Message Board Usability
First, I would like to thank Nathan for all the work he’s put into this site. It’s a whole lot.
Second, I went through the posts on the “message board goin’ down” thread and have some sense of people’s reactions. Hopefully the comments below are not all that duplicative. There’s many things I like about the new design many of which have been noted by others. But I’d like to use this post to point out things that could be improved.
1) Hitting a thread takes you to the last entry. This is disorienting if it’s the first time you go there. I realize that most threads meander and that eventually the title says nothing about the current topic, but it’s hard when you’re dropped into the middle of something that consists of a succession of “+1” reactions to a four word comment.
2) Signalling new posts by subtle changes in color and luminance doesn’t work. It doesn’t have to be the old yellow ball but you should at least be able to glance at the display and instantly see what’s new.
3) The cheat sheet on html markup is a vast improvement over the past but it’s cryptic for non-initiates. Why not a link to a Help or a How To Edit? You can then explain what each of the codes mean. Also your current info seems not to be regular html, unless you expect us to already know about stuff like </b>. (And I still want to be able to do tables, even if the tr’s and td’s are limited to a max of 2.)
3a) Can we please reduce the font size for quotes? I just don’t get it. Use just color maybe.
4) The affordance of the Search function is not obvious, and the invisible input field is too narrow; text flows into the search button. A tasteful border might be enough. Oh, and search still sucks: the items returned never seem to have any relevance to the query. (Which may be because it’s only be matched to the “keywords”, which most of us don’t know to use or remember to fill in.)
5) This may not be easy, but it would be nice if the server could take the client into account. The current schemes seems great for mobiles but doesn’t feel right for desktops; the width feels like maybe good for QVGA. Some of us do work on actual computers.
6) wikis have a ‘preview’ option that lets you see what your post actually looks like and reads. It would be nice to have that. (Or maybe it’s a matter of extending the edit time.)
7) My old PMs seem to have vanished. Sigh.
Anyway, thank you for all your work!
- This topic was modified 4 years ago by Ahlir. Reason: wording fixes
Thanks for starting this thread. I agree completely about #1, and #2 to a lesser extent. The rest of the stuff doesn’t bug me as much, although I’d still like to see the layout and colors tweaked a bit.
Erok/Nathan/etc – are there any plans afoot to address any of these issues? Especially the new posts thing – is that something the board supports and it just isn’t enabled, or was that functionality removed? I understand it requires saving extra per-user state on the server, but pretty much every message board I have ever used has that feature – even going back to ‘rn’ in the good old days of usenet.
Ah, my #8 (or maybe #2b) would be to change the display on the thread list from “thread starter” back to “last poster”.
I think search works pretty well. It’s not just matching on keywords so far as I can tell.
So, there’s a bunch of stuff that Nathan’s working on. He’s also recruited a board user to help with some coding.
I don’t know all the technical details, but from what i understand, we had to update to the newer forum because of the update in wordpress.
with that said, i’ll try to answer some questions. things take time, and there are several things that we’re working on, so please be patient. I also have very little control over things outside of basic settings and recommending things for nathan to work on
1) Hitting a thread takes you to the last entry. – This should be changing to hitting a thread and take you to the first entry soon. Also, i’m going to be playing with the number of posts before it changes to a page. my thoughts are that they should be increase to reduce the number of pages. Note that this is hopefully a temporary fix as we work on clicking on a thread taking you to the last one read.
2) Signalling new posts by subtle changes in color and luminance doesn’t work. – Agreed. This, in my opinion is a low priority, but it’s on the list of things to do.
3) The cheat sheet on html markup is a vast improvement over the past but it’s cryptic for non-initiates. Why not a link to a Help or a How To Edit? Noted. First time I’ve heard this comment
3a) Can we please reduce the font size for quotes? I just don’t get it. Use just color maybe. Noted
4) Not really sure what you mean. my biggest complaint with the search is that if the thing you’re looking for happens to be in the title of the thread, it gets a listing for every post in that thread
6) I’ve extended the edit time to 10 minutes
7) PM’s are being worked on
8) (or maybe #2b) would be to change the display on the thread list from “thread starter” back to “last poster”. Agreed and we’re looking into it
In my opinion, the biggest problem is the whole not going to the last read post thing.
Can we improve the way search results are returned?
On the old board, when you did a search, it returned the first 51 hits. Most of these were unique threads; not always, but predictable. And while there was one broken piece — I think the first five entries would fail, but the other 46 were good — it did a pretty good job of helping me locate a past thread.
I have not yet figured out how to get past the large amount of redundant hits, especially on recent threads, to get back to something I know we talked about six months to a couple of years ago.
Edit: Search on “warmology”. What comes up are several hits on that one thread, and one cross-reference to it by me a year later. What I would like to see is one reference to a thread by that name, and one reference to each cross-reference to that thread.
Edit #2: Thank you for upping the edit time to 10 minutes.
10 minutes! Stingy stingy! :)
Why not 30?
Have you guys considered “real” forum software? There are paid and free solutions (free having usual caveats for being free), but most of them have WordPress connectors. bbpress is probably the worst I’ve come across in terms of usability and being programmed properly (the same could be said of WordPress, really).
