Running Weblogs with SlashBy David Krieger, chromatic, Brian Aker
0-596-00100-2, Order Number: 1002
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Editing and Updating Stories
The Stories List
The Edit Story Form
No matter what Topics a weblog covers, it will always require fresh content. In Slash terms, these are Stories. Consequently, most Authors will spend their time in the Stories list. It is always available from Stories or the relative URI /admin.pl. Authors can review submissions, edit published Stories, and even create new Stories (see the New link in the Admin menu).
The Stories List
The Stories list (Figure 1) is the default page of the Admin menu. It's like a big map in the war room, used to review and coordinate the current site activity. As you'd expect, it is full of data. Most of the activity is centered around reading or editing Stories; an Author may decide to fix a typo in a Story title or introduction, or the administrator might decide to browse a Story that's attracted an unusual number of comments or page reads.
Figure 4-1. The Stories list (Stories set to Never Display are highlighted)
Stories appear on the list in reverse chronological order--newest first, grouped by day of publication. The horizontal columns on the page are unlabeled, but they are relatively straightforward. The leftmost column holds the Story number, with no special meaning outside of the Stories list. The number is a link to the Edit Story page, used to update a Story. The Story title is a link to the normal Story display page, as seen by users. The next three columns show the credited Author, the Story Topic, and the Story Section, respectively. Only the Section is linked, and it leads to the Section homepage.
The next two columns are numeric. The first is the number of page views, and the second is the current number of posted comments, if any. The number of views should exceed the number of comments because users must normally view the page before posting a comment. Not every reader will feel the need to comment, though Stories comparing operating systems or starship captains may lead you to believe otherwise.
The final column shows the official Story posting time. This, like the Author field, can be misleading. The time does not necessarily reflect the point at which the Story was accepted, nor does it take into account the possibility that another Author has edited the Story. It simply lists the time when Slash made the Story available to the public. See "The Edit Story Form" later in this chapter for a description of this trickery.
Within the Stories list, titles will be truncated to 50 characters plus an ellipsis (...). The Topic and Section columns will show only the first five characters. This affects only the display in the Stories list; it has no effect on the actual Story as stored in the database or displayed elsewhere. Keep these restrictions in mind when choosing Topic and Section names. "ConcertCalendar" and "ConcertReviews" will be visually indistinguishable Topics in the Stories list.
Besides its immediate pragmatic utility, the list is a helpful review of the Stories published by other Authors (or your own Stories, if you've forgotten everything after a marathon coding session). Is one Author posting all of the Stories this week? Has an infrequent Author posted a new Story generating a lot of interest? Are several Stories clustered around a single Topic? (This will frequently be the case when a major Topic event takes place, such as a technology conference or basketball playoffs, depending on the site. Some major events, such as a war, may trump normal coverage on any Slash site.)
The Edit Story Form
Most of the daily work of a site takes place in the Edit Story form. It provides several controls to modify Story attributes and edit or preview Story content. This is the most complex part of the backSlash interface, yet it is easy to learn and convenient to use.
There are five ways to access the Edit Story form. Story numbers in the Stories list lead there. Logged-in Authors will see an Edit link following each Story on the homepage (see Figure 2, left) and an Editor link in the Author box at the top right of each Story's individual page (see Figure 2, right). Previewing a user submission from the Submissions list (discussed in "The Submissions List" in Chapter 5) displays the submission in the form. Finally, clicking on the New link in the Admin menu brings up an empty Edit Story form.
Figure 4-2. Links to the Edit Story page for a given Story
At the top of the form, the Story Preview shows the basic Story information: the Intro copy, the Extended copy (if present), and the Related Links box. When first displaying a Story, the Preview will show the Story as it exists in the database (see Figure 3). New Stories, of course, have no Preview. Any changes made and previewed will update only the Preview. The database is updated only when an Author uses either the Update or the Save button.
Figure 4-3. The Edit Story form
The Related Links box is a little more sophisticated. Any time the Story is previewed or saved, Slash looks for keywords defined in the related_links database table. This table associates words with HTML links. For example, if the word "slash" occurs in the Story (and not as part of another word), a related link to the Slashcode site will be created. Some sites have used this to generate advertising revenue in a subtle Google-esque scheme. These can be edited through the Keywords link on the Admin menu.
