Hold on to your hats…

Hold on to your hats, I’m going to be experimenting with some theme and sidebar changes for the blog. Don’t be surprised if it looks different than you’re used to…

137 thoughts on “Hold on to your hats…

  1. How much are you going to be tinkering with this, Eric? I’m going to need to update my own extension code to support the new formatting and I want to be sure we’re in a relatively final state before I do.

  2. Plus the surprise from gravatar. Is the look-up tied to the e-mail address?

  3. jsk: I dunno yet. I’m experimenting. I’ll alert you when I’m either settling on a final new version or reverting to the old one.

  4. Cool. We’ve got threading now, which is nice. The new formatting is quite different but I should be able to adapt easily enough. I’m experimenting myself now…

  5. Nesting, FTW.
    Now only if I could set it so I only need to read new comments.

  6. Nesting is cool, but when it is combined with the much narrower paragraphs and the larger font size we could quickly end up with some extremely squashed conversations!

  7. Eeek! I’m almost kind of sad to see the old style go, but, forward progress onwards!

    Theoretically, I should have a gravatar as well.
    I’d agree with reducing the font-size by a pt or two, at least for the comments. Large font is nice, but leads to more scrolling and squished comments when heavily nested. And it’s not really a usability concern, as all modern browsers allow you to manually adjust the font size.

  8. How many replies is this format going to allow before things get unreadable?

  9. Interesting, at some point does it stop making the columns ever narrower? We shall see…

  10. So it looks like a maximum of four replies. That would probably be ample for most blogs. For Armed and Dangerous? Hmm…

  11. They’ll be in the page footer. I haven’t figured out how to get the Lazarus Long quote plugin right yet.

  12. Hmm. It looks a little too strange-web-technologies-ish for my preference, but it’s readable. Should be interesting.

  13. I like the look of the blog home page, but the individual article pages seem a bit whitespacey to me.

  14. No more Lazarus Long quotes? A pity. Maybe you can replace them with other quotes, perhaps by Richard Stallman?

    On the big black bar at the page top: You might use different bar colors depending on your mood, or the level of controversy in the threads?

    Ta-ra!

  15. Oh shit. That is unacceptable.

    I’ll have to grovel through the PHP code for the limit.

  16. The problem is, though, that the limit is obviously there because eventually the replies will get so squashed up as to be unreadable.

  17. The problem is, though, that the limit is obviously there because eventually the replies will get so squashed up as to be unreadable.

    Yeah, I figured that out. Now I’m trying to figure out how to make the theme use the entire screen width.

  18. Just a test to see if I can get my Gravatar to show up by switching to my work email address…

  19. What is it with blog comment themes restricting themselves to tiny widths? I don’t see the sense in it. More room for ads on the side? Blogger is even worse in this regard.

  20. OK, I’ve got my extension updated and tested, if you stick with this layout. I’ll hold off on posting it until you decide one way or the other.

  21. Haven’t figured out how to embed the PHP code for the Lazarus Long quote plugin in the new theme yet.

  22. If that doesn’t work, you could do what I do for my forum signature: I have a script that generates a new image (using fortune, outputting an SVG, then converting it to PNG) every five minutes. Then, I just embed the image.
    http://meliaser.dyndns.tv/sig.png

  23. Yes! I have successfully removed all margins, padding, and fixed-width bullshit from the CSS!

    Why do theme designers pull this crap?

  24. I’m sure we’ll find out, probably sooner rather than later.

  25. Because it looks “pretty”, I guess; nevermind any actual practical consequences of them.

    I like threaded/nested comments but there should be an easy way to see which comments are new from the last time a page was viewed… the old non-nested comments weren’t too bad in this regard if you could just find the last point you read.

  26. Fair point. That’s one of two serious drawbacks in the new look, along with the reply button vanishing at more than 4 replies deep. I shall file bugs with the WordPress devs.

  27. I don’t think they would consider those issues to be ‘bugs’. They are design tradeoffs they have chosen to make.

    Personally I would have made different tradeoffs, but different people have different needs.

