Consolidating Activity field

(Jeff Atwood) #1

For many years, you had a dream. A dream that the Activity field could be one date instead of two.

I’m finally ready to make that nightmare dream come true.

Here is what I propose:

  • Activity is now one column, last post date

  • Coldmapping of that column is based on difference in days between first post and last post. Essentially, duration:

    • more than 120 days, freezing (high)
    • more than 60 days, cold (medium)
    • more than 14 days, cool (low)
  • Clicking / tapping the date pops up a small dialog, sort of like the Progress Bar, that lets you see the absolute first post date and last post date (ala the share button and date link at the top right of each post), and clicking/tapping on the specific date navigates to the start and end of the topic respectively.

This achieves a few goals:

  1. Simplifies topic list, which has been criticized as visually intimidating due to the large amount of info it displays. This has also been requested a fair bit by @awesomerobot and others. Simple is good. One less column is good.

  2. Allows me to immediately see if I am responding to Ye Olde Necromancer Topic aka “oh God not this old chestnut again”. The colder / bluer the date, the greater the difference in time range between first post and last post.

  3. Allows people to quickly jump to the top of the topic with not quite 1 click, as before (you could click on the first post date) but … 1¼ clicks? The little pop-up dialog you get when clicking/tapping the last activity date is is quick to appear, offers more information (the non-relative, absolute times) and doesn’t incur any server calls. It’s also arguably clearer what will happen, we can put up and down arrows on each date button to indicate top and bottom.

Activity first/last post isn't intuitive - it made me think
(Sam Saffron) #2

My dream for the v3 of this.

Imagine if it allowed for “date based browsing”

First post: 1 Jan 2010
Feb: 20 posts
May: 15 posts
Last post: 12 may 2010

Imagine how happy lurkers would be.

(Kris) #3

(Michael Downey) #4

This is great news! That said I hope we don’t forget about web standards with all the “heat/cold mapping” going on:

1.4.1 Use of Color: Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. (Level A)



(Jeff Atwood) #5

Sure, that’s what the tooltips aka “title” HTML attribute is for! :wink:

(Michael Downey) #6

If only! :slight_smile: Unfortunately techniques supplementing link text with the title attribute or using the title attribute to provide context-sensitive help are generally only recommended for descriptions of link destination or form fields, respectively.

(Dave McClure) #7

Just a thought, how about changing this to:

Coldmapping of that column is based on the largest difference in days between posts, or between the last post and the current day.

That way, topics that are continually active are not coldmapped. And topics that actually haven’t had a reply since the first day they were created long ago would be coldmapped.

(In practice, there would probably be very little difference between the two for recently active topics so if this gets shot down on the basis of unneeded added complexity, then I’m OK with that).

For that matter,are there cases where a topic can legitimately “come back to life”? If a feature proposed a year ago falls on deaf ears at first, but then suddenly becomes a priority, and a flurry of discussion happens in the recent weeks, should that be hot or cold?

Perhaps the cold-mapping should be somehow based on what percentage of the posts have happened in the last half of this topic’s lifetime?


Perhaps its best to ignore me for now, get the change in place, and tweak the cold mapping algorithm later if necessary.

Of course, then the simplest algorithm may be best for now, which would be just to have it depend on the topic creation date alone.


This doesn’t really make much sense. What does it matter how old the topic is if the most recent post was today? Sure, someone could troll by reviving a topic which faded out a while back, but generally a topic with recent posts is still active, regardless of how old the first post is. This only differs from coldmapping based on the age of the first post because a topic stops getting colder when people stop replying.

I think @mcwumbly’s suggestion is better:

Once you have that working to your satisfaction, you can try implementing another of his suggestions:

This would allow topics to cool off, and then warm back up again if they faded out and then became relevant again.

(PJH) #9

So mobile users…?

It seems we’re leaking back to expanding information, not expounding, the latter of which is what title (and colour) should be used for, at least if you want to be kind to your mouseless users.

(Jeff Atwood) #10

Ok this is live now.

