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IP.Content 2.0 Dev Update: Articles

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IP.Content has many features, and indeed it's quite possible to create a rather useful articles system using the custom databases feature introduced in IP.Content 1.1, however many of our users have been requesting a true "articles" feature since the first release of IP.Content. In typical IPS fashion, we've listened, and you will be happy to hear that IP.Content 2.0 introduces a new "Articles" module.

Building on existing functionality

As I mentioned, you can create a very useful and workable articles section using the existing databases features in IP.Content. The database feature accomplishes so much of what needs to be implemented for articles, in fact, that articles actually "build on" databases behind the scenes. Much of the interfaces will feel familiar, because indeed much of the code is shared between the two modules. This helps ensure consistency is met between the various sections of the site, and helps to ensure that bug fixes for one area are automatically and immediately carried over to the other. Many of the ACP pages will feel nearly identical to the databases section, and the majority of the features are available in your own custom created databases as well. We feel that the similarities with the existing functionality will help you to get started with articles quickly and efficiently, while the new features and functionality will help to set it apart from the rest of your databases.

Navigational flow and frontpages

In a generic custom database within IP.Content you will have a "categories" template (which displays a list of your categories, akin to the forum index page), a "listing" template (which shows the listing of records, similar to viewing a forum), and a "display" template (which facilitates displaying the actual record itself, similar to viewing a topic). The articles module separates here from the databases functionality a little, giving you some more options and flexibility.

The homepage uses a new template type we refer to as a "frontpage" template. When you first visit the articles section, this frontpage template is used to show you the landing page content. By default, articles that are flagged to show on the homepage will display on the frontpage, however you can naturally change the template to manipulate the data however you like. We will ship with 3 default frontpage templates:

  • 1x2x2
    This template displays a large article summary block at the top. The next 2 rows have 2 article summary blocks side by side. Finally, two more rows can display showing article summary blocks side by side.
  • Blog
    The blog-style template displays one article per row, showing the entire article text (or the first page of the article text, if it is a multi-page article). This is similar to what you might expect to see when you visit a blog.
  • Single Column
    This template displays one article per row as well, however instead of displaying the full article (or first page of the article), it only displays a small summary. This is similar to what you might expect to see on a typical news site.

You can of course also create your own frontpage templates, or modify our defaults to suit your own needs. It is entirely up to you, however we have included a few to help get you started.

Now, a user is likely to enter an article directly from the front page, since we bring articles to the forefront with the frontpage template. If so, they will reach a "display" template, just like they would with a standard custom database. However, if a user instead clicks through to a category, they will see a layout similar to the homepage, since you now will also assign a frontpage template to each category. The category will display articles in a fashion similar to the homepage (although you can use different frontpage templates per-category), instead of just providing a listing of articles as would happen in a standard custom database.

We do still have a "categories" template within the articles module, which is linked in our default site from the category block. You can make use of this if you want, however we believe you will find it secondary to the main navigation structure, instead of a primary focus as it is in other custom databases. There is also an "archives" template, which is similar to the "listing" template in any other custom database. It will list all articles within your articles section, and features sorting, filtering and pagination as appropriate.

Managing articles

The ACP interface for managing articles has similarly been overhauled, allowing for an easier and more efficient process of managing your articles. You can dynamically sort the listing of articles both in a lowest to highest and highest to lowest order, you can change the status of an article to published or draft using AJAX, and you can filter articles via multiple characteristics to allow you to easily and quickly find the content you need to edit. The form to add and edit articles has been cleaned up and condensed, making it a much quicker process to add or update an article.

When adding or editing an article, you will be able to set certain characteristics about the article. You can control whether the article shows on the frontpage or not. You can control whether the article will allow users to comment on it or not. You can also specify a comment cutoff date, after which comments will no longer be allowed. You can control when the article itself "expires", after which it will only be available when viewing the archive listing. You can change the article author to another member (using AJAX). You can even control, per-article, which article view template to use. This means that you can create a set of pre-defined article view templates (for instance, maybe one which displays the screenshot image on the left, and one which displays it centered at the top of the article), and then when adding your article you just select which template to use from a dropdown menu. Overall, you have a lot of control to ensure that your article is presented exactly how you intend. It is important to note that, just like with your other custom databases, you can create additional custom fields for your articles if you find that you need a field which is not presented by default.

