Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Trail Idea Comes to Life

One of the ideas I had while on my thru-hike earlier this year consisted of an dramatically expanded roll for what I've called "user groups." They've existed on Atlas Quest from the very beginning--there have always been a few special groups such as administrators and moderators. That's how AQ is able to figure out which parts of the site you should be able to access and which parts you shouldn't. Later, I added a premium member group, which was the first group anyone could get into--if they chose to. There's also been a special group I've called the "Everybody" group that all members are always in. It made some of the database queries easier to work with when I could use a regular join on two tables instead of a left join. Basically, it was a group of convenience, but was a group that every member on Atlas Quest could be in and never leave.

Over the years, I've created a handful of other special groups for various purposes. Some are known, some are up to devious things and are (or used to be) a secret. Admins had the power to create groups and add or remove people from specific groups.

But while hiking the trail, it occurred to me--wouldn't it be nice if anyone could create their own special little groups for whatever devious reasons they may have? There's not any particular reason the functionality needs to be limited to just admins. There would be a lot of stuff that needs to be automated, so it wasn't particularly high on my list of priorities, but it did go on my to-do list. As a first step to a more dramatic role for user groups, I added the ability to restrict boxes to specific groups one of those nights when Amanda was around on the trail with the laptop.

That was just the first indication of a much bigger role for groups, though, and I've finally got the vision I had in mind implemented. I updated it tonight, and my gut instinct is that most people will likely hate it. At least at first. =)

It's different. All boards, for instance, are now part of specific groups. Those "categories" that they used to be divided in are completely gone. They're assigned to specific groups instead, and unless you're a member of the group, it's as if those boards don't even exist.

Not going to South America? Never plan to go to South America? You could care less about anything that has to do with South America? Not a problem--just don't join the South America group and you won't see any boards or posts about South America.

Chat rooms are also associated with specific groups. You can't use a chat room unless you're a member of the group it's a part of. Most groups won't have them--chat rooms can be particularly hard on the server to allowing dedicated chat rooms for each group isn't practical at the moment.

You can find groups using the Manage Groups link, which is at the bottom of the "People" menu in the menu bar.

I've tried to add groups as appropriate, mostly based on the favorite boards you've selected. If you have a board marked as a favorite, I made sure you were automatically in the particular group required to keep seeing those boards. For most people, this includes the Hobby Box, the United States Letterboxing, Yakking It Up, and the Non-Traditional Boxes groups.

There are several different types of groups with various characteristics. The public groups are open for anyone to join or leave at whim. Protected and private groups require an invite to join, and you'll only see those in your groups if you're actually a member. The main difference between those two is that with a protected group, anyone already in the group is allowed to invite other in, while with a private group, only the group admins are allowed to invite others into the group.

There are two other group types that are mainly for AQ's purposes. There's a "system" group, which typically include groups that AQ itself pulls people into or out of as necessary. This would include the "everybody" group (which everyone is automatically in, whether you like it or not!) and the "premium members" group (which AQ will automatically put you in when you sign up for premium membership, and automatically take you out of when membership expires).

There's also a "hidden" group, which AQ uses to keep track of some of your settings. You won't see these. Each type of non-traditional box, for instance, is a hidden group, and you can join or leave the group through your Misceallenous Preferences. For all practical purposes, however, it's like those groups don't even exist. They're mostly for "accounting" purposes rather than being used directly.

The main types you need to be aware of are the public, protected, and private groups, because those are the ones that you and any member on Atlas Quest is able to create for yourself. If you love Harry Potter and want a special group just for other Harry Potter groups, you can create one, then create a board for it, then let the world in on your humble little group.

If you want to plot a surprise birthday party, you can create a private group and invite your co-conspirators to plot their attack on you private board. You can even list boxes that only your other co-conspirators can access.

Only protected and private groups can be used as restrictions for boxes. It didn't make much sense to me to restrict boxes to a public group that anyone who wanted to could join anyhow. So in these example, you couldn't restrict a box to just other Harry Potter fans--unless you restricted the entire group by turning it private or protected.

If this all sounds confusing, it's because it is. Honestly, I expect most people to hate the changes at first, so I'll apologize for that in advance. Specific boards might be hard to find at first. You'll probably want to tweak your membership in various groups to better suit your needs.

Here's one search you might want to save as a favorite. This search displays all groups that you can access--which is basically a group that's public or one that you're a member of. You can save it as a favorite search just like you would with regular box searches, then you can get notifications of when new (public) groups are created.

If you have an interest or wanted a board that I wasn't willing to create in the past, it's wide open now!

