I modified my forums theme to the point that the OP is not shown unless there are no replies and only the last poster is shown. So far no one has complained or in fact even noticed. Of course my forum is one datum and a smaller group of people that all know each other (though not all like each other).
One thing I know, I prefer less user avatars, having 5 just feels overkill. So I vote for no last poster UI along side less avatars. Solves the issue.
If it’s not consistent one way or the other it becomes confusing. I get why it makes sense that the latest poster isn’t always the last avatar, but even in the case that it’s the last avatar 95% of the time… that 5% where something is different throws a wrench in a user’s entire understanding of the system.
Instead of just understanding “latest poster always gets a highlight” it becomes “latest poster is always last, unless they’re the OP, in which case their avatar gets a highlight to indicate that they’re the latest poster” — that’s a big logical leap to ask the average uninformed user to make.
It’s much easier to assume that the highlight indicates some new data that I’m unaware of, rather than the idea that it indicates the same information in a different way.
I disagree with reversing the avatars, its yet another thing to explain, English is left-to-right … time is usually assumed to be left-to-right. Further more, why retrain all Discourse users out there with this new logic, it achieves nothing really.
I completely agree with @awesomerobot just bring back the highlight, its less confusing. As it stands I am forced to “think” constantly when using this list.
The only alternative I was presented with was, no highlight at all, which was unbearable.
The CSS classes are there in any case so you can style it as you see fit.
Mostly I want the front page simplified, and removing a redundant highlight, where 90% of the time (don’t believe me, take a journey through the front pages of any Discourse installation, and count yourself) it was showing the same exact thing on every row – rightmost avatar is last poster.
Stop standing in the middle of the road and pick a side.
The problem is that you want it your way, but your users (from several sites) are telling you that your way isn’t working. You say that if you can’t have it your way, then your going to take out the highlighting all together, but your users say they want the information provided by the data. “That’s ok,” you say, “just edit it back in with the CSS.” But admins are getting tired of constantly editing the CSS just to keep their sites looking the same. It looks like we’ve got a conflict between what your users want and what you want. The question is: who is going to win?