  28. Then there’s the comment pagination, which is definitely a change.

    Personally I don’t like it, it plays hell with reading comment threads on a mobile browser (gestures FTW on Dolphin HD).

  29. This makes it difficult to see where new comments are, but does reduce the need to @whoever to make clear to whom you’re replying, as well as quoting extensively. But if you’re going to do this, give us narrow margins.

  30. On second thought, it looks like it places a limit on nested replies. Still needs to have smaller margins though. I’m not sure what possesses people to think that wide margins are good.

  31. Eric,

    I suggest dumping comments and using a forum and linking to a top level post somewhere on the bottom of the article.

    Not sure if I’m liking the way the comments are handled in this theme.

  32. >Then there’s the comment pagination, which is definitely a change.

    Yes, and an extremely bad one. I told it to display 5000 comments per page, which should make that problem go away.

    I’ve also boosted the nested-comments limit to 10, the maximum.

    Still trying to find a way to narrow the margins on comments.

  33. >I suggest dumping comments and using a forum and linking to a top level post somewhere on the bottom of the article.

    No, I want the posts and their comments in the same database for backup and search purposes.

  34. Oddly enough, because it makes the site more readable. Narrow columns of text are easier to read because your eyes don’t have to shift as far from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.

  35. OK, I think I’ve solved most of the problems with the new layout. Remaining issues:

    1. The margins on post pages are *way* too wide. I’ve filed a bug at wordpress.com about this.

    2. New (not yet seen) comments are not distinguished from seen ones.

    3. Haven’t found a way to make the Lazarus Long quote plugin work.

    I have boosted the max nesting for comments to 10, which is the largest value you can set through the admin page. If that limit becomes a problem I’ll edit the PHP.

  36. Nesting limits seem like a silly way to solve the problem– better to revert to one-after-the-other comments if there’s no more room for nesting.

  37. Some minor nitpicky requests:
    – Make user names larger and/or bold
    – Make comment text smaller (only one point smaller should do)

    Given how verbose we tend to get here, being able to fit more text on the screen and being able to more-easily identify people (beyond avatars) are wins.

  38. I like the new look. I’m hoping that there will be a most recent comment (not just most recent thread) option so that it’s possible to keep track of new comments.

  39. Agree with both of those.

    I may be proved wrong (and I’m sorry to say it, because nesting *is* cool) but I have a feeling that this new style isn’t going to be a good fit for this particular blog. The ‘threads’ on this site continue for tens or even hundreds of comments sometimes. There’s just no way to accommodate that kind of tree depth on a web page.

    Hopefully I am wrong, but we will see.

  40. >I’m hoping that there will be a most recent comment (not just most recent thread) option so that it’s possible to keep track of new comments.

    I’ve looked, but I haven’t found such an option.

  41. I’d forgotten about this gravatar avatar photo as I only see it on one other blog I frequent under this pseudonym.

  42. You may be right. If it turns out you are right, we’ll revert to the old theme.

  43. Bother. Tinkering with the theme is suspended until the login host at ibiblio unwedges itself. Currently ssh is timing out.

  44. It may make it easier as well once we get used to it as we tend to go off topic a lot.

    If you can drop the point size one notch and fix the margins I think it’ll be better than before if folks reply in the threads.

    Either way it’ll take time before you can call it better or worse regardless of initial impression.

  45. Overall, I like the new look. A bit much vertical space taken up; scrolling through the comment takes awhile, and it doesn’t collapse threads by default; it has them all expanded by default.

    Biggest thing I see missing: your comments are not listed as “esr” anymore; they’re listed as “admin”!

    Hopefully that’s an easy fix. Gotta have comments by esr.

  46. >Biggest thing I see missing: your comments are not listed as “esr” anymore; they’re listed as “admin”!

    Thart’s because I’m logged in as ‘admin’. Have to be to change the blog settings.

