Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

UI of this website

When looking to enter the discussion area of this website, i visually search for "Discuss" or "Discussion" in underlined blue text. However, the link to get here just says, "Joel on Software", and so i subconsciously skip over it. And the heading which reads "Discuss" isn't a link, so i subconsciously skip over it as well. Not that i have a solution to this problem, but it means i always have to stop and think when i want to get to the discussion area of this website.

Mike Schiraldi
Monday, October 21, 2002

Umm, why don't you use a bookmark?

When I want Joel's Discussion, I just type
Alt A-J  (Favs/joel)

Monday, October 21, 2002

I had the same problem.  Actually, for the first couple of months surfing the site, I couldn't even find the discussion rooms - although Joel periodically referred to them. I had to wade through a ton of text (what's going on here) to find a link, and then found the other forums from the "" URL.

If I were Joel, I would reorganize/condense the menu, especially (here it comes again) the language menus. Forcing the languages to another page (just a link off the menu) or using a dropdown box would tidy things up a great deal and make the site a great deal more usable.  Most studies on the topic have found that very few people scroll for navigation information - and few people read for navigation links.  The menu currently requires both!

I'm a little surprised, actually, that someone who wrote so eloquently about UI issues would have such a difficult to navigate home page.  But there you are.

While I'm blabbing about the usability of this site, the forums really could use some work.  I know it's come up several times before - but Joel - sometimes it is a good thing (tm) to listen to your user feedback. I know it's all "carefully designed" and "by design" etc.  And I know from experience that once a developper gets attached to a design, even if users whine about something for months it is really difficult to get the developper to change it.  ("But it's by design...") So possibly you should have someone who wasn't involved in the design process take a look at the arguments for change.

My big beefs (and you've seen them before):
-It's hard to know when a discussion has changed, or if I've read it.  Forget the "unread/read" links argument.  I access the Internet from 4 or 5 different computers.  It's bizarre to require your users to only visit from one computer if they want to be able to see what's different.
-Furthermore, I know Joel thinks that having the number of messages is "better" than a last modified date.  Why not have both? I certainly find it easier to remember when I last visited in terms of time (one time to remember) than trying to memorize the number of comments beside each topic of interest (dozens of numbers to remember).
-Difficulty of knowing which messages are new on a page.  I'm a pretty fast reader (roughly 100 pages in 30 minutes) but even I get tired of having to read most of the same freaking messages just to figure out where I left off.

Given that sorting the newest messages to the top is a non-starter (although I don't see how providing the option to do so would do anything except increase usability...), I have an alternative suggestion.

I would sign up (if I could) if signing up provided the ability to put those discussions that have had activity since my last logon at the top of the page and if I could place a marker in the page at the point I stopped reading.

Just a thought
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

i also read from more than one computer, and end up rereading a lot of the messages trying to find where i left off.  that's why bookmarking a URL isn't all that helpful, because i don't necessarily control the bookmarks on all the computers i read from.  nor am i able to control the history settings, to keep track of the URL's i've visited.

but i do like the quality of conversation here, so i put up with it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The ability to edit one's posts would really add to the usefulness of this forum.

J. D. Trollinger
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

I'm fairly sure Joel has said that he forbade editing of posts on purpose.  Keeps ya honest.  And careful.

Paul Brinkley
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Joel, please do not take *any* of the "advice" continuously provided on this board to make it function just like all the rest.

And everyone else, if you want this board to work like the rest, just save the bandwidth and go to SitepointForums or wherever.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Erm.  My suggestions would not make it "function just like the rest".  Did I mention threading?  Stupid smiley features?  Did I disagree with Joel's assertion that having a discussion all on one page leads to higher quality discussion? Did I say that all users should log in?


In fact, no one in this thread said anything of the sort!

What I said - was that with the current design, I (and many others) waste a great deal of time trying to figure out what we have and haven't read before.  And once we've figured that out - we waste even more time reading the same messages over again trying to find our spot on the page.

My suggestions would not actually change the experience for anyone on the site - except for those regular readers like me - who would have a much more pleasant experience than we do currently.  Of course, I think Joel could add in a "last changed" date on the discussion page - but that's a triviality and I was just pointing out that not only did his argument against this not actually make sense, but that adding a date in addition to the number of messages wouldn't change his day (and would improve things for the rest of us).

I proposed a voluntary log in system, because that is the best way I can think of (other more creative suggestions anyone?) to "fix" the (in my opinion) extremely serious usability problems of this forum for users like me - without changing an iota of the "sacred" design. 

Obviously, I could go somewhere else - but I would lose the benefit of reading these forum posts (also not desirable).  Or, I could write myself an application to grab the posts and implement my own features on my own server for usability.

But the right solution is for Joel to recognize that he has design problem in the forums (how does he know? because it has come up dozens of times in the last couple of months.) And sure, the forums are free etc etc.  Maybe Joel is saying to himself "I don't have time to make trivial changes".  And if so, that's fine.  But what he's actually said comes across more as "I don't want to make any changes because my design is right"

Maybe this is another angle you should consider: I don't use your products (yet) and it's unlikely I will buy your products at present because my experience with the forum is that although many people have complained about various issues, you seem so attached to the design as it stands that you will not make even trivial changes.  This is an attitude I don't particularly like in a small software company from whom I am buying stuff.  (A non-forum example of this is the hand-wringing over user defined fields on your bug tracking system.) Maybe this isn't true.  But it's the way it appears to me.  And if it appears that way to me - maybe it appears that way to others.