There is also a frontpage manager page in the ACP, where you can quickly see all articles set to display on the front page, with the ability to remove any articles that should no longer be available on the front page. It is important to note that you can also control how many articles are displayed on the front page, and that your template can further control how many articles are displayed, based on certain conditions of the template. Thus, while you may have 20 articles set to display on the front page, only 10 may actually display. Your front page manager can help you control which articles, exactly, should display.

Promoting forum content

Along with the new articles section of IP.Content in version 2.0, we have added a "Promote to article" hook to the forums. Users allowed to use this new button will be able to promote any post on the forums to the new articles section of IP.Content 2.0.

The promotion feature has several options to ensure that it is flexible enough to meet your needs. Firstly, as the administrator, you can control which user groups are allowed to use the feature. You can allow both copying and moving of posts to the articles section. When you allow copying of posts and a user clicks on the promote button, a new article will be posted as a copy of the post. When you allow moving of posts and a user uses the feature, instead of copying the post to the articles section, it will be moved (with the original post in the forum being deleted).

You can optionally have a link left behind in the forums pointing to the new article. When a post is copied, this link is added to the end of the post. When a post is moved and a link is left behind, the post isn't actually removed, but rather replaced with the link to the new article. As the administrator, you can allow your users to specify whether to leave a link behind each time a post is promoted, or require that the link always be left behind.

This new feature should help facilitate promotion of valuable content on your site, and help enable easier content discovery by your vistors, registered or otherwise. As the search engine industry often says, "content is king". The content on your site is its most valuable asset, and this feature helps you better manage that content, to ensure it is benefiting your site as best as possible.

Before we move on, I would like to take a moment to mention that the articles section can also allow comments to be stored in the forums, just like your other databases. This new feature in IP.Content 2.0, discussed in a past blog entry, supports databases and articles alike.

New default site

By itself, we believe the new article section will help you better manage your site, and get you started using IP.Content quicker than ever. No longer will you need to manually create a database, create database templates, tweak them to suit your needs, add the database to a page, and so on. Instead, the articles section takes care of the majority of the legwork for you. So now that we've made everything easier to use from the outset, where can we go from there?

Well, not content to sit back even for a moment, we have redesigned the default site that ships with IP.Content to better highlight some of the features of IP.Content 2.0. By default, you will have two "pages". One hosts the new articles section, while the other is a demo of another custom database: a media section, linking to various youtube videos. We feel that the new demo site better shows off many of the capabilities of IP.Content, so that you can better understand how to use the system. Some of the things the new default site shows off:

  • Some default pages
  • Some CSS "pages"
  • Custom blocks holding variables
  • An article category feed
  • A "latest articles" feed
  • A "latest article comments" feed
  • A separate custom database

The default site will also populate some basic content for the above areas so that it is not empty upon installation.

We will not be inserting this default site for upgrading users (the expectation is that if you are upgrading, you're already familiar with the software and would only be deleting the default site content anyways), so we've decided to host a demo of the new default site so you can click around and see how it works. We will post some articles describing how we created some of these areas for you to benefit from near the release of IP.Content 2.0, in case you are curious how we accomplished certain functionality (such as the media database).

Take a look for yourself!

And with that said, head on over to our demo installation so you can take a look! This is an early look at the actual default site that will be presented with IP.Content 2.0 upon installation. We look forward to hearing your feedback, and we hope you are as excited as we are about the latest feature announcement for IP.Content 2.0. Overwhelmingly, the one thing our customers have requested for IP.Content 2.0 is a "true article system". We've listened, and a true article section is on its way.

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