  47. It’s an interesting design problem because you are forced to make compromises. There is a limited amount of space so you can’t just have endless nesting, but on the other hand you want to be able to distinguish between different threads of conversation. But then again, by making the threads easier to recognise you create a new problem of not being able to easily see new comments just by looking at the bottom of the post.

    So, you compromise and have nested posting but with a depth limit. But then, when people inevitably go over the limit we will just revert back to having chronological flat posts with people quoting and @ing one another.

    You can have new posts highlighted somehow, but that means people will have to scroll through the entire post history to see them.

    You want to have strong identities so you enable gravatar, but some people don’t use gravatar so they end up with the anonymous face and so you actually might end up with less-strong differentiation between posters than before.

    Design. It’s all about compromises. What compromises you make depends on your priorities.

  48. One thing I would recommend to everybody is that they hover over one of the gravatar pictures and click ‘turn off hover cards’.

    That could get a bit annoying otherwise :)

  49. Ideally what we’d want is some sort of hybrid blog/newsgroup, where comment threads are presented auto-collapsed and new posts/updated threads are highlighted in some way. Then you click to expand and read.

    I’ve always envisioned something like that, given the overall Usenet feel of discussions here.

  50. I miss usenet :)

    That really was a much more efficient way of having conversations than web-based forums. HTML was just not designed for that sort of interactivity. We a whole protocol designed to be a forum, and we abandoned it! Why?

    We are trying to force a medium that was designed for document markup into doing the job of a dedicated protocol, with obviously sub-optimal results.

    Mind you, there are still a few decent newsgroups going.

    comp.lang.c still has some of the best C gurus hanging out on it.

  51. Not strictly fair. The advantage of the blog form over straight Usenet is a unique degree of moderation (less authoritarian than a moderated group, moreso than an unmoderated one) and a huge increase in organization.

    It’s all about presentation.

  52. Well it’s true. They are different forms. The blog has a unique character engendered by its owner. This one certainly does.

    However, as for moderation I wouldn’t say that applies very well here :)

    Eric is probably one of the most liberal moderators I have ever seen. I am sometimes amazed (in a good way) at the things he lets people say here.

    I am sure that we are benefiting from a lot of behind-the-scenes spam filtering that we are never aware of though.

    I was really making a comparison between web-based forums (like phpbb) and nntp though, not blogs so much.

  53. I’m afraid of change. I used to have to read 80-250 essay/comments on these blogs in order to understand what conversations were going on and who had said what. Now I will be tempted to scan for replies to my posts, as will others. Looks neat though. Polished…

  54. That. Basic typesetting stuff. Unfortunately for nested comments, you wind up with too-thin columns after a couple of indents. I think the right solution might be to indent the left margin and outdent the right margin with each level. Also I’d like to see outline-style comments so I could collapse threads, like some text-based Usenet readers used to do.

  55. I hate change and all associated with it and demand you change back, instanter.

    Okay, actually, I don’t. It’s fine.

  56. Doesn’t look like it.

    OSnews.com has something like that. You can switch between two or three different modes of viewing comments. Not sure if they are using WordPress or not. And, to be honest I am not a huge fan of their comment system. Seems a bit over-complicated to me.

  57. Change is only progress if it does move you forward. While threaded discussion will be an improvement, I don’t think rapidly narrowing columns and ridiculously wide margins are. And I think unreadably narrow columns of text are too high a price for threading.

  58. FYI, it looks WAY better on my Android phone. Before it was almost unusable on mobile. For my, that is worth the price of admission.
    Thanks for making a great community.

  59. Looks terrible on my iPhone. Some of the highly nested comments are literally one word per line.

    The previous version worked really nicely on the phone.

    So our experiences are exactly reversed!

  60. This is bad. One of the things that makes A&D better than the average blog is the quality of the comments, which often have more meat in them than other blogs’ articles. This formatting makes it very difficult to read the comments.

    And $DEITY help us if we do feel the need to use blockquotes in deeply-nested replies

  61. To make this readable, I’ll need to use a browser that lets me substitute my own CSS, and then spend time tweaking that CSS. I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble.

