Liferay's message boards are one of the most widely used collaboration features provided by the product. The application is a state of the art forum application similar to many forums in which you may have participated. The difference, of course, is that Liferay's message boards can inherit the abilities of the Liferay development platform to provide an integrated experience that others cannot match.
There are countless web sites out there where it is clearly evident that there is no link whatsoever between the main site and the message boards. In some cases, users are even required to register twice: once for the main site and once for the message boards. Sometimes it is three times: for the site, for the message boards, and for the shopping cart. By providing a message boards portlet along with all of the other applications, Liferay can provide a unique, integrated approach to building your web site. All of the integration work is done for you, and you can concentrate on building out the site that you want to build.
The Message Boards portlet has a lot of configuration options, but they are straightforward to use and are the reason why this portlet is a full-featured forum application for your web site. To get started, add a Message Boards portlet to your site. Once it is added, click the menu icon in the portlet's title bar and click Configuration.
The first tab is labeled Email From. This tab allows you to configure the email address that messages from the Message Boards portlet come from. By default, the name is Joe Bloggs and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Message Added Email
This tab allows you to customize the email message that users receive when a message is added to a topic to which they are subscribed.
Enabled: Uncheck the box to disable the message added email.
Subject Prefix: Enter a prefix that will be prepended to the subject line of the email. This is usually done so that users can set up message filters to filter the notifications to a specific folder in their email clients.
Body: Enter anything here that should appear in the body of the email.
Signature: Enter anything here that should appear as part of the signature of the email.
Below the fields is a section called Definition of Terms which defines certain variables which you can use in the fields above to customize the email message. Some of these variables are for the message board category name, the community name, and more.
Message Updated Email
The Message Updated Email tab is identical to the Message Added Email tab, except it defines the email message that users receive whenever a topic is updated.
You can define custom priorities for message threads. These allow administrators to tag certain threads with certain priorities in order to highlight them for users. By default, three priorities are defined: Urgent, Sticky, and Announcement. To define a thread priority, enter its name, a URL to the image icon that represents it, and a priority number which denotes the order in which that priority should appear.
There is also a field on this form that allows you to select a localized language for your priorities. If you need to do this, you can select the language from the selection box.
Users can be ranked according to the number of messages they have posted. You can set up custom ranks here. Defaults have been provided for you, going from zero messages all the way up to 1000.
In addition to ranks, you can also select who is a "moderator" by what roles are held. Defaults are there for you which show you how to do this:
Moderator=community-role:Message Boards Administrator
Moderator=organization:Message Boards Administrator
Moderator=organization-role:Message Boards Administrator
Moderator=regular-role:Message Boards Administrator
Moderator=user-group:Message Boards Administrator
As you can see, all you need to do is set the rank, the collection type, and the name of the type. In the example above, anyone who has a Community Role, an Organization Role, a regular Role, or is in a user group called Message Boards Administrator, or anyone who is the Organization Owner gets the Moderator rank.
As with thread priorities, on this tab you can define whether your ranks are localized in a particular language.
Message board threads can be published as RSS feeds. This tab allows you to define how the feeds are generated.
Maximum Items to Display: Select the number of items to display in the feed.
Display Style: Select the style. You can publish the full content, an abstract, or just the title of a thread.
Format: Choose the format among RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, or Atom 1.0 formats.
This tab contains a single check box. Check the box if you want to enable anonymous posting to the message boards. Uncheck the box if users must register on your site before posting to the message boards.
This tab also contains a single check box. Check the box if you want to allow users to rate the messages that are posted. Uncheck the box to disable this feature.
When you have finished setting up the message boards, click Save on the tab you are using and then click Return to Full Page.
The default page that the Message Boards portlet displays has two buttons on it. Click the one labeled Permissions. This allows you to define which roles have the ability to add a category of threads or to ban abusive users from the message boards. Select the roles and permissions you want to configure and then click Submit.
You are now ready to add categories to your message boards. Click the Add Category button. Enter a name for the category and a description of the category. At the bottom of the form is a check box which allows you to enable the mailing list function.
The mailing list function works in concert with the message notification emails. If a user subscribes to a message board category, he or she will get emails when someone posts messages to that category. Enabling the mailing list function allows those users to simply reply to the notification messages in their email clients, and those replies will be posted to the thread automatically.
