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IP.Content 2.3 Dev Update: ACP Interface Improvements [Part 1]

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IP.Content, by it's nature, is largely managed via the admin control panel. While there are front-end capabilities available to allow you to distribute some of the work load to your moderators (and, in some cases, members), the majority of the setup and management is performed via the admin control panel. Additionally, because IP.Content is a framework tool designed to allow you to build your website utilizing features and APIs made available through the IP.Board suite framework, sometimes the available options can become a little overwhelming for new users.

We have literally made thousands of changes to the IP.Content admin control panel interface for version 2.3, and we wanted to take some time to explain some of these changes you can expect to see with the next release.


Template Help Improvements

IP.Content has had a built-in help function for pages, templates and blocks for many releases now. A small button above the template editor opens a sidebar to show you the available template tags based on the area you are editing (a page, a template, or a block). We identified several ways to improve the template tag help for IP.Content 2.3 to make it more noticeable and usable, and we think these changes will make editing templates much easier in the next release. [*]In reviewing feedback and requests, many customers seemingly did not even realize the template tag help feature was available. They had overlooked the buttons, causing them to miss this extremely valuable feature. [*]The styling of the help was inconsistent with the rest of the ACP [*]There was inline help and advanced help available. The advanced help showed descriptions and additional information about the inline help tags, but was otherwise duplicative of the existing inline help panel. [*]The database help always opened a popup and often felt clunky in real-world use.
Beginning with IP.Content 2.3, the buttons have been removed entirely. The inline template tag help panel will be open by default, helping you to know it is available immediately without having to discover this very useful feature. You can still close the panel if you are familiar with the available tags; closing the panel will minimize it to a small clickable vertical bar to the right of the editor, which you can then click to reopen the panel. If you close the panel, this is remembered via a cookie so that you will not have to close the panel on other pages or when working with other blocks within the ACP.

For database templates, the help panel is tabbed, with one tab showing the regular template tags and one tab showing the available database variables you can utilize in the template. Database templates are context-sensitive, showing different available tags based on what kind of database template you are working with.

Additionally, we have implemented "click to insert" functionality for all of the tags now. This means there will be a small button next to tags within the template tag help panel that, upon being clicked, will insert that tag into the editor for you automatically. This has been an oft-requested enhancement we are happy to announce will be available in IP.Content 2.3.


Video: http://screencast.com/t/ZAZR55GJic


Field auto-population

What does that even mean? Well, in IP.Content 2.3 we identified many areas of the software where a value was needed, but often times you were not required to supply one, or one could be extrapolated from other data automatically. For instance, templates, fields, blocks and databases all require a unique key that is utilized throughout the software to refer to that object. Categories require a friendly URL key, and articles and other database records allow you to (optionally) specify a static FURL key. You use the database key to refer to the database when inserting it into a page; same with blocks. Generally speaking, however, most administrators don't understand what a "key" is, why it is needed, or why they need to manually supply it. Indeed - they shouldn't need to manually supply one in most cases. The software can figure this out for you.

In IP.Content 2.3, we have hidden many of these fields (for non-developers, at least) and will now auto-populate the key based on the title of the content. For example, when you add a template you will no longer be prompted for a template key (unless you have enabled developer mode) - one will be set for you automatically behind the scenes. For areas where even non-developer administrators may want to specify the key, we have made the field hidden by default (and auto-populated for you), but you can still override the automatically set key manually if you wish. We have implemented this method of value auto-population in many areas of the IP.Content ACP. Additionally, when you opt to manually specify this key (where available), an AJAX callback is triggered that will ensure it is unique and automatically append a unique string to the end of it if necessary.


Video: http://screencast.com/t/y5WOpYvL7xb

In this video you will see the new implementation available when adding a database. The database key is automatically determined based on the name of the database you specify. When you enter a name that would result in a unique key (such as "Articles", as an articles database is provided out of the box), a unique string is automatically appended to the key real-time. Finally, you can manually override the automatic key and specify one manually, should you wish to do so.


Specifying title and content fields

When you create (or edit) a database, you must specify which field in that database represents the title of records submitted, and which field represents the record content. These options are available on the bottom of the second tab when adding/editing a database. When you are adding a new database, however, you run into a chicken-egg scenario - you are asked to specify these two fields, however you cannot create fields for a database until the database itself exists. Many users will finish creating the database, then create the respective fields, however they forget to go back and update the database configuration to set these field mappings.

This situation creates an issue some users have run in to - your friendly URLs in that database do not work correctly, redirecting you back to the database index. We have resolved this issue in IP.Content 2.3, ensuring that the URL still works if the title field is not correctly specified (and you are using friendly URLs). However, that is not what this blog entry is about. :wink:

We have added new checkboxes to the add/edit field forms to allow you to specify if a particular field represents the title or content for the database right from the field form.



If you check one of these boxes while adding or editing a field, the database will be updated for you automatically. If you edit a field already marked as the title or content field, the checkbox will be checked (to indicate this to you), but disabled (to prevent you from deselecting a field as the title field and inadvertently leaving the database with no title field specified).

This should help your workflow immensely when creating new databases. You will no longer need to create the database, create the title and content fields, and then update the database to specify these. Now, you can set these special fields right from the field addition form, saving you from having to do something manually which you will be likely to forget.


