[Olpc-open] [olpc-support-gang] Going forward with the community forum

Harrison - Schaaffe peter.harrison at bigfoot.com
Sat Jan 12 13:26:08 EST 2008

Hello everyone,

FYI - I have posted a discussion thread about this @ OLPChelp.org 

I have joined the olpc-open group. Here is a list of my previous failed 
attempts which I know Michael and Seth have been partially relaying to the 

================ January 11 11:32 PM ================

Hello everyone,

Well I tried. vBulletin doesn't have an export utility, just import. There 
are phpBB2 import utilities 

We'll probably have to import vBulletin into phpBB2 and then convert to 

================ January 11, 10:33 PM ================

Hello everyone,

I have installed a test copy of phpBB3 on a FC8 system at home. The features 
are improved. They have some importable modules for admin control panel 
menuing systems, but the rest remain as direct template modifications.

The quantity of available mods for phpBB3 is still very small. 
http://www.phpbb.com/mods/db/index.php?i=browse&mode=group:phpbb&sub=3 or 

It now has CAPTCHA built in for registration and guest posting. Hooray! It 
also has a better admin control panel search utility for finding users, not 
just by email address.

phpBB3 may be suitable for small installations due to its cost, and the 
volunteer base to modify its language packs, but it still lacks the ease of 
modification features of vBulletin. Some simple things like adding a user 
account from the admin control panel is a modification!

If we were to go with it, I'd strongly recommend minimizing the 
modifications to the skin/style and header. That way the inevitable upgrades 
will be much less of a pain to do. There are no phpBB3 styles on phpbb.com, 
probably because it is so new. The default one, prosilver, would have to 
modified. http://www.phpbb.com/styles/db/index.php?i=browse&mode=group:phpbb

Does anyone know of anybody who could create a header image with a 
transparent background for the forums, a gradient tint image and four 
corners for effects? 10 images max, most of them tiny.

I'd also suggest the following for the new forum:

1. Have email verification as part of the registration process (SPAM)
2. Allow auto subscription to threads by default. This helps to remind 
people to come back and see if their post has been answered.
3. Don't allow users to edit posts for an indefinite time after they have 
posted (SPAM)
4. Don't allow users to contact each other by email. (Can send e-mails in 
phpBB3) It exposes the email address to SPAMmers
5. No guest posting
6. Hide the member list whenever possible (Server load for robots and 
possible URL SPAM trap)

Put me down as a volunteer for phpBB3 testing on the olpc.osuosl.org 
test/dev database. Add a forum to it specifically for this thread so 
feedback and findings can be more easily tracked. How long should the 
feature evaluation period be? I'll work on creating a phpBB2 export of 
OLPChelp.org, give me an scp account somewhere and I'll upload it for you to 
do a test phpBB3 import.

================ January 11, 9:37 PM ================

http://forums.laptop.org/ is OK, but what happens when new languages come 
along? http://forum.laptop.org/es and http://forum.laptop.org/fr for french 
and spanish sections forces all the forums to reside in the same server farm 
behind a load balancer. (Expensive)

Another option would be to do like what wikipedia does: 
http://en.olpchelp.org and http://es.olpchelp.org are options. Or you could 
have a forums main page with links to http://en.forums.laptop.org and 
http://fr.forums.laptop.org etc The URLs don't really matter as they once 
did now that search engines and bookmarks rule the world and people don't 
have type in long URLs anymore. I prefer the latter 
http://forums.laptop.org/with as a link page to http://en.forums.laptop.org. 
Make forums plural, the search engines will index it as both forum and 

A new URL, whatever it may be, will also make it easier to test and do data 

================ January 11, 8:54AM ================

I must admit I am very wary of phpBB2, for the reasons I stated, but the 
feature set with phpBB3 seems greatly improved. I chose vBulletin for the 
feature set when the open source product at the time couldn't deliver what I 
needed. I used phpBB2 for about 4 years.

I understand the desire to stick with open source for deployment of similar 
platroms around the world at the local level.

Is there a plan to migrate to phpBB3, or is it in use already? If v3 can do 
what it promises, then it would be best to upgrade before the forums get too 

I'm assuming it would import phpBB2 databases, can it import vBulletin 
natively? If not a vBulletin export to phpBB2 format should be able to be 
done with a built in utility.

