Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

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trilobyte
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Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Fri Jan 29, 2016 5:25 pm

I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you all about a pretty exciting project that I’ve been working on for a while now with the Burning Man tech team - upgrading ePlaya.

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.
I think these changes are going to make ePlaya better for everyone, and for users who access the site on a phone or tablet ePlaya is going to get a whole lot better.

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.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Skuzzy61 » Sat Jan 30, 2016 3:54 am

From someone who has been running forums, of some type, for over 25 years, wish you guys the best of luck in the upgrade. I know it can be an anxiety riddled experience.
I really would like to change the world, but I do not have access to the source code!
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:30 am

Thanks. It sure can be, but between backups and trial runs on a test server instance we're hopefully increasing the likelihood that everything goes smoothly.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Ratty » Tue Feb 02, 2016 8:05 am

Thanks Trillo. I love it when things get easier/better. It will be a struggle at first but well worth it to have this place kicked into the now.
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Wed Feb 10, 2016 6:13 pm

I've edited the first post to reflect a couple changes.

First, unfortunately, I don't think we'll have the avatar gallery in time for the upgrade.

Second, 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.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by gaminwench » Wed Feb 10, 2016 10:12 pm

YAY!
Thank you!
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Elliot » Fri Feb 12, 2016 11:11 pm

To my mind, that supply of "stock" avatars can safely remain un-happening. Because... even with all the fabulous technology you wrassle up for us, this is still communication by written word. (Which I like, though.) No tone of voice and inflection. No facial expression and body language.

But the next best thing is to have our mug as avatar. Likely/hopefully... people will use an actual photo of themselves, and choose one that reflects their personality.

Having had a peek at a couple of the new features, I can tell you there is some cool stuff. And that Trilo and the team are putting in fourtyeleven TONS of work putting it together.
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:17 am

Even when a gallery of avatars does happen, you always will be able to upload your own. It can be a picture of you, or something else entirely (some people are shy, or just like to use that space to post other art).

The idea of a gallery of what would basically be 'starter images' would be so that site users who lack the technical skills to resize, crop, or convert images to fit our settings could have something to start with.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Elliot » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:42 pm

A ready supply of Starter Avatars is certainly a good idea.
Next, I encourage anyone to dive into their computer and learn to manipulate photos. I mean... if I -- a card-carrying Luddite -- can learn it, anybody can! And you may already have suitable software. My experience is only with Windows XP and Windows 7 Pro, but both came with a feature called Paint, with which you can easily -- again, even for me -- crop and resize pictures. (To crop means to "clip off" the parts of the picture you don't want. My avatar started as a photo of a Mutant Vehicle with me at the wheel.)

Last time I offered to crop and resize photos for other ePlayans, I was ridiculed -- for some reason that eluded me. But the offer stands. :D
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Savannah » Thu Feb 18, 2016 12:18 am

Having had just a cursory glance @ the Beta before I get to look at it properly tomorrow: I love the new theme! Very pretty. Very modern. :)
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by gaminwench » Thu Feb 18, 2016 12:37 am

I've enjoyed cruising around the Beta version.

I very much like the new font/color scheme/presentation, so much easier on the eyes!

I'm an aging, rut-loving, techidjit sort; I love the new look!!!
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Skuzzy61 » Thu Feb 18, 2016 7:39 am

Elliot wrote:A ready supply of Starter Avatars is certainly a good idea.
Next, I encourage anyone to dive into their computer and learn to manipulate photos. I mean... if I -- a card-carrying Luddite -- can learn it, anybody can! And you may already have suitable software. My experience is only with Windows XP and Windows 7 Pro, but both came with a feature called Paint, with which you can easily -- again, even for me -- crop and resize pictures. (To crop means to "clip off" the parts of the picture you don't want. My avatar started as a photo of a Mutant Vehicle with me at the wheel.)

Last time I offered to crop and resize photos for other ePlayans, I was ridiculed -- for some reason that eluded me. But the offer stands. :D
Why would anyone ridicule you for that? (scratches head)
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Thu Feb 18, 2016 8:39 am

I wouldn't ridicule you for it, Elliot, and have done the same for users here and on other sites for years. I've been using and had software that can accomplish the task for decades (man I feel old typing that word haha), if someone's having trouble I'm happy to try and help.

While on the subject of resizing images, one great (and free) resource for people to be able to upload, crop, and resize their pictures... as well as host their pictures (meaning you put it there and then just embed the link to it in your post) is called imgur.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Elliot » Thu Feb 18, 2016 10:00 am

Well, I sure didn't make any effort to remember who or why. But in this crazy world, and in these days of utterly "Wild West" conditions online, I suppose it might have been a concern over privacy. No doubt some misguided soul living with 27 computers in his mother's basement could come up with a way to misuse any photo.
But enough of that thread drift.

Back on topic.... I'm mighty impressed with the way the upgraded version of ePlaya is being tested and perfected -- on its own server, no less. I never suspected that so much effort, skill, and technology went into something that appears as just a snap of the fingers to us users. :D
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by trilobyte » Tue Mar 15, 2016 6:23 pm

We're on track for the big update to take place tonight. I apologize in advance for the downtime.

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Mr. Just Right » Wed Mar 16, 2016 1:26 pm

Update looks amazing! Fantastic job!!

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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by FlyingMonkey » Wed Mar 16, 2016 1:31 pm

trilobyte wrote:We're on track for the big update to take place tonight. I apologize in advance for the downtime.
Wow. I haven't been around much recently & didn't even know ePlaya was changing.

Great job! I love it.

I can't find shit but I'll get there.

Thanks for all you do Trilo :D
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Re: Coming Soon: Big ePlaya Update!

Post by Jovankat » Fri Mar 18, 2016 1:48 pm

This is weird.

It's all different and yet still all the same.

Weird.

But yay for progress and updates! Thanks for the work you do Trilo & co.

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