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Questions and Answers 4.02 Released

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A couple of days ago we prepared another upgrade of our Question & Answers plugin for SocialEngine 4. As previously it was almost completely based on requests we have received from clients.

So here is a short list of what was added, changed and fixed:

  1. We have located and fixed the problem with ‘answer_token’, which was connected with Zend Framework security for forms. Thanks to Roary Wilder for reporting.
  2. More configuration options were added for admin. Now you can set which user levels can delete questions as well as answers. So it’s possible to have a “moderators” user level and give them full control to delete any questions (if you want your community to fight spam for example). Also it’s possible to give “premium users” an option to delete their own questions in addition to a ‘cancel’ option. A lot of users have asked for this, so we have delivered.
  3. Widgets for Questions and Answers plugin now look much better when used in narrow columns. Thanks to Clare

We’ve decided to write a short Roadmap for this plugin, so you will know what we are planning to add in future versions

  • Functionality to add images to questions. We have this in Q&A 3 and plan to add to Q&A 4 as well.
  • Notification by email about new answers to your question. Also when best answer is chosen (or question is cancelled) users will be able to receive an email as well.
  • Option to turn off the rating system. This will be helpful if you want to have a simple Q&A functionality without complexity of the rating system or have your own rating system and want to use it.
  • Better ratings page. We already have a reworked layout for this page, so it will be easier for users to compare their ratings with others.
  • Page should appear in the layout editor, so admin can add banners.

As always please feel free to contact us with suggestions for our plugins. We are always looking for new ways to make them better for you.

SocialEngine Speed-Up Tips

Friday, June 4th, 2010

After numerous projects targeted at the optimization of SocialEngine we have gathered some generic methods that might be interesting if you are looking to speed up your community.

Although the following tips were tested on SocialEngine version 3, they are valuable for all versions.

In this article I want to put emphasis on html/css optimization rather than on php/mysql. But some of these tips will reduce server load as well.

  1. Choose plugins carefully. Less plugins you have -> faster your website works.
  2. Unite all css files in one. That will reduce total number of separate requests to server. I’ve seen more than 25 separate css files for a single page. Minimization of css is a good idea as well.
  3. Unite javascript files and move them to the bottom where it’s possible. Pages will load up faster because all html/css will load at first.
  4. Unite small images, for example icons, in bigger images and output them using css sprites, the way it is done in a lot in WordPress themes. Again this will reduce number of separate http requests to server.
  5. Try to use a static page for home. Since it will be the most popular page of your website it should load up as fast as possible.
    A good workaround for dynamic home pages is to make a page that will be updated once every 20 minutes.
  6. Minimize what you load from outside servers. Place widgets and gadgets from outside sources (eg twitter widgets) lower in the page or in the right-hand column, so that most of the page can load before the widget. Use images from your own server for ads where possible.

If you are seriously working on speed-up best practices from Yahoo is a good starting point.

Thanks to Clare for proof-reading.

Niche communities

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Pretty often I see people making the same mistake again and again when start a community website. Eventually a lot of people install all plugins they found to be “cool”: blog, chat, groups, forum, video, music, gallery and so on. With addition of a bunch of modifications to expend the functionality. The main problem here is that in this case you will require good hosting from the very beginning.
There is another serious issue here – attention of your users will be spread around the features. People won’t know what to start from and most likely some of community functionality won’t be used at all (but will eat server resources).

Here is an example. You are starting an “art house movies” community. In this case you can install SocialEngine, add plugins like groups (for discussions) and blogs (for movie reviews). Also few mods to improve usability. As an option you can add video plugin to keep movie trailers, but only in case your budget allows good hosting. In addition you can order to build a custom plugin “movies” that will allow admin to add movies and users to rate them.

More than enough for a start. All listed functionality won’t cost much. And you can actually start to work on getting community members (and trying to keep them involved), instead of adding any extra functionality. Your hosting payments won’t be high.

You need to pay attention to what makes your social network different and listen to your users. It’s much better to enhance your specific functionality instead of general. For example, it will make more sense to order a custom recommendation system based on users votes instead of chat.

If you will try to be a second facebook or myspace you will loose. But you can always beat any large network if you will concentrate on a smaller niche.

First Post

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

A long voyage is started with a small step. Today we are starting the WebHive blog at last!

Unlike most developers’ blogs around, we will do our best to keep the signal/noise ratio as high as we can. From now on everyone will be able to see the approaches we use and know the things that keep us motivated.

We promise to find time to make regular updates about web development, and share useful tools, tricks and ideas.

Also I want to make an announcement – we are going to open a store to sell the scripts and products we have developed. Some of them will be offered free of charge.

So please stay tuned :)