XF 2.2 Activity summary email

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So you've got people to register on your forum and they've made their initial contribution, but once they've done that, how do you keep those members engaged and coming back to your forum? It's an age-old problem. A user registers, they may participate for a while if you're lucky, and then it's really a toss-up as to whether they will stay and become a semi-permanent fixture of your forum, or you never see them again.

Of all the challenges facing forum owners, this one requires the most creative approaches. There are various existing features that are geared towards keeping your members engaged. They can receive alerts, push notifications or emails when content is posted in threads or forums they watch, or you can manually email members periodically to keep them updated with the latest goings-on at your forum. These approaches aren't always effective as they either require explicit action from the user to designate the kind of content in which they are interested, or they require manual intervention from you to create some sort of newsletter.

There must be a better way, right? Well of course there is, or this would be a really short and slightly pointless post.

Activity summary

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The "Activity summary" is an email, periodical receipt of which your members can opt into, which will give them an overview of what they have missed since their last visit to your forum.

A look at the configuration...

Firstly, of course you may switch the feature off entirely if you wish. Though we're not quite sure why you'd want to, as it's awesome.

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We then have three values with which we can control the timing and frequency of when emails should be sent. The defaults are reasonable for most cases and are for the most part self explanatory. By default, we stop sending the activity summary email if the user has been inactive for 6 months, users fitting those criteria are probably a lost cause, but you can override the default and continue sending email to these users indefinitely by setting the value to 0 days.

Registered forum members may opt themselves in or out of receiving the email from their Privacy or Preferences pages:

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Although the "Receive news and update emails" can be toggled independently of the new "Receive activity summary email", we only display the former on registration, but if checked then we will opt the user into the activity summary emails too.

Of course the user can unsubscribe at any time.

You don't know the power of the dark side

Dramatic and irrelevant quote aside, the real power of the system comes from how you can configure the contents of the activity summary email.

In fact, the activity summary isn't just a list of threads but is instead built up using content sections that you can finely configure. Out of the box, these sections are set up to fetch the latest content, but there are several additional filters to allow you to narrow down the content returned in the way you see fit.

For example, you could have a section return the most active threads based on reply count, or the most popular threads based on reaction score. This makes for a much more targeted approach than simply grabbing the latest items, and will be particularly useful for large and busy forums where it will be important to only return the best content from a sea of noise.

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From here you can add additional sections, delete existing sections or change the order that sections appear.

Let's look at how you can change the behaviour of "Latest threads" to only show the latest threads from a specific forum.

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What we've done now is changed the activity summary so that instead of showing the 5 most recent threads from any forum, instead it will show only 2 of the most recent threads from a specific forum.
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We can see those changes reflected in the email, but you can also add additional sections, even if you have previously used that type before. So we can click "Add activity summary section" and add yet another "Latest threads" section.

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This time we'll configure it to pull from the HYS forum. And then we can even add another which can pull from the "General" forum.
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Extensibility

Initially, we will be providing an "activity summary definition" for "Latest threads" and "Latest posts", but as you would expect from XenForo, the system is built with extensibility in mind, and there is plenty of scope for third party developers to build definitions for their own add-on content, allowing forum owners to expand the reach of their activity summaries. For our part, we will be extending support for other first-party XenForo content types as soon as possible.
 

Kirby

Well-known member
How would you send out garbage?
Well, as with any automated system there is no real control over what exactly does get sent.

In an unlucky case, there could have been a spambot storm just a few minutes before the emails do get sent, causing them to contain nothing but spam.
In best case there will be no garbage, but on average it might happen that the emails do contain (a little bit) spam content - just like it happens every now and them that spam does get posted @ xenforo.com.
I can fully understand the desire to not email such content to users, though I don't see a way to fully prevent this apart from manually acknowledging every run after the data has been aggregated.
Might be worth though to ignore content that has active reports?
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
I mean, equally, a user can visit your forum moments after you've had a bit of a spam storm and see those threads. So it's a bit of a edge case that's not worth worrying about.

But equally this is where the criteria within the sections is useful. You might limit it to threads that have a reasonably positive reaction score or have had replies:

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If you at least said you'd only feature threads with more than "X" replies, assuming your users wouldn't frequently respond to every single spam thread they see, the email would never include those spam threads.
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
Of course there are sort options too:

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If you sorted by views or first message reaction score (for example) then at least the spam messages would be further down the email, if they're even included at all because hopefully your forum has much more content to offer so the spam ones with fewer replies, or views, or lower reaction score would drop off the bottom of the list.
 

Alpha1

Well-known member
Spam can be posted as replies.
The reactions score is only for the first post I assume? So if the subsequent 20 post all have a negative reaction score then the thread is still included.

These settings do help, but I don't think they are effective enough. A total thread reaction score would work.
 

