Mind-blowing activities in dashboard

by michal frackowiak on 07 Dec 2011 09:28

It has been a while since we introduced the concept of watching and email notifications to allow our users to follow activities related to their Wikidot account. So far email notifications has played critical role in keeping workgroups, communities and site owners up-to-date.

Today we would like to introduce a huge improvement to the "watching" feature. Here is the thing. Getting an email for every page edit, new comment or new post works pretty well, but over time we have discovered the workflow is not flawless:

  • it can result in flooding your inbox when you join communities with lots of activity,
  • it requires you to define filters for your mailbox to properly categorize notifications, otherwise see above,
  • email clients do not always do message threading properly, mixing notifications from different sites, pages or forum threads

These are not deal breakers. Notifications improved our efficiency with Wikidot dramatically. But we did spend a while making it work with our email clients which was not that easy (e.g. new Apple Mail breaks message threading completely). And honestly we do not expect fresh users to spend their time writing perfect filters for their inboxes.

Today we would like to address the above issues by introducing the Activity tab in the account dashboard. Now you could simply jump and try yourself, but let me give a quick overview.

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Here are the highlights:

  • Every action related to site/category or page you watch is displayed as an activity item with a short preview wherever possible.
  • We categorize your activities by site. All sites with recent activities are listed in the left side bar with the number of unread items. You can see either all activities (from all sites) or by individual sites.
  • Activities can be unread or read. This should help you quickly spot new content. Activities are marked as read when you click a button or when you scroll down. In this case the we assume that you have already seen what is already loaded on screen.
  • Older activities are loaded as you scroll down.
  • We try to thread activities by page and by forum topic.
  • Whenever possible we try to give you context for a given activity, i.e. previous related activities if they are available.

The concept of browsing activities within the Wikidot account is about 2 year old and we had a prototype ready some time ago. Unfortunately it was based on relational database concept and although worked well when demoed for one user, it did not scale at all for hundreds of thousands of users watching almost million items, generating more than ten thousand activities for all users each day.

It does scale now, thanks to MongoDB, which is being used to collect activities for about two weeks now. MongoDB is a blazingly fast database with great indexing features and it really scales well, which makes it perfect for processing large datasets.

Tell us what you think. Honestly, we have been using activities in dashboard for more than a week now and we found it much more convenient and productive than getting notifications into our mailboxes. It takes now much less time to dig through activities and gives a better overview of what is happening in Wikidot.

O.K, enough talking. Activities are available at:

http://www.wikidot.com/account/activity

One more thing — since we have been collecting all activities for a while now, most of you should have a bunch of them ready for browsing.

There are still a couple of things we would like to be improved, but we believe in the current stage it is already ready to release. We are ready for your feedback!

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