Backtalk Administration Guide:

Conference Creation

Version 1.4.9

© 1996-2003 Jan Wolter, Steve Weiss

Backtalk conference creation can be done either through the web interface, or from Unix. Both procedures are described here.

Conference Creation From Backtalk:

To create a new Backtalk conference, follow the following steps. (The checkboxes below perform no function - they are just for your convenience.)

  1. Log into the administration account

    See the logging in instructions.

  2. create the conference.

    There is a link labelled "Make a New Conference" on the administration page. Click on this.

    You will be shown a form with two boxes. The first box asks for the name of the conference. This should be one word, all lower case letters and digits. We recommend using a name followed by a version number, like ``martian1'' for the first version of the Martian Conference, but this isn't necessary.

    The second box asks for the full path of the Unix directory where the conference is to be stored. It should default to a sensible value, and in most cases you should just leave that unchanged. Only if you are trying to balance space between different disk partitions, or something like that, should you use a different path here.

    After you click on "Create It", the conference will be created. Initially it is set up as an open conference with the conference adminstrators as the only fairwitnesses.

  3. edit the conference configuration

    After creating the conference, you will automatically be set to the conference editing page. This allows you to change the fairwitnesses, the conference access mode, and the conference title.

    Conferences are created with the conference administration account listed as a fairwitness. Since conference adminstrators are fairwitnesses of all conference whether they are actually listed or not, this is morally equivalent to having no fairwitness. If you want to assign some user the job of administering that particular conference, put that user's login name in the fairwitness list box. If you would like to grant fairwitness powers to more than one user, list all their login names, separated by commas (but not spaces).

    The conference mode determines which people can join the conference. Open conferences can be read and posted to by any users. Only selected users can post to a fishbowl conference, but all users can still read it. In closed conferences, both the ability to post and to read are restricted. For closed conferences and fishbowl conferences, access can be restricted either by requiring people to be on a list maintained by the fairwitness, or by requiring them to give a conference password set by the fairwitness, or both. Note that the fairwitnesses don't have to be on the user list, and never have to give the password to join.

    The conference title is the name of the conference as it should be displayed once people have joined the conference. It should normally be capitalized, and should be quite short - usually one word, sometimes two or three. If no conference title is defined, then whatever name the user used to join the conference will be displayed.

    When you are done, click the "Return to adminstration page" link to return to the main administrative menu.

  4. edit the conference aliases

    Pick "Edit the Conference Aliases" from the menu on the admin page. This lets you edit the table containing all the conference aliases, that is all the names by which conference can be accessed. For example, if the user types a conference name into "Goto" text box in the Pistachio interface, the name typed will be matched against aliases in this file to find which conference to go to.

    Each line of the table includes two pieces of information, and alias and a directory name. The directory name is just the place where the conference is be stored. The alias is a possible name by which the conference can be accessed.

    The conference you created will already have one alias created for it, so if you just created version one of the martian conference, there should be a line in the table that looks something like this (the directory name, of course, will differ):
    This says if the user types "martian1", he will get into the conference. (It will also work if he types "Martian1" or "MARTIAN1" since Backtalk ignores the case of conference names users enter.)

    Probably you want to let the user type more things than that. If you insert an underscore into the alias, like "mar_tian1" then abbreviations will be allowed, so long as at least all the characters before the underscore are entered. Thus, a user could type "mar", "mart", "marti", "martia", "martian" or "martian1" to join the conference. To make this kind of change, click the green Edit button next to the table entry you want to change. You will be asked for new values for the alias and directory. Insert the underscore into the alias, and click "Change Alias".

    You may also want to add some additional aliases. For example, you might also want to allow people to type "mars" to join the conference. You can do this with the "Add an Alias" form at the bottom of the screen. Just type in the new alias and cut-paste down the directory name. After you submit this, you will be asked were to insert the new entry into the list. After doing this, you table might include the lines:

    The order of entries in this table only matters if you have two entries matching the same input. For example, if we also had an alias "mar_supials" for a different conference, and the user typed "mar" then the first conference listed in the alias file would be the one he goes to. Thus the "Move" buttons probably won't be used much, though it is helpful to keep the file in some logical format, like in alphabetical order. (If your conference list is extremely long, putting the most commonly used conferences near the front of the list may improve preformance.)

    Note that the "Delete" buttons on this page delete only the aliases, not the conferences themselves.

    When you are done adding aliases, the "Return to adminstration page" link at the bottom of the page will return to the main administrative menu.

