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Author Topic: Possible idea for the SMF site  (Read 8515 times)

Offline MrMike

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Possible idea for the SMF site
« on: June 26, 2011, 04:12:29 PM »
If this post is in the wrong place, please move it. This isn't really a feature to be considered for SMF per se, but an enhancement in the way SMF is distributed.

If you're familiar with the way the jQuery site offers downloads there then you'll understand this right off.

If you're not familiar with the way the jQuery site offers downloads, they have a very useful download "configurator" page. In short, when you download the main jQuery package you also get to pick from a list of non-standard features which you can add into the main jQuery download file. A similar feature could be offered on the SMF download page in the form of a "Forum Customizer".

The customizer would simply provide pre-selected groups of packages based on some typical forum "types".

A forum that was intended as a "support forum" type could have some specific packages suggested that would be most useful in a support forum setting. Forums for car buffs, anime enthusiasts, sports fans or pet owners would all have different sets of mod packages suggested for them, based on what they do.

A support forum might not need a gallery, but anime forums might feel it's a "must have" feature. The anime forum probably wouldn't need a helpdesk mod (but you never know). :) They both might want an enhanced downloads or files area, though.

Since the number of spammers seems to be increasing daily, it might also be useful to have a variety of security packages (anti-spam, anti-bot, etc) presented that could be added with a click or two.


When the user clicks the download link the packages are dynamically added to the main SMF download file, so when it's unzipped the selected package files are sitting in place just as if they'd been uploaded and were awaiting installation.

I think this would be a strong feature in SMF....although it's usually a snap to install SMF, new users sometimes have trouble figuring out which  (if any) mod packages they ought to have and occasionally they have trouble getting or uploading them. This could eliminate a lot of the uncertainty for new SMF users.

It would also highlight the idea that SMF is easily adaptable and configurable to nearly any need. :)

I know this isn't something that could be whipped together in a day; maybe this is just something to put in the "Tomorrow" folder... but I think a feature like this on the SMF site would be extremely useful and very "attractive" for both new and experienced users.

Comments (pro or con) and mild flames welcome. :)

Offline mashby

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2011, 04:38:26 PM »
Interesting idea. I think you are referring to jQuery UI rather than the core jQuery file itself, but that's splitting hairs. I understand what you are referring to. I think the "what" of what you are asking for is already there and it's called Package Manager. The "how" that you describe is likely a bit too complicated. Installing SMF is surely an easy thing to so. And to include mods like a gallery or whatever on installation is a nice idea, I'm unsure of its ease of implementing. Maybe a dev or a customizer could comment in their spare time. I see this as already being available.
1. Install SMF.
2. Download mod file.
3. Upload via Package Manager.
4. Apply and Install mod.
5. Rinse and repeat steps 2-4 for every mod you may want.
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Offline Illori

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2011, 04:58:33 PM »
i think they mean a basic setup for permissions and boards that can help a new user figure out how to get things going. I think the wiki is a better option to read up and learn then rely on an already setup forum that most likely would not match the use of the user that well anyway.

Offline MrMike

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2011, 05:38:39 PM »
Interesting idea. I think you are referring to jQuery UI rather than the core jQuery file itself, but that's splitting hairs.
Correct, I was referring to the jQuery UI configurator page. It's a clever, useful feature and it's helped jQuery spread its adoption enormously. (As I understand it, in response Moo Tools copied the idea for use in their "More Builder" page.)

A lot of scripting applications do this, and I think the SMF site (and in turn SMF) itself would benefit greatly from the same ability.


Maybe a dev or a customizer could comment in their spare time. I see this as already being available.
1. Install SMF.
2. Download mod file.
3. Upload via Package Manager.
4. Apply and Install mod.
5. Rinse and repeat steps 2-4 for every mod you may want.

To be honest, I think it's significantly different than what's already available.

A configurator page would pretty much let you go directly from step 1 to step 4. I think steps 2 and 3 are where a lot of new users stumble, and possibly even prior to that in deciding what packages might be especially useful for them.

I'm not suggesting that anyone do away with the basic download file for SMF. I'm suggesting adding the ability for SMF to offer groups of potentially suitable packages that would be included in a custom-generated download file.

I'd be interested in what the devs and customizers think of this. If it's too much trouble to do or if there's not enough perceived value, they can ignore it. Personally I think it would be a useful addition for a lot of people, both new and experienced users.