I deploy SimpleMachines on all my forums, but I haven’t evaluated the market space for well over 2 years now.
As to changing the message boards entirely, people hate change. I would imagine there would be a whole bunch of other issues if the message boards themselves were changed. I think that if Nathan can find a way to bring up the last unread message in a thread and tie it to the account, not the computer, most people will be satisfied. I’ve noticed some of the other issues like margins etc have already gone away.
10 minutes! Stingy stingy!
Serious question: please explain to me why one would need to edit something past 10 minutes…
It’s never occurred to me that i’d want to change something i’ve said past a few minutes, and it’s mostly to change an error, typo, or thinking of a clearer way to say the same thing.
it also makes sure you think it out before you post. i kinda don’t like the idea of changing your post after it’s had a chance to get a bunch of replies.
@erok sometimes on Tag-o-Rama I’ll post from my phone at or near the tag then discover that I’ve made some error or typo and go back to correct it when I get to some place warmer. So 10 minutes might be cutting it too close. But it doesn’t actually bother me that much now that I know how to use the (still too tiny, BTW) image button. Move of the editing problems were from not typing the image url quite right.
thanks. that seems like a legit reason. i don’t use the tagorama thread.
Is the editing feature mostly something that mobile users care about?
I’ve often edited a post from my desktop 10 or 20 minutes after the fact, especially when I’ve screwed up a URL or something that is not immediately, obviously wrong.
i feel that most forums i’ve used don’t even give the option to edit
Get a whole new board with better functionality. The one time you have to re-register your account is less annoying than having a board with crappy functionality (going to the last post EVERY SINGLE TIME). The search function sucks and most new people ask the same questions that have been answered before anyway. I know that isn’t going to happen..
Serious question: please explain to me why one would need to edit something past 10 minutes…
i kinda don’t like the idea of changing your post after it’s had a chance to get a bunch of replies.
Shit happens. Typos, details forgotten, etc.
People who change their posts in attempt to change after it’s been replied to shall be publicly humiliated. Also, if quoting wasn’t so difficult in bbpress (I think I’m like one of five people who use the blockquote), it would be used more often and you would be able to see if people did change their post. :P
I need to change my posts a lot. Most of it is typos. My typing is speCiaL.
Once I changed a post about half an hour later to tone it down a bit, but it wasn’t something that made anyhow who replied look foolish. I think that kind of thing would be caught and as Rice Rockt (who often diagres with me) is correct a appropriate about the public humiliatioin.
If this board started having the flame wars that some many forums have, that might change.
OTOH, a good proportion of the foolish, insulting or just plain st00pid posts are either made by me or directed at me, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
As to searching, one workaround (with the previous as well as the current incarnation) is to use the Google operator site:bike-pgh.org and then my terms.
For instance, to find the drainage grates thread, I would type in “site:bike-pgh.org stuinmccandless longitudinal” and it takes me to the exact one I was thinking of.
Aside from that, I agree with lots of what is said above, and I want to reiterate what many of us have also said before, a big THANK YOU to Nathan for his pro bono work on this, despite our griping.
Also, are we re-directing half the links from bike-pgh.org to bikepgh.org now? I’m not sure which was the first, but I’ve been using bike-pgh just fine…now I have a mix of both and have to login twice…
Roll your mouse over some of the links when accessing from bike-pgh, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
@ieverhart a big THANK YOU to Nathan for his pro bono work on this, despite our griping.
a BIG one for me is that my read history is tied to a cookie on the machine now instead of to my account. i use between 3 and 5 devices to go online on any given day, depending on what clients i’m doing work for and where i am and having to try to keep track of what i looked at when is super annoying. while my usage case might seem to be an outlier, how many people use their work pc, home pc, phone and tablet to look at the internet on any given day?
also, pretty much every forum i have ever posted in, going back at least a decade, has allowed edits. they just note that the post was edited with a timestamp.
In reply to Erok’s comment:
4) The affordance of the Search function is not obvious, and the invisible input field is too narrow; text flows into the search button. A tasteful border might be enough. Oh, and search still sucks: the
Where am I supposed to type in? I take a guess:
Ah, got it! But why wasn’t the brown rectangle there to begin with? How am I supposed to know where to type? And, of course, the field is way too small for me to see what I typed.
Affordance means that you should be able to tell how to use something just by looking at it.
The other forums I post on let you edit a post for up to 24 hours (on one) and indefinitely (on another).
Not that I think it should be pushed that far, but I think an hour was good.
I guess this is an acknowledgement of my own limitations, but I’m usually not done with a post until after I post it, look at it, realize I’ve made mistakes, and fix it. My posts generally aren’t “done” until the third edit.
Soviet-era editing, done to conceal a poster’s own silliness or to falsify a subsequent post, is just scurrilous and should be handled with snark and shame. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of that here.
I’d like to have the hour, to let me improve my posts when my 10-watt a-hah bulb comes on and I realize, I should have added a link etc.
I’d also be really interested (truly) in seeing a comparison of pre-change and post-change Board traffic. I’ve really reduced my participation because of what is (to me) a degradation of the interface.
ok, i’ve thought about this a bit.
my only reservations were a hypothetical situation from a hypothetical user. actual users clearly want this functionality.
