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Appropedia:Non-Drupal alternatives for Appropedia forum and blog

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Excerpts from a chat between Mchua and Chriswaterguy. Note that questions and answers are often out of synch, being text chat.

Just throwing around ideas - please shoot holes in them. --Chriswaterguy · talk 01:06, 3 November 2007 (PDT)


Chriswaterguy: would appreciate thoughts on: Appropedia:MediaWiki-Drupal_cross-login

Mel Chua: Do you want people to have profiles in both drupal and mw, or just one?

Chriswaterguy: personally... I'm inclined to say one.

… i don't know if OpenID would interfere with the profile & SN stuff

Mel Chua: And the main part of the site will still be the wiki, right? Forums and blog are just to support that?

Chriswaterguy: yes

Mel Chua: what was the rationale between the choice of drupal in the first place - planning on using more features from it later on, or really any integrated forum / blog thing would work?

Chriswaterguy: curt could answer that better

(talked about using the same platform as partners...)

Mel Chua: but if their content is in drupal and yours is in mediawiki anyway it won't really help that much.

Chriswaterguy: yeah... not sure what that will mean of course.

Mel Chua: ah well. still looking for code soln's here...

Chriswaterguy: curt also felt that drupal offered more possibilities & flexibility, I think.

Mel Chua: Well, basically, I'm a lazy bum and like getting things that work fast and easily, and allow future features to also work fast and easily, and without knowing the situation I'm not entirely convinced Drupal is the way to go.

… If the primary criteria are 'fast and easy and get it done' and 'we want blog comments and forum logins to have shared auth w/ our mediawiki, and that's it now and for the forseeable future,' and 'our content partners use drupal for info but we use mediawiki.'

… So I'm digging around to see if there's an easier solution to get blog comments and forum auth from a mediawiki site.

Chriswaterguy: … we like the threading, email notification...

… prospects of SN features, voting... which come in Drupal. I suspect MW solutions less smooth, but don't really know.

Mel Chua: ok, assuming drupal then (can't find a better solution there...)

… is one system to be the master and the other the slave

… or are they supposed to be two separate but related entities?

Chriswaterguy: Drupal is perhaps "prettier" anyway

Mel Chua: well sure, but that's all css.

Chriswaterguy: not clear on that

… but i think i mentioned on the project page...

… it seems that MW as the master makes more sense, if it's doable

Mel Chua: I agree. The solutions posted on the Appropedia page all use Drupal as the master, though. I've started to find some promising things for Drupal external auth (the other way around).

… not much added - I'm no sql/auth guru, here

… but it sounds like the best option would be to tweak drupal to use the mediawiki user login database instead of its own.

Mel Chua: That way, everyone has to register through the mediawiki site, and only through the mediawiki site.

... Would also have to disable direct account creation in Drupal - the flow of user info should be one way only, from MW to Drupal.

Mel Chua: Not sure how to do that, but it's definitely possible... likely just a matter of ripping out those php pages in our drupal install.

Chriswaterguy: k

… which version of Drupal should we use

… ?

Mel Chua: The last part would be to semi-"cripple" the drupal site for the time being so that only blog & forums will be accessible and show

Mel Chua: and they will only be accessible through the links on the main mediawiki site.

… re: version of drupal - don't know.

… as far as authentication is concerned, I don't think it matters.

… I mean, I doubt they've changed the format of their login tables. But yeah, most recent is probably best.

Mel Chua: Given that this is going to have to be a tweaked Drupal anyway, it might be worth it just to save the themes, and go for a fresh install.

… Well, Drupal is super-modular, so yeah, blogs and forums are normal modules to enable iirc

Mel Chua: but it's also meant as a CMS, so a lot more stuff comes turned on by default, and it has its own little front page so you can get to all the good stuff through the drupal interface.

Chriswaterguy: re versions: 5.3 (Curt's preference) or Drupal 6 Beta (my gut inclination) Note: I realize I wasn't doing justice to Curt's thinking on this - just throwing ideas around.

… ok

Mel Chua: my reading of the situation right now is that we don't want people using the drupal interface to get to stuff

… we want people using the mediawiki interface to get to stuff

… including the bits of drupal we happen to be using at the moment

Chriswaterguy: ok. sounds right, though i can't really picture what all that means.

… so the full site search would be a wiki page

Mel Chua: Yep.

Chriswaterguy: even if using the search box on the Drupal site?

Mel Chua: Well... I'm not entirely sure how the search stuff is going to be integrated.

