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Discussion Forums

GP-MI Web Application - Discussion Forums

 

Introduction

 

The GP-MI web application has been developed1 to support the processes defined in the Manual for Operation of the GPMI State Central Committee , (SCC Manual), which, along with the GP-MI Consensus Model is a part of the GP-MI Handbook.

 

We now have everything you would expect from an online discussion board and more. It is a two-way communication channel for our members and officers, and it interfaces with other components of the GP-MI web application. For example, files uploaded to the SCC forum are automatically categorized and archived. This and future enhancements are possible because the software is our own custom product.

 

Currently, GP-MI forums can be moderated or unmoderated. Participants may subscribe to forums or individual threads in order to receive email when new posts are submitted. Likes and dislikes are counted and displayed. The system functions much like the Blackboard (Bb) system that is familiar to teachers and students. Ownership, and content management responsibility belong to the GP-MI members rather than some high-muck-a-muck.

 

To get to the forums, click the sidebar button on the splash page, as seen below.

 

 

The list of forums will load, showing only the forums in which the logged in user is qualified to participate. For example, all Handbook Committee members will see the Handbook Committee Forum in the list. All GP-MI members have access to the General Forum. The ‘Instructions’ button links to this document.

 

 

Overview

The Web Steward has access to all the forums, can create and delete forums, and can set properties such as moderator, and number of complaints required to automatically remove a forum thread. The SCC Chairperson has complete authority over the SCC Forum2.

 

Since this user is recognized as an SCC member in good standing3, the SCC Forum is present on the list. Clicking the 'SCC Forum' button loads the user interface, (UI) below.

 

 

We currently see three Individual posts to the forum, a.k.a. 'threads', below the forum header. The bottom thread has a 'Reply' with an associated file.

 

Clicking on the '+/-' button next to that thread and its reply shows their details:

 

 

 

We also see buttons related to the thread and the reply.

 

Here is the list of buttons from top to bottom:

 

Header Buttons

 

Forum List
Returns to the 'Discussion Forums' list seen previously
New Thread 
Loads the data entry page for a new thread.
Forum Files
Presents the list of files uploaded to this forum. It does not appear if there are no files associated with this forum.
Proposals
SCC Forum only - Navigates away from the SCC Forum and loads the Proposals page.
Member List
Specialized forums only - Shows the list of SCC Members with email addresses. (Moderator can launch email to selected members from the member list page.)
Subscribe
Subscribes for email notice of all posts and uploads to the SCC Forum. Subscribed members see a button to ‘Unsubscribe’ from the automatic forum email.

 

Thread/Reply Buttons

 

+/-
Expands/hides the post details.
Hyperlink
The ‘Subject’ line for any post that the logged in member has authored will appear as a hyperlink to the post’s details page, for further update or uploads.
Author
The ‘Author’ name is a link to a modal with the author’s profile image and information.
Subscribe
Subscribes for email notices of all updates, uploads, and replies to the thread. Subscribed members see a button to ‘Unsubscribe’. Members who subscribe to the Forum will not see buttons to also subscribe to threads.
Link to post
will open the thread/reply in a new tab. The URL can be copied and shared.
Report
Opens the page to submit a ‘Report’, which is a complaint about the thread or reply. This button is disabled for posts that the logged in member has authored.
Dislike, Like
Registers quick positive or negative feedback about the post, without details. These buttons are disabled for posts that the logged in member has authored.
Reply
Loads the data entry page for a new reply to the related thread.

 

Note that there is no file upload button. Buttons for file upload/removal are only found on the Thread and Reply data entry pages.

 

Specialized forums, that is all forums other than the General Forum, have a button that links to that forum’s member list. Clicking the ‘Member List’ button loads the screen below.

 

 

We see the members along with their contact information. The moderator will also see checkboxes and a button to facilitate email to selected members. That will be shown later.

 

We click the ‘New Thread’ button to get the data entry page below. Notice that file upload is available only after saving the thread.

 

 

 

For this example, we enter some formatted text and click 'Save'. That loads the thread details page seen below. (Formatting capabilities are pretty spartan on the web app. The user may prefer formatting in a word editor and then copy/pasting into the ‘Description’ box.

 

 

We can click now to return to the forum, the list of forums, or to 'Edit' our thread. We may also click to upload a file. We decide to return to the forum.

 

We find our new thread on top of the others, because it is most recent.

 

 

That the thread subject is a hyperlink. Any thread or reply that we author will appear as a hyperlink and will take us to its details page for possible edit or file upload. 

 

We click '+/-' to expand our thread.

 

 

 

Note that buttons are disabled so that we cannot 'Report', 'Like', or 'Dislike' our own thread, but we can 'Subscribe' or 'Reply' to it. We decide to click the hyperlink to return to our new thread. That loads the 'Thread Details' page already seen. From there, we click the top-right button to 'Edit' our thread. That loads the data entry page seen earlier and shown below.

