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IPB 4.4: upcoming features annoucement

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Do you recall that scene in Harry Potter where young Harry is sitting in his Uncle’s living room when hundreds of letters from Hogwarts burst through the fireplace, filling the room?

Sometimes, when you log into the administrator’s control panel, it can feel a bit like that.

As the administration control panel has evolved, there has been more of a need to display notifications, alerts and warnings to the administrators.

There are several things which may require an administrator's attention which may show a notice on the AdminCP dashboard, a banner on the community, or send an email. For example:

  • When a new version of Invision Community is released.
  • A new member registers and requires administrator validation.
  • A configuration issue is detected, for example if dangerous PHP functions are enabled on the server.
  • There are items Commerce which require manual action, such as transactions pending manual approval or items to be shipped.

Up until now, each such area would manage how these notifications show and are sent independently. In 4.4 we have introduced a new section of the AdminCP which shows all things which require administrator attention in one place, easily accessible from any AdminCP page.

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AdminCP Notification Menu

Clicking on any of these notifications will take you to the relevant area of the AdminCP, or there is also a full-screen Notification Center which allows you to quickly take common actions such as approving members.

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AdminCP Notification Center

While the best approach is to take the appropriate action (which will automatically dismiss the notification) so you always have an empty Notification Center, most notification types can be hidden, either temporarily on a per-notification basis by clicking the cross in the top-right, or administrators can hide all notifications of a certain type from their individual settings. Administrators can also choose which type of notifications to receive an email notification about.

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Notification Settings

Each notification has a severity indicated by the coloured bar on the side and certain notifications can also show banners either across the AdminCP, or also on the front-end (to administrators).

Notifications group automatically (so for example, if there are 5 members pending approval, you will see 1 notification rather than 5 separate ones) and where appropriate each administrator can choose if they want to receive a single email, or a separate email with each occurrence.

Now you won't miss an invitation to Hogwarts, or anything important again.

This is a blog about our upcoming Invision Community 4.4 release, due later this year.

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Communication has come a long way since those very early humans grunted at each other to determine if they wanted more mammoth for lunch.

The course of human history has seen cave paintings, hieroglyphics, the written word, emoji and now GIFs.

GIFs have been around since the dawn of the internet. Many websites proudly displayed a 'man at work' animated GIF when they were under construction.

Now, GIFs are now mostly used to express complex thoughts and emotions by showing a short animation.

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Mind Blown

 

Invision Community has allowed GIPHY to be used as an embed for a while now, but we craved something much more straightforward.

Behold, the GIF button!

Now your members can reply with the majesty of animation.

Of course, GIFs won't replace real and meaningful conversation, but they are a fun way to express yourself quickly and encourage more engagement.

The GIPHY functionality is enabled via the 'Community Enhancements' page in the Admin CP.

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GIPHY is enabled from the enhancements page

All you need to do is grab a key from GIPHY, and you're all set!

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Configuration

You'll notice a "MPAA style rating" option.

This allows you to select a maximum rating for the GIFs as some will have adult themes and language that may not be suitable for your community.

For example, you can choose "G" for general audiences, "PG" or "PG-13" to limit what is shown.

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Yes!

Drop your favourite GIF below to show us how you feel about this new feature.

This is a blog about our upcoming Invision Community 4.4 release, due later this year.

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Who remembers the earlier days of the internet? Back when you popped your logo at the top left of your site and you were largely done?

Invision Community has continually developed to account for all the new services that have been built during our 16 years.

We now have social media sharing images, favicons and more to consider.

Invision Community 4.4 also adds mobile application icons, Safari mask icons and data for an application manifest. Handling of these logos and icons was a prime candidate for improvement in 4.4.

Moving our current options

Step one for improving our handling of these images was to move our current options out of themes and to allow them to be managed suite-wide from a single area. You can still upload a logo image per-theme (which shows in the header area), but the rest of the options have now been relocated to a new area: Customization > Appearance > Icons & Logos.

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Adding new options

After giving favicon and share logo management its own dedicated area, we took a look at enhancing the configuration options made available through the interface without requiring theme template edits.

