1. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    Your Thoughts on Forum Design/Usability

    Discussion in 'Support & Feedback' started by Daniel, Jan 18, 2017.

    I'm considering a website redesign to make WritingForums.org more modern and user-friendly.

    I'm trying to compile a list of inefficiencies and suggestions for improvement. Right now our forum's design works pretty well, but there is some functionality that isn't very intuitive. If you have any thoughts, broad or small, I'd love to hear them.

    Specifically, I'm looking for:
    • Any areas of navigation, layout or functionality that is inefficient, confusing, hard to find, or hard to use
    • Input for or against more modern design techniques (i.e. sticky/scrolling navigation)
    • Opinions on the existing or alternative layouts
    • Preferred changes to our color scheme/typography
    • Thoughts on basic functionality of the mobile/responsive version of the site
    • Examples of existing website interfaces you love
    • Any other thoughts you might have
    If I decide to pursue a partial or complete redesign, the goal is to make WritingForums.org simple, easy-to-use, and intuitive. Any extensive redesign can potentially expand fringe areas of the site into focal points, making areas like user profiles, resources, and the writing workshop better and more enjoyable to use.

    If there are any UX/UI designers here, I'd love to talk.
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I am certainly for the "strike pointing" - to borrow a retail term - of the Workshop. Always.

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, I wish we could find some way of keeping the General Writing subforum from being such a dumping ground of threads. I move them when I have the time, but it gets tedious. As you can see, there is a wild disparity in the use of sub-forums in the upper quadrant, and this is after I have - at this point - literally moved thousands of threads from that subforum to the sub-forums where they really belong. And that's just going off of obvious tells like thread title. I'm guessing that at least another third of that subforum consists of threads that belong elsewhere but their thread titles don't make it obvious. This giant bucket of who-knows-what would seem to make it hard for us to know just what concepts are really of concern and interest to members, which would seem to be the data we would want in order to know what areas want highlighting, bringing to the fore, etc.

    Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.39.41 PM.png
     
  3. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    Thanks @Wreybies. I'm not sure there are any direct design solutions, but I have a few ideas. I'm not sure if these options exist and are available.

    1. The General Writing forum could require a forum prefix to be selected for each new thread, automatically moving the thread to the correct forum when a prefix is selected.
    2. At the creating of a new thread, there could be a short list of suggested forum alternatives based on the keywords in the post or based upon required tags.
    3. There could be a small checkbox confirming the thread creator believes their forum choice is the best categorization.

    For #3, see this example on another forum:

    Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.01.57 PM.png Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.02.05 PM.png

    It doesn't allow a thread title to be entered until the box is checked.
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'm not very observant so maybe everyone else finds this more obvious, but it took me a while to understand that the topics in the light blue bars (like "Publisher Discussion" and the rest in the image above) are sub-topics of the heading directly above them. The darker blue bars are for headings, obviously, so I guess it seems intuitive to me that a lighter blue bar be a sub-heading? But really the lighter blue bars aren't for headings at all... not sure if this explanation makes sense.

    And I don't think it makes sense to have "electronic publishing" as a whole separate sub-topic. Most of the questions under that heading would fit just as well under the "self publishing" heading... unless people are self-publishing, there probably aren't too many questions they'd have about electronic publishing.
     
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  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This would be great in that it forces a second think to the thunk, so to speak.

    On the same topic - and I don't really know how to phrase this in I.T. terms - is there some sort of way to create a database off of keywords or variables for the content in General Writing. I ask because at this point the sheer size of the subforum, I feel, is causing people to think "This is clearly where the action's at. I know this is a Setting question, but I want people to SEE my thread." If there were some kind of way to aid me in handling what's already there in order to help shift that particular aspect. Again, I.T. people reading this, please try not to snark me to death. I'm an interpreter, and a good one, but that's pretty much it. ;)
     
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  6. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    Thank you @BayView.

    I think this is an important point that ties in with Wrey's, and it boils down to something very important for any website: how we organize and access information.

    The intent with the sub-forums like Publisher Discussion and Self-Publishing is for those sub-forums to contain essentially all threads related to those topics (to make the information easy to find and to facilitate more specialized discussion). Unfortunately, it doesn't work well as implemented/designed, and is essentially the same problem pointed out in post #2. If we visit the Publishing forum, we'll find threads asking about publishers that should be in the Publisher Discussion sub-forum.

    So in your experience, it was the color/layout that made it difficult to understand the structuring? If you hadn't figured it out and were still new, would you be likely to post a thread about self-publishing in the "parent" Publishing forum or in the correct "Self-Publishing" sub-forum? I wonder if this is the case when other members post in the incorrect forum.