  5. edit the conference menu

    When a user asks for a list of conferences, a menu of conferences is displayed. Normally you'll also want to add your new conference to this (though you don't have to - if you want to hide a conference a bit, you can leave it unlisted so people have to join it by typing the name or putting it in their hotlists.)

    To edit the conference menu, click "Edit the conference menu" on the front page. It will display the conference list, with whatever subheadings might be in it, in a table, with forms to add conferences and subheading below.

    Use the "Add a Conference" form to add an entry for your new conference. The "conference name" should be some valid alias for the conference. If you want to display a different name to the users, set that as the conference title. Then supply a short description of the conference. After you submit it, you will be asked where to insert it into the existing menu.

    The other functions on this page, to move, edit and delete lines from the menu, and to add subheading to the table work in fairly obvious ways.

  6. Inform the fairwitnesses.

    The conference is mostly ready to go. However, only one of the fairwitnesses can enter the first item, so they will need to get things started.

    They should also do the rest of the configuration of the conference. They can set up login screens and edit other settings through Backtalk. If it is a closed conference, the fairwitnesses can maintain the user list via Backtalk too.

    If you want to do these things as conference administrator, you can of course do so, since the conference administrator is a fairwitness in every conference.

Conference Creation From Unix:

The conference creation procedure used from is almost identical to that used for Picospan or Yapp 2.3 conferences. The only differences are in editing confmenu file and creating the indexdir subdirectories.

To create a new Backtalk conference, follow the following steps. (The checkboxes below perform no function - they are just for your convenience.)

  1. Log onto the Unix conference administration account.

    This is the account that owns all the conference files and the backtalk program itself.

  2. change directory to the ``bbs'' directory.

    This is the directory where the conflist file and all the conference directories normally reside. We will be creating a new conference directory here, placing some configuration file in it, and editing the conflist and public.txt files to point to the new conference.

  3. create the conference directory.

    Suppose we want to create the ``Martian'' conference. First create a directory for it in the ``bbs'' directory and permitted it rwxr-xr-x. Thus, you should do:

            mkdir martian1
            chmod 755 martian1
    The directory name doesn't actually have to have any particular correspondence to the conference name, but obviously it is good practice to use something obvious. Names are normally all lower case, without spaces or odd symbols, but any valid Unix directory name can be used. We often append version numbers to the end of the name, in case we want to do a ``restart'' in the future.

    Even directories for closed conferences should be permitted to be readable. The files containing the actual items will be depermitted automatically.

  4. create the indexdir subdirectory.

    You should also create a subdirectory called "indexdir" in the conference directory.

            mkdir martian1/indexdir
            chmod 755 martian1/indexdir
    Backtalk used to run slower if it didn't have an indexdir. These days Backtalk will create it itself if it is missing, so it's OK to forget this step.
  5. create the config file

    The config file should be inside the conference directory (e.g. ``martian1/config''). It's usually easiest to copy one over from an existing conference and edit it into the shape you like. Or you can just make one from scratch, using any Unix text editor, such as

            vi martian1/config
    A typical config file for a publically-readable conference looks like this:
    There are no blank spaces in the file. The four lines are:

    1. ``!<pc02>''
      The magic number. This line should always look exactly like this. It marks this as a version 2 picospan configuration file. No other versions are understood.
    2. ``''
      Participation file name. This is the name of the file that will be created in the user's directory to store information about which items he has seen in this conference. It must be different that the name used for any other conference. It is usual to use the same name as the conference directory, with a ``.cf'' suffix. If your system uses real Unix accounts for users, then adding a dot to the front of the file name is very strongly recommended, since this will make the files somewhat ``invisible'' to users.
    3. ``0''
      This line should always be zero. (It is actually ignored by Backtalk and Yapp 2.3. I don't know if Picospan does anything with it.)
    4. ``marvin,carter''
      List of fairwitnesses. These are the Backtalk login names of the users who will be fairwitnesses of this conference. They are all listed on one line, separated by commas, but no spaces.

    There is an optional fifth line, used for closed conferences. It contains a decimal integer, or a sequence of keywords, which can be any of the following.

    0 public all users may read and post [default]
    4 ulist only users in the ulist or glist may read and post
    5 password only users who know the password may read or post
    6 paranoid only users who are in the ulist or glist and know the password may read or post
    8 protected all users may read and post (but item files not directly readable)
    20 ulist readonly only users in the ulist or glsit may post / all may read
    21 password readonly only users who know the password may post / all may read
    22 paranoid readonly only users who are in the ulist or glist and know the password may post / all may read
    Picospan and older versions of Yapp and Backtalk accept only numeric conference modes. Read-only conferences are not recognized by Picospan, though they are recognized by Yapp. If you are using Backtalk with Picospan, don't use modes 20, 21, 22.
  6. Permit the config file.