Chriswaterguy: k

Mel Chua: (Btw, agree with you on using the beta v6 for drupal.)

Chriswaterguy: Curt's concerned for having all the modules to play with (and 5.3 has more - v6 modules are being ported), whereas I'm more keen on going straight to the longer term solution, and have less issues upgrading later. *as long as 6 Beta isn't too buggy for what we want.*

… and if you can help do the cross-login...

… i think that's an argument for v6... but I don't know.


Mel Chua: I like the idea of using openid for auth, personally.

… It makes things So Much Easier (TM) and doesn't require us to do the tweaking.

Chriswaterguy: ok

… you keen on OpenID? on LJ you don't get all the nice features if your have OpenID... but that ain't necessarily so when we set it up?

… OpenID questions at:

Mel Chua: Well, if we disable drupal user profile anyhow, the first question is moot; authentication is all we need.

… The point of OpenID *is* security, so I really don't worry about compromises there.

Chriswaterguy: ah

Mel Chua: (And even if it is compromised, I mean... personally, I'm not too scared of someone finding out I edited the "composting toilets" article, which is public through the "history" tab anyway, or - well, what would they do?)

Chriswaterguy: but... if they come from outside with OpenID, rather than registering on the wiki, their profile, notifications, preferences etc will all work as usual?

Mel Chua: creating an openid account is no problemo because you can use your mediawiki account - on a mediawiki installation with the openid plugin - as an openid.

Chriswaterguy: i was thinking of spammers getting verified.

… ok, but what if they already have an OpenID account from their blog or whatever?

Mel Chua: I'll check out the openid mediawiki extension code. It's probable that the two functions it performs can be separated.

Chriswaterguy: ok

… sounds interesting

… insofar as I understand it, which isn't far

Mel Chua: That is, we can have people use their mediawiki userpage as an openid for drupal login, but not allow them to use an external openid to login to mediawiki.

Chriswaterguy: ok

Mel Chua: in other words, people create mediawiki accounts as usual - they can't use openid to make a mediawiki account automatically, must do it manually (yay, stopping spammers)

Chriswaterguy: ok

… this means they log on separately though - not a huge issue, but not the "perfect" solution

Mel Chua: then when they go to the drupal stuff, the appropedia drupal site uses their appropedia mediawiki page as their openid - and it's set so that the appropedia drupal site can *only* use appropedia mediawiki openid pages, not any random openid page.

Chriswaterguy: k

… some people are going to have multiple OpenIDs by the look of it

Mel Chua: if we do this, then drupal 5.3 is actually doable

Chriswaterguy: which seems to defeat the point of OpenID...?

Mel Chua: yeah, i think that'll become pretty common practice (multiple openids, i mean)

… well, no.

… openids isn't a "one login to rule them all" thing - it's just "here, you can make an online id that you can carry across different websites."

Chriswaterguy: k

Mel Chua: if you want to have more than one online ids you can carry across different websites, more power to you.

… but yeah, I'm guessing many people will use openid precisely so that they can have less logins.

Chriswaterguy: y

… i'd think someone would work out a way of linking different OpenIDs eventually

Mel Chua: probably, but the only reason someone would get two or more openids (as far as I can see) is that they will *want* to keep those ids unlinked

Chriswaterguy: It would be nicer if we could allow certain other OpenIDs to use our system... but differentiating them would be hard, i guess.

… except in our case, we're they're forced to get a new OpenID

Mel Chua: well, "forced to get" actually means "are automatically given"

… and if this openid is only used to login to the drupal site, then hey

Scrapping forums in lieu of mailing lists[edit]

Note: high priority features are in bold. Others are nice, maybe even pie-in-the-sky.

