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User Journal

Journal: Updates to Journal System 13

Journal by CmdrTaco

We've made some significant updates to the submission/journal system. Visiting Submissions and Journals yields a new form that allows stuff like tags to the data types. There are a number of annoying bugs, but for the most part the dust is starting to settle. More notes will be coming, but this journal entry is really just me putting the final test on the new Journal form.

United States

Journal: Googling the Vote

Journal by ajs

I've been tracking Google's stats for some 2008 Presidential Election-related searches in an effort I've been calling "Google the Vote". The results have really helped to keep me in touch with how the election is shaping up. My blog entry on the topic is titled, "Using the Web to predict elections." I touch on a few ways that people are tracking Web-based data for the election such as Google Trends and Intrade.

I really do think that the Web is going to become a more and more accurate predictor of elections over the years, and eventually live-polling will be an antiquated and moot factor.

User Journal

Journal: Minor and Major updates 8

Journal by CmdrTaco
Pudge made a cool change in discussions- if you link to a comment deep inside a thread and click 'More' the sytem is much more intelligent about crawling down and retrieving children, and then parents and grandparents and so forth up the ancestry. So odds are you'll get more related comments sooner.

We now abbreviate journals in the firehose... so they are more like slashdot stories with a Read More link to the full text.

The big user facing change this week was structural: historically we had 2 different "skeletons" on Slashdot, but with this refresh we unified to a single one. This change simplifies maintenance for us quite a bit (maintaining the idle section and the firehose views of the same data was a royal pain).

You also will see some changes to the firehose.pl layout. We're playing with the tab layout a bit, moving some menus around and better integrating the core functions into the site chrome. It's a bit buggy atm, so feel free to email me if you see something wonky. We're extinguishing a few minor brush fires but there's no forest fires that we're aware of.

User Journal

Journal: The Wind

Journal by CmdrTaco
Zach knows the wind now. I saw him look at the window and see the leaves rustle. He then started making blowing noises. We blow the mobile over his crib whenever we change his diaper, so he knows the blowing noises move objects. But he's translated that to leaves hundreds of feet away through a window. Now I'm not saying he's a genius, but he's pretty awesome.
User Journal

Journal: Beta Metamod Updates 28

Journal by CmdrTaco
This won't significantly affect most of you, but we have been working on some meta mod changes. The most user visible change is that the UI we used to use was thrown out, and instead we are using one based on the firehose. Subscribers will see it when they go to the old metamod link although users can see it by going to this version of those hose

The first real change is that we've changed the meanings of the UI around. The old system is 'Fair' and 'Unfair' and the new system is '+' and '-'. The meanings are subtly different. You are no longer rating individual 'Insightful' or 'Troll' or whatever... you are now stating basically "Is this comment good or bad for you". Personally, since I find very few Score:5 funny comments to be actually really funny (and not just cliche memes) I '-' most of them. You are encouraged to be harsh if you don't actually think something is insightful or funny, call it such. The system encourages more of what you + and less of what you -.

You are also welcome now to do more than 10 m2 per day... however we internally have diminishing returns after 10, so you can do more, but they start to matter less and less.

There will undoubtedly be bugs so feel free to email me or vroom at slashdot if you find them. Probably next week or so we'll move this out to everyone, so your assistance is appreciated.

The Internet

Journal: D2 Remembers What You've Read 5

Journal by CmdrTaco
Well, for subscribers only this week at least. We have a half dozen minor bugs left in the TODO list, but if you are a paying subscriber you can test it out. It works best if you are using the keybindings to navigate. Pressing 'f' takes you to the next unread comment respecting thread order... so you can press that over and over again.

We also added a thing to 'collapse comments after reading' which I think I might turn of as a default setting soon. This is only usable for subscribers atm as well. But basically, as you navigate through a discussion, it collapses the comments you've read after you move on. This makes it really easy to navigate large discussions without having to scroll over 150 comments you've already read.

we're aware of a number of annoying bugs, but hopefully most of them will be squashed by Pudge for this weeks code refresh. If things are stable, we hope to roll this out for everyone rsn.

also my baby cut his first tooth yesterday. My furniture will never be ungnawed upon again.