Sure, you aren't going to have time to implement every little feature (even if, like in the case of the forum, implementing that feature would dramatically increase usability).  But that's different from the arbitrary dismissal of every critical suggestion. Don't forget that this is just my perception.  But perception (as I'm sure you know) is at least as important as reality!

I have one last comment that I think you should consider in deciding whether to implement some of the suggested improvements to the forum, Joel, and it's a quote from your book:

"UI is important because it affects the feelings, the emotions, and the mood of your users. If the UI is wrong and the user feels like they can't control your software, they literally won't be happy and they'll blame it on your software."

Now that's I'm done ranting on this issue, I'm going to sit back and see if anything I've said makes a difference.

Just a thought
Wednesday, October 23, 2002

That's not fair.  You can't just push someone to modify his forums to suit your liking, having it reflect badly on his company if he doesn't jump through your hoop.

It's not an easy tradeoff.  It's an obvious annoyance.  But the web was not meant for tracking people between computers.  Maybe everyone should have a browsing file that carries all of their settings and history.

Opt-in passwords make forums 'heavy.'  Maybe it's not enough of a disadvantage, but once you make a decision there's no real turning back.

Making design choices that anger some is an inevitable problem when you offer things to them...

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Although using the forum is annoying and frustrating - "anger" is going a little overboard. If coming here made me angry - I would quit - no matter how high the quality of conversation :)

Speaking of reading conversations:  I'm not exactly trying to force Joel to change his forum design. It is his forum - and he's free to design it as badly as he wants.  I admit it would make me happy if he made some changes - but I would be almost as satisfied if he just admitted that there is a problem.

I also take exception to his telling us "lusers" that his design is so carefully thought out that any usability problems are really features and I'm just not smart enough to see it that way.  Okay tj - I admit that that last sentence is a bit unfair.  An exaggeration - if you will.  Wrt whether my comments about Joel's seeming reluctance to listen to his users because he is sure he is right  (not just the forum but on other issues eg user defined fields) are unfair or not - well - perhaps, perhaps not.  Just my perception, based on the only public information available.  (And really - last I checked - life is rarely fair, esp. in the business world...)

Anyway, back to the question of how to improve the forums and whether or not the web was designed to track users.  Who cares what the web was designed for?

Maybe it's just me - but as a completely irrational being (ie a user) - it doesn't matter to me how the designers thought I'd use the product (no matter what it is).  It doesn't matter how good a design decision it was, or how hard changes would be to implement or any of that.  What matters to users is that when they do something, the program/product whatever behaves in the way that they expect it to.  Go read Joel's book - he talks about all this at great length.

Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in thinking about how hard it will be to accomplish a particular request or how annoying it is that users want to use the product in a different way than was originally intended (eg reading the forums from different computers).

But it all comes down to looking at things from the users' point of view.  Sure, you can't implement everything that users want (and you don't always want to either) - but you can at least come across as understanding and at least give the impression that you see the problem and will think about a possible solution.  And really, users don't always understand what it is about the program/product that makes it hard to use.  So implementing an exact feature request isn't going to get to the root of the problem. 

I couldn't care less whether Joel implements a password or not.  What I actually care about is having to click on every darned topic to know if it has changed.  I really don't see how forcing your users to memorize the last number of posts on a given topic could be considered a "good thing" by any argument whatsoever.

Also, I have no clue what tj means by "Opt-in passwords make forums 'heavy.' "  Not having much idea of how the forum is implemented - it's certainly possible that adding the ability to log in is really, really hard for some reason. Joel's pretty smart though (and so are lots of other visitors to this forum).  I think he (and you) could come up with a better idea if you put your collective minds to it.

Really, I think I've done pretty well for a user in being able to pinpoint so precisely what it is about the forum that is hard to use.  Can't expect me to figure out the perfect solution too <g>

And I'm sure there's a solution out there.

Heck - I've got another possible idea on top of my log in idea.  Joel already uses cookies so that we don't have to type out our names.  Use them to determine the read/unread statuses.

Just a thought
Thursday, October 24, 2002

Fingers faster than brain.

Cookies wouldn't solve my problem, would they.  Cuz those are computer specific.

Back to the drawing board...

Just a thought
Thursday, October 24, 2002

I frankly think your complaint about the UI here is the most valid.  It's just that
a) I don't think you can credibly charge that someone's company is terrible just because he's not "acknowedging" every single time an obvious problem
b) it takes some extra work to get the password stuff working right, with people forgetting their passwords and all that.  basically you want to do cool things with a minimum of effort, which you can't do if you're constantly going against the Grain of the Web.

The industry has gone with a lot of worse-is-better technologies, and these little flaws pop up like weeds.  Discussion boards are hacks.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

"a) I don't think you can credibly charge that someone's company is terrible just because he's not "acknowedging" every single time an obvious problem."

Ah - but...  I didn't charge that Fogcreek is a "terrible" company - I simply stated that as a result of my perception that the company is unwilling to make changes to their user interfaces once Joel is convinced his design is "right" Fog Creek has made one less sale. 

I also think you underestimate the importance of "acknowledgment" that a problem exists. The thing about the discussion of forum problems that really "got my goat" so to speak was Joel's insistence that there was not a problem at all...

Just a thought
Monday, October 28, 2002

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