Given the number of ways a long Story can be lost (from network errors to browser crashes to well-meaning acquaintances trying to check their webmail), it's a good idea to have a backup ready. Many experienced Authors write and save their Stories with a text editor, pasting them into the web forms only as necessary. A little paranoia will serve you well.
The most vital elements of the Edit Story page are the Intro Copy and Extended Copy text boxes. The introduction appears on the sites homepage and is necessarily brief. Extended copy can go into more detail, expanding on a submission, or even containing the whole article in the case of an exclusive Story. Users can skip a Story if they don't like the introduction, without having to scroll past paragraphs of extended copy.
The Intro block appears on the main and Section homepages as well as on the Story's own page. It should give the user enough information to decide whether to read the Story or its comments. The Extended block appears only on the Story's own page and should contain the bulk of the content of long Stories. This arrangement fits the "inverted pyramid" style of journalistic writing, shifting the most significant information toward the beginning of the Story. The background information and less significant details comprise the remainder.
Unlike the text box on the Post Comment page (described in "Comments Settings" in Chapter 6), the text boxes on the Edit Story page do not automatically transform their contents. Optional transformations are available with checkboxes on the Edit Story page, however. The system assumes Authors will provide well-formed HTML. Make a habit of previewing a Story and testing all of its links before publishing it. (Note that Slash 2.2 has added an ispell compatibility mode. If the ispell program exists and points to an ispell binary, the Edit Story page will include a list of potentially misspelled words.)
Frequently, Slash Stories exist merely to point to interesting links elsewhere on the Web. In this case, the Intro Copy may contain all of the necessary Story information, leaving the Extended Copy blank. If most stories follow this pattern, readers may not realize that longer Stories will contain Extended Copy. As a visual cue, Slash will change the Read More link attached to the Story to read xxx bytes in body. This link leads to a page with no comments, only the Intro and Extended Copy.
For Author convenience, the Preview, Delete, and Save/Update buttons appear in the block of editing controls beneath the Preview Area and also follow both Copy boxes. Each button behaves identically in each location. The Preview button displays the Story as edited without modifying the database. The Update button (or Save button, for a new Story) saves the current contents of the form to the database. Just to the right of the first occurrence of these buttons are pop-up menus used to select Topic, Section, and Author, respectively. These behave as you'd expect, for the most part.
The Delete button appears only for Stories that have information saved in the database. Instead of purging the data immediately, Slash queues the Story for deletion and returns the Author to the Stories list. There will be a status message at the top of the list saying, "story_idwill probably be deleted in n seconds," in which "n seconds" is approximate until the slashd daemon next updates the database. At that point, the Story and all attached comments will be permanently deleted. If an Author deletes a Story accidentally, he has until the next update to rescue it by editing the Story again then clicking the Update button. This will save the Story to the database and remove it from the deletion queue. Deletion is irreversible, so institute a good backup policy.
WARNING: One potentially confusing aspect of Slash's Author attribution scheme is that the Author credited with a given Story is not necessarily the Author who edited it last. This can prevent unnecessary confusion -- if Ben spots a misspelling in one of Jerry's Stories, he can correct it silently. However, it also enables Authors to put words in each other's mouths. Another option is to encourage the practice of marking updates (see "Original Content Versus Linked Stories" in Chapter 8).
Another way to prepare a Story in advance is to set its Display status to Never Display in the Edit Story form. These hidden Stories are highlighted in the Stories list (see Story #9 in Figure 1). Authors can maintain a reserve list of Stories to be published on slow news days. Be sure to set the date and time for these canned Stories far in advance so they don't age off of the Stories list and become lost in the database. The Stories list displays 40 Stories at a time, with a link to the next page of 40 Stories and an indicator of how many more Stories the database holds.
