With the complexity of a system as vast as IPB, it's easy to get lost in all of it's features and possibilities.
At the core of a forum, the most important functionality of the site should be posting topics and replies. Additionally, you'll want to manage those topics and replies. This can mean a lot of things, but many times you want to see if someone has replied to a topic of interest, or read all of the new topics posted since your last visit. Here are some tips from a user standpoint to help you do so.
- Checking new posts - many times on a site, especially one that is not extremely active, you might want to visit and read all of the new posts since your last visit. IPB provides a very easy way to do this - just click the "View New Posts" link at the top of the page. This link shows all posts since your last visit time.
- Checking topics with new replies - sometimes you may wish to manually go through certain forums and check out topics that have had new replies since your last visit. IPB's forum and topic icons can help you quickly do so. When viewing a forum, if the forum has new topics, or topics with new replies, that you have not already read, the forum icon is changed. This can vary depending on the skin, but in the default skin, forums with no new posts are shaded out, while forums that have new posts are "lit up".
Similarly, once you go into a forum, topics that have new posts (or are new themselves) - meaning you haven't read the topic, not that it was posted since your last visit - will be lit up. Additionally, if the topic has more than x number of replies (set by the administrator) it will display as a "hot" topic, and if you have posted in the topic a marker is placed on top of the icon - in the default IPB, the icon has a white triangle in the bottom right corner.
You can see a list of all of the the topic icons and their meanings at the bottom of any forum page to help you learn what all of the different icons mean. These icons are the quickest and easiest way to monitor topics visually, especially if the site is not extremely active
- Subscriptions - Subscriptions can help you track topics and forums in one easy to manage location - your user control panel. Additionally, with subscriptions, you can elect to be notified when new topics or replies are made.
When you view a topic, you can click on the "Topic Options" button at the top of the topic, and click "Subscribe to this topic". From there, you will be brought to the user control panel and you can elect your notification type:
- None - you will be able to monitor the topic from your user control panel, but won't receive any notifications
- Immediate - regardless of your board activity, you will be sent an email immediately after a new post is made to a topic
- Delayed - if you have not been active on the board for 2 hours, you will receive an email notification of the new post
- Daily Digest - once every 24 hours a digest of all replies made to any topics you are subscibed to will be emailed to you
- Weekly Digest - once every week a digest of all replies made to any topics you are subscribed to will be emailed to you
Similarly, you can subscribe to an entire forum by clicking the Forum Options button at the top of a forum page, and clicking "Subscibe to Forum". You can make the same elections as you can for topics, with the only difference being you will be tracking new topics made within a forum, rather than new replies made against a topic. You can track forums you are subsribed to in your My Controls by clicking "View Forums".
This is a very powerful, however often overlooked capability of IPB to help you manage your topics.
Additionally, when posting a new topic, you have the option to automatically subscribe to the topic by checking the box labeled "Enable email notification of replies?". This has the same effect as subscribing to the topic.
- Forum Sort Options - This is my favorite method of tracking topics, and again is an often overlooked feature in IPB. This comes in handly especially when the forum is very very active. When you are in a forum at the bottom of the page there are a few sorting options.
- Order By - You can choose what order you would like to sort the forum by. If you want to reply to topics that have no posts, you can choose to sort by Replies (and set the next menu to "ASC A-Z"). Or you can choose to only participate in topics that have several replies. You can sort by Topic Title to find topics you know the title for easier, or choose to sort by last poster to look for troublesome users easier.
- Z-A / A-Z - This option controls the ordering of the "order by" menu. If you sort Z-A, then the highest values show first (i.e. z, y, x, etc. or 9, 8, 7). This will show newest posts first, for example, if sorting by "last post". Or it will show topics with the most replies if sorting by "replies". A-Z, alternatively, sorts lowest to highest.
- Pruning Options - This options can help you prune down topics from the display. For example, if you want to show all topics that have no replies, but *only* want to show those topics made within the last 30 days, you can set this to "From: 30 days", set order by to "replies", and set the sort order menu to "A-Z".
- Topic Filter - This is one of the more powerful menus, and I say that for two reasons (two of it's options) - "Topics: I Replied" and "Topics: I started". You can choose to filter only open (or closed) topics, or you can look for Polls, or hot topics only.
The "I replied" and "I started" options however narrow down the results based on your membership - that is, if you choose "I replied" only topics that you have replied in will show up, and if you choose "I started" only topics you started will show up. To help clarify where this may be of use, let me give you a (personal) example:
I visit a site frequently, and the site is very busy. It's primary forum has almost 3000 topics in it, and there are probably 1000 new replies a day. I visit once a day. Many of the topics only get a couple of replies in them, and to me, aren't worth tracking - I say this because I would need to regularly manage the topics I'm tracking and prune old ones, etc. Besides, I don't want email notifications. Because the forum is so busy, I don't like using the "View New Posts" options either, so I typically just visit the forum and read the new posts on pages 1-2 or so. However, even though I don't read all the new replies, I do want to check topics I've replied in every time I visit. The easiest way for me to do this is to go the forum and read the topics I want, and then afterwards, set the filter to "Topics: I replied" to check all of the topics I've replied in - I can quickly see (by the topic icon and last poster information) if anyone has replied after me. Additionally, I can check "Topics: I started" in case I've started a topic, but had not yet replied to it. This helps me ensure I keep track of the topics I participate in, without having to subscribe and track those topics.
- Recently Read Topics - On the homepage of your user control panel, the 5 most recently read topics are listed, including indicators of whether or not there have been new replies (and the most recent poster information). While this may not be as powerful as some of the other features because you have less control over the data, it can still give you a quick glimpse into some of the recent topics you read, to let you know if there have been any new replies since you last read it.
- Search - Naturally, the search is a powerful feature, and there are more than just the "keyword" options available (as long as the administrator enables the "Advanced Search" or uses the "Manual Method". On a typical search form, not only can you include keywords (optionally), you can select which forums to search, you can filter topics and posts by member name, you can filter date ranges with the "Search posts from" drop down, you can control the ordering of the results, and you can choose to display the results as posts, or links to the topics the results come from. The search feature is obviously meant to search topics and posts, not track them per-say, but with the right settings you can do more than look for a couple keywords with the search feature. Just be aware, many admins set flood control limits on the search feature (defaulting to 20 seconds) so you may have to wait in-between searches to perform a new search.