Following your own content
One area of improvement that was identified during planning meetings for 4.0 was the process of following your own content. While the forums have a method in place already to follow new topics you create (or to automatically follow topics you reply to), the rest of the suite has no such similar capability in place. We wanted to make it easier for users to follow the content they are submitting to make it more likely they will be aware of comments posted to their submissions, in turn making it more likely they will return and continue to interact with the community.
In all applications in 4.0, when submitting new content you will have the ability to follow that content right away.
When replying, similarly there is an option to automatically follow the content you are replying to.
In your Notification preferences panel, you can choose to automatically follow new content submissions by default and you can choose to automatically follow content you reply to by default (in which case the appropriate checkboxes would be checked by default during submissions and commenting). These options affect your content submissions and comments across the entire suite in 4.0.
Following other content
You can follow other content submitted to the community by clicking on the "Follow" button available in the appropriate area. As with 3.x, you can follow containers (e.g. follow a forum or an IP.Downloads category), and you can follow content items (e.g. a topic or an IP.Downloads file).
You can follow content items and containers both publicly, which means others will be able to tell you are following that item, and anonymously, where you will receive notifications of updates to the item but others will not be able to see you are following it. You can choose to receive an email notification immediately when there is a reply to the content, or you can choose to receive a daily or weekly digest. Digest notifications have been expanded suite-wide and are now supported in all applications automatically. As with 3.x, you can choose to receive an email notification or an inline notification on the site (or you can choose to receive neither or both if you prefer).
One common issue encountered in IP.Board 3.x was that users would follow something, however their notification preferences were configured in a manner which meant they would never subsequently be notified of updates to the item they are following (because they have chosen not to receive neither email nor inline notifications for that follow method). The 4.0 suite recognizes this scenario and warns the user in this event.
We have worked to improve and clarify the follow system where possible in the 4.0 suite, while still retaining the same level of functionality and flexibility you have available in 3.x. The ability to automatically follow new submissions should help users remain engaged on your site when other users comment on their contributions, bringing them back and enticing them to continue contributing to your site. The improved clarification when users will not receive notifications due to their preference configuration will help reduce staff overhead in answering questions, as well as visitor confusion and frustration.
We will talk about notifications themselves in a future blog entry, however we hope these changes help improve usability and interaction with your site by your visitors.