Building the Commons Update: March 2023

To keep our users updated and engaged with our work maintaining and improving the Commons, we are beginning a series of monthly development updates that will look at what we’ve accomplished recently, what we expect to be releasing soon, and what we’re working on for the future.

As always, we really appreciate feedback and input from the community, so if you have thoughts on our current developments or ideas for how you think we could improve the Commons, please comment!

Recent Developments

Twitter Out, ORCiD In

Recent events on Twitter have caused us concern, both in terms of its technical reliability and its overall direction. Therefore we decided to eliminate our dependence on it for user authentication. We added ORCiD as an authentication option at the beginning of February and removed Twitter as an option this past week.

Login methods available on the Commons: Google, ORCiD, Humanities Commons, MLA, MSU.
Login methods available now on the Commons: Google, ORCiD, Humanities Commons, MLA, MSU

This is the Commons’ first integration with ORCiD, which is an open system for academic identities. We have many more plans for ORCiD including a plugin for embedding ORCiD profile data in WordPress sites, adding ORCiD IDs to repository deposits, and syncing Commons and ORCiD profiles.

WordPress 6.1.1

Because the Commons is a complex site running many plugins and themes, each major WordPress release requires significant testing and bug fixing. WordPress 6.1.1 brings improvements to the Block Editing and Site Editing experience for user sites, and the new Twenty Twenty-Three default theme. We updated the Commons at the end of January, and are pleased that no significant issues have arisen since then. Nevertheless, we are looking at ways to reduce our plugin and theme dependences to ease the testing and development burden that comes with each new release.

Screen shot of 2023 theme showing style variations.
Twenty Twenty-Three makes use of the new style variations features in WordPress 6.1 to allow you to easily change the appearance of your site without switching themes. Image:

Post Author Profile Linking

By default, clicking on the author of a blog post takes you to a list of posts they have made on that blog. When we launched HASTAC, we wanted to change that so that the link would go to their profile page. This turned out to be tricky to make work both for legacy themes and block-based themes. Our initial implementation worked in some cases but in others would result in bare HTML being exposed rather than a working link.

Post header showing exposed HTML
This is not how it should look!

We have now fixed this behavior and it should work correctly regardless of what theme you are using, legacy or block-based.

Correctly displayed author link.
Much better!

On the Horizon

Theme Modernization

A major focus for us in early 2023 is to improve the performance and appearance of the base and organizational sites. One of the barriers to improvement is our dependence on a very old paid theme (BuddyBoss 2.2.2). Much of our multi-network functionality is implemented in a BuddyBoss child theme, which makes it difficult to move to something more modern and maintainable. We’re working to move this functionality into a plugin so that we are not dependent on any particular theme for our core functionalities. Currently we have a mostly-working development site running on the Twenty Twenty-Three theme, but there is still significant effort required to move our repository functionality and society-specific customizations to this new system.

A screen shot of a redesigned front page with navigation menu and buttons for visiting main sections of the site.
A redesigned front page (in-progress)
Screen shot of Science and Technology Studies group using BuddyPress Nouveau template.
Group page using the BuddyPress nouveau template.

Improving HC Logins

When the Commons first launched, we encouraged users to use social logins such as Google or Twitter rather than our own authentication service. However, the “HC” login method has always been required for some users, whether they have principled reasons for not using social services or there are technical reasons those services don’t work for them. Currently we rely on a dedicated password management tool that doesn’t work well with the rest of our identity management system, based on COmanage. This month we began work to retire that service and move to a COmanage plugin in its place. This should improve the experience of users using the HC login method and make it easier for our support staff to address user issues when they do arrive.

For the Future

Much of our work on the Commons is toward developments that might not be released for months or years. Here are some of the long-term projects we have been working on recently:


Redesigned and rebuilt profiles are our first step toward a “next-generation Commons” that moves away from BuddyPress in favor of a decentralized ActivityPub-based network.

Wireframes of redesigned profiles
Rough wireframes from a profiles design sprint run in February

Our goal with Commons profiles is for them to be an always up-to-date reflection of all your academic work, from formal publications, to blog posts, to works-in-progress. Profiles will collate your activities from around the Commons and elsewhere, and will be followable by other Commons users as well as anyone using ActivityPub-based social network applications, such as Mastodon.

Art History @ HCommons

A new feature we’re working on for the Commons is Disciplinary Homes. These are similar to user profiles in that they bring together content from all over the Commons in a central location. Instead of user profiles, however, these are homes for particular disciplines or academic interests. Our pilot project for this feature is Art History. Here’s an early mockup:

A screen shot showing a mockup for the Art History disciplinary home page.
Mockup of a disciplinary home page for Art History

Until Next Time

That’s it for now! Look forward to another update in early April. Until then, any an all feedback is appreciated, either here or on, our Mastodon server.