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12Sep2015

Kunena 4.0: changed subscribe checkbox “behaviour” angers community

Information
3005 hits Updated: 18 May 2016

“Automatically” subscribing members to receive notifications of replies to their posts

The new “automatic” topic subscription behaviour in K 4.0

Changing the user forum preferences “globally”

Will these problems be fixed in a future version?

Community reaction

Kunena 4.0.5 [K 4.0.5]—a so-called “minor” update that was supposed to fix defects/bugs in earlier versions—added some new features.  One of the new features, in particular, has caused the community to openly criticise the development team for failing to engage with them about how the project is being managed.

The affected item is the configuration setting:  Components » Configuration » Users » Subscriptions » Check Subscription Box.

Without engaging the community beforehand, the developers decided to change this setting’s behaviour.  For those who do not know, I have previously documented this setting’s behaviour in one of my other articles.  The changes were “announced” in the release notes for K 4.0.5 as “Subscribe’s box (sic) is always enabled #3303”; the actual link to the GitHub item was not included in the release notes.  Instead it was left to the community to discover the change when it became apparent that the Kunena users forum had implemented the feature.  Until questions were asked on the forum, no-one had any knowledge about how to adjust to this abrupt change.  The result has been that the change has angered the community with some people “cursing” the day they had updated to this latest version of the forum software.

“Automatically” subscribing members to receive notifications of replies to their posts

Internet discussion forums have existed for over 20 years and all the “best” forums have features to keep members informed when forum activity takes place. Allowing forum members to opt-in—rather than having to opt-out—is considered to be best practice.  In fact, if you do not allow users to opt-in, you may be breaking the law.  Most people who use forums are intuitive enough to know how to subscribe themselves instead of having those decisions made for them. Your members will appreciate you when you demonstrate, by example, how to use the forum features effectively.

Kunena allows members to subscribe to topics that they are interested in, as well as to subscribe to entire categories of topics so that, whenever a new message is posted, they will receive notification by email of those events. If your forum is a very active one, involving dozens or hundreds of messages posted each day, people may be overwhelmed by the volume of email the forum generates.

Subscribe to be notified checkboxBy default, Kunena automatically “suggests” that members should subscribe to the topic in which they are posting with a conveniently-located checkbox located on the message editing form (as shown in the image at right).

The checkbox labelled “Check this box to be notified of replies to this topic” is both a blessing and a curse. For those people who are unfamiliar with web-based discussion forums, having this checkbox enabled by default means that they do not have to remember do so anything and they will be notified by email when a message has been made in the topic(s) they have contributed to. For those who use forums every day, having this checkbox selected by default means that they have to deselect it if they don’t want unwanted emails on this subject in future. In some forums the number of unwanted emails may become excessive and your members may wish they had not joined your website.

When you first install Kunena, the setting that controls whether this checkbox is selected or deselected by default (when people post messages on your forum) is Components » Configuration » Users » Subscriptions » Check Subscription Box (as shown in the image below):

Check subscription box setting

It may not matter if you leave this setting unchanged but, if you leave it alone, you might like to consider changing it if you plan on having a busy forum! Most people who use web-based discussion forums these days are used to subscribing to topics that they’re interested in. From my own experience, it is easier to select something that you want to do than it is to remember to deselect something that you may not want instead.

The problem is that the behaviour of the setting changed with K 4.0.5.  The forum owner can define the “setting” but each user can decide to change their personal preference differently … if they are aware that they have this ability.

The new “automatic” topic subscription behaviour in K 4.0

It is unclear when the changed behaviour was first included as part of Kunena.  The change may have occurred before K 4.0.5—I do not know because the development team has added numerous new features with every minor release of Kunena since K 4.0.0!  Under the new arrangements, the Check Subscription Box setting is overridden by a new user profile preference setting.  The problem, however, lies with the default setting in the user profile and it’s somewhat complicated to explain how to universally reset everyone’s preferences because this “automated” subscription mechanism starts behaving differently from how people were previously accustomed.

Because this change was added to Kunena as a complete surprise, forum owners were unable to prepare their own communities beforehand and educate their users about what they may need to do.  This has resulted in bewilderment within the community and embarrassment for forum managers.  “Bad marketing”, you may say; I would say that it’s completely unacceptable.

This is the new arrangement:

  1. Your users will need to edit their Kunena profile.  If your forum does not allow users to edit their Kunena profile (for example, if you use Community Builder or JomSocial profiles with your forum) then this procedure will not work.
  2. k405 userPreferencesGo to the Forum Preferences tab (see image on right)
  3. There are three settings.
    • Default (i.e. use the value of the configuration setting Check Subscription Box
    • No:  do not check the checkbox (as shown in the first image in this article) by default; the user will have to check the box if they want to receive notifications when others reply to the forum topic (or they can use the Subscribe button instead at another time)
    • Yes: the checkbox is ticked by default (the user will have to uncheck this checkbox if they do not want to receive notifications when others reply to the forum topic (or they can use the Unsubscribe button instead at another time)
  4. Click Save.

This is how that things are supposed to work.

Impact on integration with third-party user profiling extensions

Perhaps the biggest impact that people are experiencing is where they are using alternative user profiling arrangements with Kunena (for example, if they use Community Builder, JomSocial, etc.).  The change has taken the developers of these other extensions by surprise.  Previously, relying on the Kunena configuration settings to allow the site owner to globally define whether the checkbox was set or not, there was no need for alternative user profiling software to deal with the issue.