Multiple share logos

You can now upload multiple share logos. If you elect to upload more than one share logo, Facebook and similar sites will generally either show a carousel to allow you to choose which logo to use when sharing, or simply use the first image referenced.

Application icons

You can now upload an image to represent your website which will be used to generate the "home screen" icons for iPhones and Androids automatically. Uploading a single image will result in several different copies of the image (in different dimensions) being generated, and mobile devices will automatically choose the best option from the list as needed.

Safari mask icon

You can also now upload a Safari Mask icon, which is used to represent your website in certain areas on Apple computers (such as on the "touchbar" of certain keyboards). This image must be an SVG image with a transparent background, and all vectors must be 100% black.

Additionally, you can specify the mask color which is used to offset your image when necessary (e.g. to represent it as "selected" or "active").

Application manifest

In order for devices to support the application icons that you upload, a file known as a web manifest must be generated and delivered to the browser. This now happens automatically, using details and icons specified in the AdminCP. Certain details, however, can be configured explicitly from the Icons & Logos page:

  • Short name
    This is a short name to represent your site in areas with limited screen space, such as below your application icon on a mobile phone home screen.
  • Site name
    This is the name of the site. The "Website name" setting is automatically used if you do not explicitly override it when configuring the manifest.
  • Description
    A short description of your site
  • Theme color
    You can choose a (single) color to represent the general theme of the site. This color may be used by devices in areas such as the address bar background.
  • Background color
    You can also choose a (single) color to use as the background color for your site when the application is launched from a shortcut saved to the user's device home screen.
  • Display mode
    Finally, you can specify the display mode your site should launch in.

For our more astute designers and developers, you may have already realized that generating the manifest file lays the groundwork for future PWA (Progressive Web App) development and support. Additionally, some Android devices will automatically prompt users to add your website to their home screen now that a manifest file is generated by the site.

Oh, and for the sake of completeness, we also generate the special browserconfig.xml file that Microsoft products (including Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, X-Box, and Microsoft-based mobile devices) look for when pinning sites and generating live tiles. There are no additional configuration options for this file - everything is automatically generated from the aforementioned options.

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The end result?

Your community can now better convey, automatically, certain details to the myriad of devices out there that may be accessing your site, and you now have much better control over those details. You can more easily fine-tune the "little things" that help paint a complete picture of your web presence, and the groundwork has been laid for bigger and better things in the future as standardization and adoption of PWA functionality improves.

This blog is part of our series introducing new features for Invision Community 4.4.

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It's very easy to focus on a single metric to gauge the success of your community.

It's very common for community owners to look at page hits and determine if their SEO and marketing efforts have paid off.

Getting traffic to your site is only half the equation though. The most valuable metric is how many casual visitors you're converting to engaged members.

Invision Community already makes it easy for guests to sign up using external services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.

However, there has to be a conscious decision to click that sign-up button. For some, this may be a barrier too many.

Invision Community 4.4 reduces this barrier by allowing guests to create a post to a topic they want to engage with.

Once they have posted, they are asked to simply complete their registration. They are more likely to do this now they have invested in your community.

This will be incredibly valuable when you consider how much traffic a forum receives from inbound Google searches. With Post Before Registering, you'll increase your chances of turning that inbound lead into a registered member contributing to your site.

Let me take you through the feature and show you how it works.

When browsing the community guests will see the ability to submit a post, with an explanation that they can post now and complete registration later. The only thing they have to provide in addition to their post is an email address.

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Posting as a guest

This works in any application for new content (topics, Gallery images, etc.) as well as comments and reviews. It will only show when a newly registered member would be able to post in that area - for example, it will not show in a forum that only administrators can post in. 

After submitting the post, the post will not be visible to any user, but the user will immediately be redirected to the registration form with an explanation to complete the registration. The email address they provided will already be filled in.

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Registration form after posting as a guest

At this point, the user can either fill in the registration form, or use a social sign in method like Facebook or Twitter to create an account. After the account has been created, and validation has been completed if necessary, their post will automatically be made visible just as if they had registered and then posted.

If the user abandons the registration after they've submitted their post, an email will be sent to them to remind them to complete the registration.

