For your consideration and especially your comments…

Most of you sort of know me from the comment threads, but until recently may not have known that I’m a WordPresser – that is, that I install, develop, design, manage, and from time to time rescue web sites built on the WordPress platform, originally designed for blogging, but now the engine for millions of sites worldwide, many of them utterly blogless. I’m going to be posting here at OT mainly on web design and development, and specifically on gradually re-designing/further-developing OT itself. I’ll also try to pitch in on some other topics.

Now, I’m sure that within the OT Commentariat and Lurkership there are individuals who can code circles around me, though it’s possible none of you knows WordPress better than I do. Whatever the state of your expertise, please feel free to educate me, even if it’s just by reporting your “user experience” good and bad. I want to involve the whole OT community in the process I envision, and it would be unusual, maybe even disappointing, if everything went perfectly smoothly and no one had any complaints or discovered any glitches. On that note, apologies in advance for the day I misplace a comma in a functions file and you all encounter the White Screen of Death, with no apparent recourse… Thanks to the OT editors for this opportunity, members of the development discussion group for helping work through a wide range of ideas, and all of the rest of you for making this place irresistible (so, all things considered, not merely ordinary at all, IMHO).

Now let’s get started… The main purpose of this post is to suggest, demonstrate, and take feedback on a new round of possible improvements to this site. In short, I’d like your input on how you give input – or make and read comments. First, to review, here’s what I’ve done over the last couple of months at OT design-and-development-wise:

  • added comment counts, timestamps, author names, and minor readability adjustments to the front page;
  • added a Twitter feed that I hope someone finds interesting to read now and then, since it displays tweets from active tweeps rather than just a list of most recent posts;
  • upped the RSS feeds to 200 items on request of RSS-maven Will Truman;
  • added a “subscribe without commenting” button;
  • added a scroll-to-top button;
  • made readability adjustments for smartphone display;
  • cleaned up some broken links and other very minor glitches; and
  • handled some problems not likely visible from the “front end” of the site (the part that visitors see).

The editors and others have been discussing much more ambitious changes, but I’ve kept my work limited thusfar – first because I haven’t had the spare time, second because until recently I couldn’t make changes affecting critical files and processes responsibly – “responsibly” for me meaning that I would have a version of the site installed in a “development environment” (on my PC) for testing; that I would have options for quick rescue if things went very wrong anyway; and that I would have both an active feedback channel and the time to respond. (You can use this and future posts for feedback/suggestion/glitch-reporting until we have a more permanent solution in place, or you can use the OT Development Feedback page I’ve set up at my personal blog.) Since those preconditions are now either in place or close enough, we can start doing some more. Here’s a round of six new OT commenting features or display changes. ((Plus I also just added a footnoting feature that’s really easy to use – I’ll explain some other time in a post for writers.)) The first five listed below can, with your cooperation (and if all goes as expected), be demonstrated, tested, and assessed on this post’s comment thread before being applied elsewhere. The sixth has already been implemented site-wide – as some of you may already have noticed – but can be easily changed back.

  1. Infinite Replies (IR): When comment thread “nesting” reaches maximum “depth” – previously set at “3,” now set at “5” – reply links will continue to appear underneath new comments, and the actual replies will appear at the bottom of the given sub-thread. This solution as implemented will not be the ideal implementation – which would involve more complex dynamics and formatting – but will be a good start, at least relieving us on busy threads from having to scroll all the way to the top in order to reply to a comment far below.
  2. Simple Comment Editing (SCE): Everyone gets five minutes after posting a comment to proofread it, as indicated by a timer.
  3. By-Author Formatting (BAF): The post-author’s comments, and replies to them, will be subtly highlighted (at this point with a blue dotted border – though we can try something else if you like).
  4. Since Last Visit Formatting (SLVF): Upon returning to a thread, if you accept cookies on your browser (which I expect will be the default setting for the vast majority of commenters), you should be able to pick out comments that are new since your most recent visit: “Old Comments” will have a very light blue-gray background. “SLV” comments will have a white background.
  5. Depth-Marking (DM): This addition is based on a recommendation by Will, with smartphone-reading in mind, and has high aesthetic potential, though probably under a different overall design concept. For now, you’ll see dotted lines connecting comments all at the same nesting depth. We can try color-coding if you want to see it. If DM makes regular threads too visually busy, we can make it a mobile-only feature – but please do give it a chance before you down-thumb it.. (I’ll want to see it in “action” myself before I decide what I think.)
  6. Higher Max-Depth On Nested Comments (MD): As noted, it was set at “3” site-wide. Even with IR in place, I think we can go higher without producing anything too crazy. I’d go even as high as “7,” but “5” seems like a good number. If anyone feels like it’s too high or not high enough, just say so, and we can discuss: Adjusting it up or down is easy. We can trust the editors to to make a good final decision, I think, after they’ve gotten your feedback.

In order to test and assess these new features, we’ll need to provide ourselves with comments: Until you start commenting, I won’t even know for sure that all or any of this will work here… It may explode on launch (it happens!). So, just in case this one time you all need the extra encouragement: Please say something, and say something more, and go away and come back later and say something again! Feel free to nitpick, or bring up other site development-related matters, or tell us all how much better whatever was done at some other site, or laugh virtually aloud at my fumblings and scramblings. If any of you want to know how these effects are achieved (assuming they are!), I’ll show you in as much technical detail as you want. Or feel free to start a gentle argument with someone or share your unpopular opinions on any issue of this or any other day – anything to give us a big varied comment thread to look at.And be sure to make some mistakes to correct within your allotted five minutes. We can implement all, some, or none of these changes site-wide, with or without adjustments or refinements – and we can keep on improving them, too. It’s the internet, so nothing’s final, even if everything’s immortal. The editors get the last word no matter what, but we can even put up a poll or polls and take votes if you want… FEATURED IMAGE: Vintage vector designed by Freepik

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