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April 27, 2009

Other UThink enhancements

Hello everyone! I thought you all might be interested in a some thoughts on other enhancements that have not been discussed in much detail yet that will come with the UThink upgrade. Namely enhancements to asset managment, commenting functionality, and private blogging.

With the current version of UThink, asset managment is weak, at best. You can upload any file that you want, but manipulating that file, or even finding it again on the server after you've uploaded it, is another story. With the UThink upgrade, Movable Type 4 has vastly improved asset management capabilities. With MT 4 you can keep track of all your uploads, and filter them by file type such as video, audio, or image. You can also describe your assets, tag them, and delete them if necessary. Check out the image below for a little snapshot into the capabilities:

assets.png
Click for larger image

Managing comments within MT 4 is also improved. Within the current version of UThink (MT 3), you could either moderate comments, or let all comments through automatically (with a heavy dose of spam filtering brought to you by some MT plugins we've added). Now, with MT 4 you will still have the ability to moderate comments or let all comments through, as well tying comments to the U of M Internet ID and password system (aka "x.500"). In other words, we have modified MT 4 to give you the ability to require that only comments from U of M students, faculty, and staff can get through. You can mark any Internet ID as a "trusted commenter" or you can let all Internet IDs post comments by choosing "Any authenticated commenters." Here is a snapshot of the functionality:

comments.png
Click for larger image

Finally, and having to do with authenticating commenters through the U of M Internet ID and password system, is the ability to create private blogs. In the current UThink system you can create a private blog through Apache web server directory level passwords, or through PHP. In MT 4 we are building the ability to create a private blog using the U of M Internet ID and password system. In other words, we are making it so that as a blog owner you can choose which Internet IDs will be given the ability to see the content of your blog. We hope to do this through the MT 4 interface in order to make this as easy to implement as possible. Unfortunately I don't have any snapshots of this functionality yet, but be rest assured it will be awesome!

Of course, let me know if you have any questions or comments!



April 16, 2009

What does it take to upgrade Movable Type?

What does it take to upgrade Movable Type? Well, I'm glad you asked. Actually it takes a lot. There are a number of details to take care of, especially considering UThink is probably the largest academic install of Movable Type 3 in America. Let's talk about a few of those details:


  • Currently there are over 7,700 blogs on the UThink system and almost 130,000 individual entries. We have to make sure all those blogs and entries are updated properly. This requires a lot of testing and migration trials to make sure we have everything right.

  • There are about 15 plugins on the UThink system that we installed over the past 5 years to increase the functionality of Movable Type. This includes plugins like BlogRoller (to create a list of links on your blog home page) and MT-Enclosures (to enable podcasting functionality on the system). Unfortunately, most of the plugins we installed on MT 3 do not work on MT 4. So, we have to track down new plugins and make sure they work with all the data put on the system with the old plugins. So far we have been successful, but we have definitely had to massage some of the data on the system. New plugins on the upgraded system will include "Link Roller," "reCaptcha," and the "Podcasting Plugin," just to name a few.

  • One of the more unique features of UThink is that it is tied to the U of M Internet ID and password system (x.500). Obviously this functionality does not come "out-of-the-box." So, we have had to take a our old code for central authentication, tweak it a little, and make sure that it works for Movable Type 4. So far so good!

  • Along those same lines, Movable Type 4 offers a lot of new functionality in terms of the types of web sites you can create through the system: Classic Blogs, Community Blogs, Community Forums, or Professional Websites. Testing this functionality out, and making sure that it works with the U of M Internet ID and password system, plus making sure that people without a U of M Internet ID and password can participate when appropriate, has been a challenge.

  • Finally, much of the functionality from MT 3 to MT 4 has changed. For example, adding users to a specific blog to allow them to author or manage that blog has changed. The workflow has changed and new code is required to make it work with the Internet ID system. Essentially, rather than adding a new user to Movable Type, we want Movable Type to assume a user has already been created through the U of M. That way when a user is added to the system an account does not need to be created by hand in Movable Type. Make sense? No? Well, regardless, we will have to provide new documentation on this workflow, and other workflows, to make sure UThink users can do what they expect to be able to do.

Over the next few weeks I'll delve into these issues a little more. I just wanted to let all of you know that we are working hard to make sure all your blogs and content is upgraded properly, and that all the functionality you currently have now is also available in the new system.

Of course, let me know if you have any questions!



April 13, 2009

UThink is being upgraded to Movable Type 4.25!

Hello everyone! I don't know if you have heard this through the grapevine or not, but UThink is upgrading to Movable Type 4.25. Currently, UThink uses Movable Type 3.33, which is about 2-3 years old. Movable Type 4.25 offers a ton of new features and functionality which should make UThink easier to use and more powerful.

Some of the new features that UThink will gain through Movable Type 4.25 include:

  • Tagging of entries and uploads
  • User profile creation including avatars
  • The ability to create "Pages" or non-blog format content
  • Vastly improved asset managment for all your uploads
  • Custom Field creation capabilities
  • The ability to create display widgets for stuff like tag clouds, recent comments, recent uploads and more
  • New styles and formats including two and three column designs
  • Complete user control over imports and exports of blog content
  • Much, much more

One of the more exciting new features in Movable Type is the ability to create more than just a simple blog. When creating a new site in Movable Type 4.25 you will be given the choice of creating a Classic Blog, a Community Blog, a Community Forum, or a Professional Website. Of course, with all these format choices authors are also given complete control over their content and templates to completely design and configure their new site to meet their needs.

For those of you that are new to Movable Type 4.25, here are some screen shots highlighting some of the new functionality. Click each image for a larger version:

dashboard.png
The new "Dashboard"

entry.png
The new "New Entry" screen. Note WYSIWYG formatting options.


widgets.png
The new "Widgets" screen.

It is our hope to complete the UThink upgrade during the week of May 18. This is after finals and before the start of May Session.

Stay tuned to this blog for more updates and information concerning the upgrade. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or send a message to uthink@umn.edu.