Feature Drupal Mailing list & blog
Can people choose to post and view online, and get no emails? (if that's the individual's choice) Yes Mel: You could hypothetically set up an email form that would send an email to the list, and then allow people to subscribe to a feed of the list, or just visit the website. So, sure.
Can people choose to post and view only via email, and never use the web forum? (if that's the individual's choice) Unclear Yes
Can posts be tagged with the topics they cover? (And can the tags be changed, e.g. by an admin, if the topic strays later) Yes  ??
Can a feed be setup for all posts (and responses) covering certain topics Presumably yes??  ??
Can the web version search or sort posts by categories, tags and text? yes  ??
Threaded comments (when viewing online)? Yes (there is the option to make the forums work that way - can't be chosen on a case-by-case basis.) No??
Can blogs and forums be grouped together (if desired) when viewing forums and search results? Presumably yes?? Seems difficult.
When viewing forums online, is the name of the poster/commenter clickable? Yes Could probably be set up, with difficulty
Basic setup: How does the easy setup option work? Pretty easy. 2 systems for users to get used to. Very easy. 3 different systems for users to get used to (wiki + mailing lists + blog commenting). Not that any of the 3 are terribly hard, but it's confusing if they expect it to work one way, but it works another.
Advanced setup: Integration, cross-login: how well can it be integrated with the wiki if we do more work at some point (to make it shiny). Should work well - OpenID later is one option, and there are probably others. Serious integration looks rather complex, and not much precedent? (i.e. cross-login between 3 systems: the wiki, the place to post online, and commenting on the blog.)
Integration: can users use MediaWiki format in the blog/forum section? Yes (set up quite quickly by CurtB) Wordpress comments: Yes? Web entry form for mailing lists - unknown if a ready-made solution exists.

Chat with Mel, continued:

… Or - actually, here's an entirely different proposal.

… We've already talked about scrapping forums in lieu of mailing lists with public (and css-prettified) archives, which is pretty easy.

… Which leaves the blog. Now, writing posts to the blog is going to be invitation-only, I presume; not just anyone will be able to pop out a new article.

Chriswaterguy: that was for one particular list, but yes

… y

Mel Chua: And with wordpress, it's really easy to moderate comment spam (akismet plugin) and require people to provide their email (kept private) before writing a response.

… Now, presumably, people shouldn't need a wiki login before being able to comment on the blog post.

… And presumably, we don't really care if people don't explicitly put what their wiki login is on their blog post comment.

… I mean, sure, it's nice, but not vital.

Chriswaterguy: that's right (like my short term proposal...)

Mel Chua: (And people can post their wiki userpage as their url, if they really, really, really really want to.)

Chriswaterguy: y

Mel Chua: So the proposals to (1) scrap drupal, (2) use pretty mailing list archives for forums, and (3) just... put up a normal wordpress install for a blog.

Chriswaterguy: long term?

Mel Chua: This will take - oh, about an afternoon - to implement.

… Well, we've already shown that the drupal to drupal content migration is totally a moot point if we use wordpress for content anyway.

Chriswaterguy: i think we'd *really* like forums in coming months

Mel Chua: what advantages do forums have over mailing lists?

Chriswaterguy: anyone can come and post

… easier on the eyes for a visitor, easier searching

Mel Chua: Anyone can email to the list.

… Archives can be skinned *really* nicely so they look just like forums. Threaded and everything. Can even do search filters.

Chriswaterguy: my impression is it's much less usable, browseable.

… k

Mel Chua: Searching - google is the obvious quick and free solution, though it won't be up to the second accurate.

Chriswaterguy: i mean, that *could* be a better optoin.

… would like to see an implementation

Mel Chua: But honestly, most search engines, even those integrated through forums, aren't up to the second accurate either.

… They have to update their database of index terms too.

Chriswaterguy: y'

Mel Chua: It's also a much, much, *much* lighter load on the appropedia server.

… Which means... faster site!

… (for less $)

Chriswaterguy: hmm, yes

… and greener :)

… having some trouble visualizing, but in principle sounds good.

Mel Chua: As far as 'anyone can post on a forum,' it's straightforward to put a "write a response to this post" link on all the mailing list pages, which opens up an email with the correct subject line and list mailing address.

… And if you're worried about spam, you can set it so that posts from people who aren't subscribed to the mailing list have to be approved by a moderator.

Chriswaterguy: and can people set email notification options for replies?

Mel Chua: Well, if it's a mailing list, they'll get everything anyway.

Chriswaterguy: approval... captcha?

Mel Chua: To sign up for the mailing list? Totally doable, depending on which list management software we use.

Chriswaterguy: yikes... getting auto-subscribed isn't real nice...

Mel Chua: To comment on the wordpress blog? Yeah, totally.

… Oh! No, no, no, no, if you email something to the list you won't automatically get subscribed to it.

… I've seen some mailing lists that allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe to certain threads - so it's possible, I'm not sure what software they're using.

Chriswaterguy: I had the impression... sounds like to get involved in the mailing list, they really have to jump in.

… hmm

… very interesting.

… do you know sites doing this?

Mel Chua: mailing lists, yes.

… And theoretically (have not seen implementation of this but then again I haven't looked) the mailing list archives could have a feed for the whole thing, or for each thread.