I'm going to assume phpBB3 will be the planned platform for the unified 
forum. Please also send a login for the olpc.osuosl.org forum.

As I said previously I figured that olpchelp.org would have a lot of 
non-technical members, and it does. As a result of this I chose a theme that 
would be attractive with limited use of graphics. Bandwidth can be an issue 
on low speed links, so I have used a 30 day expires header on all images to 
cache them on the client side. The olpc.osuosl.org forum seems to taken a 
different approach by stripping out most of the the default phpBB subSilver 
template images. Is there a phpBB theme out there that is judicial in its 
use of graphics, attractive and could be easily modified to match the OLPC 
brand / feel? This is an area in where technology, form and function could 
come together for the relaunch of the combined forums. For me this is very 
important in attracting membership. It's never just the technology, it's 
people and process too.

================ January 10, 10:04 PM ================

Hello everyone,

It's good to hear servers can be donated.

If ads can be used to donate a token sum to laptop.org, I think it should be 
considered, even if they are only partially effective. I agree that 
horizontal real estate can be an issue on the XO, but ads oriented 
horizontally on the page should be OK. A final decision on this can be 
delayed till after the union is completed. Now is really not the time.

This does bring up creating a process going forward on making decisions that 
affect the community. There needs to be an arbitration process or else flame 
wars can easily erupt to the detriment of the group. Please take a look at 
this thread http://www.olpchelp.org/forums/showthread.php?t=54. Change will 
a part of constant debates and figuring out an easy and fair way to 
implement it, while also being nimble, will be really important. I think 
time should be spent to discuss such a process.

I agree vBulletin isn't open source and is therefore against many principles 
of the philosophy. I tried running forums on many different platforms, phpBB 
being one, but was left wanting. It was the management features of vBulletin 
that make it really attractive.

Using the mass mailing feature of phpBB chokes at more than about 1000 
users. It just stops sending. I tried integration with packages like 
phplist, but it wasn't seamless.

Modifications to phpBB require you to edit PHP template files directly in 
the OS. Updates in any forum software package are common, often overwriting 
PHP modifications. If you delay updating security patches for more than a 
week, you are opening up yourself to being hacked. I was hacked twice this 
way. Once I had learned my lesson I would have to keep track of all the 
modifications I made and then apply them quickly and do rudimentary testing. 
The more modifications I tried, the longer this process took. I soon decided 
to use a default installation and only modify the PHP code in the header.

vBulletin has the concept of XML packages which can be easily re-imported 
after every upgrade. You don't have to keep track of all the PHP file mods. 
As the forums grow larger, and modifications become more of a requirement, 
this will become a challenge.

The XML import also has the advantage of reducing the coding knowledge 
administrators need to manage the forums. This could also be an advantage as 
the forums grow.

vBulletin templates are also stored in the database, in the few instances 
you need to modify them, you can do so without accessing the command line. 
This is a great feature when multiple admins are involved.

Here is a list of mods I have added to vBulletin without requiring access to 
the Linux command line.

1. cinvin_vb_forum_feed_listing: Creates an RSS feed link at the bottom of 
each forum page
2. Commbull: Sends out a community bulletin each month. Actually purchased 
from http://www.octanedev.com/commbull.php  Cyb - Advanced Forum Statistics: 
Puts the top 5 most recent posts at the top of the forum page
3. Cyb - Advanced Permissions Based on Post Count: Used to prevent people 
from being able to add URLs to posts before they themselves have a post 
count of 3. SPAM prevention.
4. EZBounced Email Management: Used to disable users whose emails bounce
5. product-remindermail: Used to remind people to post to the forums after 7 
days of inactivity via email.
6. Solved threads: Used to allow people to mark threads as being "solved" if 
responses to the thread fixed their problem.
7. vBadvanced: Used to create a portal home page
8. Welcome headers: Used to remind visitors to post to or join the forums 
when they visit. Template modification required.
9. Who has visited today: Lists all the members who have visited in the past 
24 hours.

The way phpBB handles SPAM is another feature that needed improvement. I 
recently noticed that within the month of December 2006, spammers using 
various email addresses from cashette.com and mail.com were signing up, 
staying dormant and then spamming the forums a few months later. I needed to 
find all these users. It was simple using vBulletin, a date range combined 
with a partial email match is easy. With phpBB I remember having to search 
by specific email addresses. Yes I could have done a SQL query from MySQL, 
but it was so much easier this way.