    I wondering if a simple graphic tweak like this might better distinguish the sub-forums:

    sidebyside.jpg

    Otherwise we could consider re-designing how the sub-forums are displayed:

    Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.27.06 PM.png Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.25.58 PM.png Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.24.37 PM.png

    I also think part of the problem is the page/sub-forum/post layout when you view a forum with sub-forums.

    Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.09.52 PM.png

    I imagine when you see a page like this you're going to see the list of child forums and jump straight to the right one, or you're going to miss them completely?

    P.S. I mostly agree with you about the electronic publishing subforum.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    For me the second example (with the red boxes visible on the thumbprint view) is ugly, but very clear. For the first one, it's prettier, but I think the shift from vertical to horizontal lists kind of loses some of the meaning, at least for me. So, yes, I would be much more likely to post in the parent forum because the sub-forums don't seem as -- welcoming? I don't know, exactly... but it does feel as if the nesting isn't coming across.
     
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  8. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    I might not be the best person to ask myself, but I'll try to answer. I'm not sure how creating a database off of keywords would actually work. How does it know to target "publishing" instead of "it, then, home, design"? That said, I believe some options exist if we want to reduce the size of General Writing and re-categorize certain threads.

    1. I know there's auto-tagging software that exists. I don't know how it works, or how well, but it uses Xenforo's tagging system to tag threads. It might be based off of thread title. If it can accurately tag threads based on topic, I imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to batch move threads based on their tags.
    2. It is possible to batch move threads based on the keyword in the title.
    3. Not a fan of this, but pruning old threads is an option.

    I feel like other tools exist for this, but I'm unable to find them.

    I do think you're right about the forum drawing more posts because it's the bigger forum.
     
  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. This is what I do now. I simply flex the normal Search function the forum already provides, looking for certain obvious words and phrases in the thread titles, searching just within that sub-forum. This gives me a list of posts, which I then get the option to view as threads, I go through these and move them.

    But, there are uncounted threads titled "Please help me", "I need help!", "Have you ever...." etc., etc., etc. These don't lend themselves to any sort of title search function.

    Maybe what I'm asking for is too broad and the variables of thread content too unpredictable. It may just have to be a human eye going through it all.

    Neither am I. Content and history are the first impression a member sees upon scanning our forum as a prospective place to hang their hat. I would not want to reduce thread count either for that reason.
     
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  10. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    I was just testing that out. It looks like with our search function you can search posts and not only titles, and in theory, mass move the results. However, looking at one search the results weren't relevant enough to the original post of the thread.

    The only solution I can think of that doesn't require custom programming would be to upgrade our search engine. I know there are some significant search improvements available. If those better targeted the contents of a thread, we could then select and mass move the search results. It would have to target the frequency of the term searched for to determine the relevance or perhaps search only the original post of a thread rather than the entire thread.
     
  11. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. This is the issue with the current Search function. I can search thread titles and be pretty sure they are indicative of what lies within, but when I search all content, the threads that come up are so random, it just doesn't make sense to think of them as a valid sample to go through. It just seems to make more sense to start at page 1 and go from there. And I've done it until I just couldn't sit in the chair any more and gave up. Like I said, thousands of threads have been moved since I started looking at that. That subforum would be well past 13,000 threads right now. And there are certain assumptions I'm making that I admit are just assumptions. Like, I know our forum has a huge following of Fantasy writers. Fantasy writers are world-builders, so why does the Settings Development subforum have the smallest number of threads? That doesn't seem to compute to me.

    So, yeah, if the Search function is something that can be improved, that would be great... at least for me. :-D
     
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  12. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    I love the color scheme. I'm so tired of all the new-age stuff being black and grey and ugly. I find the blue to be relaxing and easy on the eyes--and since I frequently come here when I'm tired, that's a very good thing.

    In my experience, most of the time when a website updates to be more user-friendly, they really go crazy with fancy and modern and it becomes nearly impossible for me to navigate. Please keep us "old-fashioned" people in mind if you redesign!

    I've used a lot of forums, and the way you have your subforums set up is the way most of them have it (or had it, before updates), so it was fairly easy for me to figure out. What was difficult was knowing which subforum to put my question. I think a "this is how you know which subforum to use" sticky in every forum would've helped a lot with that frustration.

    I'd love to be able to view the threads I've started the way I can view my watched threads. As it is, I don't know how to find them unless I look under "my watched threads" or "my posted content."

    And finally, thank you for talking to us about this instead of just doing it. I really appreciate this extra effort!
     
  13. Daniel

    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors Founder Staff

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    Thank you for doing what you have. I know it's not a fun process. A easier, more efficient way is possible, but it'll take some form of investment, unfortunately. Good search engines are complex. I think upgrading our search engine might be a solution for this in the future, once the investment can be made.

    I suspect you're right that there are a lot of setting/world-building threads in general writing and elsewhere. The example I tried was searching General Writing posts for "self-publishing". Almost none of the threads were about self-publishing. One example only showed up in the results because the second posted asked if they intended to self-publish.

