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. =)


Anonymous said...

I am so very confused...

Anonymous said...

I love the concept and I can't wait to try it out! I've got ideas already. ~speedsquare

Zoma said...

We are new to letterboxing and I just wanted to say how great I think Atlas Quest is. Since we are new to this, your "group" change won't affect us as much. I'm sure we will get the hang of it in short time! I just wanted to say a big "thank you" for all you do for us. We really love Atlas Quest!

Anonymous said...

Me too, Fluffy! Will get it, I'm sure, eventually. Thanks, GT,

Anonymous said...

So, could we restrict a box so that only Premium Members could see it?