The Forum - next steps - pain, misery and the joys of development

So, it’s a fair old while since I last promised you that the forum would be shinier, faster and better ‘soon’.

And that hasn’t happened - not as I’d envisaged, certainly - so it’s time for me to say that I am very sorry, to let you know where we’re at, and to invite your thoughts and comments on at least one possible future.

I’m not going to re-hash any of the old discussions/arguments about why we had to leave phpBB - we really did have to. But it turns out Ifan only has two hands, and he inconveniently needs sleep sometimes - so since he also had to build several mountains in order to get our whole site doing some of the stuff we need most, the forum has been given a bit less love than I’d hoped. Which I really am very sorry about. I feel as though I’ve let you down, and that’s a really bad feeling.

There has in fact been invisible stuff happening - Kev did some excellent volunteer work to get everything working faster, which has made a real, measurable difference, and we also stepped up how much we pay Rackspace to have lots of internetty room - and Ifan has just finished a patch which we hope will deal with the ‘just not loading at all!’ problem that has been hitting us from time to time.

But we’ve now found a possible alternative way forward. It means putting some of my more ‘passionately desired but optimistic’ ideas on hold, but it would probably mean a massively better forum experience for all of us in the short and medium term.

There’s a new approach to forums called Discourse -

It’s got a very strong founding team, and some serious money behind it. It also happens to have solutions for some of the things we’ve been keen to see happen, and a strong API (which basically means that it’s easier for us to work with).

So here’s what we’re thinking at the moment.

Ifan has got through the first mountain of ‘Must Have Now!’ stuff. He can now focus on this. But he also knows that ideally, I’d like him working on the algorithm (our new approach to creating courses in different languages) tomorrow. Well, yesterday really, but there are technical problems with that, or so he tells me.

Ifan’s going to try to integrate Discourse with our site. If it works, he’s going to enable it as the forum for our Spanish course - at that point, you’ll be able to play around with it, and see what you think.

If all goes well (nothing explodes), then we’ll have the option to use it as the forum interface for here, as well.

We’ll let you know as soon as it’s live on the Spanish site for you to look at (fingers crossed!) and of course you can see examples of it on the Discourse site linked to above - and I’ll look forward to reading what you think of the idea.

Once again, I’m very sorry that the forum hasn’t been a better experience in the short-term, but I promise you that we will carry on thinking and working to keep making everything better, always…:smile:

S’ame Aran,

All the decisions that have been made regarding the forum have been with the aim of improving the services that the forum can provide, breaking free of the restrictions imposed by the PHP site. No-one can doubt your passionate desire to make things better for everyone learning with SSI. Many of the things that you envisioned for the forum sounded fantastic, but I fully understand that money and resource constraints have had to force a rethink. I think that Discourse looks good - representing perhaps the direction this forum is heading. I for one really appreciate the hard work yourself, Ifan and Kev have put into this site behind the scenes, work which most users will be totally unaware of. If there is anything I can do to help with testing or anything, please let me know!



Diolch o galon, Stu. Gwerthfawrogi’n arw iawn :star:

I think the forum is a really important part of the SSiW experience and has been a source of information, support, friendship, counselling, hand holding, advice giving and motivation for many good people over a long time now. It has taken a huge amount of work to set it up and keep it running and definitely, Ifan needs his well deserved sleep, as do you and the other brilliant enablers working behind the scenes.
As for feeling you’ve let anyone down, can you please knock that one on the head right now? You haven’t, they haven’t, no one has let anyone down, we are all learning here including you and your magic team, and we will all continue to do so, with a huge amount of pleasure and success.
Discourse looks good as Stu says, so onward and upward, I say, and diolch yn fawr iawn!


What Kate said!!!

You can only do what you can, and you’ve had some fantastic ideas for the site, the courses, the forum, and more to the point you’ve brought many of these ideas to life with a very dedicated team be they on the payroll or volunteering.
There’s no shame in using ‘trial and error’. Some of the best ideas are created from this. The new forum has been serving its purpose and learners are still getting and passing information across just fine. After looking briefly at the new Discourse site, I can see already that it incorporates some of the ideas you’ve had for this forum amongst other features. And I’m sure that between all of us here we will figure out how to make this work for us, how we see it working for us.
In other words, you HAVEN’T let anyone down - just the exact opposite in fact!
I will have a proper look at Discourse a little later to figure it out, and eagerly await it’s possible introduction to the Spanish course!

Thanks for your typical candour, Aran but I would echo all the comments

  1. denying any need for apologies
  2. expressing appreciation for the intense and prolongued efforts of yourself, Ifan, Kev and others.

I have talked to my son about my own experience of the forum (at a mechanical level). He has past experience of running several heavy use fora using VBulletin and still reckons that its latest manifestation is still one of the front runners (if you’re still weighing up alternatives).