  62. For styling, you might have a look at Bootstrap. It was instrumental in helping me define a style that got my new blog off the ground. Designed by Twitter, and open-source, natch (Apache license).

  63. I dunno if that’s a good idea… this might devolve into slashdot, where legitimate comments are downvoted based on groupthink and opinion.

  64. Maybe this has already been suggested.

    Many blogs have an option that the user can select how to display the comments: nested or flat, and oldest or newest first. I have no idea whether this is possible with this software.

  65. I wanna see what happens on downvotes…
    If you see this post… please downvote.

  66. I agree, usenet was far, far better for arguments because of the way the system was designed. If someone wanted to code a forum system that worked similarly to usenet they could make a name for themselves.

  67. >To make this readable, I’ll need to use a browser that lets me substitute my own CSS, and then spend time tweaking that CSS

    I’m still tweaking the CSS, trying to get rid of the wide margins on the comment display. Would that change fix your problem, or is there some other showstopper?

  68. Not sure that nested comments work well for this site. It seems to me the discussions here tend to follow a single thread most of the time, and as others have pointed out, finding new comments requires rescanning the entire comment tree rather than finding the last post you read. Also, while I haven’t tried it on a phone yet, and I don’t have specific numbers, it certainly feels like this theme adds considerably to the time it takes to load the comments page. Sure this might work for most blogs that have maybe 50 comments on a post on a good day, but I imagine, that you’re probably averaging closer to 200 / post (194 on the front page as of the time of this post).

  69. Good:
    I like following the standard that the blog title links to the home page.
    I like the default fonts.
    The new template seems to work better with rekonq: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4104&cpage=1#comment-368250

    Bad: The old next / previous links included the titles of the posts. I miss that.

    On the fence: I like threaded comments, but I also like the ability to hop through unread comments (two imperfect solutions: (1) cookies break for users of multiple browsers / machines / VMs; (2) cumbersome sign-ins).

  70. Monster and anyone else unhappy with the new theme can now help fix it. I’ve created a gitorious project at

    git@@gitorious.org:twentyeleven/twentyeleven.git

    (Use a single @; I had to double it to get around WordPress generating a mail URL.)

    It includes all the changes I’ve made locally to nuke the padding and the fixed-sized bounding box. Monster, you can go after the margins. I’m going to get rid of as many px dimensions as I can, they look bad on any display with a pixel density different than what the theme designer was expecting.

    Somebody else wanted the comment font shrunk a little; that’s a good idea too.

    Once we have something we really like, I’ll try to push changes upstream to the WordPress devs.

  71. >Not sure that nested comments work well for this site.

    I’m not certain yet either. But my plan is to fix as many as possible of the known problems with the new theme, then re-evaluate.

  72. I wonder why usenet fell out of favour. Granted, it is a bit more complicated to set up and get running than just loading up a web forum, but I would have thought that the benefits would outweigh that initial overhead.

  73. If Lazarus Long quotes are meant to appear in sidebar (unless you solve the theme issue to make it appear in header as before), they do not work yet:

    Lazarus Long says:
    php laz_quote();

  74. The problem is that if one person is viewing as nested then they might rely on that to provide context for their reply, rather than using quotes as we used to. If somebody is viewing as chronological then that context is lost.

  75. BTW, have your tried the new Chrome release on your phone? I hear it is really good.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  76. Hat is firmly on head…I notice that threaded comments may lead to scanning the comments for something to reply to before hitting the main comment-input at the bottom, where they may initiate a new thread.

    I don’t know if this is by design or not, nor how it will affect typical commenting practice.

  77. I agree with Winter and maybe all this blog needs is a quote mechanism.

    I read more than I comment, and only come here in the evenings (Belgium time), after work. In the old flat style I used to just scroll up from the bottom of the comments to the last comment I remembered reading.

    In a nested style, that isn’t going to work. (I’ve been trying to pick up from where I left in the Company X / Hacker discussion ever since this theme change happened. Still lost – 400 comments is way to much to see who added what where).

