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Michael Pryor figured out something incredibly smart.

If we change the URL for viewing an topic so that it includes the number of followups, then whenever an topic gets a new followup, it will be listed in blue in your web browser instead of purple.

So now you will see new topics, and topics that have followups you haven't read, in blue. If you've read the entire topic, it will be purple. And it's all done without keeping any state on the server.

Joel Spolsky
Monday, October 15, 2001

Downside is you can't link to a topic since its URL is constantly changing

Bill Wood
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

You can link to it! The old URL will work just fine. The "count of followups" in the URL is completely ignored.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

The variable part is not in the "URL", as such. It's in the "query string".

Mark Spolinski
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Well, I just think that's terribly clever.  What a great trick!

Chris Dunford
Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Do you think you could some how mark where the new messages start appearing.  In general all the posts blend together when scrolling through a thread which makes it difficult to pick out the new info.

Adam Baratz
Wednesday, October 17, 2001

>Do you think you could some how mark where the new >messages start appearing. In general all the posts blend >together when scrolling through a thread which makes it >difficult to pick out the new info.

This would require a timestamp cookie.  (Actually a double-timestamp, discussed in another thread).

Joel what about combining the cookie method with the blue/purple trick?  There's no reason they can't work together.

The drawback to the timestamp cookie is slightly higher load on the server, but I agree with this suggestion that it would make new messages in a long discussion easier to locate.

It could be as simple as drawing a bold horizontal line dividing the old messages from the new ones.  Just a standout visual cue.

Shawn Yarbrough
Thursday, October 18, 2001

I like it! The only situation I've noticed where the url / reply arguement tracking doesn't work is when the reader surfs into the thread from a static link (for instance, from the Joel on Software mainpage). But it's a minor quible.

Craig Malloy
Friday, October 19, 2001

a: it doesn't require a double time-stamp! I don't get why people keep saying this, I have a page with almost the exact same problems and you can do it easily with one cookie: You read the cookie, display the page, and then reset the same cookie when actually SENDING the page. Anyway, that's totally not a big point, I just seeing people saying you need two, and you don't!

b: while I like Michael's solution and it's clever, it's already not working, because my browser expunges it's history too often. It's set to remember the last 400 links visited, and that's obviously not enough. I could set it higher, but let's face it, most people are not going to clue in to do that. And by the time they do, they're already annoyed because they don't know what links are updated now.

Saturday, October 20, 2001

The only way to fix the history problem is , as you say, to increase the browser history size.  In my browser I set it to remember all links for 365 days, which is plenty.  But I agree most people would not realize the need to do this.

A single timestamp does work, barely.  But imagine if they simply click the "reload" button in their browser.  All "new post" information vanishes.  What if they read one message, then another, and then surf back to the first message?  Again the "new post" info is gone.

A double timestamp (with stamps stored in a single cookie) is only slightly more complicated and it works better.  How long the "new post" info lasts becomes configurable by the web admin.  It's an "inactivity timeout".  i.e. after 60 minutes of no contact, the "new post" info vanishes, but you can browse as long as you want and each page shows you what has changed since the last time you visited the site.  You can even reboot the computer without losing the change info.

Shawn Yarbrough
Sunday, October 21, 2001

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