User Journal

Journal: Flat Mode Discussions 13

Journal by CmdrTaco
So as we've been migrating the system from the tired old D1 to the exciting and awesome new D2 a number of complaints have come up. I'm going to talk about a couple of them here because I'm really looking for feedback on THESE issues. Please only talk about these points or I will mod you offtopic or troll or something.

The issue is about the use of Flat/Threaded/Nested modes. D2 cleanly replaces both threaded and nested modes- you effectively get nested mode by bringing the 2 sliders together. And threaded mode is vastly more flexible because you can choose the level at which comments are abbreviated or displayed in full text. So users of those modes should be set (obviously there are other reasons not to use D2, I'm just talking about the layouts here tho)

What's left is flat mode, which has a number of sort options. Now flat mode is used by roughly 4% of our active population. When i think about flat mode, I think about 2 reasons you would have to use it:

  1. I hate indenting and whitespace. I want a big vertical column now this isn't my bag, but I can understand it and even consider supporting it in D2. I think you sacrifice legibility, but this is a personal preference. It also would be easy to support in D2. Hell, you could probably do it in a greasemonkey script no problem.
  2. It's easier to remember your place in flat mode This to me is the only reason to use flat mode- you can reload your page an hour later, find the last comment you read, and pick up where you left off.

Now I Would think that the only reason to use flat mode is #2... except that only a couple hundred Slashdot readers have the 'ignore threads' sort order enabled. So either they don't understand what they are doing, or #1 above is the real reason that they use flat mode.

So in a nutshell, the question I am asking in this journal is 'Why do you use flatmode?' Is it cosmetic? To more easily keep your place in a discussion? Something I'm just missing? We have plans to implement a read/unread state retention for discussions, so maybe would you migrate to a threaded view if that function exists? Or is it purely aesthetic... an irrational hatred of scrollbars and whitespace? :)

The reason this matters is that simply formatting the page flatly is easy. Probably a simple greasemonkey hack or maybe a few lines of CSS. But re-implementing the alternate sort is gonna take some work. And I'm ok with that... except that the logs say that nobody actually USES that sort... they ONLY are using flat mode for the cosmetic reasons.

Speak out! Stay on-topic or you WILL be moderated down.

User Journal

Journal: Please Critique My New Web Design 2

Journal by MichaelCrawford
Please critique my website's new design. You can post your comments in reply to this journal or email them to michael@geometricvisions.com.

I just completed the first phase of what will be a two-phase redesign of the website I use for my creative activities - music, writing, art and photography. I'm taking the site a lot more seriously than I used to, as I'm working hard at making a career change from software engineering to music. My site is:

My work so far focusses primarily on improving brand-name recognition of my stage name: Michael David Crawford. I include my middle name to avoid confusion with a famous actor who is also named Michael Crawford. Just in the last three months, analysis of my log files tells me that people are starting to find my site by entering my stage name into search engines. I want to encourage that.

It's a lot better than it was, but could still be improved. I'll do the second phase of the redesign after your critique. I also emailed all my friends and family about it, and will be asking for comments at Kuro5hin, where I'm a prominent member, as well as at Webforumz.

The site will be at a new domain when I roll out the second phase: michaeldavidcrawford.com. I'll put a redirect at the old domain so old links work, and (hopefully) so I can preserve my search engine position. My current domain is named after my first piano album, Geometric Visions, but I hope to have many albums someday.

All but four of the sixty-eight pages are XHTML 1.0 Strict. Two are transitional, because of a Google search form and a web ring navigation pane. Two of the pages are XHTML+RDFa; I had to do some hacking to get the RDFa pages to validate while still working in Internet Explorer. (The RDFa is used for Creative Commons license metadata - I've been placing a lot of my work under CC licenses.)

