Beginning Morph: Wordform for groups

Rather than closing The Kitchen we’re moving into a totally self-sustained environment. To that end, I captured a snapshot of the most recent WordPress 1.3a code and have started modifying it to provide administration free group weblog support. This will become, eventually, a group form of Wordform.

(My inclination is to separate out the group aspects of Wordform into a product separate from the individual installation of Wordform. The main reason why is that the group management aspects should become more encapsulated as a result, and this is a good thing for product development and support. More than that, though–why add extra functionality when 95% of the users won’t need it?)

Before doing so, I did look very carefully at the possiblity of using Drupal; testing it out in an installation of my own, as well as trying out the version at OpenSource CMS. There is no doubt that this is a very powerful product, with some pretty amazing abilities. However, it is the power that makes it, in my opinion, not the right product for a totally self-sustained environment.

First of all, Drupal is a community tool, not necessarily a group tool. By this I mean that the community decides which post shows in the front of the site at any point in time, rather than having posts show in the front as they are created. As such, the sense of community is fostered, but at the cost of the freedom of each individual writer. WordPress, from which Wordform is being derived, is a group tool in that it is provides functionality for a group of autonomous, independent individuals who determine when their writing is going to appear in the front.

Drupal is also a bit too geeky, and though Wordform might border on this at times, not to the extent that Drupal does. For instance, what do the words “taxonomy module” mean to you?

In addition, Drupal is too powerful, and by this I mean there are too many options, even for new users. What I’ve found working in the software and web development business for a couple of decades is that while providing more options might appeal to the geekier folks, too many options can be intimidating to newer users.

WordPress has a way of controlling which options show up by assigning different options based on different user ranks in the menu management file (menu.php). I’ve taken this and modified the settings for Wordform so that a new user has very limited access to functionality: they can write and edit their own posts, add a link to their site, moderate their own comments, and adjust their own profile. That’s it.

Over time they can ask to have their rank increased if they want additional privileges, and any user higher ranked then them can increase it. However, they have to specifically ask for this in a post and another member then has to grant this request.

I’m modifying the WordPress installation even further to automatically add their profile URLs as a link and then removing even the feature to add a link. Eventually, I want to add a newbie edit page to the site that eliminates the post-slug field and the custom metadata fields, as well as limiting their post and comment status options. I’m already eliminating all of the password protected post options from both the group and individual versions of Wordform–I’ve yet to see this used, and if it were, it’s rather rude because it leaves a post in the middle of your page that demands your users enter a password to see it. If you’re going to password protect writing, you’re better off sending email, or creating a new password protected site.

I’m also modifying the Manage page so that only each individual’s posts show on the page, and the posts of those who have lower ranks then themselves. Of course, for new people, this means only their posts will show. Those with the highest ranks of 9, the site admins, will also be able to pull a person’s post and disable a person’s posting privileges.

(Any site admin with a rank of 9 can promote any other person to a site admin.)

One other aspect of the Kitchen site I want to modify is the ability to upload and edit themes. Right now, Kitchen members who have contributed something to this point have earned what I call “Founder Rights”, which also gives them site admin rights. They can also modify themes, but since all of the folk are known, I’m not worried about granting this right. What I would like to do, though, is provide an ability for a site admin to upload a new theme, or create a new theme.

Right now, none of the themes that are loaded can be edited, but I’m about to change this. Again, only site admins can change the files, so this should be a safe change to make. Just in case, and following on the rule that sh*t happens, I’m also creating automated jobs that backup the themes and the database nightly, so that I don’t have to bother the host if we have to back out changes from accidental or malicious changes.

There are other changes I want to make to both the individual and group Wordform, such as replacing the static radio buttons for Post Status with a database driven option so that new statuses can be added without modification to the page (ditto for comment status), and doing something with the categories so they’re not so hard to read. I also want to add in my full page preview option, and remove in the inline preview.

Another major change I want to add is an option, similar to what Movable Type has, to turn on edit formatting options on a per-post basis; so you can choose not to apply formatting (if you use your own HTML), use the basic line-break formatting, or use Markdown, Textile and so on, on a post by post basis but this is a very major change to the underlying architecture of the product and far down the road to a finished release.

For now, I should be able to tweak the installation enough to allow the group to manage itself without an administrator. We’ll see how it goes.

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