I run a lot of SMF boards and I'm converting other forums to SMF on a regular basis. I'd love to have a standard package available to me with all of the stuff I usually install over and over and over again. I've gone so far as to create several "blank" installs with specific features that I then zip up and reuse, but it's not a very flexible a way to do it.

If some devs and/or customizers would like to weigh in on this, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.



Offline MrMike

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2011, 05:39:51 PM »
i think they mean a basic setup for permissions and boards that can help a new user figure out how to get things going.

No, that's not actually what I meant. I think SMF comes configured out-of-the-box pretty well in terms of permissions and groups.  :)

I was referring to being able to include a selectable group of mod packages into a dynamically-generated download file. Kind of like bundling apps. I'd download SMF but I'd check a few boxes and get (for example) a member map application, an image gallery, and maybe an enhanced CAPTCHA mod along with the main SMF install zip file.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2011, 05:44:47 PM by MrMike »

Offline mashby

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2011, 06:01:41 PM »
Which mods would be available during installation though? I think that's where this might get complicated. Which mods would be visible during installation? :)
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Offline Kindred

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2011, 06:15:55 PM »
The problem with that idea is that the SMF team then becomes responsible... Or at rashes edged to support those "bundled" mods.

That is a problem... And is not something we can, or want to, do.

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Offline MrMike

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2011, 06:39:40 PM »
Which mods would be available during installation though? I think that's where this might get complicated. Which mods would be visible during installation? :)

There could be several ways to determine which mods might be included in a "suggested mods" group or selected for inclusion. For example, for an anime site you could have a list of all of the various gallery packages shown to the user to pick from. Or, only packages would be shown that have a certain utility, popularity, or download figure.

Users could also be given the option to simply browse the current mod section of the site and click a checkbox that says, "add it" to make it included in the final download.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2011, 06:44:23 PM by MrMike »

Offline MrMike

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2011, 06:43:59 PM »
The problem with that idea is that the SMF team then becomes responsible... Or at rashes edged to support those "bundled" mods.

No, I wouldn't put any responsibility on the SMF Team at all for it, except for making the feature itself available. Mod authors would, as usual, always be responsible for the mods, just as they are now.

Think of it as just a way to conveniently grab a "bundle"of mods all at once along with the main install file. The SMF team wouldn't have to take any responsibility for the mods themselves.

I don't know; perhaps this is too much work or too much trouble. It's just an idea.

Offline Antechinus

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2011, 06:54:37 PM »
It's a nice idea, but in practice if we recommend a mod we are going to have to clean up any mess. This means we would have to vet all the current versions of the mods that are being recommended, rather than just doing the current approve-then-ignore-if-no-reports. We'd also have to keep appraised of all the new mods so we could make appropriate recommendations, and of course we would have to test the suggested combinations to ensure they all installed without conflicts.

It's a f**kload of work. :P That doesn't mean it can't ever be done though. We don't have the resources to tackle something like this right at the moment, but it is something that is worth thinking about and putting on the back burner.

Offline Kindred

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2011, 07:39:15 PM »
Exactly...  If we distribute it with an installation, users will assume and insist that we are responsible for supporting it.  It already happens tha users assume and insistntha we are supposed to support third party mods because they are abailable on this site.

Also, building an installer to handle tha sort of customized installation would be a bother.

Not saying it is not a deent idea... Just not realistic.
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Offline Vince S

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2011, 12:21:22 AM »
Just to add that "mug punter" perspective to this, elsewhere in these forums I have struggled a lot to deduce what is really pretty easy info about how best to run SPAM interference. I think Mike's suggestion of a UI has a lot of merit, but accept that the perceived problems noted are real, to a point anyway. I suspect there is a disconnect between what is being suggested and what is being considered, and the delta is this bit about being across all mods as opposed to the critical few.

