jesse_the_k: Perfectly circlular white brain-like fungus growing on oak tree (Default)
Jesse the K ([personal profile] jesse_the_k) wrote in [site community profile] dw_suggestions2010-02-14 12:24 pm

Style Comments Page with Outline Indicators in Place of Indents

Style Comments Page with Outline Indicators in Place of Indents

styles, comments pages

Improve usability and accessibility when following comment threads, where indentation implies structural hierarchy. Especially for those of us using smaller screens (phones, netbooks) or screen reader/braille displays.

I floated this idea at dw_accessibility. Thanks to lightgetsin, jadelennox, zvi, rb, fish_echo, kyrielle, codeman38, sqbr, & turlough for helping me refine this proposal; you can read our initial discussion there.

If you want to see the indents I'm talking about, check the next post in that comm.

Full Explanation:

The Problem

The structural hierarchy of comments--who is replying to whom--is implicit in the amount of white space between the left screen edge and the start of the comment. (How the comment begins varies, depending on the page's style: could be the words in the comment itself, or the user icon, or the optional subject title.)

For some of us inferring indentation doesn't work well. For folks with small screens--phones, netbooks, and large print users--it's difficult. For folks using audio or braille display, it's impossible.

My proposal is to provide a style that makes the outline of comments explicit with printing characters. Because we don't have enough jargon, I'll refer to these as "explicit comment hierarchy indicators" (abbreviated ECHI).

The ECHI would alternate Arabic numerals and alpha, concatenated without spaces and concluding with "period space." (I've rejected upper v lowercase as more difficult to disambiguate, and Roman numeral systems because they're less familiar.) The ECHI would be prepended to the "subject" string, or *be* the subject string if none is present (which would also provide a handy way to reference comments.) Each ECHI would unambiguously show its comment's place in the hierarchy.

Problem Samples

I'm a large print user. This screen grab shows how easy it is to lose the context of long discussion threads, even with "style=light".

It's like browsing the web through a soda straw. Relatively few lines fill the screen vertically, so there's meager context to judge the horizontal indents. The screen grab is a Firefox/Mac window showing 20 pt fonts. There are two comments in the middle of a long thread in. The earlier comment uses 2/3rd screen width; its reply is indented 1/4 in further. Vertically there's just 14 lines of text plus two "header" lines containing user icons, subjects, usernames & dates.

This is how threaded comments appear now to those using screen readers, or any user adding ?style=flat to an URL for mobile browsing.

Original post
Base-level comment
alpha's response
beta responds to alpha
gamma responds to beta
delta responds to alpha
gamma responds to alpha
beta responds to base level comment
gamma responds to original post

*There is no information about comment hierarchy. In our initial discussion lightgetsin had never understood how sighted users were understanding who was responding to what.*

Solution Samples

Approach 1: implement ECHIs *in place of indentation*:
0. Original post
1. Base-level comment
1a. alpha's response
1a1. beta responds to alpha
1a1a. gamma responds to beta
1a2. delta responds to alpha
1a3. gamma responds to alpha
1b. beta responds to base level comment
2. gamma responds to original post

Approach 2: implement ECHIs *in addition to* indentation:
0. Original post
1. Base-level comment
1a. alpha's response
1a1. beta responds to alpha
1a1a. gamma responds to beta
1a2. delta responds to alpha
1a3. gamma responds to alpha
1b. beta responds to base level comment
2. gamma responds to original post

Solution Discussion

In my perfect world, I would be able to select ECHIs & indent for any style, as a new option under "Presentation" for "Customize your theme."

That option would be:
View Comments
(ticky) using indents to track threading
(ticky) in my own style
(ticky) in light style
(ticky) using outline numbers & letters to track threading
with the first and second options selected by default

Alas, that may not prove possible.

If so, I see the following options:
A. No indent and ECHIs always on in the light style
B. Both ECHIs and indent always on in the light style
C. ECHIs selectable and indent selectable in the light style
D. Additional light style with ECHIs but no indent
E. Additional light style with both ECHIs and indent
Z. Indent always on in the light style (current case)

Options D and E require the least infrastructure, but require education to become accessible.

