Minimal Discourse

(Jeff Atwood) #1

This is interesting – someone put together a Minimal Discourse by removing parts of the UI via CSS:

It’s worth reading the goals:


Essentially, discourse is too complicated and has too many features visible for most of the population to understand. We want to simplify the interface to make it easier to undersatnd for those whose primary mode of communication online is email and Facebook comments. We need the simplified interface that Medium brings with the complexity of a forum.

I agree with this, and we’ve been slowly moving that way ourselves (removing topic list columns and topic UI where we can), however, there is a big difference between a single-user blog pulpit like Medium and a multi-user conversation like Discourse. To some extent, these are opposing and mutually exclusive goals. It’s easy to be minimalist when you are posting a blog entry as a person. Much less easy when you’re attempting to have a conversation with a group!

Anyway this is a cool effort, it’s delivered in CSS and I hope @mcwumbly and @cpradio you can understand why I keep saying people are asking for this. Because they are.

Here’s specifically what was suppressed in CSS:

  • Automatically go to the Categories listing upon initial landing.
  • Top bar filters are too numerous. Minimal only allows Starred, Top, Latest, and Categories. New and Unread are removed.
  • Notification icon changed from a talk bubble to a bell.
  • Private categories should have a lock icon, not a group icon. (BROKEN FOR CATEGORY DROPDOWN LIST)
  • Remove Activity, Users, and Posts from the topic overview.
  • Remove Latest, and Topics from the category overview.
  • Remove the category list from the hamburger menu.
  • Remove the user stats below the OP’s post
  • Remove zebra stripes from category list

Visually, like so:

(also no zebra stripes, which I am kind of mixed on myself… I did not picture that here, but I no longer think we need them everywhere and particularly on the main topic list. @awesomerobot?)

First, all this stuff is totally fine to remove / customize, and I think it’s great that we can enable customization like this through simple CSS that you can paste into Admin, Customize CSS / HTML. There does need to be an out of box “one size fits all” UI but I can totally see a “minimal” discourse fitting some communities if they want to do that via CSS, and it’s not a fork, so it will survive upgrades properly.

Few other observations:

  • Removing New and Unread is … kind of crippling. That’s probably the main thing I would advise against here. You now have no way to filter big topic lists to just “your” stuff. We’ve seen sites do this before and the users get really confused. It’s been bad.

  • Stars and starring somehow survived, even though I am leaning towards removing starring altogether and relying on bookmarks instead. That surprised me. That’s the first thing I would remove from the screen at this point, all stars and starring.

  • The bell vs. conversation bubble; I think it’s really important to emphasize that this is a conversation site and we’re letting you know that people are talking to you. That is more than a bell to me.

  • It is interesting that views survived, but post count didn’t. Not sure about that.

  • Lock vs. Group icon on private categories is going to conflict with closed/archived topics. Not sure that’s a good idea, or at the very least, you now need another glyph to indicate closed/archived. This also implies private messages should be lock icon vs. envelope? Dunno, not sure about this.

I think simpler UIs are definitely a good idea, and there is some good food for thought here. I like to frame these sorts of discussions less as “LETS CHANGE EVERYTHING” (too broad, too hard to talk about) and more as “what part of our UI would you vote off the island first, right now, today?” and for me, that’s stars and starring.

This is a nice bit of stuff for us to ponder, simplicity is always a goal at Discourse, and I’ve invited Karissa to reply in this topic if she wants to.

Dark, Simplified, and Slightly More Spacious Discourse
Minimal Version of Discourse for (Jekyll) Blogs - Any Examples?
In theory, could you make discourse look like phpBB?
A more robust ecosystem for creating, sharing and modifying themes
(cpradio) #2

Yeah, I live on those pages! I need them, pushing them behind some hidden location is not going to suit me very well. It might if you have a very small set of categories, but if you have over a dozen, you need the New/Unread pages.

