10/27 Update - Activity Wall
The Activity Wall, a new widget, goes live today! It's like the walls you'll find commonly on social networking sites. It's what the old Status Updates widget was kind of trying to do, only it does it a lot better. It could also be looked at as a replacement for shout boxes altogether, since it supports media.
In order for people to post to it, they'll need to be granted higher than public/applicant access to your site. Here are some of the features:
The familiar WYSIWYG editor is used, only in a slimmer version. Tools available for now are: toggle full-screen edit mode, spell check, some formatting, insert link, insert image, and insert video (from either YouTube or Vimeo). You may find the area too small to work with, especially if you're inserting big images or videos, so make use of that full-screen toggle on the far left!
Adding video from YouTube or Vimeo is easy. Just go to the web page on YouTube or Vimeo where the video is shown, copy the address, click the blue Play icon to the far right in the wall editor, and paste the URL. Hit your tab key and you'll be presented with a preview of what it'll look like in your post, along with some options.
Most of them can be left alone. The one you want to pay attention to is "Play the video automatically on load." You'll probably want to un-check that box, else risk the wrath of guildies opening the page with the wall on it, getting hit with all kinds of videos starting to play at the same time!
The Next Thing
Once you've added your text/video/images, click the post button and boom -- there you have it. Emoticons are automatically parsed based on defaults and/or any custom emoticons the guild uses. Clicking on the name of the poster displays the standard drop-down menu for doing things like viewing their profile, visiting their blog, chatting with them if they are online, and all that good stuff.
Know how sometimes, you can put an image in a post or a news item and if it's too big, it'll stretch out the page, wrecking the design? Well, I think I've got that figured out now (and with all the layout possibilities there are due to customization, and the fact that IE ignores max-width unless everything's set a particular way at the parent level, it took a while -- that, and I'm dumb as a rock)! Anyway, when you post an image to the wall, it'll now do its best to fit inside the available space, without stretching things out. Notice: if your browser is way, way old, it'll probably be icky like before. So with a large image (the one shown is actually around 1200 pixels wide, in a widget that's about 700 pixels width), here's what a well-behaving browser will show (minus the purple arrows I thought were neat while putting the screens together in Fireworks):
But hey! What if the image is gigantic because there's that much going on? Easy to do with something like an in-game screenshot. And you might want to see it full size. No problem! You can click any images on the wall and they'll open up all sexy like in a gallery-type scroll view dyno-resizing nifty thingy. Stuff. Whatever you wanna call it. Hey, I'm not a writer, k? Anyway, it's got arrows (way better-looking than my purple ones up there) that you can use to move between other images on the wall.
The Morning After (after you post, I mean)
There are a few things at the bottom of each post. People can click on Comments to show comments or add their own. The date and time of the post has been sacrificed in a pagan ritual, making way for the more friendly "how long ago" display. There are tools to delete the post if you're a Super Admin or the original author, and if you're the author you can edit the post, too.
The comments are pretty simple. Not much to explain there. I thought about spinning it so they sounded all complicated and neat and shiny, but... Yeah. No. Oh, and both of those posts are from me. I talk to myself while testing, and for a reason I cannot fathom, I always revert to a despicable sub-set of the English language.
Instead of cramming the thing with everything I could think of, taking ideas from some of the major social sites out there, I decided to hold back and push it as it is now. I'm counting on feedback to direct the decision making when it comes to further enhancements for the wall. After all, there are things I found that I like which a lot of you might really not, and there were some features the big boys are sporting now that I really find... icky (who says "icky?" I do!).
So let me know what you would like to see done moving forward. Maybe WYSIWYG editing of comments instead of the simple type-and-hit-enter behavior it has now? Or automatically-entered posts by the site when people apply, add a shout, post something in the forums, add a news item, create a new raid, add an image to the gallery (all linked automatically to the source item)? Anyway, let me know!
When someone requests a one-on-one chat session, you will now hear a... beeping thingy. Useful if you have more than one browser window open, are looking at a different screen, or have your head spun around facing behind you, like that girl from the Exorcist. I do
that sometimes. Don't judge me!
Typical GP Chat
Also, on-demand playable sound effects have been fixed in guild chat. Type /sounds for a clickable list of the currently available ones. In addition, lots of little bugs and stuff were fixed.
- Many widgets have had their displays cleaned up a little. There will be more of this going forward, as we move to a more universally clean (and still customizable) theme format. This is primarily being done to enable us (and you) to create much higher quality themes than is now possible. We will be making use of HTML5, CSS3, and responsive design principles.
- Quirky behaviors in some of the style editors have been un-quirkified.
- Your hamster has been watching you with malice as you sleep.
- The ability to add an image to a post via link instead of the image manager has been restored.
- Many other bug fixes.
AJAX and some of the new controls, combined with our recent upgrade of the Q1 2008 Prometheus suite of controls for .NET 3.5, will make it possible to bring more "compelling" user experiences to both the Control Panel (IMO fairly dated and more difficult to use as the features kept getting piled on) and individual content types on the guild pages. I put the word compelling in quotes because, while marketing people always use that term when describing the user interfaces you'll be able to whip up with their latest tool, I never quite understood its placement. What, after all, does a treeview compel a person to do? That is, other than click the nodes on it.
Anyway, this transition should be a bit smoother than the last one, since we'll be pulling the web servers out of the load balancer one at a time, upgrading to the 3.5 framework, and then pushing the migrated code to the servers. Once there, we'll do full regression testing on each server to make sure everything's working as expected. After that, we put the server back into the load balance mix and move to the next.