What I take it is really being suggested here is to make it easy for a new user to pick the "bolt ons" that any sensible forum admin should be choosing to set up with. Not to talk about what is possible, just the basics. Spam, pics etc. Whether that is done via a UI or simply a "recommended suggestions for consideration" list may be a moot point. For the level of engagement that is being proposed a UI might be just fine, but in any case compilation of a few "suggested lists" for different forum types done via stickies and a link after installation similar to a "readme.txt" file reference at the end would get 95% of the benefit for 0.5% of the effort IMHO. Plus it would be really helpful for existing users to take a step up if this sort of info was stickied into the Admin news panel....
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Offline Antechinus

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2011, 12:40:58 AM »
Well since a lot of people would only want it once, stickying it in admin may not be the best idea. Perhaps a link to a Wiki page might be better. But yes, I can see the sense in what you are suggesting. It's still quite a bit of work setting it up and maintaining it, but a lot less work than doing customised automatic install packs.

Offline Norv

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #13 on: June 27, 2011, 03:13:59 PM »
Thank you for the proposal and the discussion of potential difficulties, they're both warranted IMHO, I just feel - like Vince S -, that there's a disconnect between the initial proposals and part of the discussion, because the idea has more possible implementations and only some are prone to issues.
To note quickly, some of the issues raised here are less significant IMHO if you consider official mods, rather than third-party mods only. Some of the issues are relevant for SMF as we know it today (with its code-modifications-based extensibility and issues with mods installs), however it is a goal to minimize that in the future. On the other hand, I'd raise your attention that we already have a couple of tools recommended on the downloads site (please, take a look), including a third-party tool, it has the appropriate disclaimer, and there hasn't been any problem with "assumptions of support or endorsing it" - to my knowledge at least. We already have "featured" customizations on the customize site, too. Packages recommended in Admin panel notice... well, depends on the notice, this may be less applicable with SMF package manager as it is today. However, I can see an official customizations package server, making available in SMF's package manager the official customizations for 2.0 we aim to provide. That also fits the "click and install" for most forums installations today, even.

There is definitely IMHO, more to discuss here than just a single option to see it in practice - specially in the future, when SMF should and will become more easily extensible itself.
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Offline MrMike

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2011, 04:41:46 PM »
Norv,

These are all good points that you raised.

Perhaps at some point after things have quieted down a bit from the busyness of the  2.0 release this could be revisited. If I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me.

Offline Vince S

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I would like to add a smidge of focus to this very sensible discussion. Out there in the real world people don't really "get" this mods stuff. Lots of people think they just want the core product (whatever it is) and adding on "those fancy shmancy things" is something other people do, basically believing they are all just cosmetic add-ons and only increase risk. Unless "someone who knows" says they really should put some of "this stuff" (mods) on, en masse they will avoid it like the plague.

No better illustration have I seen of this phenomenon than here: http://www.simplemachines.org/community/index.php?topic=433818.msg3092321#msg3092321 where an obviously serious user of SMF didn't have a clue about the value mods can really have.

To gently lead people by the nose will have the effect of greatly lifting the general community view of SMF for very little effort relative to the benefits. It is sooo hard to see this when one is immersed in it, I am just trying to strongly reinforce that this topic matters, and matters A LOT. Both for new installations and a "Where Are You Now?" view.
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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site
« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2011, 10:25:48 AM »
It sounds like there are at least two issues here:

1. How to lead the horse to the water. What mods are available? What do you recommend for me to install on my _____-type forum?

While "bundles" of mods (or even, pre-installed mods) might be useful, SMF does have to be careful about taking on the added workload of ensuring that mods play well with each other, and how it would officially maintain these mods once they're brought into the official family, so to speak.

2. How to make it easier to install mods. It's enough work (especially for a neophyte) to install a mod when all goes well. All too often, though, mods interfere with each other and require manual tinkering. Unfortunately, all too many forum owners don't do this correctly/completely, and end up reporting all sorts of "undefined index" and other such problems.

Mod installation needs to be made bulletproof and dead simple, something which is not easy if we're going to be modifying code in the process (rather than plugging in new modules to existing hooks, say). A good start might be to always start from the vanilla base code (always keep a copy on the site, perhaps archived) and apply all selected mods in one go, rather than one at a time (and worse, trying to remove individual mods one at a time). The idea would be to always be able to find the insertion point (in base code), rather than possibly not finding it in previously modified code. Perhaps mod information could include a list of known conflicts that have been reported, and not allow conflicting mods to be installed together?

Offline Vince S

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Re: Possible idea for the SMF site - How to Lead that Horse?
« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2011, 07:40:30 PM »
Aha, the reality of the concerns is starting to "gel" for me after MrPhil's suggestions. I would add that only some of the time we plebs are even going to be aware of the problems we have and probably often when we do find out we are not going to make the connection between the sudden issue and the root cause action / combination of circumstances. Which of course is where this forum can usually help.

