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My critique on ocPortal

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#106411 (In Topic #20754)
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"Critique" doesn't mean negative

Greetings everyone.

Today I thought I'd share my thoughts on ocPortal. I have used ocPortal on three separate websites since probably 2013 or beginning of 2014. I first used it for my old internet radio station, WRRJ. Then I used it for a discontinued animation project. Now I use it for my current internet radio and community project.

Out of all the open source (and even paid) content management systems I've played with, I have to give ocPortal one of the highest ratings. In my opinion, it is even better than Wordpress. Granted, ocPortal is not as flexible as Wordpress. However the simple fact that ocPortal has pretty much everything you need... right there... fully integrated with the core functionality of the software... makes it one of the best. When I look at ocPortal's interface and then Wordpress' interface, I feel a little sickness in my stomach when I see Wordpress. It's not that it's bad... it's that to me it's a pain in the butt to have to go through, install plugins, make them work, set them up, find a working theme, yadda yadda. With ocPortal, I don't have to do that. It's all there right where I need it. And the theme system is a great place for beginners to make a theme to start out with. Then add on ocPortal's CSS, template, and theme image editors, and you can make beautiful themes of your own.

I also like ocPortal because it's rather simple to integrate other things with your system... even if you don't know how to make an actual ocPortal addon (that right there gives a big plus for ocPortal). I don't know how to make one, yet I was still able to integrate a radio system into a zone on ocPortal that contains track library (with track details and search), now playing info, media player, and even track requests, directly from my automation system RadioDJ! All it took was making some PHP scripts, including a global ocPortal PHP and variables, being careful with mySQL, and adding these "miniblocks" onto the pages I want.

I also love the flexibility of ocPortal when it comes to making pages. With ocPortal, if you have some content that requires its own menu and section of content, you can do that by creating a zone. Something like that isn't as easy to do in other CMS, including Wordpress. And some of the features it has... downloads, points system, galleries, a "hidden" podcast feature, catalogues, ecommerce... it all makes it even easier to customize the kind of content you want displayed in these zones because you can use comcode to choose which categories of entries to show.

I also enjoy its social features. Of course what social system can be complete without a forum? I like the simplicity behind the forum (definitely more simple than phpBB) as well as the control you have over it. I also really enjoy the chat room and IM feature. Hardly any CMS has such things available as fully integrated features. It's nice to have a place where users can chat... and I can even use the chat when doing radio shows so others can talk to the DJs and ask questions etc... and I don't have to use a separate chat system or website.

Security is a major plus for ocPortal as well, being the overly-cautious person I am. I love how much control you have on permissions. You can set global permissions and permissions on specific items. And not only that, but you can choose who can do what with the content. And I especially love some of the hack prevention features ocPortal has. It's nice to know when a hacker attempts to hack my site in an email. And ocPortal can do just that. That way I can ban them and report them for abuse to their ISP. I can also ban IP addresses within ocPortal. And one big plus is the banning of those IPs can actually be written from ocPortal onto my .htaccess file without having to do it myself.

Another feature I like about ocPortal is the control you have when disciplining your members. On most systems, all you get is ban and unban. But here, you can issue warnings with messages (and they get logged), you can restrict their posting permissions, you can put them on probation for a specific amount of time, you can ban them by username, and you can ban them by IP. And one thing I like about banning by IP is ocPortal keeps a record of all the IPs that the member uses. That way you can select which ones to ban, and you can ban multiple ones and not just the one they use or registered with.

And the last pro I want to talk about is the cache system. It's rather intelligent and knows what you prefer in your settings. That way, when, say, you repeatedly mark a specific content to be allowed comments, then ocPortal picks up on that and starts marking to allow it automatically when you make future submissions. In addition, its cache features make it so you don't really need an acceleration system or an external cache module (though it sometimes wouldn't hurt). And ocPortal's website tools allow you to easily select which caches you want to clear. Heck it even allows you to optimize your database, remove broken links, fix language issues, and more.