  78. Nice. It ‘knows’ if you have already voted, even on a different Virtual Machine. I assume based on the Email field in the ‘Leave a Reply’ form.

  79. I agree. I didn’t mean to imply that we should have nested with no options, I meant that we should have chronological with no options.

  80. The old template had a comment in the source HTML documenting the mark-up tags permitted in comments. I could not find the equivalent in the repository, but it might be a nice link to add to the Comment / Reply form.

  81. I also need to make the font smaller. That, the margins, and the indentation for replies to replies to replies lead to

    blocks of
    text that
    put one
    or two
    words on
    each line
    and are
    therefore
    painful
    to read.

    That and I’d like to go back to putting all the comments in the order they’re posted. I don’t think I can follow the nested style that well anyway.

  82. Selfish complaint: the new layout can’t be viewed zoomed all the way in without squashing things into a mess (common for flashy modern web design). Please don’t change things on my account, but I wonder how many other readers have low vision? The font is also much harder to read than the old one, probably because it’s not as bold.

  83. Turning the style off in Firefox makes things a bit better. :-)

  84. Move the avatar for the first-level commenter ABOVE the comment, just like it is for everyone else.

    Lose the indentation on the right side for nested comments. Indentation on the left is good enough to get the point across.

    I don’t have git and don’t have time to get git and get to grok git. Work projects are killing me right now.

  85. >Lose the indentation on the right side for nested comments. Indentation on the left is good enough to get the point across.

    Yeah, that’s at the top of the list of changes I want.

  86. It’s a shame everything’s been webified. I wonder how much of that is left over from the drive to escape Microsoft’s clutches on the desktop back in the ’90s.

    One advantage of using web based forums/blogs is that you don’t have to worry about which server you connect to in order to get all the feeds. With the web you just type in the address and *boom* you’re done.

  87. One fix I have for reading non-nested comments is to read the comments in an rss reader. Unfortunately with the rss reader, it’s difficult to understand the conversation because people don’t quote in nested replies. At least I can easily see which comments I haven’t read and the order in which they were posted.

  88. Well, if this were a democracy ;^), my vote would be for flat comments.

    But then again, I learned this stuff on BBSs and 300baud modems, so…

  89. Just some thoughts on the theme.

    It looks modern, but there’s a lot of whitespace to wade through. The white background hurts my eyes when I stare at it too long. One super useful feature that would be nice is the ability to preview comments.

    People say they want nested comments, but they really don’t. They’ll keep saying they do until they’re blue in the face but what they really want is something else which they only think is provided by nested comments. With nested comments it’s hard to keep up with the conversation when new posts are scattered throughout the page. You lose the ability to map the chronology of the posts, plus you still have to scroll through the entire page to see if you miss anything. You can get around this with an rss reader and subscribe to each blog post. Then you lose the context of the conversation because people don’t quote. In fact, quoting while using nested comments would aggravate the format problems.

    I think what people are really saying when they say they want nested comments is that they want threaded comments. In other words, they want the abilities to collapse threads into one line designated by topic title and to have topics with new comments appear at the top or at the bottom of the page.

    These functions are already provided by web based forums. Topics are collapsed into titles. Topics with new posts appear in bold at the top. Plus you have the option of going to the last read post in the topic or just going to the beginning or end of the topic. You can fast forward or rewind through the pages, by clicking on page numbers. You can even search the forum for key words or look at a users posts. In fact a forum in which only esr could create new topics would be functionally equivalent to a blog. There are even smartphone apps that you can use to follow forums.

    There are problems. A forum below each blog post may be overkill and I don’t even know how problematic it would be to dynamically create a forum for each blog post. Esr wants one database for backup and search and the term “forum” is problematic. It implies that the area provided is is there primarily to serve the community while a blog is seen as an entity wholly owned by its creator.