As a large print user, I'd prefer A (or D); regular print/mobile users may well prefer B (or E).

Option C does require some replumbing, but only for one style.

I'm hoping Z is no longer acceptable.

Poll #2284 Style Comments Page with Outline Indicators in Place of Indents
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 36

This suggestion:

View Answers

Should be implemented as-is.
23 (63.9%)

Should be implemented with changes. (please comment)
6 (16.7%)

Shouldn't be implemented.
0 (0.0%)

(I have no opinion)
7 (19.4%)

(Other: please comment)
0 (0.0%)

sorchasilver: (Dreamwidth)

[personal profile] sorchasilver 2010-02-15 09:55 am (UTC)(link)
Hmmm. I can totally see that this is something desirable from a usability standpoint, and that something like this should be available to users for that reason.

However, I wouldn't personally want to use it at all, and as I also really like being able to use light style, I definitely prefer a solution here that does not require this being built into style=light. So options A and B would not be good for me. I would support any of options C-E.

I think your first suggestion, making this a style/customization option for individual users, would be far preferable to involving this in style=light, though.
cheyinka: A glowing blue sheep with green eyes (electric sheep)

[personal profile] cheyinka 2010-02-15 01:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Similarly, I wouldn't want to see them, and I agree that having them as a customization option would be better than making it part of style=light.

If it's going to be part of style=light, it should be unrelated to indents (because otherwise large-print users are still stuck with browsing through a straw...) and able to be turned off (so that people who don't like them, or who find them distracting, or whatever, don't see them.) Of the A-Z options, that really only leaves D, or both D and E.

(voted as-is because the "select ECHIs and indent for any style" option, the "perfect world" one, is what I'd most want as well)
kyrielle: A photo of kyrielle, in profile, turned slightly toward the viewer (Default)

[personal profile] kyrielle 2010-02-15 08:43 pm (UTC)(link)
I want the "perfect world" solution for the opposite reason - I want this on my iPhone, in my style. I find style light unpleasant to use, and my style better, even on the phone. But I'd love to have these references in my style to make comment reading easier as that's the weakest part of trying to view it on my phone.
susanreads: my avatar, a white woman with brown hair and glasses (Default)

[personal profile] susanreads 2010-02-15 01:06 pm (UTC)(link)
My "as is" vote is for it being customisable. I'd want to use both in my style, because indentations work for me in short threads but when it's nested several deep I can't tell who people are replying to.
ratcreature: RatCreature's toon avatar (Default)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2010-02-16 10:54 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I have the same problem. Once a thread goes deeper, with multiple replies to each comment, I can't see anymore where the thread forked, so I click/expand the comment I'm at and then use the parent link and such, but it is tedious sometimes.
aedifica: Me looking down at laptop (off screen).  Short hair. (Default)

[personal profile] aedifica 2010-02-16 09:48 pm (UTC)(link)
+1 (And I'd love to be able to select this for viewing on my phone while keeping the "current normal" view on my computer.)
queenbarwench: (coffee heaven)

[personal profile] queenbarwench 2010-02-18 09:53 am (UTC)(link)
+1 for full customisation - I get very lost in the long meta discussions.
turlough: branches with red leaves against a blue autumn sky (Default)

[personal profile] turlough 2010-02-15 03:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Hmmm, while I like the idea of having ECHIs on style=light I absolutely have to have indents too so option A isn't an alternative at all (and if that's the only alternative I much prefer to keep it as is, ie option Z). B, C, and E are all possibilities, but I would never use D.
kerravonsen: (Default)

[personal profile] kerravonsen 2010-02-15 08:22 pm (UTC)(link)
I think this is a great idea, but I definitely prefer the idea that it be customizable for all styles.
syderia: cyber wolf (geek)

[personal profile] syderia 2010-02-18 10:04 pm (UTC)(link)
My "as is" is for B.

Is there a reason you haven't considered a