I have had to find spammers with the word "Viagra" in their signatures. Easy 
with vBulletin. I think spammers also like phpBB because there is no way to 
turn off people viewing their user profiles and URLs listed in their website 
section. I think I had to delete the memberlist.php file and modify a 
template to do this in phpBB. The vBulletin control panel has this feature 
by default.

Keyword META tags are a part of the vBulletin control panel. There are many 
more thread and posting management options. Users can be promoted silently 
to user groups with more privileges based on post count or last activity 
etc. I use this to make only users with > 3 posts have signatures (SPAM 

If necessary, default vBulletin also has the ability to auto import RSS 
feeds into forum threads as a pre specified user.

Many popular Linux forums use vBulletin, possibly for these reasons. 
Linuxquestions.org and Ubuntuforums.org come to mind. Please get Redhat's 
written opinion on the matter, if it is really important to the group. I 
don't think it should be from RedHat's perspective given this precedence.

I will open up the admin console for olpchelp.org to anyone on this mailing 
list, based on a list of olpchelp.org usernames (max 5 to make it mangeable) 
provided by Michael Burns, as long as they promise not to change anything. 
Take a look and compare vBulletin to phpBB. Put on your operational / 
adminsitrative hats and let us all know what you think.The documentation can 
be found at http://www.vbulletin.com/docs/html/ and it explains every menu 
section in faurly good detail.

I would appreciate being added to this mailing list. I'm still getting 

I think the differences between the two sites can be overcome and a loose 
alliance isn't necessary. The full integration can be a quick reality.

I think the union would be really good. The OLPC Help forums seem to have a 
lot of non-technical parents and grandparents as members while 
olpc.osuosl.org seems to have more techies. The frustration they feel is 
very palpable, we are trying to help each other, but a larger community pool 
would benefit all.

This email thread is a good start, but a quick conference call could resolve 
many of these issues. Anyone open for this weekend?


Peter & Diana

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Samuel Klein" <meta.sj at gmail.com>
To: "Michael Burns" <mburns at osuosl.org>
Cc: "olpc-open" <olpc-open at lists.laptop.org>; "Harrison - Schaaffe" 
<peter.harrison at bigfoot.com>
Sent: Saturday, January 12, 2008 9:07 AM
Subject: Re: [olpc-support-gang] Going forward with the community forum

> Thanks, Michael.    Having too many community support fora is a nice
> quandary to be in...
> Ads : we've avoided ads on all of our sites so far, we should surely
> continue to do so.  We care a great deal about the smaller details of
> interface, and wasting valuble screen real estate (ads are useful in
> direct proportion to the usefulness of the screen real estate they eat
> up) isn't so small.
> Underlying tools : open source is a tremendous win.  we are open
> source not only for philosophical reasons, but for practical ones.  We
> do want our community tools to be available for reuse at different
> levels of community, including at the school and regional level
> everywhere; we do not want to create centralized bottlenecks that
> can't be easily reproduced elsewhere; and we want to give back to
> communities of developers who may one day be solving issues similar to
> ours as we make customizations.
> --SJ
> On Jan 10, 2008 9:18 PM, Michael Burns <maburns at gmail.com> wrote:
>> This thread is meant to talk about possible paths the community forum can
>> take (with regards to olpchelp.org, and other 3rd-party communities that 
>> are
>> growing) and how best to get us from here to there. The conversation is
>> half-started, so I ask the Peter--admin at olpchelp.org--and the Support
>> Gang to pick up where we've left off, catching the community up to speed
>> where possible. We have been talking about the potential merging of the 2
>> forum sites. From this, a request to replace the software infrastructure 
>> has
>> been raised, and what features can and cannot be supported with that 
>> change.
>> It isn't a perfect solution, but at least we can get a larger pool of 
>> input.
>> [Please drop all CC's following this post and move strictly to OLPC-Open.
>> Register for the list, if you haven't already, at 
>> http://lists.laptop.org ]
>> Hopefully, posts of substance will follow...
>> --
>> Michael Burns * Student
>> Open Source {Education} Lab

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