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JOS Usability

Was thinking about the JOS forums usability. Does not look like the bolding of highlighted topics seems to have worked. How about allowing users to flag which threads they are following. I don't read everything, and it would be nice to be able to pick out, at a cursory glance, which threads I am following. Should be pretty easy to implement.

On a not so related note, seems like Joel has pulled out another leaf from the Philip Greenspun book. The St Paddy's day thread got axed. Actually got an email from someone this morning asking why it got killed. They can't see it. I can, but I can only see my posts.

<<quote>>
One of my motivations for building the fancy software ... was the difficulty of moderating the Q&A forum for photo.net. With about 10,000 participants, deleting duplicate postings and uninteresting threads was time-consuming but bearable. One day in 1997, Martin Tai showed up ... Personally I didn't mind having Martin as a community member ... However, he'd apparently previously annoyed folks in rec.photo.* (USENET) exchanges and even the slightest error on Martin's part provoked a volley of vitriolic responses from other photo.net readers. Every day I'd have to go in and clear out 50 postings plus respond to private e-mail complaints.

My forums at the time were backed by the Illustra relational database management system, ... If you wanted to update an Illustra row, you had to wait for all the readers to stop reading. ...  Under the best of circumstances, users posting to the forum would get a page saying

please wait while we try to insert your message ..... message
inserted. 

Under heavy usage, the users would see

please wait while we try to insert your message ..
*** 60 second pause *** ...
deadlock, transaction aborted. 

Please hit Reload in five or ten minutes.

... Then it hit me: Sometimes a system that is 95 percent reliable is better than a system that is 100 percent reliable. If Martin was accustomed to seeing the system fail 5 percent of the time, he wouldn't be suspicious if it started failing all of the time. So I reprogrammed my application to look for the presence of "Martin Tai" in the name or message body fields of a posting. Then Martin, or anyone wanting to flame him, would get a program that did

ns_write "please wait while we try to insert your message ..."
ns_sleep 60
ns_write "... deadlock, transaction aborted.  Please hit Reload
          in five or ten minutes." 

The result? Martin got frustrated and went away. Since I'd never served him a "you've been shut out of this community" message, he didn't get angry with me. Presumably inured by Microsoft to a world in which computers seldom work as advertised, he just assumed that photo.net traffic had grown enough to completely tip Illustra over into continuous deadlock.

I've used this trick a few more times in the photo.net forums with users who wouldn't take gentle suggestions from the moderators.
<</quote>>

I think it would work better if I continued to see the entire thread, and have it hidden from other users. That way, I would truly think that nobody was interested.

Tapiwa
Friday, March 19, 2004

I refer to JOS moderation as Gestapo styled. Threads just disappear. No point in discussing the deletions because those threads disappear too.
It works very well here. While there is the occational flamewar,
they are always "on topic" flamewars.

But your suggestion is alot smoother. Hide unwanted posts from everyone but the author. Simulating errors for "banned" users is smooth too.
Especially when dealing with people of destructive intent. (Those who start yelling censorship as soon as a moderatior intervenes, and believe that they have a god given right to spam your forum with insults.)


Are there more tricks like these around?

Eric Debois
Friday, March 19, 2004

>>> Should be pretty easy to implement.

How many times over the past 30 years have I heard this one? If I was counting, I'd have lost count a couple decades ago. It's the PHB mantra.

old_timer
Friday, March 19, 2004

Not wanting to derail the thread, but cookies and a tick indicating which threads I have read, and possibly two ticks where I have posted should be a fairly trivial task. Don't know what the codebase is like, but it certainly does not seem difficult.

Tapiwa
Friday, March 19, 2004

Butt out people:

Just give the Joelster time to copy/paste the new url regexp in the asp pages.

Imagine: No more 404's from trailing spaces. No more spurious punctuation includes ... hmmmmm

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, March 19, 2004

Actually, I've given some thought to how to track threads that I've read while retaining the cool feature of having the link status indicate whether there have been new posts.

