Public discussion threads on information objects?

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Paul Collins

Aug 23, 2022, 9:18:52 AM8/23/22
to AtoM Users
Hello. I've been asked about the feasibility of allowing a simple discussion thread per individual information objects within our (Artefactual-hosted) AtoM catalogue. The purpose would be to allow catalogue visitors to add brief public comments, for example informing us of something they know about the history or workings of an item.

(It wouldn't be any sort of complex message forum: we do not need persistent user accounts, depth nesting, reply notifications etc. -- though unfortunately because of the prevalence of spam we might need a CAPTCHA test to weed out bot postings.)

I suspect that if we do this we will probably have to develop our own simple system and tie it in to AtoM's reference codes (unique object identifier), as it falls somewhat outside the archival remit. But we might then like to be able to display a message thread on its AtoM information object page, so that visitors can see it, with a link to our system where they can add a further message.

Does AtoM have any particular features, or database fields (Additional Notes etc.?), that might be reasonably adapted to this purpose?

Or have any of the users here tried anything similar?

Paul C.

Dan Gillean

Aug 23, 2022, 10:16:33 AM8/23/22
to ICA-AtoM Users
Hi Paul, 

I would recommend that you contact Artefactual Support to discuss what hosting arrangements can be established for such a feature before proceeding. In the meantime, some initial thoughts and resources: 

You can find Entity Relation diagrams of AtoM's database structure on the wiki, if you'd like to explore: 
However, I would strongly urge you to consider keeping such functionality out of AtoM, and either look into incorporating an existing third-party embeddable comments/forum widget, or developing your own standalone lightweight version, and then integrating it with AtoM, rather than trying to add this functionality directly. This will make maintenance - particularly future upgrades as AtoM's database schema changes - much easier, and while I can't speak to what our hosting team will and won't support, I suspect that something that requires far fewer code changes in AtoM itself is more likely to be allowed within your hosting agreement.

I've seen examples of AtoM integrations like this that only require a small amount of JavaScript to be added to AtoM's footer or similar. The JS insert would essentially listen to the page load call, and using something unique (like the page URL or the reference code if unique throughout the site), will look up in its own separate database any relevant content and then inject it into the page load. This way, for end users comments would appear to be part of the same page, when in reality they are two separate applications  each with their own data store - which need not necessarily even be installed in the same place. 

I think something like this would be the easiest way to add this non-domain-specific functionality to AtoM without having to significantly modify AtoM's existing database schema, making future upgrades much more difficult and labor intensive. 

If however you do decide to try modifying AtoM directly, then I would suggest developing a custom plugin, and using a database migration included in the plugin to insert your own new db tables into the schema, rather than trying to repurpose an existing database field. Again, it would likely lead to less conflicts and challenges maintaining the work over time if you do everything you can to keep a clean separation between concerns. You can look at our theming documentation and slides for some of the basics on creating and registering a plugin, and the Development resources on the AtoM wiki include links to the Symfony 1.4 development resources as well. See for example: 
I know of one other AtoM site that has developed something similar to what you discuss, though it also goes far beyond, in that it requires registration, includes moderation options for AtoM staff users, and even allows public upload contributions. See the Five Hundred Year Archive: 

Dan Gillean, MAS, MLIS
AtoM Program Manager
Artefactual Systems, Inc.
he / him

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Paul Collins

Aug 23, 2022, 10:30:31 PM8/23/22
to AtoM Users
Hi Dan (again! you're always the name that helps us)

As I hopefully suggested in my first message, we know that a message thread isn't inherently archive-like, and indeed this is some external thing we might just want to stick in there. You said: it's probably more sensible to create a separate system, and perhaps include some script on the AtoM catalogue page to "import" it (actually just like the dirty JS we drop in there to get Google Analytics hits). I was heading this way but it's good to hear it from an AtoM insider. -- As much I should like to dig through the db schema this is probably not the right thing to be touching.

Okay. I'll take that back to client. Thanks for your time :)
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