As described in "Slash User Preferences" in Chapter 1, Topics and Sections help Authors categorize and group Stories. In general, the administrator should define Topics in terms of the kinds of Stories covered on the site and define Sections in terms of the kinds of Stories published. Foresight Institute's Slash site Nanodot has Topics for "Robotics," "Machine Intelligence," and "Nanotechnology," with Sections including "Research," "Reviews," and "Questions for Nanodot Users." A Story on a newly released bit of robotics research and a review of Hans Moravec's newest book might both have the "Robotics" Topic, but the former would be in the "Research" Section and the latter in "Reviews." Chapter 7 discusses other schemes for managing Topics and Sections.
Assign a Topic and Section to a Story with the two pop-up menus under the Story Preview Section of the Edit Story page. Slash allows users to limit searches by Topic or Section or to list all Stories assigned to each Topic or Section. Assigning a Story to "All Topics" means the Story will be displayed in any search no matter which Topic the user selects. Note that if you wish to use a Topic available only in certain Sections, you must first assign the Story to the appropriate Section, hit the Preview button, and then select the appropriate Topic. Otherwise, Slash will display only the available Topics for the default Section.
As described earlier in this section, any Author can receive the credit for a Story. The third menu at the top of the metadata widget lists all active Authors, with the current Author's nickname as the default selection.
The text fields for a Story's Title and Department live beneath the pop-up menus. Unlike the corresponding Subject field on the Submit Story page for users (described in "The Submit Story Page" in Chapter 5), Authors may put HTML tags in the Title. This can occasionally be useful (if Prince changes his name back to http://www.NPGonlineLTD.com/images/symbol/paisley-news-symbol-1.gif, for instance). Most of the time, it will probably be annoying.
The Dept. field pays homage to the humorous taglines accompanying some older Dvorak articles. (Some wags also see connections to Mad magazine. Mad's report on the new "sport" of "43-Man Squamish," for example, came from the There's-a-soccer-born-every-minute dept. Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda denies this.) The contents of this field will appear beneath the byline of the Story. Slash replaces spaces with hyphens so that "hackin' slash" will appear as "From the hackin'-slash dept." This is a good place for some go-for-the-jugular wit, if your audience will appreciate it and your Authors have the stamina. Otherwise, it can be disabled by setting the use_dept configuration variable to a false value.
The first pop-up menu under the Dept. field provides a choice of three different display modes for each Story. The default mode is Always Display. Stories with this setting will first appear on the homepage, move onto the Older Stuff list with age, and will also appear on the appropriate Section page. The Never Display setting will prevent the Story from being listed anywhere on the site. (Any user who knows or who can guess the Story ID, which forms the URL, can still reach the Story.) As mentioned earlier, Never Display allows Authors to queue Stories for future publishing. The third display mode, Only Display Within Section, publishes a Story only on the appropriate Section's homepage. It will not appear on the site homepage or Older Stuff list.
Administrators can control the ability of users to post and view comments on a Story-by-Story basis with the Comment Settings pop-up menu. The default setting, Comments Enabled, allows users to post comments that will be visible to other users. This gives the site a sort of community newspaper, Letters-to-the-Editor feel. The Comments Disabled setting prevents comments from being displayed with or added to the Story. Previously posted comments remain in the database but will no longer be viewable. Finally, the Read-Only setting prevents new comments from being added while displaying all previously entered comments. Chapter 6 covers the comment and moderation systems in detail.
As shown in Figure 1, Stories can be queued to appear automatically at a future date and time. The Date/Time field controls the official publication timestamp of the Story, which in turn controls its placement in chronological lists. All times displayed here will be in the GMT time zone because that is how they are stored in the database. Setting this field to a time in the future will suppress the Story until that time, after which it will appear on the homepage and in chronological lists as usual. This field accepts dates and times only in the format YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS, e.g., 2001-04-01 14:30:00. Entering the date and time in any other format will have unpredictable results. The Fastforward option will automatically update the Story to the current date and time, according to the database, when checked. This option appears only for Stories that have already been saved to the database. It can update a queued Story (saved as Never Display) for immediate publishing.
Extra Story-Editing Features
In an effort to make the lives of Authors easier, Slash includes several convenient features to enhance or fix Stories. These features are rarely used in practice, but when they're needed, they're amazingly handy.