The changed definition of the Kunena configuration setting now requires users to define in their own personal preferences whether they wish to see the checkbox automatically checked or unchecked as the case may be.  While this is fairly straightforward if the site owner uses the standard Kunena user profiling system, it is not possible to change the preference on a per-user case if the site owner has integrated one of these other user profiling arrangements. If there is no personal preference setting in the Community Builder profile, for example, then there is no way for the forum user to change whether “Check this box to be notified of replies to this topic” is always checked or not.

There are few alternatives available at this time:

  • Wait until the third-party developers implement the changes into their own systems and release their own plugins to integrate with Kunena; or
  • Use the Kunena user profile instead of Community Builder, JomSocial, etc.; or
  • Set the value Components » Configuration » Users » Subscriptions » Check Subscription Box = No, reset all your users’ default profile settings (more on this soon), and educate your users about how to use your forum.

Changing the user forum preferences “globally”

Of course, Murphy’s Law is alive and well in Kunena and we know that things often don’t work the way they’re supposed to.  I do not have an explanation for why, in some cases, the K 4.0 upgrade procedure changes the user settings in ways that you could not have anticipated.  Even the Kunena developers do not have an explanation for why the K 4.0 upgrade procedure has made unexpected changes to the database that have angered some members of the community but they have offered a couple of tips in light of the Kunena team’s inability to provide clear, helpful documentation that explains what is going on.

For some reason, some forum administrators find that all their users have the checkbox ticked by default.  There is a way to address this issue by modifying the database table _kunena_usersOne of the developers posted a hint to help users change this behaviour by running the following SQL command:

UPDATE `#__kunena_users` SET `canSubscribe` = '-1'

where # is your Joomla table prefix.

Stop hand nuvola.svg

The above SQL command is untested and may cause corruption or loss of important forum data.
Use at your own risk.

An important point to make is that it is dangerous to run SQL commands on your Joomla database unless you are familiar with SQL and you have taken appropriate safeguards to prevent accidentally destroying your website.  Oliver Ratzesburger (one of the original founders of the Kunena project) commented a few years ago about using the forum to “help” people.  His comments on posting SQL “quick fixes” in the forum are as valid today as they were when he wrote them.  In particular, he wrote

We will advise all our team members going forward to not post any such “solutions” on the public forum.  If one of the developers [writes] something … directed at you, then and only then, should you consider running it after you made a complete backup of your site.Oliver Ratzesburger, How To Destroy your forum data…, 25-Jan-2010

It appears this advice has been forgotten by the current team members who continually post SQL “solutions” on their forum.  I disapprove of the rising trend in posting SQL “quick fixes” because, basically, the product should not have caused problems in the first place unless the product is not thoroughly tested or stable.  Whether the developers accept Oliver’s (or anyone else’s) wisdom remains to be seen but the indications are not good.  If you use SQL “quick fixes” then you can only blame yourself; the developers may be right but they cannot be held totally responsible if you try something (that may not be appropriate to your particular circumstances) and the solution backfires.

Will these problems be fixed in a future version?

Questions have been asked about fixing the problems caused by upgrading to K 4.0.  Given the reluctance by the Kunena team to respond in a meaningful way to these questions, the absence of a road map to guide the community about the direction that Kunena is heading and the absence of any useful user documentation, my guess is that the team has no intentions to back down from their determination to keep the direction heading towards their ultimate goal.  What is their ultimate goal?  We do not know that.  Whatever it is makes me very uncomfortable.

I do not think that these new problems will be fixed.  Each time that there is a new version of Kunena, I spend days (sometimes weeks) figuring out how the new features work and how to fix the new problems that are created because of the new features that they’re continually adding.  What is the rationale in labelling a a new software release as a “minor” update when major changes are added every time?

Community reaction

I have not read one comment at the Kunena forum praising this new arrangement.  I’ve read some quite scandalous comments about Kunena—the worst ones have been deleted from the forum.  I have copies of some of the deleted forum posts (I will not repeat them here because the language is rather crude) but of the comments that have survived on the forum, here are three that you may find interesting.

Sorry … I'm confused and I don't know what exactly to do to fix this (if there is something to do).kunenauser40, Kunena 4.0.5 bug (Subscriptions), 26-Aug-2015
I have Joomla 3.4.3 and K 4.0.5 with Blue Eagle 4.0.5 template and I curse the time I updated from 4.0.3 (when all was perfect) to 4.0.5 which is full of bugs.kunenauser40Serious bug(s) in Kunena 4.0.5 - SOS, 26-Aug-2015
I am waiting [for] a stable version and apparently 4.0.5 is not a candidate yet.HanKortekaas, Kunena 4.0.5 bug (Subscriptions), 29-Aug-2015

Even if this small selection is any indication of wider community concerns it is apparent that the developers want to distance themselves further from the community with every successive release.  It has become increasingly more difficult over the past year to remain up-beat and supportive of the team because the original founding ideals for a community-led, open source forum product have been totally trashed by a couple of people.

In one word, I would describe the ongoing efforts of the team to encourage community-led, open source product development as pitiful.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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