4.3: Bringing back the familiar forum home page with some new features

Common Complaint and Solution

One complaint I got most frequently is that members are not familiar with the new home page design. They still want to see the list of forums.
 
Even though the new home page makes a lot more sense to encourage people to participate (it's the result of extensive research in usability / user experience / best practices recommended by experts in community building), I've decided to let community owners choose what's best for their members.
 
To do this, I redesigned the forum list and brought over the essential features from the home page:
  1. Top Article Slider - helps highlighting activities in your community (grab attention)
  2. Featured Articles - providing "content" navigation that helps engage members
So, in 4.3, you'll be able to use the Main Forum List as the community home page without missing functionalities exclusive to the new home page.
 
 
 
I just wanted to mention that the new home page still is the best choice for community home because people can access the latest and active discussions right on the page (no clicking to a different page).

Top Search Box Enhancement

The other thing that is confusing in vNEXT is the search feature in the Posts Menu.
 

 
Some people asked what the differences are between the search results returned in the Posts Menu and the top right search box, and there isn't that much of a difference, other than the # of records returned.
  • The search box in the Post menu shows you the result right away, but the search box is hidden in the menu.
  • On the other hand, the top right search box is very accessible but users are redirected to a different page to see results.
I've decided to combine the best from both implementation by removing the search box in the Post menu and making the top right search box return results on-page.
 

 
Give it a try. It's now very easy to use, as you get search results instantly on any page.

Additional Improvements

In addition, I'll be implementing the following email notifications in 4.3:
  1. Post marked as Answer or Helpful - notifying the author when his posts are marked as acknowledgement
  2. PM quota limit exceeded - notifying the recipient about PM quota limit being reached (so he can delete some old PM to free up space for new PMs)
Thanks for your time and I plan to release 4.3 with the above enhancements + improvements listed here in about a week.
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+ Better Mobile Compatibility + Intuitive Upload UI

What happens when people using mobile devices can't navigate your forums?
 
What happens when people trying to attach files couldn't find the upload button?
 
Answer: They won't like it and will probably leave.
 
In the next version, along with ~30 improvements and fixes (many are UI improvements to make the software easier to use), I'm gonna address these issues so that the users won't stop participating because of these problems.

Mobile Compatibility Upgrade - supporting wider range of devices


 
jQuery Mobile just released version 1.3.1 and your members will start using this improved version in the next forum update!
 
While most people using mobile devices have no problems with our current Mobile App, a couple old phones don't work as well (display issues).
 
Since our mobile app is developed on top of the jQuery Mobile framework, I make it a top priority to update our app whenever jQuery Mobile releases a new and stable version.
 
The new 1.3.1 jQM framework fixes a lot of bugs and improved compatibilities with phones (the framework is now tested on 70+ real devices, not simulators) so I think with the update, we can provide even better access for a wider range of phones.

Posting and Uploading Improvements - feature no longer hidden

Drag and Drop style uploading is the new norm for sending files on a web app.
 
While we already support this feature, it still feels "hidden" because you need to hit the attachment button on the editor to see the upload window.
 
By the time you see the upload window you probably aren't gonna drag and drop files, which defeats the purpose of having drag and drop interaction on the UI.
 
In the next version (you can see on this support forum now), you will find the upload box immediately available below the editor. This makes uploading much smoother, allowing you to drag and drop files directly into it, without a mouse click:
 

 
Note: The current implementation takes as many as 4 mouse clicks to upload a file (not including finding your files through the small window), the next version takes zero.
 
And no one has to look for the upload button any more.

..... plus, the Text box focus effect

If you go to the registration page now, you will see a nice CSS3 effect that highlights the first text box (username). This small touch helps direct your user's attention to the exact place we want him to focus right away:
 

 
And this effect shows up for any text box that is focused (either auto or mouse clicking).
 
Making the software easier to use (even just a little bit) pays off in the long run. And I'll continue refining the UI to improve User Experience.
 
Stay tuned for the update!!
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☑ vNext: New Community Features (non content publishing related)

I've got several emails from people who are interested in using vNext, and the
most commonly asked question was always:
 
What's new in this version?
 
For users of our previous versions, the improvements on UI should be very
obvious. However there are many features and enhancements that won't be
immediately noticeable until you put the software to use.
 
So, check out this short presentation on the Top New Features in APG vNext
and see what's possible when you use APG vNext to power your community.
 
Even though the biggest improvements in vNext over other software is our
Content Publishing capabilities, the entire community aspect of the software has been
revised and improved, too.

 
Thanks and have a great weekend!
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vNext: JSON Membership & Role Providers

Using APG vNext to manage users for your entire site

If you don't currently have a user database, you can use APG vNext's database to store and manage users for your web site. We bundle the software with a membership and role provider that you can use freely.
 
For the previous version (version 3), the bundled membership and role providers are database based and aren't so easy to use because they depend on the forum's dlls to access the db. So when you upgrade a 3.x forum, it's likely you'll also need to upgrade the membership / role providers on your site so they don't conflict with each other.
 
In vNext, the bundled Membership and Role providers are JSON web service based, meaning:
  1. The providers no longer have dependencies on the software's code so you won't have to upgrade the providers when you upgrade your vNext software
  2. It's a lot lighter than the previous version due to lack of dependencies and the fact that it communicates using JSON which is light by design
  3. It's easier to configure -> all you need to add to the config file is a URL to the JSON web service endpoint and nothing else;
  4. It's secure too; the communication is protected by machine key encryption without the need to use SSL, meaning you can build a secure web app on your local machine to manage membership information easily (if you so choose).
  5. You can use the providers on web sites that are not located on the same network as your community because it is JSON web service based
An improved Sample Application will also be bundled with the JSON membership + role providers. You'll be able to test all provider functions with this sample application:
 
Membership Provider App (screen shots are cropped to show only a limited set of functions):

 
Role Provider App:

 
This JSON membership + role provider will be available when we ship the final version (in a couple weeks). Current beta users will be able to install these providers easily too as it has no dependencies on the forum code.
 
NOTE: vNext will be out of beta soon. Check out the latest beta pricing (discounts!)
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✔ vNext Demo: Simple How-to's and Last Day of Prerelease Special

As you know from my last post, the demo forum for version 4 of the
software, APG vNext, is available online. I'm inviting you again to try out the
demo before the pre-release ends on Jan 31, 2013.
 
Here is the APG vNext Demo Forum.
 
I've added a step-by-step slideshow to show you how to turn on the 4 most
important Content Publishing features in APG vNext.
 
You'll realize how easy it is to start using content that's already in the forum
to help grow your community.
 
The walkthrough is available here on the demo (login:pass = admin:admin):
☑ Introducing APG vNext's New Capabilities
 
Again, come and see the demo for yourself and take advantage of the extended
pre-release special before Jan 31, 2013.
 
Here are the details & FAQs for the Extended Pre-release Special.
 
Have a great rest of the week!

-- Samuel
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