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I've been fairly critical of the recent "upgrades" done to this website recently. While I was a vocal proponent of creating a responsive template, it appears that the administrators decided to make a number of "usability" changes. Let's go through the front page.

For reference, this is based of off the following screenshot, due to differences between browsers: https://i.imgur.com/swLBuJj.png

Content Issues

* The "recent" posts feature has been removed because it was not judged to be useful for many users (perhaps because the administrators don't want to have user content appearing on the front page). However, it appears that "Online Users" is highly relevant to the generic visitor: it even has a well-placed position on the left sidebar!
* "Cemetech labs updates" also appears to have been judged as particularly useful to users, despite being largely stale content that is only really relevant for a small fragment of users.
* "New Archive Files" seems odd to be so highly-placed, as it's basically useless except for users looking to discover new user-submitted files.
* The large and dense "Welcome to cemetech" paragraph seems particularly ill-through out. What purpose does it serve? Is it basically the administrators admitting that the site design is so bad that the users cannot figure out what the site is about? (A minor nitpick is that it implies that only the "staff of friendly volunteers" are the ones posting or helping. Clearly the regular users are judged worthless.)
* "Latest headlines" appears on the left sidebar, as well as the main content area of the page (is it the main content? I can't really tell with all of the other lists and paragraphs above it). It seems redundant. Or maybe it's somehow okay due to "usability" studies"
* SAX appears to be connecting using a random non-normal port (5280), which causes many users behind firewalls to block this functionality. It appears the administrators never considered this possibility when choosing such an odd way of implementing this functionality. Or it could be with the intention of blocking this functionality for users behind these firewalls. (Fixed)
* It appears the bug that shows access-restricted topics in the activity feed is still alive and well, and was actually re-implemented in the new SAX. For a change that is so focused on "usability," it's very weird that insider jokes and non-reachable topics are still displayed to all users. This only leads to confusion and frustration.


Style Issues
* The three lists in the main content area of the site aren't bottom-aligned. "Cemetech labs updates" are lower than the rest.
* The banner and topnav width do not match the width of any other content objects. Or at least doesn't align properly.
* None of the elements are particularly chosen well nor semantic. The "headlines" are random divs instead of h1s.

The topic pages in general are in even worse shape, but that's for another day.
Hey Nikky,
Thanks for the comprehensive write-up. A couple of thoughts -

Despite the SAX backend upgrades (we're actually running an XMPP server now, which you can connect to with a real client, though this isn't documented yet), the higher level at which the forum integrates with it wasn't really touched at all. We are hoping to add UI support for MUCs besides the main room down the road and any changes to how topics are directed to SAX will probably wait until then.

I also agree that the "new posts" feature is missed on the front page and I think we will discuss reinstating it. "Take me to the new posts" however is still prominently retained, and for logged-in users will display a more comprehensive list. Ways to address the staleness of the labs display are under discussion but we want to retain in it the interim since it exposes a side of Cemetech not otherwise seen on the front page.

I'll let Kerm field some responses to the other issues.
Thank you indeed for this thorough and well-thought-out commentary on our adjustments of Cemetech's frontend. As you astutely point out, we are largely backend/systems developers, and our grasp of the intricacies of frontend design is from informal experience rather than any structured training (or perhaps I should speak for myself there!).
  • Recent posts: I did not expect this to be as contentious of an issue as it is. The vast majority of users and even staff seem to want this returned, and I think it makes sense to replace the Recent Files list with the Recent Topics list. We are indeed more of a discussion community than (say) ticalc.org, so featuring discussions more prominently than files makes sense. I do remain suspicious of featuring user-generated (ie, uncurated) content at the top of the website's front page.
  • As Elfprince indicated, the Labs updates are intended to make our projects that might not fall into programming help more visible. You're absolutely right that the content is stale, and you'll notice that I've already begun to address that, by adding information about ArTICL.
  • The blurb at the top of the page is intended to introduce Cemetech and its purpose for first-time visitors who might not otherwise be familiar with our mission. It seems unlikely to me that many first-time visitors would immediately click through to the About page. Do you have any specific suggestions on how this could be better handled?
  • Although the Latest Headlines is indeed semi-redundant on the front page, on every other site page, they only appear in a single location (and on the front page, you can see all four latest headlines without scrolling through the entire page). Is your suggestion to no longer list the Latest Headlines in the sidebar?
  • The admin-only topics are a touchy issue. If there were different SAX<->IRC "channels" for user groups with different permissions, we would certainly consider sorting out topics differently, but as it stands, every SAX and IRC sees the exact same content. I think the consensus is that the occasional administrative topic notification is more quirky than evil, but if the majority of users find it truly obnoxious, I'm willing to investigate the additional code necessary to determine which users have permissions to read topics in a given topic's subforum and/or parent subforum before issuing the notification to SAX.
  • The front-page boxes are indeed top-aligned. I tried bottom-aligned and thought it looked even stranger. Perhaps aligned on a center axis?