To enable this functionality, you will need a mail account for the category. Once you click the check box, a number of other options will appear.
Email Address: Enter the email address of the account that will receive the messages.
Next, there are two tabs: Incoming and Outgoing. These define the mail settings for receiving mail and for sending mail. The Incoming tab has the following options:
Protocol: Select POP or IMAP.
Server Name: Enter the host name of the mail server you are using.
Server Port: Enter the port on which your mail service is running.
Use a Secure Network Connection: Check this box to use an encrypted connection if your server supports it.
User Name: The login name on the mail server.
Password: The password for the account on the server.
Read Interval (Minutes): Liferay will poll the server at this interval looking for new messages to post.
The Outgoing tab has the following options:
Email Address: Enter the email address that messages from this category should come from. If you want your users to be able to reply to the categories using email, this should be the same address configured on the Incoming tab.
Use Custom Outgoing Server: If you need to use a different mail server than the one that is configured for the portal, check this box. If you check the box, a number of other options will appear.
Server Name: Enter the host name of the SMTP mail server you are using.
Server Port: Enter the port on which your mail service is running.
Use a Secure Network Connection: Check this box to use an encrypted connection if your server supports it.
User Name: Enter the login name on the mail server.
Password: Enter the password for the account on the mail server.
When finished adding your category, click Save. Add as many categories to your message boards as you wish.
Note that categories can have subcategories. You can add a number of top-level categories and then click on each one and add categories under that, to an unlimited level. For usability reasons, you don't want to nest your categories too deep, or your users will have trouble finding them.
You can always add more categories as your message boards grow.
Using the Message Boards
Upon seeing Liferay's Message Boards portlet, your users will immediately recognize that the interface is similar to many other implementations they've seen before. Message boards are nothing new to the Internet, and many people have been using them for quite a long time. For that reason, Liferay's message boards will seem very familiar to your users.
Threads can be viewed in many ways. At the top of the portlet is a set of tabs: Categories, My Posts, My Subscriptions, Recent Posts, and for administrative users, Statistics and Banned Users. The Categories tab allows users to browse the categories for an appropriate place to post a thread. The My Posts tab shows all of the posts for the user that is currently logged in. This is a convenient way to get back to a conversation you had once in order to retrieve some pertinent information. The My Subscriptions tab allows a user to manage thread subscriptions. If you lose interest in a particular topic, you may want to visit this tab and unsubscribe from a thread. The Recent Posts tab shows all posts from all categories by date, so you can keep up on all the most recent discussions in the message boards.
For administrators, the Statistics tab shows the number of categories, the number of posts, and the number of participants in your message boards. It also has a list of who the top posters to your message boards are. The Banned Users tab shows all of the users who have been banned from posting on the message boards.
To post a new message thread, go to the Categories tab, click on a category, and then click on the Post New Thread button. You will see a message editing form. The body field on this form is different from that of the other portlets in Liferay. The reason for this is to support BBCode, which is a standard form of markup used in many message board products. Before BBCode was invented, many message board products would allow users to enter HTML to format their messages. This, however, enabled attackers to insert malicious code into the message board. BBCode was invented to provide users a way of formatting their messages without allowing them to enter HTML. Similarly, Liferay supports BBCode in the message boards portlet because the other editor—which is used for the Content Management System, the Blogs portlet, and other portlets—produces HTML. This is appropriate for those other portlets, as they are only used by privileged users, but it is not appropriate for the message boards. Besides this, many users of message boards are familiar with BBCode and are used to it, and the editor that is provided for Liferay's Message Boards portlet makes it very easy to use.
Illustration 62: Editing a message boards post. You can see the emoticons that are available in the editor. Users who have Moderator access to the board can modify the priority of messages. You can also use the editor to quote from messages that you are replying to, to insert emoticons, to add preformatted text, and more.
Messages that are posted to the message boards are shown by default in a threaded view, so that replies are attached to the proper parent message. This makes it easy to follow along with conversations.
