Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote in querki_project,
Justin du Coeur

Release 2.3

Today's release was a fine example of the ball-of-twine effect, where you start out trying to do one thing, and it leads you to another, then another, then another. I originally set out to solve one problem (email unsubscription), and wound up making changes that I think are far more important and useful to most users. So I'm going to start with the important changes first.

Changes to Invitations and Signup

Guest Mode: the change that is probably going to matter most is a serious rewrite to how you accept invitations. Traditionally, if somebody invited you into a Space, you would click on that, and then immediately be presented by a "log in or sign up for Querki" screen. Functionally this made sense, and it took years for me to question this design, but in practice it's kind of off-putting. If I've just been invited so that I can fill in a form or submit an RSVP or something like that, it's terribly heavyweight, and I suspect we've driven more than a few users away because of it.

So this is now turned on its head. When you click on an invitation link, you are immediately taken into the Space, logged in and able to do whatever the invitation allows you to. You're still somewhat anonymous, but you are logged in as a Guest, and the system knows how to associate that link with what it's allowed to do. This allows you to build eVite-like systems in Querki, only far more powerful: you invite people, and they can immediately come participate.

In fact, this feature was in the original prototype of Querki -- Querki's very first use case was managing my wedding, so it was critical, allowing folks to not just RSVP but say things like whether they had children in tow. (And the Space allowed also let Kate and me do things like organize the planned photos in advance.) But that original implementation was a horrible hack that never worked well, so I ripped it out. It's finally been reimplemented, in a way that I think makes sense in the long run.

Of course, having to keep the invite email around is a pain in the tuchus if you are going to come back to this Space over and over again. So when you enter the Space this way, it starts you off with an alert that you can click on, which lets you log in or sign up right there -- if you do so, it will associate the invitation with you, and you are now a proper Member of the Space. But it's now strictly optional: the invitee gets to decide whether to use a full Querki account or just click on the link when they want to access the Space.

Shared Links: and while we were gaining that feature, I decided to go all the way and add a new feature that I've been wanting roughly forever -- shareable links.

Most of you are familiar with these from Google Docs and suchlike: you can now ask the Space for a URL, and the access rights are associated with that URL. Unlike conventional invitations, which are intended for a single recipient, Shareable Links are specifically designed so that you can paste them into email, web pages, Facebook or whatever. You tell Querki what the recipients of the Link are allowed to do, and anybody who clicks on the Link immediately has those permissions. (Under the hood, it creates a Custom Role with those permissions, and all the invitees automatically get that Role.)

Shareable Links are very similar to the conventional invitations -- when you click on it, you enter the Space in Guest Mode unless you are already logged into Querki, and you can log in or sign up from the alert that shows on the first page. But they are great for any time that you want to provide access to a number of people at once. I don't recommend using them *completely* willy-nilly, and you should think about what permissions you want to give to the recipients, but it's a great way to say, for instance, that everyone on a given mailing list can now access this Space.

Email Unsubscribe

This was actually the original thread that set the ball of twine unwinding. Querki's email system has always been pretty primitive -- not only did the emails look kind of illegal, they weren't technically legal because of anti-spam laws. This is why Querki has refrained from ever sending any sort of "What's going on in Querki" emails to the existing users: there was no Unsubscribe link, and it's officially spam if you don't provide that. So I've kept email usage close to zero, since I don't want to break the law.

This is *finally* fixed -- from here on, all invitations sent by email except for ones you specifically request to yourself (such as reset-my-password confirmations) should have Unsubscribe links at the bottom. Those Unsubscribe links are smart about the email that you got them from, and provide you with unsubscribe options that are appropriate to that email -- for example, Space Invitations now allow you to opt out of receiving any further invitations from this inviter, or from all Querki invitations period.

(The reason that this led to all the Invitation-handling improvements is that I had to introduce a notion of "identity" based on email address, not just on Querki logins. Once I had that, it became possible to interact with a Space solely based on that identity.)

While we were at this, I restructured the invitation mechanism to behave as you would expect in a modern platform: if you are already a Querki member, and you get invited to a Space, you receive an in-Querki notification as well as the email. We'll slowly be moving more and more in this direction, and eventually allowing you to choose which notifications you want to receive in-Querki, and which by email.

Oh, and along the way I put some work into spit-and-polish so that invitation emails are no longer hideous. I won't claim to be a UI designer -- they could definitely still use some work -- but at least they are no longer actively ugly. (Note that the fix for this does depend on halfway-modern mailers, that support stylesheets in email. Now that GMail finally supports this, I believe that it should work in current versions of all major mailers, but some old versions or more-obscure mailers may not cope. Sorry -- fixing it for all mailers is far more work than I can bite off right now.)

All of the above features are very new and a little experimental, so it wouldn't astonish me if there are some bugs. Please drop me a note ASAP if you encounter something misbehaving.

There were also a fairly large pile of bugs fixed, but they were all edge cases that I suspect nobody besides me has encountered in practice.

Given the presence of Unsubscribe (so folks can easily opt out), I can finally start to send emails to all the users. I don't want this to become spammy -- my current target is a once-a-month update. Hopefully the first one of those will go out next month, so I can remind folks that Querki exists and is improving apace...
Tags: releases
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