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Email reminding user to finish registering

 

Some Notes

  • Invision Community already has a feature that allows guests to post as guests without registration if granted permission. That feature has not been removed and so if you already allow guests to post, the behaviour will not change. This new feature is only available when a guest can't post in a given area, but a member would be able to. The entire feature can also be turned off if undesired.
  • If the area the guest is posting in requires moderator approval, or newly registered members require approval of new posts, the post will enter the moderation queue as normal once their account has been created.
  • Third party applications will require minor updates to support this feature.

Once your casual visitor has invested time in your community by crafting a post, they are much more likely to finish the registration to get it posted. If you have set up external log in methods, then registration only takes a few more clicks.

This blog is part of our series introducing new features for Invision Community 4.4.

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Allowing your customers to find exactly what they need as fast as possible will no doubt increase sales.

A good number of our customers use Commerce to sell physical items. Until now, it's always been a little tricky to set up the store to allow customers to drill down into specific items within the store.

In Invision Community 4.4, the sidebar in the store now includes filter options to help customers find the product they're looking for.

Administrators can set up whatever filters they like for each product. In this video above, you can see we have set up filters for color and price.

You can set these filters up in the AdminCP by simply specifying each possible option:

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Creating a custom filter

Once the filters have been set up, you can then add each filter to the categories it applies to (so you can have different filters for different categories) and when editing any product you can specify as many values for each filter as is appropriate (for example, if you have a color filter, you can choose multiple colors if the product allows the customer to choose a color, or if the product has multiple colors).

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Choosing the filter values when creating/editing a product

In addition to these custom filters, you will also see filters for price (you can set appropriate bands for each category), rating, and stock level.

Other Commerce Improvements

In addition, we also have a few more features new to Commerce in 4.4:

  • There are new sidebar blocks for best selling products, latest products, product reviews and a featured product.
  • When sending a bulk mail, you can target recipients by the total amount they have spent.
  • Categories with no products in them are hidden automatically in the store.
  • Notification emails sent to customers to let them know their purchase will expire soon (including if they will be automatically charged) have been improved to show more clearly what will happen.
  • When viewing a customer page in the AdminCP, active purchases are separated from expired and cancelled purchases to make it easier to discern which are active.
  • Custom field values are now included on printed invoices.
  • When filtering support requests in the AdminCP, you can now choose "more than" or "less than" for all time-based filter options.
  • When using stock actions to reply to support requests, the stock reply can be incorporated into the staff member's default reply content rather than overwriting it.
  • Invoices in the AdminCP can now be filtered by status.

This blog is part of our series introducing new features for Invision Community 4.4.

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It might seem a little odd starting a blog on increasing Invision Community's speed with the word "lazy",  but I'll explain why this is a good word for performance shortly.

Earlier this year, Google announced that page speed is a ranking factor.

Simply put, if your site is slow, it will be ranked lower in Google's search results.

It is always a challenge making a large application like Invision Community as efficient as possible per page load. A single Invision Community page can pull in widgets from multiple applications as well as a lot of user-generated content with attachments, movies and images used heavily. 

This is where being lazy helps.

Lazy loading is a method by which attachments, embeds and images are not loaded by default. They are only loaded when the viewer scrolls down enough to make them visible.

This allows the page to load a good deal faster now it doesn't have to load megabytes of images before the page is shown as completely rendered.

I was going to take a fancy video showing it in action, but it's hard to capture as the system loads the media just before you get to it, so it looks fairly seamless, even with sluggish connections.

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Not the most dynamic image, but this shows the placeholder retains the size of the image

We have added this lazy loading to maps and Twitter emoji images.

Improving non-image attachments
Once we had implemented the lazy loading framework, an area we wanted to improve was non-image attachments.

We have listened to a lot of the feedback we had on this area, and have now made it very clear when you add an attachment into a post. We've even returned the download count now it's being loaded on demand.

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Using attachments when posting

All the letters
When we first implemented the letter avatars in 4.3, we discussed whether to use CSS styling or use an image.

We decided to go with an image as it was more stable over lots of different devices, including email.

We've revisited this in 4.4, and switched the letter avatars to SVG, which are much faster to render now that the browser doesn't have to load the image files.

