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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2020
    • (edited Oct 25th 2020)

    I have mentioned a few times that I have been working (very slowly, and very intermittently, to the extent that I do not remember when I actually began!) on a complete rewrite of the nForum. The main motivation for this is that the current nForum is very old software (from the early 2000s I think) and vastly more complicated than we need. The aim is to replace it by something simple and easy to maintain/add functionality to. In particular, we are in the process of moving the nLab software to a new (cloud) server, and I would like to not move the old/current nForum, but instead just use the new one.

    Anyhow, partly to gain feeback, and partly to help motivate me to complete this work, I have now set up a start of a prototype of the new nForum, at the following link.

    Everything just redirects to the old/current nForum currently, but it should work as far as it goes, and the styling is the way it is supposed to look in the end (though of course I am open to and expect to make changes according to feedback). It is minimalist, so may take some getting used to, like all big changes!

    I have written quite a lot more code than is currently deployed; I will gradually be phasing out the links to the old nForum and be replacing them by working functionality in the new nForum. I’ll use this thread to update when I make changes.

  1. One goal is that it should look quite nice on a mobile, so try it there! There is a bit too much of a gap between the title of the page and the discussions at the moment, and the menu thing at the top right doesn’t work yet, but otherwise to my eyes it looks decent on a mobile. Possibly each discussion takes up slightly too much space, and maybe things should be made slightly smaller, although this may be a question of getting used to it. Let me know what you think. If anybody wishes to play about with the CSS and HTML, please do so, and I will upload your efforts!

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorHurkyl
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2020
    • (edited Oct 25th 2020)

    My immediate reaction is too much wasted vertical space – both with a bubble and between bubbles. I feel like I get to see so few entries per screenful. The font seems a bit big too, but that’s a lot easier to change on my end.

    My next reaction is too much wasted horizontal space. Everything is on the left 33% of my display, except for the display of how many comments are in the thread which is waaaayyy on the other side. It probably looks better on mobile….

    I think an improvement for users with a wide display is to put the display of how many comments on the left, and render the whole bubble on one line. I imagine it should be easy to do something that works on both wide and narrow displays – render the information in two boxes side by side (with the comment count on the left in the title’s box), and let the browser decide whether or not to insert a line break.

  2. Thanks for the good feedback! I’ll leave it like this for a little while, both for others to take a look, and because I’ll soon be able to deploy the rendering of discussion threads, which may have some impact on the stylistic considerations. But I’m certainly expecting to have several rounds of stylistic adjustments, and will try to address your comments in the first one.

    If anybody enjoys tweaking HTML and CSS, they are very welcome to experiment and come up with something, I don’t claim to be any expert on design. Just take a look at the page source, it should be fairly clear. I am using the Bulma CSS framework; I wish to stick to using the native Bulma structuring of pages as far as possible without massive customisation, I wish to keep things as simple/minimal as possible, and I’d like things to look good on a mobile, but otherwise I do not have strong preferences.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2020

    FWIW, I tried this on a (new) Nokia 3310 with a Java browser, it works ok :-)

    I agree with Hurkyl about separating content in each topic bubble.

    (I hope the new nForum loads a lot faster than the current one. I don’t know if it’s my browser setup (was recently Chrome, now Firefox, have uBlock installed), or my internet.)

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2020
    • (edited Oct 26th 2020)

    Thanks David! It should eventually load faster, yes, as I plan to introduce a caching layer like the nLab as. For now the pages are generated on the fly through a database call, like the old nForum, which has the advantage of simplicity!

    Is the nLab also slow on your machine, or is it only the nForum? The move to the new server should hopefully help speed things up a bit in general. For me the old nForum is not terribly slow currently, though the new one is perhaps a touch snappier.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2020

    I like the clean look (the current nForum looks whimsical in contrast).

    But without some minimum of functionality in place, I find it hard to give much more feedback.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2020
    • (edited Oct 26th 2020)

    Thanks for the feedback Urs! Apologies for the incremental development, it is somehow easier for me this way!

    To that end, I have just made live the ability to view discussion threads. I.e. when one clicks on a discussion, one now is taken to something rendered in the new nForum, not the old/current one. Currently, one cannot add a comment (I have written most of the code, I guess it will be later today or tomorrow that I make it live) or do anything else really except view the discussion, but I’d be interested in any feedback, stylistic or otherwise.

    One can use

    and now also

    to get to the home page/list of discussions, and the URLs of individual discussions are the id of that discussion appended to the latter link, e.g. this present thread can be viewed on the new nForum at the following link.

