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Building a forum for your website


Introduction

Forums are a powerful facility for enabling the exchange of ideas, thoughts and comments between you and your customers or simply between your customers. Forums make your website livelier, and add credibility due to the transparent nature of forums. More importantly forums encourage your customers to come back to your website over and over again. By implementing a forum on your website you can begin the process of building a loyal and active customer base.

Key aspects of the forums feature are:

  • Unlimited forums and posts
  • Ability to moderate forum entries
  • Public or private forums
  • Fully customizable forum appearance
  • Forum subscription and alerts
  • Classify forums and make it easy to publish forums on your website
  • HTML or Text based forums
  • Ajax technology for a superior user experience
  • And much more!

A basic Forum set up

Setting up Forums

Creating a forum and placing it on your website will take no more than a couple of minutes. To get started and create your first forum and publish it on your website go to Website -> Forums.

  1. Click Create a New Forum
  2. Enter a name for your forum
  3. Choose the level of moderation you wish to have for your forum.
    1. If you choose No for moderation, then anyone can register and post to your forum. These posts can be read by all others as soon as they are made.
    2. If you enable full moderation then all posts must be verified and approved by you before they become accessible to your website visitors.
    3. A third level of moderation is to moderate for first time user posts only. This means, any user who has not previously made a post to any of your forums will need to have their post approved by you first. If a user has made one or more posts that have been previously approved, then future posts are instantly published and made accessible on your website.
  4. You can optionally control when your forum becomes accessible on your website and when they are removed. To configure this set a forum's release and expiry dates.
  5. If you are using the full solution you can choose the template that is used when your forum is being viewed by your website visitors. When you choose a template you ensure your corporate identity is carried through in all parts of your website.
  6. Save to finish

Forums - New forum.png

That's all it takes to create a forum. Now you are ready to publish it so your customers can see your new forum on your website. To do so:

  1. Click on the Add Forum to a web page link in the Action Box
  2. Choose the web page you wish to add the forum to
  3. Choose the 1-Click Insert drop down option from the editor's toolbar as shown in the image below
  4. Choose Insert this Forum Only
  5. Save and Publish to complete your changes
  6. Preview your web page in your web browser to see your forum

Adding a Forum to a page

Topics and Posts

Forums are a holding area for a related series of discussions, i.e. topics and posts. A forum has many topics and those topics in turn have many posts.

Forums are only ever created by you, however once you publish your forum on your website, you are effectively inviting your customer base to participate and post their own topics within the forum. This in turn encourages others to participate by responding to those topics, referred to as "posts" or enter new topics of interest.

You should control the number of forums on your website. It's better to have fewer forums but have a higher level of participation within those, e.g. have many topics and posts within the forums. It's good practice to ensure a high level of participation by you within the forums. This will demonstrate an active forum and is a catalyst to getting others participating.

If you have enabled any level of moderation for your forum, then you will need to visit the Topics tab in the Administration area for your forums and approve or disapprove new topics and posts. Under this tab you can see a list of topics and their posts. You may also view all unapproved posts and select and approve them accordingly.

Please keep in mind that if moderation is enabled, then you must approve all new topics and posts. If a topic is not approved then any approved posts within the topics will not be made available on your website until the topic is also approved.

Approving Topics and Posts

Please note that the forum posts and topics have to be approved separately. To approve a topic you need to select it from the list, tick "Approved and click save topic on the bottom of the page.

 Approving  Forum topics

Please note that the topic needs to be approved in order for the post to be displayed. To approve the post you need to click on Edit button nexty to the post you want to approve, then tick "Approved" and click Save. If you then go to that topic on the live site you will be able to see the post.

Forums - Approving post

Forums Registration

Customers who wish to participate in your forums and create new topics or reply to existing ones must first register. The system does not allow anonymous posts per se, however each user may choose the alias they would rather use when participating in forums. Users may choose an alias and a signature amongst other things during the registration process. For existing "registered" users, i.e. those who already exist in your customer database but have never participated in forums, their first name will be used for posts unless they enter an alias and other forum related information.

Users are automatically directed to the registration / login page of forums when they choose any link that requires them to be logged in. After logging in or registering, they will be redirected to the relevant page that they requested initially.

Subscribing and Alerts

Forum subscriptions and alerts are a fantastic way to keep customers engaged and participating in your forums. By default when a customer writes a new topic or posts to an existing one, they are invited to Subscribe to that topic. When a user subscribes to a topic it means they are interested in its activity in the future. They'd like to be notified when other people reply or comment on their posts. A user does not need to contribute to a topic to subscribe to it. If a user finds a topic interesting they can click on the Subscribe to Topic link to subscribe to it.