You probably have plenty of technical input but if you’d like to hear Chris’s comments including his initial reaction to Discourse, would you like to invite him to join Slack?

Discourse looks like it has much of what you’re looking for except one thing: being able to add multiple tags to posts. The developer seems to hate them with a passion. But others want them badly and someone is writing a plugin to do it. So, in case you haven’t seen it, here is a link. Looks to be in Beta still though.

To quote the greatest movie ever, “…you haven’t let anyone down. I don’t know what the opposite of letting someone down is… but you done the opposite.”

As a mobile user I can say the new forum is MIIIIIILES better than the old one; and we all appreciate your passion to keep improving things, and keeping us part of the process as well. So long as it involves y’all getting sleep, then please keep doing what you think is best and we’ll support you all the way!

Diolch yn fawr iawn to all of you good folks - very much appreciated indeed…:smile:

Kev has a good line that you’re doing okay if you get 50% of your decisions right, which means that 50% of wrong decisions is something to live with - that’s what I’m going with at the moment…:wink:

Kate, Gavin - diolch yn fawr - I really appreciate your comments…:smile:

Huw - definitely - could you email me the best address for him? We’re definitely having a go with Discourse, although I agree that vBulletin is very mature and stable (I’ve used/modded a vBulletin board for years). But technical input from someone who’s used to scaling issues in this context would be a huge help.

Craig - yes, we’re keeping an eye on that tags plug-in, and I’d imagine we’ll test it at some stage…:smile: But thanks for the heads up, all extra input is useful.

Amy - odd, I don’t remember that bit of Apocalypse Now…:wink: Diolch, diolch…:smile:

Nor do I remember it from Back to the Future. :wink:

Sigh. Amy quite clearly said ‘the greatest movie ever’. Pay attention at the back there.

Carry on Camping?

Film: The Castle.

I don’t normally post on this forum. Not crazy about the loose format. The only other time I’ve posted is in the discussion about the mobile apps. Looking for that thread just now, in fact.

(opening new tab for Discourse)

Discourse looks all right so far. Wondering about the 20 character minimum - of course, if this thread is any representation of usual input, there shouldn’t be a problem there. Am intrigued by the idea of forking posts. Looks like that could off-set thread drift. I haven’t set up an account over there yet, so haven’t tried it myself, but someone else did and it looks good. References the original post with link, but creates a new thread.

What particularly do you mean by ‘the loose format’?

I miss the structured ‘locations’ of the old forum. I know where threads about, say, questions, would be, or where intros are, etc. It seems that everything is thrown together higgledy-piggledy, no rhyme nor reason. Navigating is difficult for me. Missing the tighter structure. Sounding like telegram because am on on-screen keyboard.

S’mae Ceridwen,

That “structure” was going to be provided by a tagging system, which meant no categories, but an infinitely flexible way of grouping posts together according to some theme or other. For example, all posts in Welsh would have been tagged as such. Multiple tags would have provided a very rich experience and made searching for posts that covered given topics much easier. Introducing the tagging system is on the development to-do list, I believe, but its not here yet. Changing the forum software may prove to be a much more cost-effective way of getting these features than continuing with the current custom system, we will have to wait to see what the final decision is, supported by the forum users of course.

It looks like Discourse has tags, but I’m not clear if a post can have more than one of them at the moment. But Discourse has a pluggable architecture, which means that features can be added that do not affect the core code, so even with Discourse, Aran’s vision for this forum may yet become a reality…



I miss the structured ‘locations’ of the old forum

Thanks. I think everything Stu says is right. The plan is to have better navigation/post-findability, and Discourse should hopefully provide that for us one way or another - although it won’t quite be the hierarchy that the old forum used.

I’ve PMed Chris’s e-mail to you.

I have just had something unexpected happen. I got an email in my junk file that told me I had a message on the forum. Wow! Is that happening now? I had no idea. It would make running a group a lot easier. At the moment, we’re just doing group/individual emails in Barry, and the group isn’t really a SSIW group any more.

The message I got wasn’t for me, either. I think someone in Caerfyrddin meant it for someone else with a similar name, so still problems with finding contacts on the new system, I believe.

On the bright side, I’ve recommended the Spanish course discount to a friend and hope he takes it up as I’m sure the course will be great if it’s anything like SSIW.

Following on from what Stu said, I think posts would definitely need to have more than one tag, and I assume that’s how the usage of tags on this current version of the forum was planned to work when implemented.

The HTLAL (how-to-learn-any-language) forum (for all its faults) has quite a good tagging system. It’s semi-automated, but tags can be added later by moderators or by the person who did the original posting.

There is no reason why however, in my humble opinion of course, you can’t have tags and structure (which is actually what HTLAL has). There are times when you want to search (where tags would come in most useful), and there are times when you want to browse (where having some structure would help). Having both tags and structure gives you the best of both worlds.