    No pagination yet (i.e. if there are 533 comments in a thread they will all splurge down the page), and other things remain to be done, of course.

    A point of note is that I am using a new Markdown renderer here, ’Mistletoe’, the same as is used in the in-progress ’nlab-core’ project, i.e. main nLab software rewrite. It should be much faster and better than the old one that the nLab uses. It has to be extended to handle LaTeX, nLab page links, etc: I have done this for inline LaTeX links just to illustrate that it can be done, I’ll do the other things soon. The rendering needed by the nForum is much simpler than that of the nLab since we do not need to handle creation of links, etc.

  3. I see that on a mobile the CSS needs tweaking: when there is a ’last edited’ present, the space for displaying the actual comment is tiny! Some other threads look better, if you’re testing on a mobile.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2020

    I always find I take time to adjust and then can’t imagine it any other way, but one quite useful thing in the old forum was seeing how many new (to me) messages there are in a thread.

  4. Thanks for mentioning this, I was thinking about this feature earlier and wondering whether it was necessary. If you find it useful, it can certainly be added. Will be a little down the priority list though. At some point, we will have a decision to make about whether there is enough functionality in the new nForum to decommission the old one (i.e. what people view as critical vs nice to have), but obviously we’re not there yet :-).

  5. Just a quick note that I have now added rendering of the most common types of nLab page links to the comment renderer in the new nForum, as well as rendering of all types of LaTeX (inline and not inline). I have also enabled MathJax, in the form mml+chtml. In particular, the new nForum is rendering LaTeX to MathML using itex2MML, and then MathJax (if needed) will parse the MathML. In the old nForum, there was no conversion using itex2MML, the MathJax was rendering the LaTeX directly, which sometimes led to some confusion due to differences between the nLab output and nForum output.

  6. I have also now fixed the CSS issue on a mobile mentioned in #9, things should look fine on a mobile now.

  7. It is now possible to add comments to discussion threads. There are a number of missing features, e.g. signing in is not yet implemented (i.e. one has to type in the user name and password every time), one cannot create a new user yet, there is missing error handling, etc. But it should work as far as it goes (I am adding this present comment through the new nForum!). I have written the server side code for signing in already, and most of the client side code, so that should be up and running fairly quickly.

    • CommentRowNumber15.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2020
    • (edited Oct 28th 2020)

    I have made a few tweaks to the styling of the discussions/home page to try to follow some of the suggestions in #3. Let me know if it is an improvement on a computer. On a mobile I think it is a bit worse than before, but I should hopefully be able to fix that. If it is an improvement, I will probably try to reduce vertical space a little further when I get a chance. If anybody has concrete suggestions for how to improve things, let me know!

  8. I have now worked further on the styling of the discussions/home page, and have made it much more compact. Please let me know if you have any feedback: whether it now looks OK, and if you have any suggestions for improvement. On a mobile I have dropped the category of the post to maximise the space available to the discussion title, but I have kept it on a computer to add a dash of colour.

  9. Tweaked the positioning of menu at the top now, and made the ’burger’ work (i.e. when the menu does not fit, e.g. on a mobile, a ’burger’ is shown which displays the menu as a drop-down list upon clicking it). Also reduced the space between the discussion rows a little.

    • CommentRowNumber18.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeOct 29th 2020

    Re #10-11, in general it’s less how many new comments, and more that there are any new comments and so something new to see. And entering a thread you’re sent to comment #1 rather than the first one you haven’t read.

    But the number of unread messages can be useful, after an edit of a page, it adds one comment to the thread. In the old Forum I don’t need to open that thread later if it only shows 1 unread.

    • CommentRowNumber19.
    • CommentAuthorRodMcGuire
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2020

    You should really add the Preview button so that people can test the new interface without leaving stuff like this.

    • CommentRowNumber20.
    • CommentAuthorHurkyl
    • CommentTimeNov 4th 2020
    • (edited Nov 4th 2020)

    The compactness of the current layout of the topic list is indeed satisfying.

    I do have a minor complaint that’s hard to put into words – it has to do with cues for visually scanning horizontally.

    But the solutions are easy to describe: I think either of these would slightly improve the presentation

    • Putting a horizontal separator into the space between entries (without making the space wider)
    • Have the background color alternate between adjacent entries

    The distinction between adjacent background colors doesn’t even have to be significant; just enough to give a horizontal border to aid the eye. Even white and very-light-gray would be fine, although a very pale color would probably be better. (yellow? reddish-pink?)

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