I want to display a pop up message box when users login so we can announce various news items.
I want this to behave like the "Whats new in this release" dialog that you get after an upgrade.
I have looked at writing a plugin to acheive this but little unsure what API call to use.
Would be nice to have a history of previous messages too
If you want to have a box like the "What's new" dialog, why don't you modify the "What's new" dialog?
You can find more informatino in Configuring the What's New Dialog.
About having a history, you could create a page and store the history there. To make it easily accessible, simply add a link to that page in your custom "What's new" dialog.
I know you specifically asked for a pop-up box but we've also use the site welcome message to display announcements & blog pots, as well as the Custom HTML option.
The only issue with using the What's new option is that users can stop it from appearing by clicking the option.
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