Monthly Archives: April 2007

FAQ: Group Blogs

What is a group blog?

A group blog is just like a regular blog except more than one person can make entries. Group blogs can be used by professors for classes, by student organizations for publicity, by a group of friends for fun, or any other non-commercial purpose.

Who can start a group blog?

Anyone at WOU can start a group blog. You just need to contact and request it; be sure to include a title for the blog and a list of members, along with any other requests such as privacy options. The blog will be created in your public_html folder, but separate from your personal blog. When you log in to the blog admin system at you will see the group blog along with your personal blog.

Who can be a member?

Only people with valid WOU email accounts can be part of a group blog. The blog creator needs to provide a list of WOU email address or ID numbers (V numbers) for each person they want to be a member. Unless you are a faculty member creating the blog for a class, each member will be contacted and asked for their permission to be included in the blog.

What can members do?

Most members will just be able to post entries, and edit or delete entries they have made. The creator of the group blog can request that certain members be given administrative rights, which means that they can do anything the creator can do: edit or delete any entry, accept of delete comments, change any setting, etc. Either way, members need to log into the blog admin system, just as they would to post entries or make changes to their own personal blogs.

Can I keep the blog private to the group?

Yes. Any blog (not just a group blog) can be made private. Normally you wouldn’t want to do this, because most blogs are meant to be public, but if your blog is intended for a particular audience, you can require a password to view it.

What privacy options do I have?

You can provide a list of WOU email addresses or ID numbers of people who should be allowed to see your blog; in that case they will log in with their email username and password. You can also set up a single username and password that will allow people to view your blog; you can then give that password to anybody you want, even off campus. And if you want, you can set your blog to be viewable by anybody who has a valid WOU email account.

Can I change blog members or privacy settings?

Yes; just contact with your requested changes. You can add or remove members (again, unless it is a class blog, they will be asked for their permission) or change privacy options. Please do not ask us to change normal blog settings for you; you can do that yourself in the blog admin system.

Deleting blogs

I’ve had my head buried in blog server code for the past couple of weeks. One thing has become clear. We have too many blogs on our system and some of them will need to be deleted.

We need to do this because the server cannot display or set people’s permissions on various blogs. When I ask it for even a single author’s permissions, the server churns and churns for five minutes (I timed it twice) and then gives up. The server is working great for everything else, but not for this, and I think it’s no coincidence that out of all the tables in the blog database, the permissions table is the biggest.

We have over 13000 blogs on the system, only a few of which are in use. I plan to delete blogs belonging to students who have not been enrolled since Fall term. I will preserve any blogs that actually have entries, though. After that, we’ll see.

FAQ: Blog Server Upgrade

Hello, everybody–

This week’s I’ll talk about the new features available since the upgrade of our blog server earlier in the week.

What’s the blog server?

Um, right, I guess not everybody knows that. The blog server is a system where anybody at WOU can keep a blog; if you aren’t familiar with the idea of blogging, please take a look at the FAQ at If you’ve never used the blog server before, you probably want to take a look at the original blog server FAQs; part one is at, and contains a link to part 2. Both have been updated for the new blog server version.

So will I have to relearn a bunch of stuff?

Not really. The new version added a bunch of features, but didn’t change or remove much that was already there. The most notable new features are the spam filters, improved list handling, and improved searching.

Spam filters, you say? Why would I need a spam filter on a blog?

A few of you of you are probably laughing bitterly at this question, but bear with me. Some blogs, especially those with a lot of activity, attract spammers who post comments that have nothing to do with what you’re blogging about. This is generally different than email spam; the main goal of blog spam is to get many links posted, to affect search engine rankings for spam websites. I’m not going to try to explain how this works, but trust me, once it starts happening to your blog, you will be glad to have a spam filter! Also note that everything I say about comments applies to trackbacks too, if you have them turned on.

I already get a ton of spam on my blog, so how do I turn on the spam filter?

