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IP.Board 3.2.0 Dev Update: Following Content

It is important that members be able to follow content that they are interested in within your community. This allows members to keep track of topics of interest, increasing the likelihood they will return to your site, especially when those topics are active and new content is added to them. It is equally important that following such topics is as easy and straightforward as possible. Users do not want to jump through hoops in order to be kept up to date about changes within your site, so it is important that we make it easy for users to follow the content they are interested in, and discover when this content has changes they are interested in.

We have made many changes to IP.Board 3.2 (and our addon applications) to improve the process of following content, making it easier and more consistent for your users to stay abreast of changes within your site.


'Like' System

In IP.Board 3.1 we introduced a new 'like' system for our addon applications, allowing users to express their interest in content of value to them. This like system was built into the IP.Board core, allowing any application to make use of it. It allowed users to like content publicly or anonymously, permit a way for users to view who publicly liked a given piece of content, and permit users to be notified when the content is updated.

While this system was a good start, we felt that it needed some basic improvements in order to be useful and clear for the average user. Firstly, the 'like' system incorporated the methods for subscribing to content - but what if you don't 'like' the content and still want to be notified? Many users would not understand that they needed to 'like' the content in order to receive notifications about it, and indeed would tell us "but I don't like it?". We recognized we needed to address this confusion concerning a core feature in order for it to be useful. Secondly, the like system was utilized for all of our addon applications, but not for forums and topics, providing an inconsistent experience for users when navigating the community as a whole. The process of following a blog entry versus following a topic was entirely disparate and inconsistent, which often leads to confusion for new users, and ultimately leads to the users feeling like they can't trust how a site will behave when they navigate from one area to another.

We have taken steps to address these issues in order to provide a better experience for your users in IP.Board 3.2.

We have renamed the 'like' system from 3.1 to 'follow' in IP.Board 3.2, providing a clearer association of what the functionality incorporates. Whether you like the content or not, you can follow it (publicly or anonymously) and elect to be notified of changes to the content. You can follow a content page without leaving the page, and you can still view the users who have publicly followed the content.

We have also changed over the topic and forum subscription systems to use the new follow system in IP.Board 3.2, providing a consistent experience for users across the entire community, and incorporating some new functionality not available in IP.Board 3.1.



The button that allows you to follow a piece of content is placed at the top of the page allowing quick and easy access for users to follow the content. When clicked, a small box will show up allowing you to choose how to be notified (if at all), and whether you want other users to know if you are following the content. In IP.Board 3.1 and prior when you choose to 'Watch this forum', you would first be directed to the user control panel to make your selection, and then redirected back to the forum once you were done. Now, you choose your options right on-screen and your selections are saved through AJAX, allowing you to easily follow content without having to jump through multiple pages to do so. This small convenience should entice your users to more frequently follow content they are interested in, increasing the likelihood of bringing them back to your site when content they follow is updated and they are notified about this.

You will notice a small icon next to the follow button with a number - this tells you how many people are following the content. When clicked, you will be able to see who is publicly following the content (the number of people anonymously following the content will be shown at the bottom of the pane to prevent confusion when the button indicates 5 people are following the page, but only 2 are listed because the other 3 are following it anonymously).



While this functionality was available in our addons released alongside IP.Board 3.1, as of 3.2 you can now also see which users are following a topic or forum (so long as they are not following anonymously), allowing you to get a better idea of who is interested in the content you are viewing.


User Control Panel

In IP.Board 3.1, users would choose whether they wanted to receive the post they were being notified about in their email notifications. We have removed this option and simply turned it always-on - an email notifying you that a topic is updated is largely irrelevant without the context that the new post provides. In our research, most users would enable this option (so long as they knew it existed), and there was little value in allowing users to get a notification email that did not contain the post they were being notified about.

We have moved the 'Automatically follow topics I reply to' option to the notifications area, as this was a better home for the option.



We have also removed the 'Manage Topic Subscriptions' and 'Manage Forum Subscriptions' pages of the user control panel. Because these areas are now covered by the global followed content management area, there is no value in having separate pages of the user control panel for this purpose. Lastly, we have taken the 'Content You Like' area of the user control panel from IP.Board 3.1 and pulled it out of the user control panel into a top-level search view for IP.Board 3.2.


Reviewing Content You Follow

Another shortcoming of the 'like' system in IP.Board 3.1 that we identified early on was that 'liking' content did not help you easily find and review that content later on. You could elect to be notified of updates to the content, but otherwise you were not presented with tools to easily see if there were updates to the content or review content you had liked to see if you should visit it again. Another issue was that the 'Content You Like' page is hidden away in the user control panel, an area many users do not regularly visit after they have set up their account. We felt that (1) this page was not appropriate to be included in a user control panel, and (2) was important enough to warrant it's own top-level page not hidden away by multiple clicks.

You can now access 'Content You Follow' from the user dropdown menu at the top of the page, allowing you quicker and easier access to review the content you are following to check for updates. Additionally, this area is now part of the global search routines (searching, view new content, my content) giving users a consistent experience in reviewing the content they follow.

Another important change we have made to this area was to entirely refocus it compared to IP.Board 3.1. In IP.Board 3.1, the 'Content you like' page is entirely focused on allowing you to manage the content. While you can quickly see what content you like, it is presented as a simple list, allowing you to update your preferences for that content (how to be notified and whether you wish to like the content publicly or anonymously). We felt it was much more useful to focus this area on the content itself, while still allowing users to update their preferences as and when they need to.

In working to achieve the above goals and resolve the issues we identified, we feel we have created a much more useful presentation of content that a user is following, improving the user experience, and making it easier for users to review content they are following for important changes.



The first thing you will notice when visiting your followed content page is that the content is presented like any other search result. You will be able to tell if topics have had new replies that you have not read, preview the topic, and generally interact with the topic like you would in other search areas (such as view new content). You can quickly jump between applications and sections within individual applications using the sidebar like you would in other search pages, providing a consistent way to review content between different applications, and even between different search views on your site.

If you need to change your preferences or stop following a piece of content, you can click the 'Display Edit Options' button at the top to toggle the view.



When you toggle the mode to allow updating of your preferences, you can now see how you have elected to be notified, whether you have elected to follow the content anonymously, and use the checkboxes at the right of the page to update your preferences. All of the same tools are available here as they were in 3.1, however we have simply shifted the focus for this area to the content, rather than the management of your preferences. We feel that this change will make the system much more useful for users who may need to occasionally update their preferences, but who will frequently wish to see which content they are following has updates they may be interested in reviewing.


Content Discovery

Our underlying goal with these changes, beyond improving consistency within the community, is to enhance the content discovery process within IP.Board. We have spent a great deal of time with IP.Board 3.2 improving our view new content, user content, and followed content views to make things simpler for users to use, produce more reliable and consistent results when used, and provide better functionality for finding the content they are interested in. Users use IP.Board in many different ways - some wish to return to the site and review topics they are following for changes, while some wish to return to the site and click 'view new content' to see what is new. Through improving the consistency between these areas, improving the options and functionality in these areas, making the available options clearer and easier to use, and ensuring the functionality works reliably and as expected, users can better expect to use your site in a manner most comfortable to their browsing style while having the tools available to them should they wish to start browsing in new ways they may have never used before. We believe the combination of the changes we have made to all of these areas will make discovering new and updated content much easier and much more enjoyable to your users, providing a better experience within your community.


As there is a lot to digest in this blog entry, please start a new topic in our feedback forum if you have comments. Be sure to check the What's New in IP.Board 3.2 topic for a running list of announced changes!

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