    One thing we might want to consider is future-proofing against this problem. Implementations like requiring new threads to confirm the best-fit forum might help reduce this, but there might be other ways to ensure we're able to mass-categorize and move threads that are created from the present day onwards.

    To me the most obvious future-proofing solution would be utilizing the built-in tag system. We still need to examine how to best utilize our tagging system overall as a means of finding and categorizing content (there are several approaches). If we required a tag or auto-tagged new threads, or if tags were more widely used, it could help us with this problem in the future.

    I'm glad you like it. I'm a fan of it too, I designed it myself. :p I do thing some elements of the site are a little outdated, like parts of the navigation/layout and our blue gradients in the menu. I wouldn't want to change the color scheme radically, but at the same time I'm open to giving the site a very fresh look.

    For example, a while ago I was considering re-designing our forum header area (logo/menu/header image) to something warmer, modern, and more welcoming. Something like this:

    header1.jpg

    However, those colors would clash with the blues of the existing design, and necessitate a complete color redesign with more warm and earthy colors.

    I will definitely try to keep everyone in mind. I've also used forums for over a decade, so their functionality is second nature to me, as it sounds like it is to you. However, I have heard in several threads here, and even on XenForo's software board, that the software isn't as intuitive as it might be to you or I. There are a lot less people who use forums in 2017 than in 2006, and it's possible a significant percentage of people have never used one consistently.

    I'll try to put some more thought towards better identifying which sub-forum to use. A sticky might or FAQ might be helpful, but I'm afraid most people don't read sticky's like that.

    I'll look into this. I'm sure it can't be that hard to implement, and it's been suggested before.

    Thank you, of course. The purpose of a redesign would be to improve the experience on our site, so identifying areas of improvement - and things that should be left alone - is important. I learned my lesson when we upgraded from vBulletin 3.x to vBulletin 4.
     
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  14. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    I'll admit to never using tags. I simply don't know what they are or how they work, and I'm afraid of using them wrong. Why not put it to the forum to raise money for the new search engine? I'd be willing to put a little toward it now that I'm finally out of my financial hole. I was planning on supporting this website anyway, so giving a little extra wouldn't hurt.

    I gotta admit, I love that banner! Warm earthy tones are much better than dark cold tones. I could probably get used to a color scheme that matches that banner pretty quickly.

    Again, thank you so much for considering all of us. :-D
     
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  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    It's taken me a while to sort it all out, but I'm fine with the way it is. The only suggestion I might have (and I have no idea where on the "easy to impossible" scale they fit) is to force new members to post an introduction thread before they go anywhere else. It's 2017, I thought basic forum etiquette was an elementary school class by now, but it seems not (and this is not WF specific, I have other hobbies with the same forum issue, but here it's more important).

    Other than that, I wouldn't mess with it too much.

    If it were my forum.

    Which it ain't.

    Just saying that I'm happy now, thanks.
     
  16. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    I can't speak for others, but in my mind—from a conceptual POV—Publishing and Self-publishing are two distinctly different things.

    Publishing, from an author perspective, is about finding someone else to spearhead bringing the work before the public.

    Self-publishing, also from the author's POV, is about getting the work out there oneself.

    The concept of 'publishing' may be the same in both, but the approach is vastly different and seeing the two categories side by side (or rather, one after the other) would help bring clarity.

    Also, with Self-publishing as a top-level category, it leaves room for sub-topics such as Finding Editors, Publicity, Cover Art, Self-Mangement, etc. These topics are far more important to the self-published author than they are to the traditionally published.

    Also, these two categories, Publishing and Self-publishing, should really come under a parent heading like The Business of Writing or Getting Your Work Out There as they have far more to do with business than they do with the act of Creative Writing.

    You might also consider moving Software under the 'business' banner since this is, essentially, a business decision and not really about Applied Writing (Applied Writing is suggestive of the creative process rather than which tools I use).

    Success Stories is also something that might come under the business heading because it's not about writing, as such, but the success of a finished product.

    Writing Prompts (to me) seems more like an Applied Writing (or Creative Process) subject than Community Interaction.

    Even Role Play could be interpreted as a creative process. This, of course, depends on whether the emphasis of the sub-forum is more about playing or more about creativity.

    All this is just off the top of my head. If any of this makes sense to you, feel free to PM me. I'd be more than happy to help. As far as qualifications go, I worked three years for a web design company, then went out on my own for another three. The lion's share of the work I did was navigational logistics.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  17. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    In general I think WF is a really user-friendly site and easy to navigate. These suggestions are things-that-could-be-better rather than things-that-suck.

