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IP.Board 3: Administration Improvements

Administration is an important part of running your site. You need to be able to control your site the way you want to, and you need to be able to do it as quickly as possible. Not everyone has an hour or two to hunt down a setting, after all. Once you start to factor in the fact that other applications (such as IP.Blog, IP.Gallery and IP.Downloads) can integrate into this same administration control panel there are new challenges to take into account as well.

With IP.Board 3 we've made improvements to the ACP in an attempt to help streamline common administrator actions and make the overall work flow clearer and easier.

Navigation is a tricky thing to manage once a project becomes as large as IP.Board has. We've broken navigation down into multiple areas to help you drill down and find what you are looking for. Firstly, each application is listed at the top of the page - that way you can jump to whatever application you need to edit right away (no more navigating to the "Components" tab to edit IP.Gallery categories, for example). Then, along the left hand column you will find an expandable menu which provides access to the main pages of the application, similar to IP.Board 2. For applications requiring it, context links and tabbing are then utilized within the main area of the page to facilitate your work flow. We realize without screenshots it may be hard to visualize the new ACP, but a primary goal throughout the whole process was to retain a level of familiarity so that existing admins will find navigating very natural, while improving the process where-ever possible.

One complaint we've heard over the years is that new administrators frequently have trouble finding where they need to go in the ACP. Searching is a natural inclusion to help people find what they need, and can even be helpful for seasoned administrators as a shortcut to get where you need to go quicker. We have added a live-search facility to the admin control panel to help you find what you need much much easier (and before anyone asks - yes, "live search" is like the search on apple.com :rolleyes: ). The settings page already had search functionality in IP.Board 2, but we felt that wasn't good enough. Many times the "setting" you are looking for is found when editing a group, not actually in the main site settings area.

To that end, the live search searches "settings", "pages" and "acp help" files. We have also included a method of adding keywords to these sections so that if we find many users are looking for an area through a specific keyword, we can easily add that keyword into the system so that searching for it will return the results people are looking for.

We will need your help once IP.Board 3 goes into beta testing with identifying areas that need keywords added for new administrators. What a wonderful way for all of you who are so eager to help out to give back to the community! And you don't even need to know PHP or HTML for this. :D

Better Integration
While we have mostly already gone into detail on this front in other blog entries, just to recap on the subject within the context of this blog entry, improvements have been made to areas of the ACP that people frequently need to plugin to in order to help improve usability overall. For instance, an application can now show per-group settings on the actual group edit form, instead of having to provide a separate disconnected page in the application itself (for instance, the "Group Settings" page of IP.Gallery - these settings are now directly include on the edit group form instead). Similarly, applications can plugin to the edit member pages of the ACP, all with no file editing required. Settings for an application can, as they could in IP.Board 2, still be included within the settings area of the ACP. This means you can edit a group and control all of it's settings, without having to go to each application separately to update settings for the group.

Permission Editing
Many applications have a permission matrix - a grid of checkboxes that control what each permission mask can do within that application. This system works so well that we centralized the functionality in IP.Board 3 to make it easier to reuse and control. In doing so, we've also created an easy method of updating settings for every application on a per-permission set level. That is to say, if you want to update the permissions for users in the "Validating" group, you can do so globally from one page - for all applications at once. Remove calendar permissions, forum permissions, and gallery access all at once, without having to visit each application individually.

Going along with this, many users have been confused with how permission sets and groups relate to each other. We hear often from administrators that they created a new group - now how do they set the permissions for that group? To make this easier to understand and manage, when adding a new group there is a field that will allow you to fill in a new permission mask name (if you want to set permissions for the new group differently from other groups). After you save the new group, you will be redirected to the page that allows you to edit that group's permissions globally. You no longer have to create the mask first, set all the permissions (in each application separately, as well) and then add the group afterwards, selecting the new mask. Now it can all be done in one simple, easy to understand work flow.

Template Editing
I can't give out too many details on the template editor interface *just* yet I'm afraid, but let's just say that template editing has been entirely overhauled. We have put a lot of thought into ways of making it easier to edit templates, CSS and macros to hopefully help administrators work through their skins in a much much easier fashion. Some improvements that you may find interesting:
  • HTML Syntax highlighting of skins when editing the templates in the ACP
  • Condensed HTML templates make it much easier to edit an entire "page" without having to edit 8 separate templates that will be compiled into one page
  • No more separate "Global board header and footer wrapper" area. We have, instead, made a wrapper template which includes the content of this area as well as the global_board_header, global_board_footer, member_bar, navigation, and a few other common areas shown on every page
  • AJAX CSS editing. This was actually a specific request from Rikki - apparently it's rather inconvenient to scroll 3 pages down in the CSS file, edit a color, save it, and end up at the top of the file/textarea and have to find where you were at again. Go figure. Anyways - when you save a CSS file now, it uses AJAX to save the contents, and the page remains stationary so you don't lose your place.

Reordering content
Remember all those lovely reordering dropdown menus (e.g. in the forum management screen)? Or those wonderful up/down arrow combinations (e.g. in the component management screen)? While they certainly served their purpose, they were identified for IP.Board 3 as being both inconsistent and, well, old.

All areas utilizing reordering functionality for all of our applications will use drag-n-drop + AJAX javascript functionality in IP.Board 3. Want to move a forum up one spot, just drag it up there and you're done.

In Closing
We think you will find that all in all the ACP area will be much easier to navigate and utilize in IP.Board 3. Once we get into the public beta testing stages and you get a chance to review our changes we'll be eager to hear your opinions and suggestions on the new and improved administration area.

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