When viewing a message board thread, users are given several options. At the top right of the thread are three icons, allowing users to view threads in a flat view, in a tree view, or in a combination view. A flat view shows all of the messages in the order in which they are posted. A tree view shows all of the messages in a threaded view, so that replies are next to the messages they are replying to. A combination view shows the threads at the top as subjects only, with the flat view underneath.
When viewing a thread, users can click links allowing them to post a new thread, subscribe to the thread they are viewing, or if they have administrative access, move a thread to another category. Subscribing to a thread causes Liferay to send the user an email whenever a new message is posted to the thread. If you have enabled the mailing list feature for the category in which the thread resides, users can simply reply to these messages in order to post back to the thread, without having to visit your site.
The Message Boards portlet is also highly integrated with Liferay's user management features. Posts on the message board show users' pictures if they have uploaded one for themselves, as well as the dates that users created an ID on your site.
Message Board Administrative Functions
Illustration 63: Message Boards permissions. The Message Boards portlet provides for the day to day administration of the message threads. You may wish to separate this function out by a role, and then delegate that role to one or more of your users. That would free you up to concentrate on other areas of your web site. To do this, you can create a role called Message Board Administrator. This role can be scoped by the portal, an organization, or a community. If you have a portal scoped role, members of this role will be able to administer any Message Boards portlet in the portal. If it is a community or organization scoped role, members of this role will be able to administer a Message Boards portlet in only the community or organization in which they have the role.
Go to the Control Panel and create this role. Once it is created, click Actions → Define Permissions. Click the Portlet Permissions button. Browse the list until you find the Message Boards portlet and then click on it. You will then see a screen which allows you to configure the various permissions on the portlet.
Grant the permissions you wish message board administrators to have and then click Save. You can then add users to this role and they will inherit the permissions.
Message Board administrators can perform all of the functions we have already presented, including creating and deleting categories and posting threads. In addition to these, a number of other functions are available.
Many times a user will post a thread in the wrong category. Administrators may in this case want to move a thread to the proper category. This is very easy to do. First click on the thread. If you have administrative access, there is a link at the top of the thread labeled Move Thread. Click this link. You will be presented with a simple form which allows you to select a category to which to move the thread and a check box which allows you to post a message explaining why the thread was moved. This message will be posted as a reply to the thread you are moving. When finished, click the Move Thread button and the thread will be moved.
Users with administrative access to the message boards can delete threads. Sometimes users begin discussing topics that are inappropriate or which reveal information which should not be revealed. In this case, you can simply delete the thread from the message boards. This is easy to do. First, view the list of threads. Next to every thread is an Actions button. Click Actions → Delete to delete the thread. This does not prevent users from re-posting the information, so you may need to be vigilant in deleting threads or consider the next option.
Unfortunately, sometimes certain users can become abusive. If you wind up with a user like this, you can certainly make attempts to warn him or her that the behavior he or she is displaying is unacceptable. If this does not work, you can ban the user from posting on the message boards.
Again, this is very easy to do. Find any post which was written by the abusive user. Underneath the user's name / profile picture is a link called Ban this User. Click this link to ban the user from the message boards.
If after taking this action the user apologizes and agrees to stop his or her abusive behavior, you can choose to reinstate the user. To do this, click the Banned Users tab at the top of the Message Boards portlet. This will show a list of all banned users. Find the user in the list and click the Unban this User link.
Sometimes a thread will go on for a while and the discussion completely changes into something else. In this case, you can split the thread where the discussion diverges and create a whole new thread for the new topic. Administrative users will see a Split Thread link on each post. To split the thread, click the link. You will be brought to a form which allows you to add an explanation post to the split thread. Click Ok to split the thread.
Administrative users can edit not only their own posts, but also everyone else's. Sometimes users will post links to copyrighted material or unsuitable pictures. You can edit these posts, which allows you to redact information that should not be posted or to censor profanity that is not allowed on your message boards.
Permissions can be set not only on threads, but also on individual posts. You can choose to limit a particular conversation or a post to only a select group of people. To do this, click the Permissions link on the post and then select among the Delete, Permissions, Subscribe, Update, and View permissions for the particular role to which you want to grant particular access.
This function can be used to make it so some privileged users can post on a certain thread, but others are allowed to view it, or any combination of the above permissions.