A step-by-step guide to using the forum

  • by Andy Gough

 Background: I have a great deal of experience of working within the digital media field but I am not a developer – it is important to understand that.  In my career I employed banks of developers, designers, SEO technicians and web traffickers and I directed their operations.  This has given me a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the way things work without necessarily the practical knowledge of deep coding.

The challenge I was set by AFOT was to come up with a forum that carries a capability that goes well beyond the normal boundaries that you might expect to find within a standard bulletin board.  Notable among the additional functionality has been the desire for more of a Facebook style interface; the need for granular categories; the ability to upload and store documents of varying types and for all this to be housed within an environment that is private and secure.

I hope I have broadly delivered against these requirements but to achieve this has required me to research and find no fewer than NINE different software elements and integrate them into a single interface.  It will be partly due to this that you will find one or two idiosyncrasies in the way the forum works.

I am sure it will take a little while to get used to the way the forum operates but I am hoping that once you have got your head around it that it will prove to be effective in meeting the needs of AFOT.

Below I have attempted to provide a step-by-step guide to what you will have to do to get yourself set up and going on the site.  It also gives a guide on how to post across the various groups and also a guide as to the various elements of the forum.

You will see there are initially 11 Groups set up for your use as a committee.  These 11 were selected following detailed input from both Carol and Alex.  It will be possible for me to amend these should it be that I have not quite got the selection right.  It will also be possible for me to create new ones if required.  Carol will let me know if you want this done as for the time being I will remain the forum Administrator.

** Key note: Each group has its own forum and for the site to work effectively I suggest that care is taken to ensure that new posts are assigned to relevant group.  There is a section dedicated to general Chat if it is not obvious that the issues being raised have a natural home.

 Signing in for the first time:

You will initially receive two emails – one from the forum itself inviting you to join and a second from me giving you details of your password. You follow the link from the system email and enter your email address as username and then the password. You then need to enter the correct number before submitting.  I suggest you tick the Remember Me box.

Once you are in you can change the Password to one of your choosing by simply going to your Profile page and then clicking Settings.

When you first sign in:

You will be able to navigate some of the links but you will not yet be able to access any of the Group forums straightaway.

Once you have activated your account by signing in for the first time. You will receive a Friend request from me within the site.  Please Accept this.

I will then be able to send you invitations to join each of the groups. You will receive 12 invites and you will need to accept all 12.  This is a one-time only action and this procedure is only necessary because all the Group forums have been set up as Private Forums.

If you have not immediately received an invite to join a group after accepting my Friend request you can, if you choose, send a request to join of your own as outlined next.

Joining Groups – you be able to send a request to Join a group by clicking on the link that should appear when you enter any of the groups.  Each group will need a separate request.

Once you have been accepted you will have full access to that Group and can post freely.

Posting in Groups –this is straightforward and can be done from the “What’s new” box at the top of any of the Group pages.

You have access to all the media and document upload buttons from there. New posts go to the top of the Group thread and will also appear at the top of your own Activity page.

Replying to posts – you can reply to individual posts directly on the main group thread by clicking on “Comment” under that post.  You can then reply to that response simply by clicking “Reply”.

It seems media and document upload is not available in direct replies.  If you need to upload media with your reply I suggest you refer to the post you are responding to in a fresh post at the top of the Group page.

Topics within Groups – it is possible to set up separate sub topics within a Group and for members to reply to anything posted in there.  However, it is a feature of the Forum software that it does not included the option for media or document upload within Topic threads.  I do not know why.

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 21.20.41
The forum has an impressive lightbox image display feature that opens when you click on any of the uploaded images

Topic creation – when you enter any of the groups you will see a line of navigation links directly under the Group header images and the boxes explaining what areas the group covers.  The navigation links begin with Home – Forum – BuddyDrive. Click on Forum

Scroll down the page you should now see an area with a heading that reads “Create New Topic in ‘Group Name’ “. You will see below this a box where you can type your Topic Title.  You then need to post something in the box  below and your Topic has been created.

As with many areas on the forum you can click the box if you want to receive an email alert whenever someone posts something new in this Topic thread.

Image upload – works exactly as you would expect.  Click on the box with the mountains and sun image and then click Upload a file.