… But please please please, shoot holes in this.

(conversation had to finish for now - haven't had a chance to search for interesting implementations of this idea.)


  • much faster, which means cheaper and greener.
  • quicker to get something up and running.


  • No SN features, e.g. voting...?
Implementable on a modular basis later. Unless you have a concrete list of features you absolutely want now, other than forums/mailing-list and some sort of blog, it's hard to say anything about this. There are a lot of SN-style mediawiki plugins, too.
  • Can't click on a name to go to profile?
People can always use their Appropedia-mediawiki user pages as the URL they provide for Wordpress comments. I believe you can implement something where people can check a checkbox if they want the computer to set a cookie to remember them, so they only have to fill in the link to their mediawiki userpage once. Mchua
Alternatively, it is entirely and completely possible to use mediawiki as a blog, including RSS/Atom feeds, pretty boxes for people to type comments into. Using the same installation of mediawiki for the blog is pretty much as integrated as you can get. Mchua
  • Can't click on a name to go to profile in the mailing lists? Can we do something with the mailing list archives (e.g. run a script when each email is posted) so posters have their names link to their profile? (Really nice, but maybe really hard, would be to add a link to a contributions list for the mailing-list-forums thing as well as the wiki.) Note this is not something we'd need soon, but is it something we could hope for within 6 months or a year, say?
Individuals can get a partial fix by putting their wiki userpage address in their email sig.
  • Doesn't encourage people to get involved in the wiki?
There are wordpress plugins that support the double-bracket syntax for linking to articles a wiki that the wordpress admin specifies. Mchua
  • Some people (myself included) can be reluctant to share their email addresses, even by having them hidden in group email lists. Perhaps I misunderstand something, but how do you anonymously comment to an email list? If anonymous comments are enabled via the web interface, is this some combo between forum and email?
  • Some people (myself included) can prefer not to have a lot of stuff fill up their inboxes


I don't understand the "can be up and running much faster" piece that is suggested by non-drupal solutions. I guess there is some sense that I've been working on Drupal for a long time? Really, I started ages ago, but got distracted and did nothing for 2 or 3 months. More recently things have gone much faster, and I've been very impressed by the flexibility and easy of configuration. Excepting cross-login issues (more in a sec), Drupal could be up and running next week using 5.3 with voting, captcha, wiki-like formatting for edits, blogs, forums, etc. The delays, in my mind, are related to us (at least me) figuring out what is desired. Once that's known, then implementation goes fairly quickly. If there is another single open source (free as in beer) tool that offers both blogs and forums (with voting, etc), then I'm interested. But dealing with two tools is not really interesting to me. If wordpress is that single tool, and it's flexible, then I'm interested.

As for email lists being lower power and greener, I bet a nickel that does not take into account the work being done by a large number of email servers. Now, if no one installs any additional email server capacity, then it's harder to measure. But mostly we're talking rendering HTML on our website, using CSS and the question is, which format represents the content behind the scenes (which is being kept in MySQL in any case, right?). I'll need more explanation as to why a Drupal implementation is more of a compute hog than other approaches, but as a guess I suppose it will be related to the flexibility of Drupal.

And, yes, I have had thoughts of more functionality (as yet unspecified and even unconceived) from Drupal down the road. Multiple languages, auto-translation, etc. But I'm sure that arguments for any feature can be made for other implementations, and really, I guess, that's the point. There are various ways to accomplish this, drupal seemed (and seems) reasonable. Despite my ramblings here, I'm open to other options. It is actually my sense that we are very close (except for OpenID, which I am convinced is the right long term solution) that makes me hesitant to shift gears. But only hesitant... Let's keep talking. --CurtB 06:35, 3 November 2007 (PDT)


  • Where has this mailing-list-as-a-forum been done? (Nice to see examples.)
A very quick Googling (iffy search, better search) gave some kind-of relevant hits, not necessarily with the software we're looking at: can have any number of mailinglists being recorded in PhpBB.
Each mailinglist is mapped as a categoy, and then you can have forums to map differents themes. For instances if you use tag attributes then you can easily attach forums to submailinglists.
Messages sent to the mailing list are inserted in the forum, and messages posted in the forum are forwarded to the mailinglist.
  • Some kind of cross-login, to make sign-ups to threads easier?
  • Can Wordpress export posts and comments en masse to another blog platform? (If we're unsure for long term, this factor could help us make a short term decision.)