Correcting eight-bit quotation marks
Some web browsers, when submitting an HTML form, send incompatible characters in place of standard quote marks. On other platforms, these will appear as question marks. The Fixquotes checkbox enables a tool to correct this. If checked, when a Story is previewed, all question marks in the Intro or Extended text fields located between alphanumeric characters will be replaced by the plain ASCII single-quote character ('). This does not affect question marks bordered by a space, as at the end of a question. This operation takes place only during a preview. Be careful, because Fixquotes can affect necessary and proper question marks, such as those within a URL query string (e.g., http://www.google.com/search?q=Paulette+Cooper). In practice, this is rarely used.
 The Perl regular expression s/([0-9a-z])\?([0-9a-z])/$1'$2/gi performs this substitution. Regexes describe and match patterns in a marvelously expressive and compact way. To learn more about these mysterious and powerful incantations, see Mastering Regular Expressions by Jeffrey E. F. Friedl (O'Reilly). There's a brief introduction in Chapter 6 of this book as well.
Linking to Everything2
Blockstackers Intergalactic, Slashdot's original parent company, also created a collaborative web-based information management system called Everything (http://everydevel.com/ ). The public Everything2 server (http://www.everything2.com/ ) takes the form of a publicly edited encyclopedia. The Autonode checkbox helps Authors to create links to Everything2 nodes by name. With this box checked, when previewing a Story, backSlash will create Everything links from any text in the Intro or Extended text fields enclosed by square brackets. This will produce links in the form of superscripted citation marks following the bracketed text. For example, the text:the galactic overlord [Xenu]
will be replaced by:the galactic overlord Xenu<SUP><A HREF="http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=Xenu">?</A></SUP>
which will display in a browser as:
the galactic overlord Xenu?
Like Fixquotes, Autonode takes effect only during a Preview. After verifying the links, Authors can use Save or Update to keep the results.
Linking Stories to polls
Another popular Slash feature is the polling mechanism. While these polls are too insecure for serious uses (see "The Site Block Editor" in Chapter 9), they can be lots of fun. Slash provides a convenient way to associate a poll with a specific Story. If the Story has been saved to the database, a Related Poll link will appear on the Edit Story page. Clicking this link will launch the New Poll screen with the Story ID already in place. Attaching a poll to a Story provides a somewhat quantitative measure of reader reaction to the Story, nicely complementing the more qualitative comments and moderation system. Even a poll stuffed by a scripted bot indicates, at least, that someone cared about the outcome.
The Edit Story text fields support several pseudo-HTML tags to make re-peated constructs much easier to type. These can be found in the Slash::DB::MySQL::autoURL function and are called whenever a Story is edited. The current working tags are:
Adds the current date
- <disclaimer:company name>
Adds a link to /about.shtml#disclaimer, noting that the Author owns shares in company name
Adds a link to the current Author's homepage, using his initials as the link title
Adds an update notice from the current Author at the current time
Browser manufacturers have begun to take standards compliance seriously. The Web Standards Project (http://www.webstandards.org/) has served as an organized voice of webmasters and web software developers to lobby Microsoft and AOL/Netscape to make their browsers more standards-compliant.
To date, Slash requires no special browser features aside from HTTP/1.1, HTML 3.2, and RFC-2109-compliant browser cookies. Individual site administrators can configure their page layouts using more advanced HTML features, but Slash itself requires only the ability to accept cookies (used for user and Author authentication) and to submit HTML forms. Unfortunately, even these minimum requirements can be problematic, sometimes in fairly recent browsers.
The Virtual Host features, enabled by default in Slash 2.2, require user agents to send the Host: header. Some HTTP/1.0 clients may send this header for forward-compatibility purposes. Most web browsers in widespread use will work here.
Instead of merely redrawing the page, all but the latest versions of Netscape irritatingly reload the page from the server when the user resizes the browser window. If the page happens to contain an HTML form, it will probably lose the content.
Because backSlash requires a preview before committing a Story to the database, Authors will usually have the opportunity to spot these errors before publishing a Story. The potential for mishaps exists, though, so preview your Stories diligently.
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