My thought was to have the main title use a simple URL without the number of postings parameter and have the parenthesised number of postings use the full URL (including # of postings). The one problem with this technique that I see is the need for the simple URL to redirect to the full URL to continue making the marker work.

Of course, cookies would also work; but then you'd either need to rely on client or server-side scripting to track threads. And if you'll going to go this route, it would be super cool to have a separate list of threads I'm interested in sorted by level of interest. Interesting threads could be determined by those that I've re-read after new postings have been made.

Jeff Watkins
Friday, March 19, 2004

I guess I'll take my chances and post to this thread and hope I don't get this IP banned/hidden again.

These tricks don't work with smart people.  Pretty soon they're going to be emailing the admin and asking to be allowed to post again.  In fact people on dial-up can easily tell if their posts are being shown only to them or if they are being "tricked" in one any of these ways.  It appears tricky and sly but in reality it's not.  Reconnect with a different IP or Switch ISPs and you're back in business.  I'm not saying that I'm advocating destroying a forum but these techniques only seem to work with people who don't understand technology.

Anon
Friday, March 19, 2004

"My thought was to have the main title use a simple URL without the number of postings parameter and have the parenthesised number of postings use the full URL (including # of postings). The one problem with this technique that I see is the need for the simple URL to redirect to the full URL to continue making the marker work."

It has to be said that that is a great and elegant suggestion.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, March 19, 2004

Another though I've had regarding the usability of these forums (which is generally pretty good) is that following a post, it would be ideal to redirect the browser to the full URL which included the # of posts. That way, when I return to the list of recent topics, the topic to which I just posted doesn't appear to have new content.

Jeff Watkins
Friday, March 19, 2004

Using the two links, one of which doesn't have the message count and one of which does, would require you to always use the message count link to access the thread--using the other link would let you read all the messages but wouldn't change which threads showed up as having new messages.

Emperor Norton
Friday, March 19, 2004

There would be no need for redirects and the full thread would be accessable from both links.  Just drop the ixReplies on one of them.

i.e.

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=125259

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=125259&ixReplies=999

This has to stop
Friday, March 19, 2004

If it's a thread you want to see die early, then continue to allow people to post, but only allow them to see it, and no one else.

If the thread has something that the forum owners feel needs to go, then hide it from everyone except the original poster and every else who had contributed to it so far.

Of course this increases the complexity of the code, so I wouldn't recommend it for this forum, since the philosophy here is minimal, good enough effort for something that's not financially vital.

But if we're talking in general, that would be a good way to create a virtual ostracization, which is the best form of moderation.  When you happen to see a troll on the boards, don't feed it by arguing, starve it with silence.


Going off on a tangent here:

I can't remember which forum it was, but it was one from the early days.  Anyways, there was a circle of people you could call the core participants.  They would form a private, metaforum where they would discuss issues regarding the main forum.  One of the main things they did there was to identify trolls and agree as a whole to ignore them.  I heard it worked pretty well. 

VP
Friday, March 19, 2004

"If it's a thread you want to see die early, then continue to allow people to post, but only allow them to see it, and no one else."

'It' being the new posts they've added, not refering to the whole thread.

VP
Friday, March 19, 2004

Actually, you will need the redirect because without it, your browser will record the URL for the post without the ixReplies parameter. This means that when you go to the list of recent topics, the reply count will still look unvisited (because you didn't visit that URL).

However, if you return a redirect to the URL including ixReplies, then your browser will load the "real" URL and when you visit the list of recent topics, all will be correct.

Jeff Watkins
Friday, March 19, 2004

Tapiwa, what you're talking about has been implemented for vBulletin and is available as a plugin. If you have an offensive user, just make it so that it takes forever to do anything. They'll assume it's the site, and their offensive post isn't worth the effort, and go away.

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, March 19, 2004

>I refer to JOS moderation as Gestapo styled. Threads just disappear. No point in discussing the deletions because those threads disappear too.