--

Now I have talked about all the pros of ocPortal. With all systems there are also cons. In general, all the cons I have with ocPortal are quite minor, and its pros definitely by far outweigh the cons. First off, ocPortal has its bugs, and sometimes they can be frequent but tiny ones. They can also be annoying and cause small things to break. However the developers are rather quick in helping you resolve these bugs. That I like.

My second con is that I don't see ocPortal as being a system capable of withstanding a large amount of users at the same time. Though it doesn't use many resources, it can spike once you get more users and more content. However ocPortal has a nifty setting that allows you to deny access to the site if X amount of users are already logged in. That way, it keeps ocPortal and your server from overloading.

My third con is the IM system. Sometimes it can get frustrating. If I have a popup blocker enabled, then sometimes new IMs will not pop up, and therefore I don't get them. Another issue with it is simply the fact it exists in a popup window (unless you're in the social zone). And also add on the fact this window closes whenever you browse to another location on the site and then opens back up, and it can be frustrating. If ocPortal modified this so that the IM system existed within the page, and not as a popup, I'm sure I'd enjoy it better. Maybe there can be a bar at the bottom like some websites that manages your IMs.

Other more minor cons that I have include that although the design and interface is rather nice, sometimes it can be a little confusing. Some elements of the admin require you go to a different section (such as the CMS or social zone) to perform what you want. A few of the option sections in the Admin are not; some may be a static full page of all your configurations, some have a proceed button. Some have a checkbox to mark it for deletion while others have a delete button at the bottom. Also, the blog system isn't necessarily friendly, aka. perhaps ocPortal should also add the ability to have blog pages (like Wordpress does). Also, the theme isn't very modern in my opinion... and I think at some point ocPortal should put in a theme wizard to make a flat-style theme. Not saying the current theme is bad though. But also one thing that can be a problem is that some buttons are images. That IMO should be avoided as much as possible. And finally, the only things by default that you can report are posts. It'd be nice if the report content addon was eventually integrated so you can also report things such as downloads, galleries, etc. I would also like to see the quizzes and surveys system expanded on to include other question types (perhaps similar to the catalogue) as well as more survey functionality and options.

Overall I'd give ocPortal a 4.5/5 star rating. Despite the minor cons of the software, it is a pretty solid system that is capable of quite a number of things. And because of these features built into ocPortal, some of the features that I'd normally have to relay others outside of my website I don't have to do with ocPortal. Plus add on its security features, the fact it meets a number of web standards, the flexibility it brings, and its intelligence... it makes ocPortal one of the best systems I've ever experienced. And I don't plan to leave ocPortal anytime soon.
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Posted
Item has a rating of 5 (Liked by Patrick Schmalstig)  
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#106412
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Thanks very much :).

Quick comments on a few cons re v10…

IM will work without popups

Comcode page permission control will work on a zone basis, allowing you to have members submit pages into zones without messing with the overall site. So similar to 'blog pages'.
(Or if you meant ability to show a blog outside the member profile, that's actually possible through the news module, you can set various display filters up)

Theme modernisation is a constant chase ;). v10 is significantly moved forward, without hurting compatibility too much (we'll see how much by the time it is done). One of our developers has been working on a very nice bootstrap-based theme, but I'm not sure what will become of that yet.

Buttons will be CSS buttons (text + icon, not all one image).

If you want to take submissions via full catalogue-based field configuration, you can try the main_contact_catalogues block out.

The universal reporting-content change could use a sponsor.


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106414
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Chris Graham said

Thanks very much :).

Quick comments on a few cons re v10…

IM will work without popups

Ooh awesome! Can't wait to see that ^^

(Or if you meant ability to show a blog outside the member profile, that's actually possible through the news module, you can set various display filters up)

Really? May I ask how you do that? Right now I try to handle blogs via. a forum. I looked at the news module but it was a tad confusing to me.

Theme modernisation is a constant chase ;).