I don’t necessarily disagree with your view on this. I kind of like stars, but I can easily make bookmarks take its place. So call me indifferent on this one :smile:

The only thought I have on this is: “Who cares?” I can easily do this customization using a custom CSS style anyway. So if I really really wanted it to be a Devil icon, I could easily make it that! “Notifications are the devil” (sarcasm – I don’t really feel this way)

I think that ties to the “Facebook” connection. Views are popular among group pages, comments (to an extent). I’m surprised Activity disappeared. Now you have no way of knowing whether it is an old topic without opening it first… That sucks!

I actually agree with this change. We altered ours to eye-slash

Okay, so for me, stars/starring can go. I can live with that, just give me a heads up before you do, so I can convert them to bookmarks :smile:

I’d also get rid of some of the users on the Topic List. I really only want to know 2 things. Who started it, and Who posted last. I don’t care who the most frequent posters are (just my 2 cents). We’ve hidden them on our instance.

(Mittineague) #3

For me, I like to see when a topic was started, in particular for checking on “dredged up” topics that have long been dormant.

As long as the information is there, somewhere, work-arounds can usually be found, though it’s questionable how many members would have the know-how and take the time to script something.

(Dave McClure) #4

I saw you tweet about this the other day and checked it out. I has some similar reactions. Here are my thoughts on each point in the bullet list.

Landing page

I strongly disagree with the decision to make the category landing page the default. I’d only do that on a very large forum with lots of new topics being created.

Topic bar filters

I use stars sparingly, so I’d definitely be down to let that go. I could do without the New tab too. If its new it’s usually near the top of the list anyway, since the default is to let new things stop being new after a couple days.

My vote: I’d vote to remove New and Starred, but keep Unread by default

Notification icon

I use trello a lot where there’s an alarm bell. I actually prefer the talk bubble here… and I think its really best for the default look and feel of discourse.

My vote: Keep the talk bubble

Private icon

Oooh… eye-slash does seem the best choice here to me. I don’t have a strong preference here among the three choices, but if you asked me to rank them:

My vote: Eye-Slash > Lock > Closed Envelope

Topic list columns

I think this is forum-specific. The choice made here again seems geared toward large forums with lots of activity. In that case, I think can see why views would be the most important (activity is implied by the sort order and everything in view would likely have a recent post).

In our case, views are the least important column by far.

In order of importance, I’d rank them this way, depending on the forum size and activity:

Large / Very Active forum: Views > Posts > Users > Activity

Small forum: Users > Activity > Posts > Views

Category overview

This is such a high-level view and its goal-oriented to help the user find the category to start mainly based on the content, not the activity. I think eliminating the columns here may be the right choice for many forums. That said, I don’t use this much.

My vote: Minimal discourse has a good default here

Remove category list from hamburger menu

My vote: totally agree with this

Remove user stats below OP’s post

I agree with this change, but the “summarize this topic” feature is useful, so I’d be weary of losing that. I think the extra stats are interesting, but don’t need to be shown all the time. I don’t use ‘filter by user’ often and that’s now in usercards anyway. If there’s a good argument for keeping this info accessible, I could see eventually moving it to another location like popup in or near the progress bar. That way it’d be accessible on demand regardless of where you are in the topic.

My vote: I like this change, but I think other ideas are worth exploring

Remove the zebra stripes from the category list

I don’t have strong feelings about this since the category list doesn’t play a central role in any of my discourse usage.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

I’m with @sam on this. Eye slash is super freaky

This is a very, very famous movie!

(Dave McClure) #6

OK, no eye-slash!

Don’t let that shade your opinion of my other thoughts!

I vote for this in that case… too bad it’s not available yet!

(cpradio) #7

I also agree with this. I don’t understand for the categories to be displayed here. They are already available in most places, and it usually makes users ask why they are in a different order than page X, or location Y.

I also don’t use this statistics. I’ve rarely used the summarize this topic feature (on our instance - or anywhere else for that matter).

I think this only works for them because they stripped all of the meta data from the category listing. If you had the meta data shown, it doesn’t work. You need it as a visual separator.

