cached around versions because non-logged in users that don't see the site updating with their posts get discouraged from participating. The feedback delay seems to make a big difference, and the larger the delay the larger the difference. For example, when I increased the cache lifetime to one day (from about an hour previously), we noticed a significant drop in forum activity.

    What's different now?

    I've programmed the site to immediately expire the page caches for pages with new content. No delays. This allows us to increase the cache lifetime of pages without new content far beyond 15 minutes / 1 hour. I'm going to try for a week and increase this to a month once we flush out the inevitable bugs.

  • Forum changes

    • New forum "dashboard" makes the most of previously empty space beneath the forum listing. It shows new posts, currently commented on posts, forum tags, etc.
    • Show monthly Karma in addition to all time Karma: the idea is to provide positive feedback and encouragement for newbies who haven't been active in the TurnKey community as long as the old-timers.
    • Fixed tags UI: I noticed tags weren't being used as much as I had hoped and were often used wrong. Fixed.
  • Many other assorted bugfixes: If something has changed for the better that means I probably finally got around to fixing it.

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Comments

Jeremy's picture

Nice work Liraz

I knew you must've been working on something 'cause I haven't seen you about much online! That's usually a sign (like you suggest in your post).

I really like a lot of the stuff you've done. The improvements with the top nav links, the forum 'dashboard' and the search sorting are great. I like the monthly and karma totals too, although sometimes the left sidebar almost seems a little busy now. I'll probably get used to it though I'm sure. The idea of making replying to topics via email is especially innovative! I don't think I've ever seen that done before on a forum like this.

Nice work!

Liraz Siri's picture

Thanks! The e-mail reply mechanism is a new design...

I find myself easily distracted as well, so your comment regarding the left sidebar makes me think. Is there any particular block you had in mind? Because I could tweak the left sidebar so that certain things only show up for non-logged users that tend to spend less time on the site. For example, I just decided the Facebook likebox on the blog was redundant for authenticated users.

Also it's interesting that you mention the e-mail reply mechanism because it is something I am especially proud of. Usually I just integrate and tweak off the shelf solutions, but this time there weren't any decent ones around so I had to design and implement one from scratch. Which of course takes much more energy than just plugging in something that already sorta works, but is also much more satisfying. Once we work out the inevitable kinks I'm going to look into documenting how this stuff works properly and making it available as an open source kit other websites can use, or something like that.

Jeremy's picture

Nothing OTTOMH

Just a casual observation with little or no thought! I'll consider it a bit more and get back to you.

Yes, very nice work on the email thing, very nice indeed!

Jeremy's picture

Hey Liaz...

Are you still open to sharing this code? My local LUG (which I have only just posted to, despite being a lurking member for ~2yrs) are looking to update their old website. At this point they seem to be pretty keen to use Drupal, but one thing that poses as a potential issue for future usage is the fact that they currently have both a mailing list and a forum. Reality is that there just isn't enough activity to maintain both (basically splits the community in 2).

It occured to me that your code may be a way to have a pseudo mailing list by using your code and subscribing exsiting mailing list users to the whole site (and so they will get everything via email and post back to the forumscould via email too). I have floated the idea and haven't got a lot of interest so far [die hard mailing list freaks!? :p] but the guy who it looks like will be doing the updating is keen to check out your code and consider it.

I like the changes to the

I like the changes to the Forum, keep up the good work

Eldred Curwen owns a Melbourne Web Design buisness and started software programming in the early 90's fo subsea equipment.

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