    From a user point of view I would like to see fewer sub-forums, though I see Wrey wants the opposite for admin reasons. There are some that are hardly ever used and could be merged into others, so they're just dead wood taking up space and making things more confusing for newbies. E.g. NaNoWriMo (37 threads), Insights and Inspiration (92), Collaboration (76), Science Fiction (57). WF doesn't have enough regular posters to justify genre-specific discussion forums, IMO - there's no hope of getting really good threads going.

    I think part of the reason that the vaguer sub-forums like General Writing and The Lounge are used is because there are too many specific forums.

    Collaboration could do with being renamed. People hardly ever want to collaborate in writing something, so it's used for requests for critique partners, alpha readers, and beta readers, but it isn't obvious from the forum name that there is a space to ask for that kind of thing. It would probably be used more if it was appropriately named.

    When I've tried to find books from WF members I haven't found it very easy, but I think that was mostly because they aren't listed with usernames. Maybe the authors don't want it linked to their usernames? I also think 'bookstore' is a strange label for that section, since WF isn't actually selling anything. I think 'Members' books' or something would generate more interest.

    I also find WF really frustrating to use on the phone, although my phone is frustrating in general so that might not be the site's fault... I'm stuck with a Nokia Lumia on Windows because work pay for it and I'm too cheap to pay for one myself. The main issues I have are:
    • When I flip it portrait-style, the three menu options on the top right (Tenderiser, Inbox, Alerts) merge into one, and then I have to zoom in to click in the teeny-tiny area that takes me to my alerts. I use alerts much more than the other two, so I'd rather have a large one-click alert button.
    • There's no way to jump back to the top of a thread, which can mean a lottttttt of scrolling if there are long posts. Even a 'homepage' link at the bottom of each thread would be better than having to scroll up to the top menu.
    • All the buttons and options on the site are generally really tiny, so it takes forever to navigate.
     
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  18. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Also I would like to be able to post in Comic Sans.
     
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  19. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope. I just want to find a more efficient way to empty that one huge bucket into the smaller containers we already have. There's one, particularly large writing forum out there in digispace that is a vast mangrove forest of sub-forums. That's not a route I would want.
     
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  20. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    There's a non-writing forum I'm on that has literally hundreds of sub-forums. All that happens is you get people posting in the main two or three with threads that have nothing to do with that sub-forum's purpose, because it's the only way their threads get read. Madness.
     
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  21. Komposten

    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Supporter Contributor

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    Having a large alert-button rather than a username-button would reduce the functionality of the mobile version IMO. The username-button opens a menu that takes you to your profile, your posts, your alerts, your inbox, etc., etc. Where would these links go if we have a large alert button instead?

    There is a "Top of Page" button at the very bottom of the page (just above the Twitter and Facebook links on mobile devices). However, it would be useful to have one that is more readily available at any time when browsing on the phone (e.g. some sites have a floating up-arrow button that follows along when you scroll).

    I personally don't have a problem with the size of buttons and prefer a smaller size in order to be able to see more at a time. However, maybe it could be possible to add a user-adjustable size so that people can change the size of the UI (and possibly text in posts, etc.) between "small" and "large" or some such. (Probably requires a lot of effort to implement, though, so maybe a compromise of a slightly larger UI overall is better?)
     
  22. Komposten

    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Supporter Contributor

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    @BayView and @Daniel
    I think one of the problems with subforums is that they are separated from their parent forum by the same separator used to separate parent forums (see image below). (1) Maybe this could be changed in a way that puts the subforums within the same "box" as the parent (i.e. before the separator) to show that they are grouped together? (2) Could it be possible to add the text "Sub-forums" to the left of or above the sub-forums to make it even more clear that they are sub-forums of the parent they are grouped with (visually)?

    upload_2017-1-18_18-1-38.png
     
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  23. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I thinkt that makes sense. As is I think I initially read the sub-forums more as descriptors of the main forum, rather than as places I could actually click on and post.
     
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  24. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    As I said, that's not useful to me because I use the alerts much more frequently than my profile or inbox.

    As for where they go well, there are a hundred possibilities. :)
     
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  25. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I've only been here a few months so take this with a big pinch of salt, but by twopennorth is

    a) Do we need 'general writing' at all - especially given that plot/setting/character etc are a bit of a ragbag themselves anyway.

    b) The way 'erotica' is dealt with makes my teeth itch - with the by the genre used for discussion and the short stories actually containing everything - IMO we should just have an erotica board and put everything in there (may be title it erotica and sex scenes or something like that)

    c) I'd like the contests to be more prominent (may be further up the board or active contests in an alert box at the top or similar) and also i'd like the ones that are title bi weekly but are actually monthly relabeled

    d) Because I often look at the forum when i'm supposed to be working in my breaks and lunch hour I would like the adverts to be trimmed to avoid those for 'dating hot Russians' or similar (although I realise that revenue may be too tight to make that change)
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
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