This week, we took the site down for several hours and completed what is possibly the biggest upgrade ePlaya has had since this incarnation of the message board launched in 2003. It's a project that's been in the works for at least a year and a half, and something that would not have been possible without the support of a whole bunch of awesome, helpful, and patient people that I'll get to thanking at the end of this post. In the meantime, let me run down some of the changes, enhancements, and improvements.
On the surface, it doesn't sound very big - we upgraded the PHPBB software that powers the site from version 3.0.12 to the current 3.1.8 version. Don’t let the numbers fool you, though, it’s a pretty significant upgrade for us. The developers of PHPBB re-wrote great big chunks of the software from the ground up to take advantage of modern technology and more efficient ways of getting things done, plus they completely overhauled how the software gets customized. That means the site now runs a lot more smoothly even when there's a heavy load, and that users on mobile devices (such as phones and tablets) will see much better performance.
One of the most important technology changes is support for a responsive design. That means that instead of users on phones and tablets having to do lots of pinching and zooming and playing around to get things done, the site now detects the width of your browser tab, phone, or tablet display and responds by serving up a page formatted for that. Rotate the display, and the site adjusts to accommodate. I ramble a bit more on performance and design here, if you're interested to know more.
Here’s a list of the changes and improvements we have planned.
- Message Editor - writing posts and messages has become a whole lot easier on the eyes and we now have a graphical toolbar, and the site supports additional formatting options.
- Notification Center - we have a whole new notification system. You can easily configure how you prefer to be notified about threads you're following, messages, and even when you get quoted in somebody else's post. You can find out more about that here.
- Avatars - we have increased 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. In addition to uploading, avatars may now be fetched from the Gravatar service.
- Images & Attachments - we made 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.
- Media Embedding - embedding videos, twitter posts, and other media has gotten a whole lot easier. Read more about it here.
- 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.
- Similar Topics - when you are viewing a thread, the site now serves up a list of similar topics in a number of different forums.
- Quick Links Menus - we used these to consolidate a bunch of text links and clean up the design
- Site-wide announcements - these have been improved, and are 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 - your Personal Message Inbox has been increased to 200 messages. Additionally, there is a color-coded meter that shows how empty or full your inbox is.
- Contact page - visitors and guests can now 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 can merge them together.
- ReCaptcha 2.0 - we've upgraded to a new version of ReCaptcha that blocks spambots but is much easier on us humans.
- Scroll to top / bottom - puts shortcut buttons at the bottom right to get to the top or bottom of long pages.
There are other, smaller changes, but I think that covers the big stuff. As I get a chance to post about key features and enhancements, I'll try to circle back here and add links as I've done in a few places.
I really appreciate all the kind words and positive feedback that I've received so far, but know that I didn't do this alone by a longshot. It required a lot of help, patience, moral support, and then some. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Will & Megan on the comms team; Silvia, Vav, Camera Girl, Chuck, Cat, Matt, Tanner, Clarence, Masha and Margret on the tech team; ePlaya users Elliot, Bbadger, Captain Goddammit, Ratty, and BoyScoutGirl for kicking the tires and helping to bang on stuff; and of course Elderberry, Eric, Sham, AntiM, Savannah, mdmf007 on the mod team. And thanks to everyone who uses this site - from those lurking in the shadows to the site's most active participants. I think the site is both a great resource for working on playa projects and a way to connect and stay in touch with other burners around the world, and I really hope all this stuff makes it better and more useful for everyone.
All that said... whew! There's already a separate thread for feedback, check it out!