General discussion

Some suggestions

Have a suggestion or two and also a bug report about the new forum software.

First the bug report before I forget. Pretty minor, but it looks like you're using an incorrect character encoding so that a single quote character ends up being translated as a question mark. This probably only affects non-Windows systems since a few years back Microsoft decided they were going to rearrange the placement of some characters in fonts to make room for their smart quotes. You may want to just use UTF-8 or something.

Second, the "pop up" for posting a new question/comment is kind of a bad idea. It looks nice and all, except that it's prone to make people think that their browser window/tab is locked now until they finish posting something.

Third, I'd recommend a simple private message system common on other forums. While it could also facilitate private communications between forum members, my thought is it could be useful for moderator to user interaction. I rarely, if ever, check the email account associated with my Cnet account, I'm sure others are the same. I figure this could help head off a lot of issues with members. The moderator could send a quick message explaining why they deleted some post or locked a thread, and even open up some kind of communication with a user. Sometimes simple efforts like that are all it takes to head off small problems before they become large problems.

Third, while you're tinkering with the font encoding, can you also tinker with the way the site is laid out? Like using relative positioning instead of fixed. I have a 27" iMac with a resolution of 2560x1440, so I get these massive 5-6" thick borders on the left and right for about 3-4" worth of actual content. It's a waste. Instead of dictating that the forum posts are X number of pixels, you could just as easily say that they are X% of the total screen. That way they automatically format themselves to whatever size window the user has. Not everyone runs their browser maximized, and it would also make the forums a bit more mobile friendly.

Which is the next suggestion. While the AJAX stuff is all well and good, and I get that it lowers the number of requests on the database server, given the success of things like the iPad and it's soon to be numerous competitors, it seems like you're locking them out of using the new forums. Maybe there's a fallback to a more traditional system I just haven't seen, but it doesn't seem like mobile devices are going anywhere any time soon, so if Cnet wants to continue to claim to be at the forefront of technology, it seems like making the forums accessible to people using cell phones or tablet devices would be a step in the right direction, even if we all may agree those people are nuts.

That's all I've got for now, but it should be enough for a time.

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Some comments...

-> The encoding issue was spotted a while back, but a lot of fixes were delayed by the server move. Hopefully it's fixed soon as it affects most copied-and-pasted text across programs/operating systems.

-> I see your point, but lightboxes are increasingly common; CNET's been almost exclusively using the login lightbox for a few years now I believe. With so many sites using the technique, it shouldn't confuse many users, who will certainly encounter them elsewhere regardless.

-> I've made exactly the same argument for enhancing the PM system in the past. The PM system isn't actually part of the forums, instead being shared by CNET as a whole, so it's something that would be a separate project in and of itself, outside of the forums overhaul. Still, it's one project I'm certainly rooting for, as I have been for a while now.

-> Ah yes, another change I've been pushing for over the past couple years. Unfortunately, this too is a significant change as the forums share the same layout (and code) as the rest of the site. It may happen eventually, but in the interim I wrote my own CSS to make it a reality. I really need to share the updated version; it's been a while....

-> CNET used to have fallback options for Javascript/AJAX-less users, but has largely been eliminating that as the site's updated. A question, though: Is it really an AJAX issue or is it a generic Javascript issue, particularly with hover events? I frequently access the site (forums, downloads, etc.) from mobile devices and generally don't have a problem except for actions that cannot be replicated on most touch screen-only devices, such as hovering over a menu. That has made it impossible to browse some sites, with CNET occasionally falling into the same trap.


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More comments

- Good to know the encoding thing is at least on the list of bugs to squash. It shouldn't have really happened in the first place, but I guess it's a little late to be having that particular argument.

- Just because something is becoming more common doesn't always mean it's a good thing. Like for login boxes, it's a horrible idea. It just requires the user to go one more step to logging in. Now they have to click on a button/link/whatever that brings up the login box. Much easier to just have a couple of text boxes in an out of the way spot. Thus removing that needless extra step to log in. IMO, and from a UI design standpoint, lightboxes should be used for informational purposes only. Maybe some kind of error occurs and you want to let the user know, or there's an important announcement you want to make sure everyone sees. People's overuse of this methodology just conditions people to ignore it. Like that AntivirusXP and numerous variants that used it to trick people into thinking it was a legitimate program.

- Honestly, just having some method for moderators to explain why they removed a post or have a quick private word with someone would probably be sufficient. Doesn't need to be a full fledged PM system... At least for the time being. Maybe at some point it could become that.

- I know it would be a big change, and I was really thinking more along the lines of the next time Cnet decides to overhaul the design of the forums. At which point the bulk of it will be chucked out anyway. As issues go, this is a pretty minor one, and I'm only bringing it up on the idea that the more people complain about some issue, the more likely it gets shuffled to the top of the todo queue.

- I don't actually come here using mobile devices myself, but you go to some cell phone related forums and there are people who go ape **** about the web browser on their cell phone. You have to wonder *** they're thinking, but a good case could certainly be made for devices like the iPad and competitors. I was just kind of thinking out loud on this one really. I so rarely use the web browser on my phone, and I have no real need for anything like an iPad, but there are probably plenty of people who do either or both of those things, and it seems kind of needlessly pointless to turn them away. Guess this kind of dovetails with the site layout issue. Next time the site is overhauled, some care should be given to make sure it works with mobile devices as well.

- A new one, which I'm sure has been noticed and reported, is that the unread icon doesn't really work. You just get red dots for everything, even if it's a brand new post. Like earlier, just reporting this so that you can add another tally to the list of people who have complained. It's also minor, and I can certainly manage, but I would also like to see it fixed.

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On message marking...

I heard that one's been fixed already; just waiting for the live site to be updated. And yes, that little quirk has driven me up the wall at times.

Also, on the overall formatting, it's unlikely to change soon, though I certainly support the effort to get a flexible width update. If you look at the HTML, the same framework is shared among forums, news, reviews, downloads, etc. The amount of work to maintain consistency and avoid breaking any of the countless layouts involved with updating that likely doesn't pass the cost benefit ratio analysis. Perhaps at some point there will be enough users requesting it, but until then user styles will get me by.


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