This is a pretty extensive update. I probably broke a few things (in fact, it's taken me what seems like forever to write this because I keep stopping to fix a new bug that pops up), and I'll fix them when I wake up in the morning. =)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Help Your Fellow Letterboxers!

Curse my absent-minded ways! I should have posted this long ago and I totally spaced it. *slap self* Wasn't until I started catching up on old e-mails I noticed this poor note with the time ticking away.

So here's the story, in case you missed it. The LUNA Crew has fallen into some tough times. Emotional, economical, you name it, they've suffered. Brandy posted details about their hardships and about a fundraising party to help out. Brandy's offered to carve pumpkins to help out, although I'm afraid I might be posting this a bit too late at this point. If you're interested, though, please contact her ASAP!

If there's anything you can do to help out, let Brandy know. She'll vouch for me--I'm a terrible messenger. You definitely don't want to give messages to me! =)

To borrow and twist a phrase from Mark, get out and save a letterboxer!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Calendars and Eggnog

Walking home this evening, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some milk. I got milk, but they also had eggnog, so I picked that up too. I know, it's ethically questionable--eggnog before Halloween?! Aren't there laws against that? None that I'm aware of, and I decided to take advantage of the situation.

Upon returning home, there was a BIG box of calendars waiting for me. Alas, it appears to be only one of at least two boxes, since I ordered many more calendars than were in this particular box.

But that's no reason for me to sit on them and do nothing! So I printed out all the orders, slapped on addresses, and filled out as many of the orders as I could--twenty of them, to be exact. The first 20 folks who ordered and paid for their calendars--your order is ready to drop in the mail tomorrow (Thursday). How do you know if your order is one of the lucky ones? You can see the order status of your order. If it's listed as "shipped," your order will be in the mail in a few more hours. (If your order says "Payment Due," get your payments in! I won't mail your calendar if I haven't received payment!)

Seeing as one box of calendars have arrived, a sister box or two should show up soon and I'll fill the rest of the orders (the paid ones, at least!) then.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Wanna Chat?

Chat rooms have invaded Atlas Quest! Addicting, so terribly, terribly addicting. For the past week or so, premium members have been chatting it up in the new chat rooms I've been developing, testing the system, tweaking, testing some more, tweaking some more.... And I've finally opened it for the world at large. Or rather, any registered Atlas Quest member. If you aren't a member, you'll have to use chat rooms somewhere else. Or just create an account--you'll be glad you did! I hope you will be glad, at least. =)

You can find a link to the chat rooms under the 'Toolbox' menubar option.

There are some important caveats you should know about. First, if you're using IE6--and I checked a couple of days ago, and about 15% of you out there are still using IE6--you *can* use the chat rooms, but it's ugly, hard to use, and not recommended. I'd suggest either upgrading to IE7 or start using the Firebox browser (my personal favorite!)

Second, these chat rooms can easily overload the server if too many people start using them at once, so there are limits to how many people are allowed to use it at once: 15 people per room or 50 people in all rooms. Not to mention that you can only use one chat room at a time yourself. The limits may be extended in the future, but it is entirely possible when there's a lot of chatting going on, you may have to wait your turn to get into a room. The current limits should be sufficient for everyone most of the time, but during really busy times--you could hit against them. Just try again later.

The chat rooms are wonderful, though. There's instant gratification like you'll find nowhere else on Atlas Quest. Meet with friends, troubleshoot problems, have a sing-along, or discuss issues in a much more intimate setting than the message boards. You're still expected to conduct yourself properly (the terms of service still apply even in the chat rooms), but nobody outside a given room will be able to read your chat logs later. Well, admins can if a problem is brought to their attention, but we really don't want to.

So when you get a chance, drop by a chat room and meet your fellow letterboxers. You might have fun! =)

Main Chat Room Page
Chat Room FAQs

Friday, October 03, 2008

Last Call For Calendars!

Today's the last day to order your official 2009 letterboxing calendar! I'll be taking down the AQ Marketplace tomorrow (Saturday) morning when I wake up, so if you want your calendars at the cheapest prices available, no more dawdling. Get your orders in today! If you want to pay with a personal check--that's fine--the check can arrive next week, but the order must be in the system now.

Additionally, I got an e-mail from yesterday saying they will be raising their prices later this month due to the higher cost of materials for printing. The e-mail focused on the price of self-published books so I'm not sure what the impact to calendars will be, but there almost certainly will be one. The point being, the longer you wait to order, the more it will cost. Order now and save! =)