You can select one or multiple images and once you have done this you simply click Add Photos.

The images once posted appear quite small but if you click on them you will see that they come up in a larger lightbox with the ability to scroll through the images if multiple images have been posted.

Video upload –this is a slightly restricted facility as you cannot upload video files but only web links to video files.   This is due to the fact that the third party forum platform does not have the storage capacity to host video files.

The method for uploading video depends somewhat on where the video resides but the principle remains broadly the same.  You can usually find the video url when you click the share button next to the video on the site you want to bring video in from.

Find the url for the video and paste it into the box that pops up when you click the video icon. You can preview it if you want before clicking “Add Video” to upload.

Youtube is simple – click share and copy the url string that it shows and paste it into the box that pops up when you click video upload.  Again you can preview it before clicking “Add video” to upload it.

WARNING – Facebook does not offer video links. If you want to include a video from Facebook I suggest you paste the Facebook weblink into your post. This will not appear as a preview but it will automatically link off the Facebook when clicked.

AFOT site video – this offers an example of what you may find elsewhere. If you find some video on our site – Tootsie in Success Stories – you will see a Share link in the top right of the video box.  Click that and a box opens showing the url string within the box that says Permalink.  Copy that across and it works.  I found I had to attempt to copy that link 2-3 times to get it to copy.

This video upload feature is slightly restrictive but if we can work within its rules it works and displays video well.

Web link  – you will see a Web link symbol as an upload option but in testing we found that this does not work for some users.  It is a known bug in the software and I assume the developers will resolve this at some point.

However, this is not a big issue as it is possible to include a web link in the text of you’re a post submitted to any group page forum.  This link will then take anyone wanting to see that page straight to the site in question.

WARNING: At the moment I have not been able to find a way to engineer it so that clicking on an external website link opens up in a new tab.  It opens up the external site in the same window, which means you have to hit the back button to return to the Forum. This is irritating and I can see from the Support forums I have interrogated that this is a general issue with this forum.

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 21.18.14
The Groups have a robust and flexible document upload facility

Document upload –achieving an effective document uploading facility within a forum has been a big challenge.  I have tested out several document uploaders and nearly all of those I tested were either cumbersome or were flaky and temperamental.

In the end I believe I have found one that seems to work well with our forum and appears to be robust.  It is called BuddyDrive and you will see a link to this across the top of every Group forum.

The procedure for document upload is not difficult but you will need to follow the steps set out below carefully. It should become second nature after a few uploads.

You can upload documents from any of the Group forum pages.  Simply click on the BuddyDrive link in the tabs that sits across the top of the Forum.

Click the Document symbol on the left and you will see a large box appear. You can either drag a document from your computer into the box to upload or click Select Your File.  It allows you to upload more than one file at a time.

Once uploaded click on the pencil “Edit” symbol on the right and you will have the option to give the Document a title and, in the box below, a short description of the document’s contents.

The important thing then is to ensure the dropdown below remains on restricted to a group to maintain privacy and then in the box to the right of the dropdown start to type the name of the group where you want the document to reside e.g. Forms and Documents; Completed Applications etc.  Select the Group you want the document to reside within.

**** The truly odd thing next is that in order to complete the action and submit the document you need to click the blue “Edit” box.  This will then send the document off to the correct place – strange but true.

One of the neat things about this document uploader is that it will allow you to create a Folder for placing documents in.  It is the only document upload software platform I have found with this feature.

Once you have created a folder you can assign subsequent documents to the same folder by selecting “Add to an existing folder” in the dropdown. You then start to type the name of the folder you want and select it before clicking “Edit” to submit.

Screenshot 2018-11-19 at 18.27.53
The document uploader and tools for each group can be found by clicking the Buddydrive link at the top of the forum

PLEASE NOTE: Word, Excel and PDF docs upload easily.  When you then attempt to open them you will see they get immediately downloaded to your local PC. You may need to look in downloads to open or save the documents.

Accessing documents – finding uploaded documents is easy enough although it helps to know which Group Forum the document was uploaded to.  The key here will be to use a simple logic for where you keep your documents and to ensure you use clear and explanatory file names when uploading.

To find and access a document simply go to the relevant Group and then click on the BuddyDrive link in the navigation bar at the top of the Forum.  You will see all documents uploaded to that group there.