Forums - Subscribe to topic.png

When a new post is made to a topic, all subscribers of the topic are automatically notified by the system. They are notified that a new entry has been posted and that they should revisit your website to view the content. Users can unsubscribe from a forum subscription in one of two ways.

  • By viewing a topic that they are already subscribed to, they will instead see the following link Unsubscribe from Topic.
  • Alternatively whenever a user receives a forum alert via email, it contains an unsubscribe link.

Classifying Forums

Classifying forums enables you to publish groups of forums with relative ease in your website. For example, if you have a number of Support related forums you should classify each forum in the Support classification. When you publish your forums on a web page you can choose to publish all forums within a Classification. By choosing the Support classification the system will automatically display all forums within this classification on your web page. If in the future you create a new forum and also classify it in the Support classification, it will automatically appear on those web pages that have the other Support related forums.

In fact, most types of content can be classified. These include announcements, FAQs, literature and so on. This feature allows you to easily create a support area on your website and publish all support related forums, FAQs, announcements effortlessly in one central area.

Public vs. Private Forums (Secure Zones)

Forums may be added to one or more Secure Zones. By Adding a forum to a Secure Zone, you restrict access to it to members of the Secure Zone. Web Site Visitors will not be able to access the item via a link or any other method.

Secure Zones allow you to designate one or more areas of your public web site as Secure. Accessing the Secure Zone requires users to enter their username and password. If this is not entered they will be denied access to the Secure Zone.

You can set up as many Secure Zones as you need to and assign various types of content to those areas. You can also grant various customers within your website access to a secure area and choose when each customer's access to the secure zone expires.

Customizing Forum Appearance

Your forums are fully customized and are ready to be used on your website and should not require further customization. However should you wish to customize them, then you have full control to alter their look and feel. In fact the forum feature is extremely customizable where you can achieve any desired look and feel outcome.

There are a number of templates that you need to familiarize yourself with. You can find these in the Admin -> More Customization Options -> Forum Templates area. The templates include:

  • Individual Forum template
  • Individual Topic template
  • Individual Post template

and

  • Topic Page template
  • Posts Page template

If you are familiar with customizing FAQs and Announcements then Forums follow a similar path. The things to remember when customizing forums:

  • The Individual forum template is used to lay up an individual forum. This template defines where the forum name should be placed, where the last post author name and date should reside in relation to the name, the number of topics the forum has and so forth. Forums always appear on one of your web pages. That is you will need to add the forum module to a web page. If you tell the forum module to display a list of forums, then this template is used for each forum as it is rendered out on the page. Refer to the Tag Insert option on the editor's toolbar for a list of available tags. To make your forums look even better, you may want to manually add a header table just above the forum module on your web page that enhances the output of the forums list.
  • When a user selects a forum they are redirected to a system page that handles the display of topics and posts. Although this page is not one of your web pages, it is still entirely customizable.
  • A forum consists of many topics and the list of topics is displayed after a forum has been selected. This page contains up to 3 elements.
    • The first is the Individual Topic template which similarly to the Individual Forum template defines how an individual topic is displayed. When a list of topics is displayed, then this template is used as many times as there are topics.
    • Once the list of topics has been rendered out, they are placed inside the Topic Page template (refer to {tag_topiclist}). This is the holding page that contains the list of topics, and many other available tags that related to the viewing of topics.
    • If you have chosen an overall template for your forum, the Topic Page template is then placed inside the overall template to ensure your corporate identity is carried through in forums.
  • When a user selects a topic to view its posts, a similar set of rules are followed to display the posts within the topic.
    • First the Individual Posts template is used to render out the posts.
    • These are then placed inside the Posts Page template (refer to tag_postlist)
    • If you are using an overall template, the entire thing is placed inside it before being shown to the user.

By looking at the template layouts in the Customize section you will quickly understand how they work and should be able to change the appearance of these templates with relative ease.

Forum templates

Adding Forum Avatars

In order to add avatars to the forums, you will need to make only a few simple changes.

  1. Go to Website -> Forum
  2. Select your Forum
  3. Tick the Allow Avatar box and click Save
  4. Go to Admin -> More Customization Options -> Forum Layouts
  5. Click on the Individual Post Layout
  6. Add {tag_avatar} to the layout in your desired location.
  7. Save and Publish!

Forum details

Template content

More Avatar Options

{tag_avatar,placeholderImage,width,height }

  • placeholderImage is the default avatar image if none is specified by the customer. If you don't define this then the system will use a default image.
  • Width/Height of the avatar. Default is 75px

e.g.

{ tag_avatar,,200,200 }

background
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