Internet Explorer also required a javascript hack to support captions inside of the frames I've placed around all the images; the hack replaces the frame's div with a one-cell table. Otherwise the frame would stick to the right and left sides of the window. My CSS and all but one of my pages are valid. The one invalid page is my custom 404 page, and it's because of the Google search form. The AdSense Terms and Conditions don't allow me to alter their markup, so I'm forced to be invalid if I use AdSense for Search!

I'd like advice as to how I could best place an AdSense for Search form on every page - but I won't actually do so until Google revises their markup so it's valid. I've had some conversations with AdSense support about it; I think it will happen but probably not soon.

There are just two tables on the whole site: the alternating left-right index on my homepage is a two-column table, as well as the web ring navigation pane on my telescope making page. I realize I could implement the homepage index as a bunch of divs, but the current implementation seems to make more sense to me, as well as being more reliable for older browsers.

I plan to add more items to the navigation in phase two. To provide the needed real estate, I'm going to replace my explicit email address with just the word "Contact". It will still be an email link, but will be spam-protected by implementing it in javascript. The Contact link will lead to a contact form page if you have Javascript disabled.

I'll be making my site fully accessible, as well as improving SEO in phase two. I have some experience with SEO but I'm by no means an expert. All the pages that I've worked to optimize so far have meta description tags, but most others don't.

My music pages will be reorganized, with my main music page being replaced with a bio, some photographs, and links to all the other music pages. My album Geometric Visions will be placed in a subdirectory (music/geometric-visions). Each of my new albums will have their own page. I'll also place my sheet music on its own page.

There's not much content on the drawing, painting and photography pages yet, but I'm finding that the few images I do have are getting a lot of referrals from image search engines. I'll be adding a lot of photos in the coming weeks. I won't be able to add my other drawings and paintings until I can get them out of storage on the opposite coast, which won't be for a long time.

I have a print-specific stylesheet. It hides the navigation, and makes links look like regular text. On most of the pages that use it, it adds a header to hardcopies explaining where the original can be found online. Try a Print Preview of this page for an example.

I didn't think of it until just now, but the printing code for phase two will keep my logo on hardcopies, while hiding the rest of the header. The print logo will have a white background - the screen logo has a gray background to match the body color; I don't use transparency because it's a PNG, and old Explorer versions don't render PNG transparency correctly.

The navigation in phase two will be implemented as Server-Side Includes; the current navigation was pasted into every single page. Having five websites, I've done site-wide navigation changes the hard way so many times that I finally decided to get help on how to do it the easy way.

Well that beats the subject completely to death . Thanks for your help!

-- Mike

User Journal

Journal: D2 Updates 70

Journal by CmdrTaco
In-Place Posting is now live for all logged in users. Hopefully there are no surprises. We've found a number of very tiny bugs, but nothing show stopping. We'll leave the link up to the 'classic' reply form for a few weeks. Next week anonymous coward will get the new posting form... hopefully there are no surprises with that.

A few new keybindings aren't documented yet... v (end) t (top) [] change upper threshold and ,. change bottom threshold. Also 'r' opens the new reply box, m opens the mod total thingee.

The only major complaint so far is that the design changes consume a lot more whitespace. I have mixed feelings on the subject, but am aiming to strike a balance. We noticed 2 very clear places where the whitespace is excessive and hopefully that will be fixed RSN. But on the other hand, making deep threads visually clear, and drawing some attention to the 'reply' buttons is beneficial to everyone, so bare with us as we work to strike some sort of balance.

User Journal

Journal: Discussion2 In-Place Posting Testing 16

Journal by CmdrTaco
Discussion2 rolls on... the most recent addition to the system is in-place comment posting. Essentially, little dynamic ajaxy slideout boxes to post directly within the thread, without going to a stand-alone page. This is great because you don't have to lose your place within the thread to post.

this functionality is currently only available to paid subscribers, and several hundred of them have tested it out already. We still need to make it look pretty and add a few minor things (like the CAPTCHA for anonymous posting) but it's almost done.