60 minutes it is.
Ah, got it! But why wasn’t the brown rectangle there to begin with? How am I supposed to know where to type? And, of course, the field is way too small for me to see what I typed.Affordance means that you should be able to tell how to use something just by looking at it.
ya. agreed the field is small. just didn’t think it was all that difficult
On the search: part of the problem is that it’s natural to click on the magnifier icon (to activate the search function? I thought), but if you do you end up searching for “Search…”. Maybe the script can check for that and in response highlight the search field (minus the ‘Search…’ of course).
One quick suggestion while we wait for the tracking cookie / whatever issue to be resolved. For each topic provide two links: Start and Latest; and go to the corresponding end of the topic. Put the buttons under the Topic title; besides, gotta do something with all that empty pixel space…
For each topic provide two links: Start and Latest; and go to the corresponding end of the topic. Put the buttons under the Topic title; besides, gotta do something with all that empty pixel space.
Instead of changing the layout, you could make clicking on the thread title go to the first post, and clicking on the “time since last update” go to the last post. (This would make it similar to the old board.)
Then when you get the board remembering last posts again, change clicking on the thread title so it goes to the next unread post, and let clicking on the time continue to go to the last post. Same as on the old board.
“Affordance means that you should be able to tell how to use something just by looking at it.”
Irony is having to look up “affordance” in the dictionary to see if it’s a real word. LOL
you could make clicking on the thread title go to the first post
This should happen soon (it’s not in my levels of settings).
the rest is the goal. not sure when
@nathan: that is an inspired solution to the navigation problem!
I’d have to vote against the formatting changes that were made yesterday.
On desktop/laptop browsers, the margins seem to have grown even larger using less of the space for text.
On my Android tablet, it now looks like a “mobile” layout, and it does not honor the “Request desktop site” setting. From the main page (bikepgh.org) there are no menus to navigate the site, I couldn’t find any way to get to the forums. On the thread list and thread display, there are no margins at all, which might be a good thing except the text is all crammed into the leftmost quarter of the screen. I haven’t looked on my phone yet.
I can send screenshots if you want them.
Also, unrelated but I seem to be getting logged out constantly, on both desktop and mobile I had to log in many times in one day despite checking the “remember me” setting.
Actual Fail from an actual (not hypothetical) event.
I wanted to search for a forum thread on “lock your bike”.
Top of the page, see the word Search, I’ve read that’s the search-box so I type in the search string, click the magnifying glass (none of which is intuitive)
All the results are from blog and website posts, nothing from the thread.
That’s no good. What are they thinking? Scan the screen, no help.
Scroll down to below-the-fold, Ah-ha! find another box, SearchTheForums.
If there’s going to be ONE search box on a forum page above the fold, then it should search the forums, or forums+RestOfSite.
This design is a series of workarounds that you can only use after it’s left you puzzled and frustrated, and you learn how to use the site in spite of itself.
Secondary FAIL. I used the SearchForum box to do a search. My search term, “lock you bike” was too generic so I needed to amend the search. How do I do that?
There’s no way to submit another SearchForum query on the SearchForum results page.
1. Click back to Forums page
2. scroll down to find the SearchForums box
3. begin again
Sorry. Abandoned internal search. Used google to find the thread. Posted a photo and some comments in the thread.
Additional fail: Forum is losing right-side of the text I entered, here’s a screen-shot. (Firefox, XP sp3)
I’m sure that BikePgh staff and Nathan (who is excellent) are not having any fun with this. I don’t think there’s any users who are saying, Wow this is a so much better experience than the old format.
Why are we/you doing this?
I’m on a Win7 laptop, usually view the board in Chrome, and all the posts on the love-your-bike-lock-it-right thread are being cut off.
In Firefox, they get cut off at a different width, but same problem.
Seems to be OK in Internet Explorer.
On the problem of getting logged out. I had a bookmark set to bike-pgh.org/bbpress. It worked fine until a few days ago, redirecting to bike-pgh.org/mb. But then it started redirecting and logging me out. Every time I went to that bookmark I’d have to log in again.
Turns out going to bikepgh.org/mb keeps me logged in, but going to bike-pgh.org/mb does not. Unfortunately, both bike-pgh.org/bbpress and bikepgh.org/bbpress are set to redirect to the latter, broken URL. Either bike-pgh.org/mb should be fixed to keep you logged in, or the two redirects should be changed to go to the one working page.
Workaround: I changed my bookmark to bikepgh.org/mb. Now I stay logged in.
I see that the Latest Activity page now has links for both “first post in thread” and “last post in thread”. Thanks, this is much better!
I’m still seeing many weird formatting issues, but it looks like you’re fiddling with the formatting as I’m typing this. I see the Become a Member box has just turned yellow, for instance, and it’s no longer sticking avatars on the Latest Activity page whenever the screen is very narrow.
I just noticed the same problem Stu described – but only on some threads: the text doesn’t seem to scroll properly. Instead of returning at the right margin of the “text window” it just runs off into space.
I am viewing in Chrome also, if that makes a difference.
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