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IP.Board 3: Personal Conversations

Around ten years ago, I was hard at work on one of the first 'Private Message' modifications for a board that has long ceased to exist. At the time it was an exciting novelty to be able to message another board member. These days it's an expected feature for any seriously considered forum software.

Not much has really changed with messaging's core features. Sure, the interface has become a little smarter and there have been a few little bells and whistles added such as message tracking but ultimately it's still sort-of email based in functionality.

This was a limitation I noted when developing IP.Dynamic. In fact, almost two years ago, I blogged about Personal Topics, the next logical step in private messaging.

Enter Personal Conversations
As, with most of IP.Board 3.0.0's new features, personal conversations - as we like to call them - have been a popular request. A request that we have now fulfilled! Why bother CC-ing and forwarding messages to other members when you can invite them right into the conversation?

How it Works
Where you would normally 'compose' a new message, you now 'start a new conversation'. The form looks largely the same. However, instead of there being a space to "CC" other members, there are boxes for you to invite other members. How many members you can invite is up to the administrator as it's limited to your group settings. In fact, the admin could remove your ability to invite other members completely if they desired to return to a more traditional messaging system.

The recipient and each invited member will be notified they have a new message (in terms of notification, a message is either a new conversation or a reply to any existing conversation). The new conversation will appear in both their "Inbox" and their "New" folders. It will remain in their "new" folder until its read and then it will only be available in the inbox. Why? Well, because of the magic folders. But more of that in a moment.

The conversation looks largely the same as a normal topic does; linearly sorted with the newest replies last. There is even a "fast reply" form much like you use when replying to topics. This instantly makes it easier to view previous replies and keep the 'thread' of conversation without having to delving into your 'sent' folder to see what you replied with.

The topic starter (and any participating super moderator) can choose to 'block' any participant that is blockable. Immunity from being blocked is granted by the "Not Ignorable" setting. This means you can ensure that you (the admin) can never be blocked from a conversation you are participating in. When a participant is blocked, the topic vanishes from their folders until they are unblocked.

Each participant apart from the topic starter can choose to leave a conversation at any time. Once the participant has left the conversation, it is only available in the magic "Finished" folder and the replies no longer count towards your space allowance. The topic starter cannot re-invite you but you can choose to rejoin the conversation at any time.

The topic starter can choose to invite more members (up to their invite allowance) at any time from the conversation display screen. Each participant can also view all participants and see the last time they read the conversation.

Magic Folders
This is the term we give to certain folders that are not editable or removable. They are: "New", "Finished", "All" and "My Conversations". Topics in "New" and "My Conversations" can also be in other folders. "My Conversations" is the default location for any conversation you start. You can then move into another folder -- but it will always be accessible from "My Conversations".
"New" simply lists any new personal conversations or any personal conversations with new replies. So, you could have a conversation in "My Folder". When it receives a new reply, it will also be listed in "New" until you read it.
"Finished" simply lists all the conversations you've left, allowing you to rejoin if desired.
"All", as the name implies, lists all the conversations you are participating in as either a starter, recipient or invitee.

We think this is a very exciting step forward for personal communication and opens up new ways to communicate via the forum. Ten years is a long time to wait for change. We hope you find it worth the wait!

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