Pistachio Backtalk Help:
An Introduction

The Backtalk Conferencing System

Backtalk is a web-based computer conferencing system developed by Jan Wolter and Steve Weiss. For more information, see the Backtalk web page.

Computer conferencing systems allow people to post original messages, and to read and reply to the postings of other people. Unlike E-mail, computer conferencing systems are designed to gracefully support discussions amoung groups of people, sometimes very large groups. Unlike chat systems, computer conferencing systems are not real-time - the people involved in the discussion are not necessarily all online at the same time.

User Accounts

To participate in Backtalk conferencing, a user must have an account, with a login name and a password. When you first enter the conferencing system you will be asked to give these to identify yourself. This not only provides a measure of security for the conferences, making it possible to restrict the set of people who can access it and allowing the author of each message to be identified, but it also means Backtalk can remember things about you. Thus, you will not normally be shown messages you have seen before, because Backtalk will remember what you have seen.

Normally each user will also provide a little personal information, so that people interested in the user's postings can satisfy their curiousity about the author.

On some systems, anonymous users, who do not have accounts, may be permitted to read the conferences, but not to post to them. Many of the functions of Backtalk won't work for anonymous users.

Conference Structure

To help organize multiple threads of discussions, most conferencing systems impose some kind of structure on discussions. Backtalk adopts one of the most successful structures, which was pioneered by text-based systems like Confer and Picospan, and is now used in many other popular conferencing systems.

There are three levels to the structure:

Any Backtalk system will have a selection of conferences. Each conference covers some broad topical area. Each is moderated by a person called ``a fairwitness.'' Some conferences may be open to all users, while others may be restricted to select list.
Each conference can contain any number of ``items.'' An item has a number, a title, and some introductory text starting off a discussion of a new topic. In most conferences, any user will be able to enter items.
Users interested in discussing an item's topic can append ``responses'' onto the end of it. Each response is tagged with the author's name, and they are kept strictly in the order they were posted.

Interface Flavors

Backtalk's user interface is designed to be almost limitlessly reconfigurable. We call each different interface we create a ``flavor.'' Different Backtalk flavors may look completely different and may have entirely different buttons and controls.

The Pistachio Interface

``Pistachio'' is one of the original experimental interfaces to Backtalk. It was named after its greenish default background color, and was originally designed as a testbed for using various advanced HTML features in computer conferencing. It's slowly been tamed into a reasonably usable interface.


Pistachio uses buttons for most of it's controls. Some are just little blank buttons, like this: ->. They will always have some text next to them telling what they do. Other buttons are labeled, for example Read New. These are often the more commonly used buttons, which should be easy to find quickly.

Sometimes buttons will be grayed-out, like this: No Read New. This means that that function is not available, and pushing the button will not work. For example, the ``read new'' button is turned gray when there is nothing new to read.

If you are a fairwitness or an administrator, you will see red buttons, like this: Erase. Red buttons allow you to do things that ordinary users would not be allowed to do, like erase another user's posting (some installations won't allow even )Fairwitnesses( to do this). The color is to warn and remind you that you are doing something extraordinary.

Oh, and feel free to use your browser's ``Back'' button any time you want, as much as you want. Backtalk won't be confused by it (or at least not enough to speak of), and Pistachio has lots of dead ends that you can't get out of any other way. It's also fine to open multiple backtalk windows at the same time.


What most people want to do with Pistachio is read the conferences. So when you arrive on the entrance page you will see a selection of different buttons all designed to get you into the conferences you want to read. You can get a list of conferences, and click on the name of the one you want, or you can type in the name of the conference and hit a button to go there, or you can just hit the big ``read new'' button to read all new responses in all the conferences on your hot list.

A ``hot list'' is just your list of the conferences that most interest you. There is a button on the entrance page that lets you edit this. Most systems will have a default ``hot list'' for new users and anonymous users, but you will surely want to change this to reflect your own interests.

When you arrive in a conference, however you got there, you will be at the conference home page. Again, you will find a big, bright ``read new'' button here, to do what you will most often want to do - read the new postings to the conference. Alternately, the conference home page has a button that allows you to list all the items and select just the ones that interest you. There are also various other controls, to do things like enter new items and change your name in the conference (you can use different names in each conference). There is also a ``next conference'' button that lets you skip to the next conference on your hot list.

When you read a conference, each item will be displayed to you on a single read item page. The page will be divided into two windows. The top part, which doesn't scroll, has a selection of commonly used buttons. The bottom part contains the new responses to the item, and at the very bottom, a box you can use to post your own responses with. This bottom part can be scrolled up and down.

The ``next item'' button in the control panel is used to continue on to the next item. It'll be grayed out if you have read all the new items in the conference, in which case you can take the ``next conf'' button to the next conference in your lot list, or use the ``conf home'' button to return to the conference home page, or the ``entrance'' button to return to the entrance page.

If the item is really boring to you, and you never want to see it again, just hit the ``forget'' button.


The form for entering new items can be reached from a button on the conference home page. The form for responding to an item is at the bottom of the read item page. Both are pretty simple to use: you type your response into the big box, and hit the ``Post'' button to post it.

If no text entry forms appear, the item may have been frozen by the author or the fairwitness, or you may be in a read-only conference, or you may be an anonymous user.

Your Account

There is a button on the entrance page that lets you go to a form where you can change settings on your account. This includes your name and various personal information. You can also change your password there, and even delete your own account. Some of the capabilities may not be available on some systems.


There are logout buttons on most pistachio pages. Clicking one of these will log you out. It's best to remember to do this, especially if you are on a public computer, as otherwise people coming soon after you leave may be able to access your account. It is never a bad precaution to exit the browser before leaving the computer in such environments.

More Help:

For more help, you can read the detailed help pages for each type of Backtalk page. You can start with the entrance page. But really, you might as well just start using the system. There are Help buttons on most pages that will send you to the help page for that Backtalk page.

- Backtalk version 1.4.6 - Copyright 1996-2005, Jan Wolter and Steve Weiss