I will have to agree with you on that haha. I'm excited for v10. After reading a lot of the content posts and features, I think it'll be an exciting release.

If you want to take submissions via full catalogue-based field configuration, you can try the main_contact_catalogues block out.

I thought about that, but I'm not sure how it would work. Plus it says it emails out but doesn't actually save it.

The universal reporting-content change could use a sponsor.

Depending on my ability, I might be able to sponsor it… maybe. I've experimented with it a little bit and sort-of got it to work the way I'd like. Got it to work on news, pages, downloads, galleries, polls, member profiles, catalogue entries. It has potential in my opinion.


Thanks for the reply Chris!
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Posted
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#106415
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I thought about that, but I'm not sure how it would work. Plus it says it emails out but doesn't actually save it.

If you want it saved too, that's really just a catalogue with slightly different messaging. Templates could be hacked about a bit ;). E.g. changing the FORM_SCREEN.tpl and DO_NEXT_SCREEN.tpl to inject page-specific messages in there.

I wouldn't contest that it would be great for us to get quizzes running using the same field API as catalogues. It's a subset of this more complex request currently on the tracker:
0000712: Change Quizzes to leverage Catalogue functionality so that "Question Pools" can be used - ocPortal feature tracker

Depending on my ability, I might be able to sponsor it… maybe. I've experimented with it a little bit and sort-of got it to work the way I'd like. Got it to work on news, pages, downloads, galleries, polls, member profiles, catalogue entries. It has potential in my opinion.

You could always try and encourage people to pool in :). Most of the work would be just integrating things better, and ripping out the old report post feature – rather than on actual new feature implementation. You can do things pretty well right now, it's just not pre-integrated/tidy.

Really? May I ask how you do that? Right now I try to handle blogs via. a forum. I looked at the news module but it was a tad confusing to me.

Have a play in the menu editor, you'll find it can generate some links you don't get in the default menu layout. You can get a news category list, a blog category list, and a combined list.
site:news:cat_select
site:news:select
site:news:blog_select

Follow through from these and you will find URLs to specific blogs (i.e. filtered versions of the news archive).


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106416
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Improved docs…

Advanced filtering of the news archive

The news system supports some advanced filtering:
  • Whether to show just non-blog posts, blog posts, or both
  • Whether to limit results to within certain news categories
  • As above, but double filtered so that news is only returned if it matches a second category filter also (this allows you to have a two-level news categorisation system, useful for large news sites)

The news blocks take parameters representing these filters, and then the links they spawn relay those, throughout the various navigation links.
Also, when you view a news post you can see what categories it is in and choose a new filter to limit results just to ones within that category.

News category lists

The default view of the news module is the news archive, i.e. showing chronological news posts, drawn out dependent on the configured above category filtering.

There are also category index screens
The menu editor can find the entry-points for these new screens, but for reference they are:
  • site:news:select – list of all news categories (including blogs)
  • site:news:cat_select] – list of all news categories (excluding blogs)
  • site:news:blog_select] – list of all blogs

The index screens are generally useful for two reasons:
  1. If you want to direct users to see a list of categories/blogs
  2. If you want something to help you generate our the links to individual categories/blogs. Follow through from these and you will find URLs to specific categories/blogs (i.e. filtered versions of the news archive). Maybe you had thought the software could only show blogs on a member profile tab: not true :).


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106417
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Templates could be hacked about a bit ;). E.g. changing the FORM_SCREEN.tpl and DO_NEXT_SCREEN.tpl to inject page-specific messages in there.

Hmm never thought about doing that. I might play around with it a little in the future. Right now I'm not that experienced with ocPortal's system to be able to do that.

It's a subset of this more complex request currently on the tracker:

Wow… that IS complex! I just question whether or not all the work put into revamping the quiz system with that complexity would actually be of value to the normal ocPortal user.

Have a play in the menu editor, you'll find it can generate some links you don't get in the default menu layout. You can get a news category list, a blog category list, and a combined list.

Ah didn't think to try the menu. Thanks for the tip!