Thanks again for your help!
Quote:
The front-page boxes are indeed top-aligned. I tried bottom-aligned and thought it looked even stranger. Perhaps aligned on a center axis?

Grow to fit the container?
KermMartian wrote:

  • The admin-only topics are a touchy issue. If there were different SAX<->IRC "channels" for user groups with different permissions, we would certainly consider sorting out topics differently, but as it stands, every SAX and IRC sees the exact same content. I think the consensus is that the occasional administrative topic notification is more quirky than evil, but if the majority of users find it truly obnoxious, I'm willing to investigate the additional code necessary to determine which users have permissions to read topics in a given topic's subforum and/or parent subforum before issuing the notification to SAX.


I like the admin topics showing up in SAX/IRC
Ivoah wrote:
KermMartian wrote:

  • The admin-only topics are a touchy issue. If there were different SAX<->IRC "channels" for user groups with different permissions, we would certainly consider sorting out topics differently, but as it stands, every SAX and IRC sees the exact same content. I think the consensus is that the occasional administrative topic notification is more quirky than evil, but if the majority of users find it truly obnoxious, I'm willing to investigate the additional code necessary to determine which users have permissions to read topics in a given topic's subforum and/or parent subforum before issuing the notification to SAX.


I like the admin topics showing up in SAX/IRC

I agree with Ivoah, I feel it is more on the quirky side, but I can definitely see how some users would find this to be more on the evil side. To be honest, the topic titles don't seem particularly interesting most of the time anyway (gas prices and stuff)
There are a few things which I personally think were better off before the update, but the major thing that really bugs me about the update, is sourcecoder, which for some reason, has shrunk the code to the point where users have to squint with their magnifying glass to be able to see anything, but in the end, I don't really mind the update, I don't come on Cemetech because its a pretty website, but rather because I enjoy the community Smile
mr womp womp wrote:
the major thing that really bugs me about the update, is sourcecoder, which for some reason, has shrunk the code to the point where users have to squint with their magnifying glass to be able to see anything
I think I fixed this thanks to PT_'s bug report; please let me know. And remember, we can't fix things we don't know are bugs! Post those bug reports.
KermMartian wrote:
I'm willing to investigate the additional code necessary to determine which users have permissions to read topics in a given topic's subforum and/or parent subforum before issuing the notification to SAX.
I looked into this at one point. Doing so is probably some kind of horrible mess, but maybe permission-checking code (that I have no idea where it lives) could be stolen/recycled with relative ease.
Given that we don't really use the full granularity of the permission system the easiest thing is probably to check if the post/topic is readable by an anonymous user. Better for our eventual goals is probably a forum->MUC multiplexer of some kind.
elfprince13 wrote:
Given that we don't really use the full granularity of the permission system


Doesn't mean we will in the future. I don't like speaking outside of my ability but I think the best thing is to do the work now and future-proof rather than find the easy way out then mull around on it when we really need/want that ability/feature.

I've seen Kerm mention he coded SAX/SourceCoder/etc someway or another because he didn't envision it being that way. I can't point out examples but, with this feature, we're envisioning this feature/usage now. If we're going to do something about it let's do it right and save a possible headache in the future.
I think it was nice to have a recent files list somewhere, because it at least gave authors a short period of visibility, which seemed to be a good compromise for notable releases. Maybe there could be a Recent Files list below Recent Posts in the side bar?
  
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