The trick I find when looking at the effectiveness of anything is to "walk up to it" like a cleanskin would and make decisions based on what you see through their eyes, having an appreciation of what their significant demographics might be. In this case it is forum software, most of whom are initially brought to by Fantastico, the remaining say 20% from "all other sources" - actual ratio doesn't exactly matter. Typically well motivated people that have taken on a webmaster role and have either a social or commercial reason for being here. They don't know anything about mods etc, just that this software looks pretty good. One of the first decisions people have to make is whether to upgrade when SMF points out it is needed, or when Fantastico finally gets around to upgrading and NOBODY is pointing out what that means for mods (in a place the cleanskins see it)

So you take that person and tell them what is going on: Here is the cool base software, with that you can do a lot. However it is a big deal to get this software to work well when it is fully voluntary development so the way it is done is to concentrate on making the core work really well, and encourage others to develop code that adds more features - we call them "mods". Over time many of these mods are incorporated in the base code but it is a lengthy process to make sure they are bulletproof, and anyway we don't want the core product to become bloated with lots of features that only some people will ever want.

So what we say to you is that you should install the base product and become familiar with its various features, ask q's here (link) if you are unsure about anything. If you are able to handle slightly more involved technical tasks then we would encourage you to look through the mods that are available. Be aware that mods by their nature can be anywhere from "really mature" to "somewhat unstable" or even become incompatible when the core version changes. But the additional features can make the occasional bit of extra work well worthwhile, it is up to you if you take these upgrades on. Of course many thousands have as they usually work, and you can still get assistance if things go wrong. Also catastrophic failures (data loss) are extremely rare so it is likely that you would be able to at least revert to the standard core software and continue on, or at worst recover forums from back-ups. If you came here via Fantastico you need to know (whatever it is, I don't know what would happen if I actually let F do an upgrade! But I can tell you for many it is really tempting to let it do it, because their experience is that it worked for installation so it should be used for upgrades, which do work well with other software) Should you be interested in taking on the additional work and risk these are some of the mods we think might suit the following types of forums:

blah blah - its all in the pitch, and the proper transferring of responsibility in "eyes wide open" mode, ie tell it like it is IMHO. This info pack needs to be stickied somewhere obvious as many don't let the ReadMe file run on install, they will "go back to it if they need it" but rarely do. Rather than taking on making mods "bulletproof and dead simple" you can probably give them a rating to say where they are at in the scheme of things. Tidy the above up sure, but you get the picture....?

The OP here was about installation automation. I think the discussion is showing that this can only be a long term goal, the short to medium term opportunity is to help people get the benefits without increasing the workload much. And in the process greatly increase the uptake rates of SMF I would think - the extent of which also depends on where "the opposition" products are parked, something I know nothing about! This would be especially effective if it was stapled to a "Where are you now and do you know what you can do with mods?" info campaign. I am wondering where the 3 monthly "Mods Round-up" newsletter is that should be in the Admin News window with a writeup by an SMF veteran who has had a decent pick through what has been released and revised? These sorts of things will do far more good than chasing down the detail of a couple of the "to do's" - which of course is another thing that would be easily visible if we were taking a cleanskin "help them to help themselves" view.

Please note nothing in this is meant to imply criticism. I am just doing the "helicopter view" - which one needs to be a little emotionally detached to have useful benefits flow from it.

I would also say (from the chopper) that one really important activity is to make it bullet proof crystal clear what mods go with what versions, as there are a lot of 1.something mods that it is not clear if they will or won't work with 2.0 and this piece of critical housekeeping would head off a lot of time wasted by users and smf heros alike wading through the related issues. Personally I would automatically lock out all mods when a version change happens and require formal action by the author and the webmaster to roll the mod to the next version. I was gobsmacked that no part of the 2.RC5 upgrade stopped me from continuing use of the Babylon theme and it was a while before I realised the mess it was making, so this is an eg of the disconnect that can easily happen, I dunno if 2.0 fixed that but streuth, talk about missing the bleeding obvious! Which is an illustration of why providing useful info may be a far better option than trying for automation, given everyone here probably has a day job! Different topic I know, and not my domain/ issue, pick it up if you like and take it somewhere...
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