Also worth noting is that logged in users can click on the 'Score' field of comments to view the moderation information on the comment. This information was previously not visible within D2, unless you navigated outside the d2 system (opening a comment in a new window did it). I doubt most people really care about this info, but it's available.

We also have one (perhaps minor) thing to get in... right now if you visit a comment directly via a CID link you can navigate within that thread, but navigating 'up' the comment hierarchy results in a new page, and a new discussion... this makes context a pain to maintain. So pudge is going to change that page to display the parent posts in an abbreviated format. This will mean that you can climb back up the thread easily, even if you entered the forum via a link deep into a thread.

A few minor items left on the todo list (keybindings for threshold changes... maybe press 'r' to open the reply slideout from the current comment, and a bunch of small design issues to make the threads a little more visually clear and easily navigatable) and we're ready to call D2 finished.

We have no plans to remove D1, so those of you who hate D2 are welcome to stay on the old system, but obviously new moderation tools and whatever else we think of will be attached to D2, not D1, so you've been warned ;)

Software

Journal: Discussion2 Notes 18

Journal by CmdrTaco
In the last few weeks, we've switched most users over to the new 'D2' discussion system- a fully ajaxified discussion system. There are a number of minor bugs, but I figured I'd toss up a few quick notes to address the biggest user complaints.
  1. you can turn it off if you log in. Some people get stuck in there ways, and no matter what we build it will never make you happy. So you can have the old lame system and we'll all enjoy the new cool system without you.
  2. you can get 'nested' mode back by dragging the 2 thresholds together in the floating slider. they connect and become a single thing. it's quite nifty, and if you are logged in the setting is remembered so you don't have to click to navigate deep threads.
  3. you can get more comments at once from the 'prefs' link. the default is currently 50, but choosing 'many' changes that (currently) to 250, which means you will get roughly the average number of comments in a typical slashdot story. Yes you will need to click 'more' on a huge discussion, but at that point we're talking about very large pages and slower computers like to choke on huge pages anyway so we have to balance size and performance.

there are 2 huge wins here for everyone... the first is retention of context. You can wade into a thread, retrieve more comments, change your threshold, all without losing your place like you did in the old system. And using the WASD keys to navigate makes it very easy to peruse discussions in a number of interesting ways. mouseover the help text in the floater for more information about how they work. We're open to suggestions on how this should work- i'm not totally happy with it yet... but it *is* possible to mash a single key and go from start to end of a discussion, which pleases me.

the second is that the default users see the highest score comments first. You can change this by logging in and toggling the retrievable order to oldest first, but for most people this means that the first comments they see will be the best. There are so many great comments on Slashdot, but most users don't see them because they are buried within the discussion. I think this goes a long ways towards helping.

A final word about the ads in there- unfortunately there are ads in the new system. Changing from a static page-page-page system to a dynamic ajax system with a single 'page load' causes us to serve hundreds of thousands of fewer ads. We worked out roughly how long people read discussions and are trying to strike a balance so that you see roughly the same number of ads under this system as you would have under the old one. We'll tweak it of course, but we gotta pay the bills here people!

And obviously all of this is a work in progress. Pudge is leading development work on this. The next project is to make it possible to post without losing your place in the discussion, and then to refine navigation keybindings and thread expansion/contraction controls to make the whole UI clean. We appreciate constructive criticisim. There are bugs (especially in IE, but almost no slashdot user runs IE) but we're mashing them out- thanks for your feedback on them. As we sand off the rough edges I think you'll all find the new system a vast improvement if you just play with it for a bit and give it a fair chance. Not all change is bad ;)

I took a fish head to the movies and I didn't have to pay. -- Fish Heads, Saturday Night Live, 1977.

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