On the surface, it doesn’t sound very big - we will be upgrading the PHPBB software that powers ePlaya from version 3.0 (well, 3.0.12 to be exact) to version 3.1 (currently at 3.1.7-pl1). Don’t let the numbers fool you, though, it’s a pretty significant upgrade for us.
Most of the changes to PHPBB are “under the hood” or things that you don’t directly see. The software’s code has been greatly improved so it runs a lot more efficiently, which means that the site will run smoothly even when there’s a heavy load, and that users on mobile devices (such as phones and tablets) will see much better performance.
They also made big changes to the way that the software is customized, which both posed us with some challenges and presented us with some opportunities at the same time. Instead of doing as little as we could in order to update the software, Burning Man wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to do something special and greatly improve the user experience.
Here’s a list of the changes and improvements we have planned.
- New Theme - we will have a new custom theme for ePlaya that matches the look and feel of the main Burning Man site.
- Responsive Design - ePlaya will be able to automatically detect whether you’re connecting with a computer, phone, or mobile device and be able to serve pages that are formatted to fit your browser window or your device’s display.
- Message Editor - writing posts and messages will become a whole lot easier on the eyes and have a graphical toolbar, and the site will support additional fonts and formatting options.
- Notification System - you will be able to easily configure how you prefer to be notified about various events, such as when you are quoted in a post. The new extensible notifications feature lives in the header of every page and provides a centralized place to receive alerts and other information.
- Avatars - we will be increasing the max resolution of avatars to 200x200 pixels. The avatar size will automatically scale down on smaller screens and display thumbnails on posts for phones, only displaying the larger size image on a user’s profile page. We are also working on creating a gallery of stock Burning Man avatars - so if you don’t have a suitable picture to upload, you can also choose one from the gallery. And finally, avatars may now be fetched from the Gravatar service, in addition to uploading them directlyor choosing one from the gallery.
- Images & Attachments - we are making a number of improvements here. Embedded or uploaded images over 640 pixels wide will now show a 640 pixel thumbnail in the post, and display a larger image in a lightbox on tablets and computers (automatically resizing to fit the device’s display). Also, when you quote a post that uses embedded images, those image embeds will be reduced to thumbnail view to reduce the amount of space taken up on the page. Uploading attachments will also be a lot easier and less tedious.
- Memberlist improvements - most importantly, searching the memberlist is now a live search, which will save a lot of typing and guesswork when trying to find friends. The list also will display the ‘Burning Since’ and Camp Name’ info if a user has entered it.
- Friends & Foes - this will be slightly improved, and will highlight messages from friends (in addition to blocking posts and messages from foes).
- Social Media & Sharing - we will be making it much easier to share posts on a number of popular services. Simply click the icon and go. The site now has built-in support for linking to other social sites (Facebook, Google+, Skype, Twitter, Youtube, etc). We had added links to Facebook and Twitter previously through a 3rd-party add-on, but due to compatibility issues users will need to re-enter their info.
- Similar Topics - when you are viewing a thread, the site will serve up a list of similar topics that have been posted in recent years.
- Site-wide announcements - these will be improved, and will be more noticeable to all users.
- Password Strength Meter - this shows how strong or weak a password you’re entering is, in real time as you type it.
- PM Inbox - we will be increasing the size of your Personal Message Inbox to 200 message. Additionally, there will be a color-coded meter that shows how empty or full your inbox is.
- Contact page - visitors and guests will be able to easily get in touch with the mod team or site admin through the build-in contact page. Previously, the site wasn’t very intuitive and so the people who needed help most had a hard time finding out where to get it.
- User Merge - for those rare occasions when two (or more) long-lost accounts have been reunited, we will be able to merge them together.
We are currently in the home stretch of development and testing everything out. Performing this upgrade will require some down time, so once we are ready to go I will schedule a date (one that doesn’t interfere with ticket on-sales and other busy days) and post an announcement with the details.