No, this is much more subtle than old style nazis used to be, (you are dealing with the new age of electrons, ideology is no longer an important thing, you know).

The best feature of this board, so far, is that if your topic is deleted, you will not quite notice it!

You see, the poster of a deleted topic still sees the deleted topic on his listing !!!!!
(This trick can be done by tracking the cookie of the poster of a deleted topic, then fake the listing by having his post on it).

I think that this in line with

I have seen it with my own post, and i was quite amazed.

You are controlled, by you won't quite notice it ;-)

(now, if this idea gains momentum, than you can get money out of your subjects by selling more prosac and stuff, another revenue generator, I love them.)'

Michael Moser
Saturday, March 20, 2004

<quote author="Michael Moser">
The best feature of this board, so far, is that if your topic is deleted, you will not quite notice it!
<quote>
Not exactly. I've been "reprimanded" in a similar fashion as well.  Using "cookies" is easily by-passed. I have cookies deleted regularly for JoS, since it is of no value to me to keep expecting an answer for some topic I initiated, when clearly, I am going to get none. And also since only my name & email need to be entered manually, each time I post - without those cookies. Not much additional work. Without a login mechanism, that tactic is of very little effect.

On principle, I find this practice wrong. While it is true that regular impertinence and impudence is detrimental to society, it is also true that the administrators of that society ensure that mis-information is not provided. The admins have the right and, I dare say, the duty not to provide _all_ information - I am not suggesting for a moment that Joel should provide a justification for everything that goes on here and have those justifications on record. But it *is* providing mis-information by displaying a deleted thread to the OP and only the OP.

Unless of course these boards are not to be considered a society, but private property, in which case, I am sure the above paragraph will be visible only to me, until I clear my browser cache, sometime, tomorrow ;)

Regards

Kaushik Janardhanan

kayjay
Saturday, March 20, 2004

Kaushik,

Yeah I feel the same way too, since we can't help but take things personally.  But in the big scheme of things, it's probably the least painful technique.  Think of it as tough love.

I agree with you that it is a societ, but in any society, the welfare of the individual is secondary to the group.  Some amount of moderation is necessary to keep things healthy.  Of course as individuals, it's normal to view ourselves as the center of the world.  Whenever we're slighted, we think the whole world is being oppressed.

And you're also right about it being private property.  I don't pay for the server upkeep or the bandwidth.  I didn't have a hand in building it from it's humble beginings.  I'm here by invitation only.

I think all in all Joel keeps a light hand, since we're allowed to talk about non-SW specific issues.  But yeah, it still stings a wee bit whenever we get the smack down.  At least it's not a big public humiliation.

VP
Saturday, March 20, 2004

Taking things personally is one aspect of it. A valid one, no doubt. And yes, it does feel bad to be slapped on the wrist.

But what really is annoying with that practice, is that, one cannot know what issues are considered unworthy or unfavourable. At least not soon enough.

I post something. It hangs there until a cookie flush and till then the subject is considered by me to be valid. With a complete deletion, a message is passed to me to the effect of "stay off that". A hint that I feel is worth giving.

Regards

Kaushik Janardhanan

kayjay
Saturday, March 20, 2004

I asked a question in the Ask Joel part and got no answer from Joel, so nobody else saw it.  It went away, so I asked it of the general public in the JoS section and people replied.  Much more satisfying.  Joel can respond in JoS if he wants, so I doubt I'll be posting the the Ask Joel section again.

Aaron F Stanton
Saturday, March 20, 2004

Hi Joel,
I was wondering if you see a topic for a new essay here. I'm pretty sure you have some interesting things to say...

Dario Vasconcelos
Sunday, March 21, 2004

Shouldn't this thread have died when Eric posted "I refer to JOS moderation as Gestapo styled"...

Jack of all
Monday, March 22, 2004

How do I post a question about WinCVS on this forum

Joel Sundance
Friday, March 26, 2004

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