Other performance improvements
We've taken a pass at most areas with an eye for performance, here is a list of the most significant items we've improved.

  • Several converter background tasks have been improved, so they work on less data
  • Duplicate query for fetching clubs was removed in streams
  • Notifications / follower management has been improved
  • Member searches have been sped up (API, ACP live search, member list in ACP, mentions, etc.).
  • Stream performance has been improved
  • UTF8 conversions have been sped up
  • Elasticsearch has been sped up by using pre-compiled queries and parameterisation, as well as the removal of view filtering (and tracking)
  • HTTP/2 support with prefetch/preload has been added
  • Several PHP-level performance improvements have been made
  • Implemented rel=noopener when links open a new window (which improves browser memory management)
  • Several other performance improvements for conversions were implemented that drastically reduce conversion time
  • IP address lookups now fetch IP address details from us en-masse instead of one request per address
  • Cache/data store management has been streamlined and centralised for efficiency
  • Many background tasks and the profile sync functionality have all been improved for performance
  • Brotli compression is now supported automatically if the server supports it
  • Redis encryption can now be disabled if desired, which improves performance

Phew, as you can see, we've spent a while tinkering under the hood too.

We'd love to hear your thoughts. Let us know below!

This blog is part of our series introducing new features for Invision Community 4.4.

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We could definitely make some good use of those performance improvements.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of v4.4.

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Ever since its first release, the REST API built into the Invision Community software has proven to be a very powerful and well-received feature.

We love seeing what our clients and modification authors are able to do with the level of integration afforded to them through this capability, and so it is only natural that we have looked to expand the functionality in our upcoming 4.4 release.

Poll Support

Beginning with 4.4, you will now be able to create and update polls for both topics and blog entries through the REST API. Of course, modification authors can use this new endpoint.

Warn Reasons

You will also now be able to manage warn reasons through the REST API. This includes fetching a list of reasons, as well as fetching an individual reason, creating warn reasons, updating existing warn reasons, and deleting warn reasons.

Event Venues

Event venues can now be listed and individual venues fetched through the REST API, and you can now add, update and delete event venues through the REST API.

Member Notifications

You can now retrieve a list of notifications for a specific member through the REST API, useful if you were to attempt to recreate the notifications menu on a third party website (for example).

Warning Users

The REST API will now expose the warnings a user has received through a new endpoint. Additionally, you can fetch individual warnings, issue new warnings, undo and/or delete issued warnings, and acknowledge warnings through the REST API. If you are building a site wrapper around your community, you can leverage this functionality to ensure that users are unable to post elsewhere on your site if they have unacknowledged warnings within the community (and also to provide them with a way to acknowledge those warnings right on your site).

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The REST API Reference

Node permissions

Beginning with 4.4, you will now be able to set the permissions for a node when adding or updating it through the REST API (for example, you can now adjust the permissions for a forum or a downloads category through the REST API). Many clients noticed that while they could create new nodes through the API, the nodes would be unusable until an administrator manually went in and specified the permissions, so this change can eliminate this extra step in many situations.

Event filtering

You will now also be able to filter the events you pull through the Calendar REST API endpoints by start and end date (e.g. so you can show events within a specific time frame, such as the current week), and you can now also specify to sort the events returned by the event start date or the event end date.

Clubs

And finally, for those who leverage clubs on their communities, we have built in full REST API support for clubs. You can list all clubs, return a specific club, create new clubs, update existing clubs, and delete clubs through the REST API. Further, you can list all members in a club, add a specific member to a specific club, remove a member from a club, fetch the content types available for use within a club (i.e. so you can determine which applications are installed and have club support on a given site), fetch the nodes (displayed as tabs/sections within a club) created within a club, and delete nodes from a club. Important behind the scenes steps, such as generating invoices for members requesting to join paid clubs, are all handled automatically for you when using the REST API.

We believe these changes will help clients better integrate with our software and open up new possibilities with their websites.

Would you like us to add any other endpoints? Let us know in the comments below!

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🤨 I don't even know what half of this stuff means.

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It's been said that the best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google.