Most of the work would be just integrating things better, and ripping out the old report post feature

Honestly, I'm not so sure about this. If you do do this, will the report button for posts/comments remain the same? I like it :P Maybe if you do revamp it and use a different system, the button could appear on all content instead of buttons on posts and rather invisible links at the bottom of other content. But that's just my opinion.
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Posted
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#106418
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Honestly, I'm not so sure about this. If you do do this, will the report button for posts/comments remain the same? I like it :P Maybe if you do revamp it and use a different system, the button could appear on all content instead of buttons on posts and rather invisible links at the bottom of other content. But that's just my opinion.

Mostly what you said. Rip out report post, put report button back in, but going through to the standardised cross-site report framework. Instead of content going to a reported posts forum, it goes through ocPortal's messaging system (which in turn goes to the forum). So it's about making it neater, stream-lining.

I doubt by default we'd want to put on report *buttons* to content screens as it's quite intrusive there (there's no button sets right now, it'd look lonely). But template editing would make the change pretty easy.

Wow… that IS complex! I just question whether or not all the work put into revamping the quiz system with that complexity would actually be of value to the normal ocPortal user.

Yeah, I'm sure it could be simplified back down, I agree. There are various directions the quizzes could be taken (e.g. having multiple screens of questions too, which itself implies a big change to how it is all specified), likely what will happen is at some point we will land a project involving complex quizzes, and do a rewrite. But that's very much in the sky.


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106426
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I doubt by default we'd want to put on report *buttons* to content screens as it's quite intrusive there (there's no button sets right now, it'd look lonely).

I do apologize I meant to say to put the other links as buttons as well, not just report. But then again you have the issue of it just saying "edit" and "add", not "edit catalogue" or "add catalogue entry".

There are various directions the quizzes could be taken

Indeed. Good luck with that task. The way the tracker states IMO I don't think ocPortal needs that complex at the moment.
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Item has a rating of 5 (Liked by Guest)  
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Community saint

Chris Graham said

Thanks very much :).

Quick comments on a few cons re v10…

IM will work without popups


That's a pleasant surprise! When we set this up some time ago I recall it being said that embedding IM in the window, like in facebook, would be a lot of engineering and very difficult.
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Oh, I'm so sorry, I totally got mixed up in my head :S. No, this is not implemented yet :(.

v10 has been in development so long, I'm losing track of what we worked on. Now I think harder, we made it so the popups don't have to keep re-opening for you I believe, not so that there are no popups at all.

I think I was getting mixed up with the notification and private topic drop-downs we're now having, which are showing communications in the main window and using the HTML5 notifications API.


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106587
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The popups though are frequently blocked by web browsers, therefore frequently when trying to IM a member, they're unable to pull up the IM.
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Posted
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#106603
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Yeah, I appreciate that. I feel bad for giving incorrect information, and amnesic for thinking something challenging was actually done already :S.

It is actually a big project to change it around and is on the tracker.

One thing some customers have done is integrate CometChat. They can support ocPortal now.


Become a fan of ocPortal on Facebook or add me as a friend. Add me on on Twitter.
Was I helpful?
  • If not, please let us know how we can do better (please try and propose any bigger ideas in such a way that they are fundable and scalable).
  • If so, please let others know about ocPortal whenever you see the opportunity.
  • If my reply is too Vulcan or expressed too much in business-strategy terms, and not particularly personal, I apologise. As a company & project maintainer, time is very limited to me, so usually when I write a reply I try and make it generic advice to all readers. I'm also naturally a joined-up thinker, so I always express my thoughts in combined business and technical terms. I recognise not everyone likes that, don't let my Vulcan-thinking stop you enjoying ocPortal on fun personal projects.
  • If my response can inspire a community tutorial, that's a great way of giving back to the project as a user.
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Posted
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#106605
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ehhhh…. CometChat.

Not only is it not free, but from experience working with it on a PHPFox website, there are a lot of bugs with it unfortunately.
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