    So there are a few solutions. 1) You can have a forum for the entire website. Designate esr as the only person who can create new topics. Then see if you can style it so that it mimics a blog’s format, i.e. a new page for each topic with a summary of each topic on the first page of the site. 2) Esr can find some other solution to backup and search which allows multiple databases 3) chuck the whole idea of threaded comments.

  90. I have sometimes suspected some people of leaving comments in long threads, just so they had an anchor point.

  91. People haven’t said they want nested comments, people have claimed to, and actually do, want threaded comments. Nesting is just one, fairly poor, way of showing the threading.

    One better way of doing it is the way it’s done on Less Wrong, fairly shallow left side nesting, with borders around comments that change after having been viewed. Though even the shallower indenting they use would be too much for some of the threads here.

  92. This new theme is shit.

    The old theme is superior:
    1. Packs more information on one screen while at the same time being MORE readable. Too much empty space here.
    2. Nested comments is not a great a idea. The threads normally develop linearly and are best consumed by the avid readers of this blog linearly. Nested comments remind me of excessive layering in software (ie make your head spin)
    – Old theme uses Sans-serif font. New theme uses Serif font. Serif is less readable on a computer screen.

    Conclusion: Old theme is better. If it ain’t broke don’t fix.

  93. Thanks for the clarification. Looks like I misinterpreted the phenomena I saw as comments starting off as “Yeah nesting!” inevitably followed by all the other comments which say, “Nesting is cool, but…” That’s a sign that people are confused about their desires.

    Thanks for pointing out Less Wrong. Those comments are better themed much better, but it’s very easy to skip replies to comments when they’re collapsed. That can be considered a bug or a feature.

    I think my critique still stands. Nesting provides minimal benefits and breaks basic features that are useful to read comments. The attempt to use nesting to provide functionality of threading is ultimately doomed. I’m willing to bet some non-existent dollars on that.

  94. > Permission denied (publickey).

    Couldn’t clone it. Assuming `git clone` is the right way to get a copy, is that by design?

  95. Wholly agreed. I like whitespace as much as the next guy, but the changes, all told, don’t make the thing more readable. In no particular order:

    * the new font, for now, is Times New Roman (although I suspect this is because of a missing semicolon); it’s **much** less readable than Lucida Grande (the old sans-serif font that I saw). If you want to try something new and still readable, consider using Open Sans from Google Web Fonts (or locally hosted) at, say, 12 or 13 points.
    * A number of other commenters say the font is too large for the comments box. I think the font is too *small* on my desktop (although I tend to think most web pages have too-small fonts). The big problem is that when I press cmd-= (ctrl-= elsewhere) to zoom in the page, the text gets bigger **but the width of the comments boxes gets no wider**. From what I can tell, this is because you have .commentlist { margin: 0 auto; width: 68.9%; } (auto margins on the side combined with a percentage width). If you replace “width: 68.9%” with “max-width: 960px” you’ll get something that behaves more sensibly when zoomed in on webkit- and gecko-based browsers.
    * I *never* thought I’d say this, but I’m against nested comments on the ground that they linearize poorly. With the old system, I could bookmark a particular comment and then come back later to finish up (or to see new comments that’ve been posted since). With the new way, I have to start at the top every time and skip over lots of stuff, however enlightening, that I’ve already read.

    I already mentioned this upthread, but is the theme on gitorious cloneable by everyone, or just a select few?

  96. >I already mentioned this upthread, but is the theme on gitorious cloneable by everyone, or just a select few?

    Should be cloneable by anyone.

  97. Dislike. Too Google-Plusy for me. Too whitespace. That being said, it seems to be the norm nowadays.

    Have you considered creating a mailing list for this blog? It’s the easiest way to have a Usenet-esque experience these days.

    I’ve seen one tech blog which has posts and comments, as usual, but the bulk of the interesting discussions happens on the mailing list; the blog author then sometimes picks or develops certain topics as a blog post.

  98. > Permission denied (publickey).

    > Should be cloneable by anyone.

    I also got “Permission denied (publickey).” when I wanted to have a quick look at the style stuff yesterday

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