Rudy

Well-known member
But that's not really exactly what we're targeting with this, at least not by default. The user isn't required to explicitly do anything or make any decisions and I personally think that covers the majority of the use cases. It's more to entice people back who may have registered on a whim or for a specific reason and might think they're not really interested in what your forum has to offer until ... boom ... a couple of weeks later an email lands containing some new threads that actually they decide they are interested in and may start engaging with your forum more frequently.
Your system seems to work like others I have encountered over the past couple of years--it's a general overview of the forums' topics sent periodically. Which without customization through add-onds, is as good as it gets and is plenty good for many forums out there. Most of those emails I receive from other forums might only have one or two topics out of a dozen or more that I am interested in viewing, but since they are general emails, I expect that. All it takes is one good topic to get me to click and visit the forum again.
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
All it takes is one good topic to get me to click and visit the forum again.
Indeed so, and with some of the other criteria and filters at your disposal with these activity summary sections, that should go a long way to surfacing the more interesting content.
 

Rudy

Well-known member
If you sorted by views or first message reaction score (for example) then at least the spam messages would be further down the email, if they're even included at all because hopefully your forum has much more content to offer so the spam ones with fewer replies, or views, or lower reaction score would drop off the bottom of the list.
Spam can be posted as replies.
Of course, one could argue that if the spam filtering is set up well, the instances of spam are nearly non-existent. 😉 We have a few ways of vetting for spam, all using XF's default spam filtering, and it's very rare that spam will ever get through. Even on one of my busiest forums with thousands of posts made per day, we get no spam.
 

Mangini

Well-known member
For example, you could have a section return the most active threads based on reply count, or the most popular threads based on reaction score. This makes for a much more targeted approach than simply grabbing the latest items, and will be particularly useful for large and busy forums where it will be important to only return the best content from a sea of noise.

activity_summary_3.png


...

Extensibility

Initially, we will be providing an "activity summary definition" for "Latest threads" and "Latest posts", but as you would expect from XenForo, the system is built with extensibility in mind, and there is plenty of scope for third party developers to build definitions for their own add-on content, allowing forum owners to expand the reach of their activity summaries. For our part, we will be extending support for other first-party XenForo content types as soon as possible.

The fact that emails can be extended with such a simple interface is an absolutely killer feature and thank you for having the foresight to make custom sections possible. Great update!
 

sixlxvi

Active member
I saw a UI bug on the first page of this thread, FYI:
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My on-topic question, which I didn't see much discussion on in this thread:

This feature seems awesome. But how would it work with not having these emails going to spam boxes? And server email limits? Most of us use external email services for newsletters and other mass emails. But how does this built in system work?
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
This feature seems awesome. But how would it work with not having these emails going to spam boxes? And server email limits? Most of us use external email services for newsletters and other mass emails. But how does this built in system work?
Being flagged as spam is always a risk.

This will use the same email options you have set up for your forum. Some people use external services for all their outgoing email, that might be advisable here if you don't already do that.
 

sixlxvi

Active member
Being flagged as spam is always a risk.

This will use the same email options you have set up for your forum. Some people use external services for all their outgoing email, that might be advisable here if you don't already do that.
Gotcha. I didn't know I could use external services with XF itself. I have been doing it manually for mass email, and letting my server handle the administrative emails (registration, password change, etc.) I need to look into how to set that up.
 

cdub

Well-known member
Well, you can do that now via "Email users" if you wish to. Unlikely to make a difference though. Most people in that state either clearly aren't interested, gave you a fake email address or an otherwise incorrect email address.

YOU WILL COME AND SEE MY FORUM!!!! YOU WILL PARTICIPATE!!!!

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In an unlucky case, there could have been a spambot storm just a few minutes before the emails do get sent, causing them to contain nothing but spam.
Spam can be posted as replies.

Spam keywords are your friend in spam settings. I haven't had any spam make it through since I added them. Once every couple of months a real post gets flagged but it's rare.

Of course, one could argue that if the spam filtering is set up well, the instances of spam are nearly non-existent. 😉 We have a few ways of vetting for spam, all using XF's default spam filtering, and it's very rare that spam will ever get through. Even on one of my busiest forums with thousands of posts made per day, we get no spam.

Yes! Spam filtering on XF works great. I have a problem of human spammers from Pakistan getting through the registration filters but the spam keyword triggers punch them in the face each time!

Being flagged as spam is always a risk.

This will use the same email options you have set up for your forum. Some people use external services for all their outgoing email, that might be advisable here if you don't already do that.

Yes. @MattW set me up with an email server with Amazon cloud and it's working great after my emails were flagged as spam. Costs pennies a month and works wonderfully. And Matt is great.
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
Yes, absolutely. Nearly all XF outgoing emails have a contextual unsubscribe link. Two in this case. One if they just want to stop this type of email (activity summary emails) and one to stop all emails (including watched etc.)
 

beerForo

Well-known member
No Media Gallery or Resources again? I feel like this is my main gripe with these new features, and the answer is always, forum first, add-ons later. Is that the idea here too? Can we expect it later? I would love to include a "Popular video" section and I'm sure many other would like to highlight resources. Cross-promotion of content is something that XF has not attempted to address so far and something my Gallery needs to survive. Thanks.

And thank you for adding its own opt-out. That is super important.
 

Chris D

XenForo developer
Staff member
Just to be clear, once more, this series of HYS threads is focusing entirely on XF features.

We're not currently talking about any features being added to any of the first party add-ons in any capacity, even if there are cases where some of these new features may or will be extended to support those add-ons.

However, you seem to have missed this pertinent point:
For our part, we will be extending support for other first-party XenForo content types as soon as possible.
 
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