More to come

This is part 1 of a two part blog outlining some of the major interface and workflow changes you can expect to see coming in IP.Content 2.3. Stay tuned to read about further changes you can expect to see in IP.Content 2.3, with our next blog entry outlining some of the other major ACP interface changes. If you have ideas to enhance the software, please post them in our IP.Content feedback forum. Otherwise, we welcome your comments below!







Rhett, Freeborne, MageLeif and 6 others like this
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11 Comments

Posted

Looks like improvements to help the IP.Content newbie like myself. I am so use to Joomla that the change to IP.Content has been a battle for me. I'm not giving up and I'm sure IP.Content can do everything that a Joomla Article can do but just not sure how to yet. Would be great if there was a comparison of this is what you did before in Joomla and this is what you do in IP.Content to get the same results or even video of how to create a simple article with a photo and video to a complex article. ALSO a biggie is how to create a very nice looking home page in IP.Content, that would be huge.

Amy T, Digityman and Mario Thomas like this
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Posted

Great updates Brandon, thanks!

I know the Title/Content thing gave us some trouble when we switched on the Friendly URLS. Caused me some head bashing when we were trying to wrap our heads around IP.C originally.

I'm very glad to see that the changes are being made with an focus on not losing any of the fundamental power of the existing system. I've got a lot of specific feedback on individual issues, but that's best saved for a different venue than blog entry comments.

I sincerely appreciate the time and effort you've put into both the changes and the Blog posts to keep the community up to date.

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Posted

Looks good - I think this addresses some of the big issues I had when first starting out. I still had issues like figuring out why I couldn't use an html page just like all the templates worked and what to do with the page templates but you get past that.

Whats conspicuously MISSING is a real lack of form control for a database - all forms feed into the same generic form template.. and IPC forms are UGLY as sin. Why not give admins control of the form look as well by passing an array of pre-html-rendered form elements with field keys to a form template we can choose like we do for records, or categories, etc. Yes we have to ensure all fields are there when we make the form, but that's the point of IPC as a framework.

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[quote name='mat206' timestamp='1322671285']
Looks good - I think this addresses some of the big issues I had when first starting out. I still had issues like figuring out why I couldn't use an html page just like all the templates worked and what to do with the page templates but you get past that.Whats conspicuously MISSING is a real lack of form control for a database - all forms feed into the same generic form template.. and IPC forms are UGLY as sin. Why not give admins control of the form look as well by passing an array of pre-html-rendered form elements with field keys to a form template we can choose like we do for records, or categories, etc. Yes we have to ensure all fields are there when we make the form, but that's the point of IPC as a framework.


this, this, this.... let us choose the submission form....... let there be a default as it is now, but please, let us define a submission form... at the database level.

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Posted

Please keep comments on topic about this blog entry. Use the feedback forum for feedback about anything else :)

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Posted

Really nice.

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[quote name='mat206' timestamp='1322671285']
Looks good - I think this addresses some of the big issues I had when first starting out. I still had issues like figuring out why I couldn't use an html page just like all the templates worked and what to do with the page templates but you get past that.Whats conspicuously MISSING is a real lack of form control for a database - all forms feed into the same generic form template.. and IPC forms are UGLY as sin. Why not give admins control of the form look as well by passing an array of pre-html-rendered form elements with field keys to a form template we can choose like we do for records, or categories, etc. Yes we have to ensure all fields are there when we make the form, but that's the point of IPC as a framework.


Hell.
Yes.

Spent a LOT of time working out how to build custom DB submission forms (largely using mat206's tutorials :) ) and while it can be done, it's a HUGE PITA esp when you start building complex sites that use a lot of complex IP.C DB that have unique data entry functional and aesthetic requirements. Having the ability to do it built into the system would be an incredible boon, both from a development time and long term maintenance point of view.

^^^^
I'd repeat the above in progressively increasing font size and emphasis, but that would just be irritating to folks reading through these comments. :wink:

@Charles: Noted and you're absolutely right. :) I totally plan on providing that feedback in the appropriate *ahem* forum *ahem* for it, but I did feel obligated to support mat206's point given how much benefit we got from his wonderful tutorials ;).

James
(of James and Susan)

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Noting that we do have another blog entry coming that is also solely dedicated to ACP UI/usability improvements, if you have suggestions you would like to see implemented, please do use the forums appropriately. Of course I can't promise anything for 2.3 (we have a nice list already planned obviously), but I do honestly and truly heavily review the forums for product planning, and ideas that get a lot of support or show recurring themes do get attention.

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Very nice features!

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Sorry guys, I was watching the cool videos that made it easy to put database info and fields into templates and thought it would be cool to see that for forms as well. It just suddenly made it easy to visualize plucking form fields out of that ACP picker and putting them into a custom form template.

Prior to this post I wouldn't have thought it would have been so easy to make this possible. I think this is a big step forward for those who have difficulty with the UI.. The title stuff is by far one of the more confusing issues with databases as well.

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[quote name='mat206' timestamp='1322695914']
Sorry guys, I was watching the cool videos that made it easy to put database info and fields into templates and thought it would be cool to see that for forms as well. It just suddenly made it easy to visualize plucking form fields out of that ACP picker and putting them into a custom form template.Prior to this post I wouldn't have thought it would have been so easy to make this possible. I think this is a big step forward for those who have difficulty with the UI.. The title stuff is by far one of the more confusing issues with databases as well.


Applauds.
No more copy-paste-ing vars from a screen i have to manually force-load :D Loving that, as well as the entire intuitiveness.

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