No! Please don’t get rid of New. Latest shows both Unread and New inter-mixed, so when you are on a busy forum, you have 50-100 per visit (yes, you read that correctly). Even after you process all of the Unread, you’d have to keep scrolling to find all of the New. That’d irritate me enough to stop returning to that forum.

I have no idea what video reference that is, but I still like the eye-slash we use, it makes it dead obvious that it is a private category (versus the assumption it is a group conversation).

(Jeff Atwood) #8

I feel the value of the topic summary is proportional to the length of the topic. You really need a longer topic for it to become useful. It is very analogous to a map. Do you need a map of your house? Hell no, that’s silly. Do you need a map of Pittsburgh? Definitely.

To the extent that most topics are short, yes, topic summary / map is not needed. But it’s also collapsed so I don’t see a huge problem with it personally.

(It is true that the topic navigator / progress bar is also a sort of map, longer term… that’s covered in another topic.)

As for the categories in the hamburger, I want the hamburger to go full height and slide out from the right in 1.3 and beyond. That’ll provide a lot more room – and there is no other rational way to get to an arbitrary category from a topic. I do this jump from topic to different category a fair bit, actually, so this would inconvenience me.

Anyway, let’s stay focused, don’t worry about minor things, worry about this:

What >>single<< UI feature would you vote off the island, if you could?

What should on-site chat look like?
(Dave McClure) #9

Sounds like this is forum-specific or user-specific too… I hop around a number of discourse forums and never use it myself… I rarely use the unread tab either to be honest… Now that suggested topics keeps unread above everything else, I’m using it more and more for that purpose.

I edited my post above with a reference to that movie.

(Jeff Atwood) #10

It was linked in my original post as well… I edited it to link it twice so that’s more clear :wink:

(cpradio) #11

Off Topic: I saw the link, I guess I should have said: “I’ve never seen the movie, or the reference used, outside of today/this topic”.

(Dave McClure) #12

I would have voted to get rid of the categories in the hamburger menu…

But since you have plans there which will end up completely redesigning that anyway, at this point I’d vote to completely remove the starred topic feature since there is consensus building around that.

(cpradio) #13

ditto. Down with stars! :smile: (sorry @sam)

(Mittineague) #14

I’d vote for losing 3 of the 5 avatars from the list display.

We’ve hidden them via CSS for a long time and I don’t miss them a bit.

(Jeff Atwood) #15

Did you watch the random user usability study? The guy in that video LOVED the hamburger menu. Not even joking. He was super impressed by it.

I agree it needs better organization (and it breaks down with zillions of categories, like many other things), but I kind of strongly disagree that it’s not needed. Right now how would I jump to to the howto category, with my editor up? Or at the bottom of a topic? There’s no way.

(cpradio) #16

I get that, I just find my need for it is rare and so going back to the topic list/categories page as an additional step is still fine by me. Though, I like your idea for 1.3 having a fully vertical slide out section, that would help. I think my biggest problem is the lack of space/size of the menu. It makes the categories look disorganized.

(Jeff Atwood) #17

Not happening – but happy to support it via CSS. I agree that in New York City you may not care who is in each room, but on smaller sites, you really, really do care who’s in the room. That was @mcwumbly’s point about large vs. small sites.

But even on which is pretty reasonably big, I take note of who’s in a topic when I am entering.

The default is IMNSHO correct here, skewing to small and more intimate communities.

Also, try viewing the topic list on your iPad (or similar) and then rotating between portrait and landscape and note what happens :wink:

(Dave McClure) #18

I’ve never done that or felt the need to personally… I do use search to find other topics while in a topic, though.

I did watch that video, but it’s been a while.

We should do more random user usability studies though… stuff has changed quite a bit, and a single sample is… well, a single sample.

(cpradio) #19

Off Topic again (sorry), but I took a stab at what that meant, and went with “In my not so honest opinion” and chuckled on how wrong that sounded (was glad to see it was Humble :smile: (sorry, it made me laugh at my naiveté)).

(Jeff Atwood) #20

No no @sam is very anti-star. I was pro-star but I am coming around.