Much cleaner. So clean that it’s like a summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind

I do agree that we can eventually improve on

  1. The colors used here, as an example, I still think as I said the grey-to-orange that we used on Stack Overflow is better for heatmap. But it’s all simple CSS, so override to taste including not showing it at all.

  2. The sophistication of the algorithm used, right now it is simply distance between first post and last post. I understand a “cold” topic might mean not enough posts in the last 6 months, etc.

Alternative to blue colors for coldmapping
(Dave McClure) #11

Perhaps the simplest thing is the best for now then… forget about the last post, just coldmap based on the age of the topic (now - the creation date)

(c-i-p-h-e-r-1) #12

This is not a good criteria. Take the following example:

  • Topic A is engaging and manages to remain relevant for 6 months. New posts appear on daily basis.
  • Topic B relates to current affairs. It lasts 10 days, and died out 2 weeks ago.

Let’s assume that through some sorting trick, these two topics ended up next to each other. Based on your previously stated mapping criteria:

Topic A will be displayed as freezing, and topic B would remain the default gray. But this doesn’t reflect the reality of the topics. Topic A is definitely a much more active topic. It is alive and kicking, with many signs of life. Topic B is, it’s husk sitting in the freezer for any potential future benefit.

(Jeff Atwood) #13

for @cipher1 and @mcwumbly

Blue coldmapping every single old topic is kind of pointless. If I showed you a page of topics from a year ago, the VAST majority of them are resolved in the same day, the same week. Here’s a screenshot of the activity dates (first post → last post) on the oldest topics from

Note that almost all of them are in the same “month” (compressed due to age), and if you drill in, you’ll see that mostly means the topic duration was a few days or maybe a week at most.

Where’s the value in coloring them all blue? What useful information does that convey?

I only want the exceptional topics, the ones that really went on for a while in duration, to be called out.

(Daniel Gagnon) #14

We still disagree that blue looks old. Had we not read it means that, we’d still think it means fresh.

The colour of the mapping and basing it on absolute time rather than velocity are two different problems.

(c-i-p-h-e-r-1) #15

Just because they make up the higher percentage of topics? Most forums I visit have at least a handful of topics that are months, or even years old. Most every forum has a need for such topics, even if it is to maintain a sense of community. Even though the shorter lived topics comprise a larger percentage of the topics, I would bet that a significant percentage of posts reside in these long lived topics. And the fact that many forums have such topics makes them typical as well. You shouldn’t just dismiss them when designing your algorithms because they don’t fit your plan.

But in my example, Topic A isn’t a zombie topic. It’s active. People are involved. The problem is that your algorithm declares it a frozen husk, which isn’t an accurate reflection of reality.

(Dave McClure) #16

OK, its a non-issue for me. In normal situations, when things are bubbling to the top of the latest page, both methods will have the exact same effect… Carry on.

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #17

Can we limit it to just old and older? 60-120 days makes little difference to me. It’s either “weeks old” or “months/years” old.

Something that’s a few weeks old might still be salvageable. Anything older than a few months on the other hand is probably something you should shy away from. (I was actually thinking in more general terms than food, but think of it as a milk analogy if that floats your boat).

(Jeff Atwood) #18

Totally open to using different ranges as well. We have three:

  • cool, 14+ days
  • cold, 60+ days
  • freezing, 120+ days

Could increase to

  • cool, 14+ days
  • cold, 120+ days (essentially “months”)
  • freezing, 360+ days (essentially “years”)

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #19

Well my point is that the difference between a 14 days old topic and a 60/120/360+ days old topic is that the 14 days old one might still be resuscitated, while the 60/120/360+ bunch have all been pronounced dead.

(cpradio) #20

I definitely dislike how this feature is implemented. Why does it deal with the first post at all? I honestly only care about the last post to Today’s date. If the last post was 2 weeks ago, then yes, the topic is dead. If the last post was yesterday, the topic is alive and well (I don’t care if that topic was started 2 weeks ago).

We have a LOT of discussions that go beyond 2 weeks, some even beyond a month or two! I just don’t get the thinking behind this at all… :frowning: