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18Dec2018

Behind the scenes December 2018

Information
1259 hits Updated: 19 December 2018

Joomla 3.9

Around the forums

Another new product

Kunena’s “spam factory”

Although I’ve been fairly quiet with this site for a few months, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy.  This article covers a few items that you may find interesting.

As we head into 2019, many of us are gearing up for Joomla 4 which is currently in late alpha testing.  Apart from major makeovers in terms of look-and-feel, the biggest difference is that Joomla 4 will be the first version to exclusively use PHP 7.  This will mean that people currently relying on PHP 5.6PHP 5.6 is approaching its end of life and what to do about it who anticipate moving to J! 4 will need to equip themselves with PHP 7.  This will also bring with it problems for website owners who may still be running much older versions of Joomla (e.g. J! 1.5 or J! 2.5) especially if they do not have the ability to run different versions of PHP on their webhosting platforms so that their differently-versioned J! websites will continue to operate.

In preparing ourselves for the eventual release of Joomla 4—some time in 2019—the Joomla development team has been tidying up Joomla's source code with the release of J! 3.9 in October this year.

Joomla 3.9

One of the main reasons for releasing J! 3.9 was the result of the GDPRsee the discussion at https://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=962334 that came into effect in May this year.  The new privacy component in J! adds some additional tools to conform to the EU policy directive.

Regardless of the GDPR, one of the best new features of J! 3.9, in my opinion, is the new Joomla Action Systemhttps://docs.joomla.org/J3.x:User_Action_Logs that allows website administrators to see who did what to where and when.  I’ve seen a simular feature in the third-party component Logman and the new feature added to J! 3.9 works in a similar way.

cp all j39I recommend that people should implement the new Action Logs - Latest module (see screenshot at right).  The module is not displayed by default on sites upgrading to Joomla 3.9. In order to display it on your control panel, navigate to Extensions » Plugins » System - User Actions Log and enable the plugin and then go to Extensions » Modules » AdministratorNewAction Logs - Latest, assign to the position cpanel and publish it.

J! 3.9 has several other new plugins (that are disabled by default) including the System - Privacy Consent plugin.  Enabling this plugin achieves two things:  (a) it helps strengthen a website against spurious/fake account registrations by requiring that another part of the form is clicked before it can be processed, and (b) requires that all future logins from existing accounts must similarly confirm the users’ consent to the site’s privacy policy before they are permitted to use features of the site that are reserved for registered users.  While the purpose of the plugin is primarily to bring a website into line with the GDPR, there is the added benefit that this new feature strenghens site security and further minimises automated fake account creation by spambots.

Around the forums

Necroposting

deadThreadAfter a somewhat lengthy (and, at times, contentious) debate on the Joomla forum, the managers there have decided to implement an auto-lock feature to contain the amount of necropostingsee https://www.computerhope.com/jargon/n/necropost.htm that was occurring on an almost daily basis.  The decision to automatically lock topics that have been inactive more than two years is welcome and has reduced the level of forum abuse by a significant amount.

I am pleased that I played a contribution (in no small part) to this achievement.  I believe that technical forums should be relevant.

Technical forums exist to help people with issues they cannot resolve themselves; they also provide opportunities to discuss other topics of a more general nature but that doesn’t mean that dead topics should be resurrected from the grave as a way of drawing attention to, or bringing discussions to the fore, topics that should be left to rest.  People need to understand that we can’t turn back the clock; nor can we advance progress by willing that time would simply move faster.

Several years ago I wrote:

There are three kinds of people in this world:  those who make things happen; those who let things happen; and those who wonder what happened.sozzled, Kunena Forum, 29-Oct-2010

Perhaps I should say, there are four kinds of people who engage in technical forums:

Early adopters/risk takers:  people who want to be ahead of the game, who want the latest version of everything; people who are impatient for change—who want everything done yesterday (or by lunch-time tomorrow at the latest); people who expect everyone else to drop whatever they’re currently working on and deliver “something” irrespective of whether they have any serious intention of using it.  Decisions based on impulse

The methodical:  people who stay up-to-date with current and emerging trends; those who exercise cautiousness in their work—for whom safe workpractices are a way of life—but who are prepared to adopt new technology and improved ways of doing things.  Decisions based on evidence

The risk-averse:  people who remain locked in a time warp—a forgotten technological age—who feel that they’re immune from the effects of changes in the world; the danger for these people is that they’ll suddenly realise that they’ve left it too late for anyone to help them and there’s a cost to pay for their failure to keep up-to-date.  There is little truth, in technology, in if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-try-to-fix-it.  Decisions based on folklore/hearsay

The ignorant:  people who have absolutely no idea what’s going on and who are too lazy to do anything to help themselves; lazy people.  Unable to make decisions

There is another category of people whose only interest is to upset the harmony of the community—those who resurrect old forum threads to promote themselves or their dubious businesses—and whose “contributions” are a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Forum Post Assistant help

As we all know, technical forums exist to provide help when people have problems and, while people write to these forums and try to explain with words or pictures their problems, even the “experts” often have insufficient information to be able to give advice.  It’s the same when you deal with any professional.  Getting the facts is the hardest part of the process.  Without having all the facts, most of the advice relies on educated guesswork.

Unless people are especially gifted in how they write and what images they also use, there is no substitute having a comprehensive report about problem environment.  Remember that there are 1.5 billion websites in the world today and every one of them is different!  The Forum Post Assistant [FPA] reporting tool produces that information in a consistent format so that other experienced members of the community have a better idea what may be causing problems and may be able to offer sensible advice and suggestions.  It is unfortunate, however, that more time is often spent on the Joomla forum convincing people that the FPA is useful and then showing people how to obtain it, how to download it and how to use it that it takes to actually use it.

The FPA script was developed to assist people to self-assess their websites. It is also used to provide basic information about the website environment as a pre-formatted forum post for troubleshooting purposes. This can save many hours of posting back and forth, asking for (and explaining how to obtain) relevant information in order for other forum users to help with problems. The process also means that information is gathered and presented in a consistent manner enabling helpers to quickly target information relevant to the specific problem observed by the user.  It is available for download from GitHub.

Instructions for use are in a document contained within the download. For your convenience, you can read these instructions by clicking the following link FPA User Manual.pdf [967.84 Mb] FPA User Manual.pdf

If you are having trouble understanding how to use the FPA or if you think you can improve the instructions, please join the discussion at https://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=966324.

Another new product

kuneze fnJEDWhether or not you are a regular visitor to my blog, you will notice that my articles are sometimes sprinkled with footnote references.  Until recently, I manually inserted these footnotes within my articles.

I have two sizeable but old Joomla websites on academic subjects.  On them I have a plugin that uses {footnote}{/footnote} to identify footnotes and place them, numbered sequentially, at the end of the article.  This is extremely useful and time-saving, especially when one revises a document and adds extra footnotes.

I now have started a new Joomla site (3.9) and cannot believe that such a facility no longer exists.  However, I have been unable to find a compatible component.a forum user, Kunena Forum, 26-Nov-2018

I’ve built a new plugin that takes care of this requirement and Footnotes—the plugin for Joomla—is now available for download.  I would love to share the plugin at no cost to those who also need this feature but it’s simply not economically viable to cover the costs of development and ongoing support.  You can see that the plugin actually works here, in this article; you can read the documentation.  I don’t think I need to write any more than thatYou can download any or all of the products I’ve built for the low cost of a user subscription. The subscription includes lifetime access to updates..

Kunena’s “spam factory”

A new feature if Kunena—yet to be released—will result in people being flooded with thousands of unwanted email noticesTo be fair, there are many good points about—good reasons to use—Kunena.

Open source

Maintained

Free

Even so, perhaps the biggest concern that people have with internet discussion forums is the problem of forum spam.  The worry is not only that internet discussion forums attract spam but that they can also be responsible as a means to generate spam.

While it is impossible to list all the sources of forum spam, one of these places is automated notification by email of forum activity.  These notifications are triggered when a person joins an internet form and opts-in to receive notices whenever a forum topic (or category of topics) receives a new message.  The opt-in process may be “automatic”, that is, it is a default feature when the person posts a message on the forum; the forum user can later decide to opt-out if they are no longer interested in the forum discussion.

I have written several articles about automatic forum subscriptionsAutomatic subscriptions, Kunena 4.0: Category autosubscription — is it legal? and Kunena 4.0: changed subscribe checkbox “behaviour” angers community and the problems these cause.  There is a world of difference between automatic forum subscriptions (where the forum user has the ability to opt-out to not receive notifications of forum activity when they are no longer interested) and forced forum subscriptions (where the forum user is unable to choose whether they want to receive notifications of forum activity or not receive such notification by email).

Whatever personal opinions you may have as a website owner about encouraging your users to follow topics of interest posted on your forum, it is a foundation of consumer law that your users should always have the final decision in choosing whether they want to continue to participate within your web community and on what terms they want to remain a member of it.

The new menace:  Kunena’s forced category subscription

The Kunena development team has built the means for website owners to force users to subscribe to their forums (or, at least, to select users to be notified of forum activity within selected forum categories of the website owner’s choosing). This feature has not [yet] been added to the core Kunena product but the means to force subscriptions is availablehttps://github.com/Kunena/Kunena-Forum/pull/6168.  I invited the Kunena developers to comment on a couple of questions I raised but they have declined to do so.  Therefore, in the absence of a response from the Kunena developers, here are my conclusions.

Lack of consultation with the community and public discussion

The question—where did the idea for forced subscriptions come from—remains unanswered.  As far as we can tell, the idea for forced subscriptions seems to come from nowhere—a “thought bubble”; a solution looking for an imaginary problem.  The idea has not been discussed within the Kunena community; it hasn’t even been mentioned as a up-coming new feature.  We’re left wondering whose idea this was and whether the idea was thought through.

Is it legal?

Most definitely not!  The rights of business owners notwithstanding, the principle that the “customer is always right” is central to the world’s privacy and consumer laws.  The “customer” in this instance is the end user of an internet discussion forum; not the owner of the forum.  People use forums because they choose to use forums:  once they become members of a forum they should be allowed to use the forum or not use the forum as they choose (as long as they observe a clearly stated code of conduct) but that doesn’t mean that they can be treated like they’re slaves to the capricious whims of dictactorial forum owners.

Kunena will be responsible for flooding the internet with spam mail

That’s right!  Just because technology can be used in ways that are unacceptable to the majority of people doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse that technology.  The new forced submission setting in the Kunena backend will allow anyone, anywhere, to flood the internet with spam and we can’t prevent it from happening!

It’s very easy to turn Kunena into a “spam factory”.  Create a Joomla website (which takes about 10 minutes); install Kunena forum software (which takes about three minutes); register as many users as you want (using their email addresses, of course) and use the new forced subscription feature we’ve been discussing to make sure those accounts are “subscribed” to any forum category that you like.  All that’s left now is to post a few messages on your forum and all of your uses will be sent emails notifying them of what you’ve just written.  In less than half an hour you’ve created your own direct marketing business!  Sneaky, huh?

Reputational damage

I give my complete assurance to all my customers that I will not use this new feature on any website that I manage.  I have no intention of being caught in any legal proceedings that may arise as a consequence of the new forced subscription feature.  Let’s be totally clear on one point:  this has nothing to do with “automatic” (or automated) forum subscriptions; this is about forcing subscriptions on people who and denying them any say in the matter.

The reputation of honest forum owners, of Joomla as a safe and reliable CMS product and of the Kunena project is at stake.  Let’s all do our part to make sure that the forced subscription spam menace is eliminated from the internet.

If you are concerned by the implications of these changes as far as your forum is concerned or if you want more information on the subject, I invite you to ask your questions on the Kunena forum (https://www.kunena.org/forum).  I haven’t had any success in getting any answers.  I wish you more success than I’ve had.


If you have any comments on this article, please use the form at the bottom of this page; if this article was useful to you, please use the “star rating” system at the top of the page.  All comments are very much appreciated.  Thanks.

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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