 

 

The edit screen now contains a 'Delete' button.

 

Note that deleting a thread also deletes any related replies and files that were uploaded to the thread or its replies.

 

We click the 'File Upload' button. That loads the screen below.

 

 

We are required to select at least one 'Category' and to enter values for 'Author' and 'Description'. These values are useful for filtering when searching the saved files. The user is encouraged to create a new 'Category' if that would make searching easier for the file that is to be uploaded.

 

Note that different web browsers display the controls differently. In Chrome, for example, the date box presents a calendar when clicked whereas Microsoft Edge displays drop-down lists for month, day, and year. Safari is the only modern browser that does not support the HTML5 date box. In that case, the user is left to guess at what a valid date format looks like. (Since 2012, Safari has not allowed emulation or even application install on systems other than Apple.)

 

Hovering over the controls will show 'tool-tip' messages with more information about their purposes. We entered values and uploaded a file. That loads the screen below.

 

 

 

 

We can click on the 'File Link' to download the file. We can return to the Forum or visit the forum's 'File List', something we will do later from the Forum page.

 

We can click to 'Edit' the file's Date, Author, Description, and Category selection. We can also delete the file.

 

 

Only the member who uploaded the file can make these changes. (The moderator can remove the file, as we will see later.)

 

Clicking back to the forum, we see that there is '1' file attached to the new thread.

 

 

 

Expanding the thread reveals a link to download the file.

 

 

 

We click on the header button called 'Forum Files' to see the list of all files uploaded to this particular Forum:

 

 

This looks and behaves much like the GP-MI Archive File list, (accessible from the splash page side bar by any logged in GP-MI member). Searching can be done over any or all of the three filters and date range.

 

Clicking a row expands to show the details, as seen below.

 

 

Clicking the description box will expand it too. The pointer button will download the file. If the logged in user was the member who uploaded the file, the pointer button will lead to the file details page.

 

Reporting Bad Content.

 

To demonstrate how content is ‘Reported’, or referred to the moderator for a disciplinary response, we will assume a different member has logged in and expanded the new thread, as shown below.

 

 

 

Unlike the ‘Like’ and ‘Dislike’ buttons, which simply register the details of the button click, the ‘Report’ button loads a data entry screen. But first this information screen is presented.

 

 

Closing the information modal reveals the ‘Forum Report’ page.

 

We have entered some text and selected a ‘Reason’ for our complaint, as seen below.

 

 

 

Note that there are currently no reports from other members about this thread. If there were, we would see the number of reports, with no details.

 

Also note that the SCC Forum moderator has sole discretion over its removal2. (If authorized through a change to our bylaws, the Web Steward can reconfigure this to automatically remove posts after a prescribed number of reports, while also allowing the moderator to remove posts that have no reports.) Other forums may or may not be moderated and may or may not assign this authority to individuals.

 

Clicking ‘Save’ returns us to the Forum. We briefly see an alert that our report was saved and that emails were launched, but there is no other indication that the thread was reported.

 

 

 

If we expand the thread, we see the Report button, enabled as before. But clicking on it reloads the report we just submitted. We can edit it, but we cannot create another report for the same thread. We are not able to delete the report either.

 

Automatic emails generated from a complaint like this are sent only to the moderator and thread author; not to the forum subscribers.

 

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Rationale

 

The benefits of that the hosted web application offers, over free email list serv or web services include:

 

·         Customization - this is a dynamic solution based on changing GP-MI requirements.

·         Security - secure email and SSL certificate, (totally lacking with free online services).

·         Persistence - data is saved where it can be reused, (outside services own our data).

·         Transparency - SCC members can easily view the activity/status of other members and proposals.

·         Sharing - discussion posts, files, and proposals can be shared with links. Links to authorized content require that the user logs in to the application.

·         Data Integration with other application components, such as with the general file archive, (free services own the data that we give them).

·         Accountability - members and the moderator provide rationale for actions that involve other members.

·         Consistency of policy enforcement actions. The GP-MI rules are 'baked in'.

·         Convenience - Clear and easy navigation for discussion or proposals insert, update, and search.

 

 

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Footnotes:

 

1.     This document implements the current rules and guidelines, but flexibility is built in for possible modifications to business rules, such as automatic rules enforcement in lieu of manual action by the moderator, changes to who can participate in the SCC, and the definition of a valid poll.

2.     The ambiguity over the type and duration of penalty assignments will likely create debate of its own. So should the idea of an individual as moderator being able to selectively prevent members from accessing a platform that is meant to enable democratic processes like voting.

3.     In accordance with the GP-MI bylaws, GP-MI members may be automatically or manually restricted or suspended from the forums. Restriction prevents the member from posting or uploading files for a defined period of time. Suspension prevents the member from seeing the forums at all for a specific period of time.