While we can't promise to get you to page 1 for a generic search term, we have taken some time for Invision Community 4.4 to do an SEO sweep.

Moz.com defines SEO as "a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines."

We have the technical skills and were fortunate enough to have Jono Alderson of Yoast lend his time, knowledge and vast experience to improve our SEO.

This blog article gets a little technical. It's completely fine to leave at this point with the comfort of knowing that Google will be a little happier on your site with Invision Community 4.4.

The majority of the changes are designed to send stronger signals to Google and friends over which content to slurp and which to look at a bit later.

Still here? Good. Let us roll up our sleeves and open the hood.

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Pagination
The most visible change is that we've taken pagination out of query strings and placed it in the path.

For example, the current pagination system looks a little like:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?page=3

Which is fine but it gets a little confusing when you add in a bunch of sort filters like so:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?sort=asc&field=topic&page=3

A better approach would be to make a clear signal to both Google and humans that pagination is a separate thing.

Invision Community 4.4 does this:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/page/3/?sort=asc&field=topic

Not only is this good for search engines, but it's also good for the humans too as it is more readable and no longer confused with filter parameters.

Of course, we ensure that the old style pagination is redirected (via a 301 header) to the new pagination URL automatically so nothing breaks.

Canonical Tags
These tags are a way of telling search engines that a specific URL is the 'master copy' of a page. This helps prevent duplicate content from being indexed.

Without it, you are leaving it up to the search engine to choose which is the master copy of the page.

For example:

yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/ and yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?sort=desc&field=time may show the same content but have different URLs.

By setting the canonical tag to point to yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/ regardless of filters sends a strong signal to the search engines that this is the page you want to be spidered.

Invision Community sets these tags in many places, but we audited these in 4.4 and found a few areas where they were missing.

For example, viewing a member's profile doesn't always set a canonical tag which may confuse search engines when you click on "View Activity" and get a list of content items.

Soft 404s
When an application or website wants to tell the visitor that the page they are looking for doesn't exist, it sends a 404 header code along with a page that says something "We could not find that item" or "No rows available".

If a search engine spiders a page that looks like a 404 page, but it doesn't have the 404 header code, it logs it as a "soft 404".

Given the short amount of time Google has on your site to discover new content, you don't want it to hit many soft 404s.

Invision Community 4.4 omits containers (such as forums, blogs, etc.) that have no content (such as a new forum without any topics yet) from the sitemap, and also adds a 'noindex, follow' meta tag into the HTML source.

Google will periodically check to see if the status of the page has changed and happily slurp away when content has been added.

Other changes
Although the changes listed here don't deserve their own section in this article, they are no less important.

We have audited the new JSON-LD markup added to Invision Community 4.3 to help search engines better understand the relationship between pages.

The "truncate" method that is used to display a snippet of text in areas such as the activity stream now only sends the first 500 characters to the javascript method to reduce page loads and page 'noise'.

The profile view in Invision Community contains a mix of information pertinent to the member and content they've authored.

We've ensured that the content areas are using a specific URL, with appropriate canonical tags. This will help reduce confusion for search engines.

If you made it this far, then well done. It's time to slam the hood closed and mop our collective brows.

These changes will certainly help Google and friends spider your site a little more efficiently and have a clearer idea about what pages and data you want to be indexed which can only improve your ranking.

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Ooooh fancy. I'll look into upgrading. Well, perhaps later, when the v4.4.1 arrives. Those .1 versions usually fixe the biggest bugs.

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It's easy to think that email is a relic from the past; from simpler times long before social media and the rise of phone apps.

And it's reasonable to think that way. Your phone constantly pings at you, and your laptop OS constantly pings at you, so why bother with email?

Because it's still a hugely powerful medium to get and retain attention.

In 2017, over 269 billion emails were sent and received per day. Of those, 3,360,250,000 are opened, read, and a link clicked.

Email is still very much a critical tool in your quest for retention.

Invision Community knows this. We have options to notify members of replies by email, weekly or monthly digests by email and members can opt-in for bulk emails sent from your community team.

Given how important email is, it was only fair that we invested in some love for our email system for 4.4.