It’s already on. The upgrade process was supposed to sort through all existing comments and junk any that looked like spam, but this didn’t work for any of the blogs I checked. However, it works great for new comments coming in since the upgrade; it has cut the spam level in my blog from several hundred a week down to just fifteen in the three days since the upgrade. If you have turned off commenting in your blog because you were drowning in spam, you might want to turn it back on again now.

How do I change the settings of the spam filter?

The default settings are pretty good, so most people won’t need to mess with them. but if you know what you are doing, or just want to look at the current settings, here’s how to find them. Go to the blog administration toolbar and click settings. Below the page setting you will see two tabs: Settings and Plugins. (You’ll also see a link named “Switch to Detailed Settings”, which gives you more tabs, but you don’t need to click it if you don’t want to.) Click the Plugins tab, and scroll down. There are actually three spam filters; one that uses a blacklisting service, one that checks links in comments, and another that checks keywords. I won’t describe them in detail here, but feel free to take a look at them.

What happens to spam comments caught by the filter?

In your comments list, you’ll see a new tab: Junk comments. Clicking on it shows a list of all comments judged as junk by the spam filter, and gives you a handy button to empty the junk folder without having to select them all and hit delete. It also seems like many spam comments simply aren’t showing up at all, even in the junk folder; I have no idea why this is, but as long as it means I’m getting less junk, I don’t care very much.

I still have a bunch of old spam comments in my blog. How do I get rid of them?

This is where the second feature comes in: improved list handling. You can go to the Comments page (via the link on the blog list page, or in the blog admin toolbar) and see the list. Before, this would automatically list all comments, which could take a while if there were a few hundred (or thousand as happened sometimes.) Now, it lists a more manageable number. By clicking the “Show Display Options” link at the bottom of the list, you can pick from several different numbers of items to show per page, or even pick your own by choosing “Another Amount…” There are other miscellaneous options in the display options box as well, and you can close it by clicking the “Show Display Options” link again when done. These options are available for all lists; whether lists of entries, lists of comments, lists of blogs, etc.

But that doesn’t help me get rid of my old spam comments?

It does help you manage the list better. But here’s something that really will help you get rid of that ton of old spam comments. You’ve probably already noticed that at the top of the column of checkboxes at the left side of the list, there’s a checkbox that, when you click on it, selects every item shown in the list; this makes it easy to delete the whole list.

That would be useful except that I’ve got some comments I want to save, so being able to delete the whole list doesn’t help.

If you’ve used the Display options to break your list down to a manageable size, you can delete a screenful at a time. Or if you’re like me and you have your display options set to show the whole list on one screen, you can use another method of list handling: a filter. Filter options are at the top of every list. Often there will be a “quickfilter” link you can click on to apply a commonly used filter, such as showing unpublished comments only in a comments list; this makes it easy to find and delete spam without accidentally deleting comments you’ve already approved. Each list has several filter options; feel free to play around with them. When a filter is active, there will always be a “reset” link to the right of the filter options, which will remove the filters.

OK, enough about this geeky list management stuff! Didn’t you say something about searching too?

Right, that’s the last topic I’ll cover this week. Any page with a list also has a search bar that lets you look for specific text within the list. But the really powerful new search stuff is available when you click “Search” in the blog admin toolbar. That takes you to a screen with all the search options in one convenient place. Use the tabs to control the type of object you are searching for, and the checkboxes below the search box to apply various options. The “Limited Fields” checkbox is especially useful because it lets you restrict your search to only the title of an entry, for instance, or only the name of a commenter.

Really, why should I care about all this stuff?

Because blogging can be an effective and fun way of expressing yourself. Plus, more professors are beginning to use blogging in their classes, so if you know your way around the blog server, you’ll be a step ahead. Don’t forget, everybody at WOU has a blog you can start using whenever you want; just read the FAQs listed above to see how to get started.

To help get the word out, I’m going to be creating some pages that show the most recent blog entries made, and keep track of the most active blogs. If you have a blog but do not want it listed in anything like that, be sure to let me know! The WOUPortal will also soon be able to view blogs, to save you the effort of checking multiple blogs to see if anything is new there.

And I just realized this is the fiftieth FAQ I’ve done here. So, a really big thank you for all your time and attention in the last two years!