    The config file should be permitted rw-r--r--. That is, you should do:

            chmod 644 martian1/config

  7. Edit the conflist file.

    The conflist file resides in the top level "bbs" directory (not in the "martian1'' subdirectory. It is used to map typed names of conferences to the actual directory names. You can use any standard Unix text editor to edit it, such as:

            vi conflist
    Normally you will just be adding some lines to this file, but we will describe the format of the entire file. Lines may be commented out by starting them with a # sign. A typical conflist file might look like this:
    The first line is always ``!<hl01>''. This is a magic number.

    The second line is the directory name of the default conference. This is not used in Backtalk, but it is in Picospan and Yapp 2.3.

    The remaining lines each consist of a conference name, a colon, and a conference directory. Conference names usually have an underscore inserted in them somewhere. When a user types the name of a conference, he may abbreviate it by leaving off letters after the underscore. Thus, you could join version 2 of the general conference by typing ``gen,'' ``gene,'' ``gener,'' ``genera,'' ``general,'' or ``general2.'' To join version 1, you'd have to type ``general1'' however, because there is no underscore in the name so no abbreviations are allowed. Note that there can be more than one line for the same conference. Thus we can also go to version 1 of the general conference by using the name ``oldgen.''

    If ``/usr/local/backtalk/bbs/'' is the default location for conference directories (this is set during the installation process), then you can abbreviate directory names by replacing that part of the path with a % sign. Thus, the following file would be equivalent to the one above:

    This format is recommended, since it is easier to maintain.

    So, to add our new conference, we just added at least one line pointing to the directory we just created, like the last three lines of the examples above.

  8. Edit the confmenu or public.txt file.

    The confmenu and public.txt files are alternative formats for keeping a list of conferences that is displayed to users when they request a list of conferences. Normally all conferences should be included here (though it is still possible to join a conference that isn't listed if you know it is there). Normally each conference would be listed only once, but you can certainly list the same conference multiple times, even under different names.

    The public.txt file is the older format used by Picospan. The confmenu file is an alternative format that is prefered by Backtalk. Which your system uses depends on a configuration option in the file.

    How to edit the confmenu file

    A typical confmenu file looks something like this:
       :Various Conferences:These are general purpose test conferences.
       general:General:General Conference
       mars:Martian Oddessy:The Martian Conference
       :Test conferences:
       test:Test:A place to experiment 
    Each line contains three fields separated by colons.
    • The first field is the conference name, the name that will be used to join the conference if the user selects this. It must be one word, and would normally consist entirely of lowercase letters and numbers. It should match one of the lines that you put in the conflist file (though without any underscores in it).
    • The second field is the conference title, the name for the conference that will be displayed to the user. Normally it will be the same as the conference name, or differ only in case, but it can actually include spaces.
    • The last field is a description - a few words describing the conference. This field is always optional.
    Lines without a conference name (those starting with a colon), are conference catagories, not conferences. When conferences are listed, these will be printed as subheadings in the listing.

    How to edit the public.txt file

    The public.txt file is a human-readable list of conferences. As far as Picospan is concerned, this is just some text file that is printed to the screen. Backtalk parses it using some regular expressions defined in the config file. You need to keep it's format matching those regular expressions. We'll assume here that you used the default Grex-style format.

    The format of the public.txt that will work with the regular expressions is something like this:

       This is a list of the conferences on Marvin's Backtalk conferencing system.  Click on a conference name to join it.
       Various Conferences:
        general      - General Conference
        mars         - The Martian Conference
       Test conferences:
        test         - A place to experiment 
    The first line of text is some kind of introductory paragraph. It is completely ignored, so forget it. After this, lines with no leading spaces are sub-headings, giving catagories of conferences. Lines with a leading space have a conference name as the first word, followed by some spaces, a hyphen, a space, and a short description of the conference. Every conference that you want people to be able to join should have a line in this file.
  9. Inform the fairwitnesses.

    The conference is mostly ready to go. However, only one of the fairwitnesses can enter the first item, so they will need to get things started.

    They should also do the rest of the configuration of the conference. They can set up login screens and edit other settings through Backtalk. If it is a closed conference, the fairwitnesses can maintain the user list via Backtalk too.

    If you want to do these things as conference administrator, you can of course do so, since the conference administrator is a fairwitness in every conference.