Once uploaded it is possible for you to download it to your own computer and you can then organise and store all documents of interest to you there.

Deleting documents – this is fairly straightforward. Go the the Group where the document or documents you want to delete reside.  Click the BuddyDrive link and this time click the document symbol on the right-hand side, which is the one with the small four squares.

You will immediately see a black box that states “Remove selected items from the group”.  Select the document or documents you want to have removed and then click the black “Remove selected items” box and job done.

Updating your profile – this is also fairly straightforward.  Click on Profile in the top navigation and you will see your page.  In the menu bar below your profile image boxes you will see a range of options.  These include include “Change Profile Photo” and “Change Cover photo”.

Click on “Change profile photo” and you can either drag and drop an image into the box or select file.  You are then given the opportunity to crop your image and then to upload it in position all you have to do is click “Crop image.”

To change your Cover photo you follow the same process ensuring you choose an image of roughly the right shape.  It will advise you if it’s not quite right. You do not have the opportunity to crop on this one.

Notifications – if you have new notifications you will see this at the right-hand side of the top menu bar in the blue box next to your name.  If you have notifications it will show a number.

Either click on that number or click Notifications in the top menu to view them.

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 21.15.12
There are currently 12 groups each with their own forum

Email alerts – I believe it is set up as default that you receive email alerts to new activity on the Forums you are members of.  However, there is a way to either set this up or control it should you wish.

If you click on Profile at the top you will be taken to your profile page. You will then see a “Settings” link in the navigation options beneath you photo.  Click this and then in the navigation links beneath that click “Email”.  You then have a multitude of options as to what alerts you receive from the Forum site.

Messaging – it is possible to send messages to other committee members across the Forum.  These can either be a private one-to-one message or you can send a message to all committee members.

You do this by simply clicking Messages in the top navigation and then clicking Compose in the tab list above your inbox.

Mentions – it is possible to mention another committee member or members by name in a post in a way that sends them an alert.  It works in a similar way to tagging a person on Facebook.  Once that person has been mentioned they will receive a notification to let them know.  This should include an email alert to the mention with a link back to the forum.

If you go to any user’s profile you will see the name you need to use to tag or “mention” them in this way.  It will always start with @ and usually attach your username to it e.g. @carol is likely to be the tag you will need to “mention” Carol Holbrook. The system generates this username and once created cannot be changed.

Strangely mine is @thefightingwarrior – this is because this is the username I adopted when I went to a demo version of the core forum software to test it out as part of my technical research.  I did not want to use my real name for obvious reasons. I happen to be Captain of an online chess team by the name of The Fighting Warriors on the global chess community Gameknot.  It seems I am now stuck with this as my username.

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 21.23.06
My profile page forever stuck with the username @thefightingwarrior – Sparticus I am not

Friends – this is a base part of the system software and has little value to the way we want the site to work save for the initial set up.  It would probably make sense for all committee members to friend request each other to keep the group bonded within the forum.

Activity – clicking on Activity in the top navigation brings up a page where you can see all of your own posting activity.  There are filters on the right in case you wanted to find something you had done in the past.

To see the activity stream of others on the committee you will need to go to Members and click on their profile.

Members – click on members and you will see everyone listed.  Select one member and you go to their profile page.

From here you can send them a message, look at their profile or see their full activity stream by clicking on Activity in the menu immediately below their profile pictures.  You can filter this Activity stream to help you if you want to find something specific they may have posted in the past.

Keeping track of new posts – there are a couple of ways you can keep track on recent posting on the site.

Whenever you log into the Forum you will always see recent activity displayed in two boxes in the righthand column. One shows recent posts in the Group forums with links that will take you to them and an indication of how recent it was.  Below that is another box showing similar recent postings within Topics.

You will also always see a panel on the left of the page showing the recently active Groups with a number of options for you to select from at the top of it.  Click on the green “Active” tab and it will show in order of the most recent activity in those groups. The group with the most recent posting together with an indication of how long ago it was posted will appear at the top.

The other way, of course, is to ensure you have it set up to receive email alerts of new activity of varying types on the Forum.  To check how to do this look above in the section entitled “Email alerts”.