OSNews 4 Outline

At the request of some of my readers, I am going to continue to discuss some OSNews development. If you are not interested in the technical bits, this piece is not for you, however, if you are, read on for an account of how OSNews 4 will work.

Although I never really made this public, the Jobs.OSNews site was really a prototype for how I see OSNews looking and feeling. In the sense that the screen is not too crowded but has plenty of control, the basic colors are still a smooth green, there is plenty of white space and liberal use of Javascript where necessary.

I’ve also discarded the concept of “collapsed threading” vs. “expanded threading.” All threads will be expanded, because it’s less code and it’s easier to maintain. Building on that, comments below your “threshold” will not require a reload, but rather just an “expand” to be viewed. Lots of things, like viewing below-threshold comments, moderation, etc will not require a page load. Only some of this requires actual AJAX, the rest is just Javascript.

I’ve also cleaned up the URIs quite a bit. First off, pages no longer have a file extension. If we one day rewrite the site in Python, or Ruby on Rails, or whatever, we’ll be future compatible. I will be redircting all working pages to the proper page in the new site, so links will still work. It will be nice to reference my comments at www.osnews.com/user/ascheinberg/comments, my bookmarks at www.osnews.com/user/ascheinberg/bookmarks, my “starred stories” (more on that below) at www.osnews.com/user/ascheinberg/starred, my friends and fans at www.osnews.com/user/ascheinberg/relationships, and my public profile at just www.osnews.com/user/ascheinberg.

That said, several of the pages that exist now will go bye-bye in favor of better organized pages. Besides just the user info pages, you’ll find that thread.php, subthread.php, permalink.php, read_thread.php all pretty much capture the same information. Also, reply.php will be blended with the regular comment posting section. So a code cleanup is in order.

I’m rewriting in XHTML, although I’m not worrying about validation just yet. That said, it’s almost entirely styled with CSS, and thus far, there are no tables. That’s not to say there will not be several tables, but for now, layout is solely CSS.

I came up with the concept of “starred stories” because I want to make “recommendations” more of a suggestion for other readers. I will be expanding on this point in future posts, but trust me, it will make sense or it will be left out.

I also am currently supporting something I’ve not decided on: avatars. It’s not necessary, but since I wrote an image resizing script for the admin backend for automatic thumbnailing of screenshots, I can easily support an automatic resize for avatars, and honestly, they look nice.

The threading implementation, believe it or not, is actually faster than the current implementation because it’s much sleeker code. I’s very cool to quickly switch between thresholds and view modes without setting cookies or updating profiles.

One of the very cool features I’ve already got working is pretty much a tagging system, except instead of liberal use of tags, it will be used to “group” stories. Let’s say it’s time for WinHEC – we can group all stories from there as “WinHEC 2007” or something. Or “CES.” Or “Macworld,” “LinuxExpo,” or even “Fedora Core 7.” It remains to be seen HOW we will use this system, but it’s already in the actual live database. Note that it will NOT show up in the current version of OSNews (v3).

Lastly, for today’s OSN4 details, I have one more fun feature I’ve toyed with for some time: user defined conversations. Essentially, it allows users to create their own OSNews article, or even just a blurb for discussion. I don’t know the specifics, this isn’t coded yet, but I think this could be really neat – let’s say you start a conversation: “Predict the specs for the next macbooks” or “Your experiences with Windows Vista.” Could be fun, right? We’ll see whether or not this turns out to make the cut.

Lastly, I want to share one more thing: RSS everywhere. Every relevant page will have an RSS feed. I’m excited about this.

So far, I have a working site that displays the main pages (the index, the story page, and the comment pages, with a working working threading implementation). More as it comes.

As always, all of this OSN4 stuff is subject to change.

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