February 2009

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February is winding down in a few hours and many are awaiting Elgg 1.5. Whether or not they make the projected February isn’t important if you consider what the Curverider team has achieved in there progress to a much inproved social networking platform.

Elgg 1.2 was released in Decenber with Revision 2515. As of today, in the space of 2 months, they have committed 485 revisions to the code in their Subversion repository–an absolutely astounding feat!

Having tested Elgg 1.5 myself, I can tell you that its release is very close. The developers are determined to make this release as smooth and as free of bugs as possible. From what I can see remaining issues are largely minor.

I look forward to the release very soon. I am also a firm believer that it is better to delay a release than to push it out the door before it is the best it can be! Those who simply cannot wait can always check out the latest version in the Elgg repository. The usual caveat applies: don’t run trunk on a production site.

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I recently came across CommentPress. It’s a WordPress plugin that allows readers to comment on a post paragraph by paragraph. CommentPress looks like a very promising collaboration tool. CommentPress is on the cusp of a major upgrade from version 1.4.1 to 2.0. We will look at features in the current version, and preview Version 2.0.

Currently, CommentPress is a WP theme. Install it and activate it.

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The resultant main page includes a table of contents on the left side, a “page” that you can customize in the center, and some widgets on the right. The meat of this comes when you clink a link to one of the posts.

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Each paragraph has a “speech bubble” to the right of it. Click on that and you can view all the other comments on that paragraph. Comments can even be threaded. Whether or not there are comments already, there is a text field for entering comments.

As it stands, CommentPress works well. Yet the developers plan on giving it even greater flexibility with version 2.0 due out in a couple weeks. I had trouble with the beta on my server, so I can only write about what I have seen and read on their site.

Rather than just a theme, the new version will include 3 plugins and a theme that can work independently so you only use the components you need. You will be able to use it with most WordPress themes. The comment box can be dragged and dropped to any location on the page. There are also enhancements that improve CommentPress’s ability to work with changed text in the posts. I also understand that it will be more flexible in working with other widgets and plugins.

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CommentPress’s potential in education and in other areas is great. The ability to annotate and critique text paragraph by paragraph make it much easier to focus a response to a given segment of text. It would work well for peer editing of student writing. Teachers could post a segment of text for students to read allowing them to respond to the text and other comments. I have installed CommentPress to facilitate discussion of our school’s web publishing policy.

I look forward to working with a new version of CommentPress, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as it is today. As a bonus, the current version works with WPMU, and I hope the newer version will as well.

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Elgg 1.5 will bring a number of enhancements large and small that will improve usability for both users and admins. Here are a few more things to look forward to with its impending release.

As Elgg  changed versions, many of the plugins have become incompatible. Developers have had to update them in order to make them work with new incarnations. In some cases, there are various versions of the plugins floating around making things confusing for admins.

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Now you can see if the plugin is compatible from the Tools Administration interface. The plugins displayed above have no versions specified. Plugin developers can now add another tag to their manifest.xml file.

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This value corresponds with the value specified as follows in the version.php file in the Elgg core.

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If the value match up, all is okay.

Another enhancement is the addition of categories. Uploading the Categories plugin to the mod folder and activating gives a Categories option in the Aministrative interface.

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Simply add categories separated by commas and save so that they appear as options when creating content such as blogs.

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While we are viewing the blog interface, you may notice changes beyond the presence of categories in the left column area. You will have the ability to enable or disable comments to blogs posts, as well as, save drafts. In general, throughout the user interface you will notice several enhancements to the left column navigation.

Another new module that users will find useful is members. Members lists all the members of the site and includes their latest post to their wire.

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Note the options in the left hand navigation. Also note the tabs over the main area. You will see this feature appearing in many views within Elgg 1.5.

These represent a grab bag of new enhancements users and admins can look forward to seeing in Elgg 1.5. Stop back for more information in the near future.

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The Curverider team continues to update Elgg at a furious pace with nearly 360 commits since early January. It appears Elgg 1.5 will arrive as promised this month. I’ve been watching the progress unfold with an SVN trunk installation (NOT recommended for production!). I have also been given a preview of Elgg 1.5. If I were to try to cover all the changes that I have observed, I’d never get this post out, so I’ll focus on notifications, external pages and the frontpage.

One of the promised improvements on the Elgg 1.5 roadmap is “Notification hooks and delivery.” This change has probably been lurking under my nose for a little while, because I haven’t been checking into the Settings much lately. When I did, I saw some new options.

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We now see options for configure tools, notifications, and group notification. Configure tools will give users an interface to configure extensions added by admins. Click on notifications and you get a number of options.

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You now have a variety of options for email notifications when actions are performed on your content, the content of friends, or any collections of friends. In addition, the Group Notification allows you to make similar settings on notifications regarding any groups you belong to. Note all the white space to the right of email notification icons. There appear to be more options on the way.

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There is still more space. What else could be coming?

Next is an unexpected little gem, External Pages. Curverider has long had About, TOS, and Privacy links on their site’s footer–something users have long wanted. They have delivered with an External Pages plugin. Once enabled, the links appear in the site’s footer as does an External pages option in the left side menu in the Administrative interface.

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Note the tabs highlighted above. Click on any of these and you have a convenient text editor to add whatever content you need to any of these pages. Not mentioned is the Front page panel. That puzzled me briefly until I installed the Custom Index plugin.The two fields allow you to enter text into the right and left hand panes without delving into source code.

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I imagine this external page editor could be applied to any number of other uses in Elgg in the future.

This is a round up of a few of the many enhancements we can look forward to with the release of Elgg 1.5. There are, of course, many more, and I hope to have more posts outlining new features in the near term.

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I’ve been examining both Elgg and BuddyPress for use as a social networking platform in the K12 setting. One of things necessary for our school (and probably many others) is that unmoderated content be private.

About three months ago, BuddyPress developer, Andy Peatling, responded on the BuddyPress forum that the initial release of the software would be would be for open networks and that after the release the plan is to introduce privacy settings.

About a month ago,  user josswinn began testing dsader’s More Privacy Options plugin for WPMU, and posted his experiences in both the BP and WPMU forums. By putting More Privacy Options in the mu-plugins folder, blogs can be set to one of five levels of privacy. If an admin sets the primary blog to  “visible only to registered members,” the BuddyPress portion of the installation is locked down nicely.

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This also effectively blocks registration which is desirable for our purposes. Apparently another plugin called Members Only functions similarly, but without the numerous privacy options.

While the pages are blocked, RSS feeds are another issue. In spite hacking dsader’s More Privacy plugin as recommended on these forum posts, I found myself able to access  RSS feeds to material that should have been blocked. Josswin reports the same with Member’s Only as well. I tried using Clifton H. Griffin III’s Disable RSS, but that did not work either.

The More Privacy Options plugin seems to block RSS feeds fine on my other WPMU installation. I am puzzled by the difference. The only solution I see at this point is to delete or rename key RSS files within WPMU. It will be interesting to see if a resolution appears. Otherwise, it might be best to wait until there are privacy settings within BuddyPress itself.

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