Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

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diego898
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Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by diego898 » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:57 am

Hello,

I've noticed with several communities that Ive transitioned over from separate email list serves to this forum that they initially want the feature allowing users to interact with the forum through email, at least at first while users get used to it. In other words, allowing users to "post a new topic" via email (users can choose to be emailed of topic creation in certain boards) and then:

*people can reply to that email by a normal email but a copy of the entire conversation is posted on the forum as a post to the topic

*people can reply to the newly created topic in the forum as a regular forum user, and an email containing post content is sent to the author and any/all users actively posting/subscribed to which they can then reply, and repeat

I've found two separate MODs that attempted to do something similar, though both seem abandoned. One of which is the old mail2forum.

I believe this a feature that could ease the transition for larger groups from email listserves to this great forum! What does the community think?

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EXreaction
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by EXreaction » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:33 pm

I think this would be a very nice feature to have, however, the issue that typically makes this a problem is security.

Email addresses can be spoofed, so there needs to be some way to verify that the user sending the message is from the email address they say they are.

Due to this problem, creating a topic by sending a new email is very difficult, but we could probably add some sort of secret key to the email sent that would allow them to reply to a topic as long as that secret key is in tact.

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imkingdavid
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by imkingdavid » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:26 pm

Well, along the lines of a secret key, we could randomly generate a secret key for each user that they can access in their profile (or have a new one generated in case someone else discovers what theirs is). To start a new topic, they must provide that key in the email in some predetermined format. When the email is received, the forum takes the user's key and the from email address (both must match the same account) and then checks the associated user's permissions before starting the topic. To reply to a topic, they can just reply to the notification email which would contain both their user key and the topic key. As for database changes, the users table would need a new user_email_key (or something more generic, maybe, in case we can think of other use cases?) on the users table and topic_email_key on the topics table.

I have not yet brainstormed any security holes present in that sort of implementation, but it should do for now to start discussion.

EDIT: To be honest, I have no experience with using emails in this way. I'm guessing a special account would need to be set up by the admin and the board would need to be given the login details for it, then I'm assuming the email server would fire an event upon email receipt, which would signal to the forum software that it should act on it?
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EXreaction
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by EXreaction » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:40 pm

As far as adding keys, various features use or could use keys, so it would be nice if there were some system to handle key generation/checking that is rather abstract.

Requiring the user to supply a randomly generated key for posting a new topic probably would not work so well. They would have to find and copy/paste the key, which would likely mean they have to visit the board anyways to get it or search their emails for a past message. There is also the issue of what forum it would go in.

I am not sure what sort of implementations are available for this, but I would believe some sort of email account would be needed with the login details being specified to phpBB where it can check the account periodically. I would think there are some libraries to help with this and maybe even packages that could be used that handle almost all of the work.

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callumacrae
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by callumacrae » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:16 pm

-1 to creating topics via email

+1 to replying to topics via email
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bantu
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by bantu » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:39 pm

1. Having such a feature would indeed be nice.
2. Implementing this feature probably requires mailserver support.
3. Implementing this feature properly requires a fair amount of logic (code).
4. Not many people need this feature.

Thus, this should be an extension and not a core feature.

As far as I remember first attempts of Facebook and Github to implement this properly/securely failed.

diego898
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by diego898 » Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:22 pm

I think using a secret key would/could be a good solution. Users can add the key to the automatically included email signature, or even if they have to search/remember it (I like it to be a little inconvenient to encourage them to switch fully to the forum - see below). That way if an arbitrary email hits it containing that users random key, it is posted under that users account in some forum chosen by the admin (for example: Listserv). The admin could then just have the ability to expire all users random keys at once, expire specific users, or set the keys to expire after a certain amount of time, encouraging the users to come back to the forum and obtain new keys.

This feature (for me) is mainly to ease the transition for older users from listservs to discussion forums. In order for productivity to not come to a grinding halt as it usually does for a couple of days as users get used to the new means of communicating. Ideally though, they would eventually come to the forum as full users (though strictly not required for general use of the feature).

EDIT: I also respectfully disagree that it should be a mod. The primary users/communities that would benefit from this feature are new communities that tend to be inexperienced with the forum environment and probably servers in general. I personally help transition over several research labs in my institution to their own server/website/forum solution and without my help they probably wouldn't be prepared to start dealing with separate mods, updates, etc.

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DavidIQ
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by DavidIQ » Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:58 pm

I also agree this should be an extension. I've not seen very many requests for this. Supporting that is the topic linked to in the first post. It gathered all of 70 posts in 4 years before being marked as abandoned.
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EXreaction
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by EXreaction » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:12 pm

bantu wrote:1. Having such a feature would indeed be nice.
2. Implementing this feature probably requires mailserver support.
3. Implementing this feature properly requires a fair amount of logic (code).
4. Not many people need this feature.

Thus, this should be an extension and not a core feature.

As far as I remember first attempts of Facebook and Github to implement this properly/securely failed.
Github supports this and it seems to work fine from my usage of it.

I think this would be very useful to a large number of users if it were implemented in the core, much less so if it were an extension. Integrated into the core it would allow everyone who uses any phpBB board to use this feature, whereas otherwise it would probably not be used too often except when transitioning a mailing list to a forum.

There are two dependencies that must be fulfilled before this could be done though, either in an extension or as a core feature: modifying the subscription system to include the full message of a reply/pm in the email and give an email for every reply, and an abstract key management tool. Both of those are desirable for other reasons.

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DavidIQ
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Re: Post/Reply by Email - Integration With Email Lists

Post by DavidIQ » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:21 pm

You can make that same argument about any feature you add to the core really so that argument is not really valid.
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