Email Statistics
Just above, I mention that 269 billion emails are sent, and 3.4 billion are opened, read and clicked.

How many emails are sent from your Invision Community daily?

(No cheating and checking with SendGrid)

You probably have no idea as we didn't record email statistics.

As of Invision Community 4.4 we do!

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Chart showing the number of emails sent daily

We now track emails sent, and the number of link clicks inside those emails.

Email Advertisements
Email notifications are a powerful way to get your members to revisit your community. The member welcomes these emails as it means they have new replies to topics they are interested in reading.

While you have your member's attention, you have an opportunity to show them a banner-style advertisement.

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The new email advertisement form

When creating a new email advert, you can choose to limit the advert to specific areas such as topics, blogs, etc. - and even which forums to limit by.

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Subliminal messages

This is a new way to reach your audience with your promotions.

Unfollow without logging in
Despite spending most of this blog entry shouting the virtues of email, it's inevitable that one or two members may wish to stop receiving notification emails.

In previous versions, the unfollow link would have taken you to a login page if you were signed out. For members that haven't been back in a while, this may cause some annoyance if they do not recall their login details.

Invision Community 4.4 allows non-logged in members to unfollow the item they received an email about or all followed items without the need to log in.

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You no longer need to log in to unfollow items

Respecting your member's inbox is vital to keep on good terms with them and to keep them engaged in your community.

We'd love to know which of these features you're most keen to try in 4.4. Please drop a comment below and let us know!

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I really enjoy writing about the new features the development team have been slaving over for weeks (and sometimes months.)

It's a real joy to be able to share the finished product after we've seen it through inception, discussion, planning, assigning to a developer, coding, peer reviewing and final group testing.

Although sometimes, the features can be explained in a few screenshots, which makes for a pretty thin blog entry.

With that in mind, I've grouped together 6 of the best new micro-features for Invision Community 4.4.

Browser notifications
We introduced browser notifications in a previous version of Invision Community.

Once you've opted in to receive them, you'll get a fancy browser notification when new content is posted while you're off browsing other sites.

However, the browser prompt to ask for permission to push notifications isn't subtle, and it attacks you the second you log in for the first time.

In Invision Community 4.4, we've made it, so you're only asked to opt-in once you open the notification drop down.

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No more being attacked by a permission dialog

Widget display settings
One of the most popular features we've added to the front end in recent times is the drag and drop widgets.

We see these used on almost every site we visit.

A popular request, though, was to be able to hide them from specific devices. By default, the sidebars appear under the main content when viewed on a smaller device such as a phone.

There may be times where you wish to show a block for those on tablets and desktops, but remove it for phones, so it doesn't take up precious retail space.

Happily, you can now do this on each block with 4.4.

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Desktop only?

Club Navigation
Clubs are relatively new to Invision Community but they incredibly popular as they allow you to run micro-communities within your main community.

You're not limited to just forums either; you can add gallery albums and more to each club.

We've added the ability to re-arrange the club tabs allowing you to prioritise what you members see first.

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Rearranging club tabs

Announcement URLS
Announcements have been a core feature for a long time now. We use them whenever we have a holiday so we can notify our customers about reduced support on those days.

We've made it so you can now link to an item, rather than have to provide new copy for each announcement.

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We may have overdone it a bit

Time Frame selector
We noticed that in numerous areas around the Admin CP we had time input boxes. These would sometimes be used for seconds, minutes, hours and even days.

We've seen customers forced to enter things like 86400 seconds when they want the time frame to last a day. The lack of consistency wasn't great either.

In Invision Community 4.4, we've added a new Time Frame selector which is used as standard on all areas we ask for a time frame to be entered.

No more taking your socks off to work out how many seconds in a month.

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Time is no longer relative

Group Name Styling
For about as long as I can remember (and as I get older, this is not an impressive amount of time), we've allowed group names to be stylized when shown in the online user list.

A very popular request is to extend that same group highlighting throughout the suite.

Finally, Invision Community 4.4 brings this to the suite.

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If the group name is visible, that gets the styling, otherwise the name does

These features may be micro in nature, but we hope they make a significant improvement to your community.

Which are you most looking forward to? Drop a comment below and let us know.

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