I think we'll be moving away from the "Service News" type of thing and focus more on keeping the new Change Log current. Writing news about enhancements to the site is normally done after the fact, and some things that have been done are inevitably left out. By going the route of the change log, we'll be keeping you up to date on changes as, or before, they're being worked on. There might be some kind of summarized grouping by time, or by release version, but really, what does the version number mean to anybody anyway? For us, it's helpful with our source control system, but for end-users, it's odd. It's like in WoW, you'll hear "oh, that's been that way since v2.4.1041blahblahblah." What's wrong with, "oh, that's been that way since December?"
I guess the geeks (not excluding myself -- my son will testify to my lack of "coolness") are still allowed to name things!
Speaking of coolness, I'm writing this blog entry using Windows Live Writer. I was working on the API's to make it possible for people to post to their GuildPortal blogs with richer tools like WLW and others when I realized how long it's been since I updated mine. It's neat -- you can save a draft locally and publish it to your GP-hosted blog only when you're completely done with it. Even if you're offline. The code that GuildPortal needs to make it function with WLW will be going live along with the framework upgrade, sometime over the next week (we're still ironing out the best time based upon bandwidth usage and the availability of caffeine if it ends up being like, really really late).
Makes me wonder about the possibility making other parts of GuildPortal able to disconnect and let you browse forums, post replies, send web-based mail, etc., and then upload what you've done the next time you're connected. We had an offline forum viewer for a while back in the days of .NET 1.0, but it was a serious dog (the networking code wasn't all there and, honestly, XML containing all the information is too verbose -- we'll probably look at JSON or something more lightweight).
We have been extremely cautious in our moves to new versions of our development tools, servers, frameworks, and just about everything else. We'd rather put off throwing shinies out there for a bit, if it's a trade-off between that or performance/reliability. The new version of the framework is very stable, full of goodies, and ready to go.
It'll also help us justify the ungodly amount Microsoft is charging for licensing!
We're looking forward to supporting Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and other hotly-anticipated titles (I only remember those two right at this moment because I'm going nuts waiting for them), enhancing support for games that have been around since the start, and yes, introducing a shiny or two.
As always, thank you for choosing GuildPortal as your guild's home on the web!
We've recently finished our latest hardware upgrade -- this one affecting every bit of hardware we've got running over at RackSpace's data centers in Texas. New database server (monster thing), web, and firewall upgrades are done and the migration of code and data took a total of about 6 hours. The DNS stuff took a bit longer for those living in parts of the net where updating of name servers takes longer than others, but overall it was a smooth move to the new boxes and data center.
We can't express how grateful we are to the members of GuildPortal who are spreading the word in their games, directly leading to more people signing their guilds up for hosting here. This is especially important to us in the new games that come out, when they pull in people who have played no previous MMOG and hence, have not heard of us. World of Warcraft is a prime example of this.
That said, though the traffic is increasing, it's not necessarily leading to a proportionate increase in the subscribers compared to the sites being used. In essence, our costs rose dramatically with the upgrades (check out RackSpace's prices for an idea -- they're one of the best, but their pricing reflects it), but our ability to cover the costs hasn't necessarily risen in proportion.
That's OK! As long as the service pays for itself (and for food, etc.), it's all good!
But now a shadow looms on the horizon. Our old friend Sharbel at GuildWizard needed more time to focus on other business, and sold GuildWizard to IGE. Well, actually, he sold it to OGaming, which is owned by IGE (info: 1, 2, 3).
Typically, when you have a new product (it's not new, but its ownership is), you have a couple options when you want to generate some traffic in an already-saturated marketplace. 1) You make it SO good that nothing else compares or 2) You offer it for free for a limited period of time. With IGE/GuildWizard, it looks like they've gone the route of #2. It's clearly a market share grab, and while it might sound a bit repugnant to some, it's standard fare and commonly practiced.
Now, what's scary? The best product doesn't always necessarily win. If you have a major financial backer (like IGE), you can hire a huge staff of programmers and throw them at it. The product itself doesn't have to be good enough, initially, to pay for its own development, because your other product lines (selling in-game items, currency, and accounts in IGE's case) can cover the costs for as long as necessary. Offer it for free, and you're a double threat.
Add to that the other heavily-trafficked sites owned, such as OGaming. Leverage the traffic there (by means of ad banners directing people to the GuildWizard service), and now you're getting people who've never heard of your competitor (GuildPortal). If they're not the comparison shopper types, they may never hear of or visit any other product. Grab a big enough market share, and you may never actually need to improve the product at all. One day, turn off the free offering, start collecting the data that guild owners are entering (like quest or item information, including drop locations and frequency), and you've got a guild hosting product that will not only stand on its own as a revenue generator, but it could also act as a data source for your game information/news sites (OGaming), and as a pretty decent reference when your staff of item/currency farmers (IGE staff) are looking for good spots in the games to monopolize spawns in order to sell items for real cash.
It all sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, and maybe it us. But it also sounds like good business, if "good" means "revenue generating" and nothing else.
Why is it scary to GuildPortal? Well, if they've got unlimited resources to throw at grabbing market share, then we may have something to worry about. As I said before, the new upgrades to the service are extremely costly, and we don't have other marketing channels that can fund GP -- it's been self-funding since the day it went live. It had to pay its own bills, and it had to do so by being a good product. MMOG players are some of the most technical, skilled, and demanding customers I could ever imagine. They've led us to creating a product that meets their needs, and we're grateful beyond words for that. Hopefully -- in this case and in spite of a plethora of examples to the contrary in every market -- the best product will win.
Anyway, this isn't a press release or official statement from GuildPortal.com or Axiom Shift, LLC. It's just my blog.