Exploring StatusNet and introducing the neo-kafei theme

Ryan Weal

I have been a big fan of identi.ca for quite some time now. If I could describe it very succinctly, I would say it is a twitter clone microblogging service, but it actually does much more than that.

identi.ca is actually an implementation of OStatus by a Montréal company called StatusNet. Over the holidays this year I took some time to install my own StatusNet site.

What does it do? Well. Let me tell you... it does a lot of things.

The basics

You know how you can have your own account on twitter?

What if you could have your own twitter?
Like, the whole thing. Public or private, as many people as you want messaging each other.

At the core, this is what StatusNet does. It lets you spring up an instant community. It also doesn't strictly limit your number of characters as some other services do... .

The federation

Why should I run my own microblogging service if I only have one user? Because you can still follow other people and interact with them even if they are hosted on a different OStatus service. As they like to say over at OStatus: "people on different networks following each other." Exactly.

Remember the fail whale? You wouldn't have the fail whale if you run your own StatusNet site, because if one server goes down (assuming it's not your own!) the rest of the network keeps going. That in terms of uptime is super cool. When identi.ca goes down for maintenance I still get updates from my friends hosted on other sites.

How to install StatusNet

  • Unzip the files into your hosting space
  • Permission the root folder and three additional folders (see INSTALL file -duh)
  • Create the database in mysql (requires innodb!)
  • Run the installer script
  • Configure additional options in the aptly named config.php file (I had to do this for the theme I made below)

It is best to have the same domain name you intend to go live with. You can change it... but other sites you follow may remember your old name!

The add-ons

Out of the box StatusNet will get you and your team microblogging, either in public or in private. You can also subscribe to anyone using an OStatus feed and reply to them within your site.

Geo-location is also enabled by default, so you can get a global map of how far your correspondence is traveling. URL shortening is included too.

Special configuration steps are required for:

  • "Realtime" live updating (as seen on identi.ca: ability to play/pause your feed)
  • Queuing - if you have lots of users
  • Bots - yes you can create your own robot
  • XMPP - chat integration with your instant messaging
  • Archiving - seems like there are lots of possibilities for integrating
  • Login - you can enable Oauth and other modules (LDAP, Facebook, etc)

I have done none of these! The order above reflects how important I think they are in priority sequence.

Our "neo-kafei" StatusNet Theme

The one thing I would really change about StatusNet is the theme. In an older version of identi.ca you could change your background color, and I did change it... to an offensive green color that was so bright it burned the eyes. It had the effect of washing out the other UI elements so I could focus on reading.

The new/current identi.ca theme, well... I think it is too distracting. The interface commands a lot of attention, and I really don't need a lot of hand holding on a website I visit many times a day.

I decided complaining wasn't worth it - that I could fix this problem myself.

So I posted a "revised" version of one of the included themes with all the color taken away. The interface is zeroed out to just the basics.

Here it is: the neo-kafei theme announcement thread!

The downloads are available here if you don't want to read the whole thread:

How to install it:

  • Unzip the package in your theme folder
  • Edit your config.php file
  • Add a line like this:
  • $config['site']['theme'] = 'neo-kafei';
  • Comment out any other items which contain the theme setting, like this:
  • //$config['site']['theme'] = 'neo';

If anything looks broken double check the files are all there:

|-- base
|-- neo
|-- neo-kafei
| |-- css
| | |-- display.css
| | `-- mp-screen.css
| |-- default-avatar-mini.png
| |-- default-avatar-profile.png
| |-- default-avatar-stream.png
| |-- logo.png
| |-- mobilelogo.png
| `-- theme.ini

Note that you need to have the base theme, the neo theme, and the neo-kafei theme all in the theme folder or it will not work. Be sure you have all of the files displayed under the neo-kafei folder as I have outlined above (I'm assuming you left base and neo as-is).

*some people in the thread mentioned an issue with the tar file. If you can solve it, I would be very grateful if you could explain it. I use Unicode, fr_ca-UTF8 usually, and I often do not have old style ISO-88* encodings on my systems (很好) so maybe that causes issues if you don't have Unicode?.

Finding friends

Now that you're up and running, you'll want to find some friends whose updates you can follow. If you know some people on identi.ca you can go to their page there and click the "subscribe" button. When you paste in your profile address you will be prompted (at your own site) to confirm you want to follow this person.

The same thing can be said for groups. Go find the group... probably on identi.ca and then click "subscribe" and paste in your profile URL.

There is a really great group for people running their own StatusNet site over at http://parlementum.net/group/feds

And be sure to add me, too! http://status.kafei.ca/ryanweal