Redesigning the default category page

(Sam Saffron) #1

I feel that our default categories page is a bit too confusing and unfamiliar.

When you compare this to a more traditional /categories page which looks like

When you compare the “traditional” look I think there are quite a few advantages:

  • Subcategories get a “description” on the categories page

  • You can see all time totals (which to me is an advantage, lets you at a glance see how big a forum is)

  • Does not show topic titles, which cause some confusion on this page IMO

  • Shows names of users (which has advantages)

I don’t think the “old way” of doing stuff is to everyone’s taste, BUT I do feel that a lot of people would prefer a more traditional categories page that is less worried about mixing a list of topics with a list of categories.

I would like us to offer both flavors here.

Battlenet went for a mixture approach which is also interesting (only one list of topics vs one per category)

Changing the home page
Material Design Stock Theme
(Jeff Atwood) #2

I can only support the hybrid page here, not listing topics is an absolute showstopper for me. I think it’s also a bit easier if people define images for the categories, etc to make it more “personable”. We could force sites to do that.

(Sam Saffron) #3

The hybrid approach battlenet has is far more palatable, because it does not interleave tons of topic lists.

Also, not voting here on changing defaults, just providing another option.

For some people “categories” is a “directory”, not a place to look for specific topics.

(Jeff Atwood) #4

I can absolutely get behind the hybrid approach, one of the critical weaknesses of “classic” forum directories which only show categories (and counts) is that they give you zero information about the most important element of any community – what the $@&# are people actually talking about here?

Another advantage of disconnecting the category list from topic display ala the hybrid is we can show a linear list of “these are the x most recent / most popular topics” which is far better than “pick 3 from this category nobody ever goes to, pick 3 from this category nobody ever goes to, pick 3 from…” you get the idea :wink:

(Jeff Atwood) #5

I also like that the change proposed in the screenshot is straightforward. We can shift the counts over to the left (which puts them closer to the category name and is arguably a good change in and of itself) and have the rightmost column be a list of top/recent topics.

It is not a dramatic redesign, just a shifting around of what was already there and a slight redefinition of one column that was already on the page.


If I may comment- it’d be very helpful to have a short identifier of the sub category for the topics in the preview list.

P.S. we don’t display the category stats for reasons that people intuitively knows how active the board is by looking at the timestamp after the topics.

(Drew) #7

I can’t really provide much feedback since I never use category list page (I use Latest and navigate categories with the dropdown), but something did come to mind when you mentioned this:

Instead of showing topic poster usernames like in the second screenshot in the OP, what if the category list page showed “Latest Users” or “Active Contributors (top posters/like-getters in the past day/couple of days/week)” (not sure which one is more useful, if either are at all) per category in a manner similar to how Discourse displays participating users per thread?

(Ringgit Malaysia) #8

May I propose you reduce the width of the left column, which described what each category is for? Once a member have frequented the forum, they are more interested in what’s on the right column, the topic. But the current design placed equal emphasis on the left column and that’s distracting. Oh ya, allow more than 5 topics on the right please. I feel perhaps 8 topics is a good balance, 10 being too much.

(Sam Saffron) #9

I think you are missing some of the point here.

For some /categories is a map of the current categories on the forum. Others see it as an “improved” version of “latest”. As it is now it is satisfying neither groups.

Chunks of of 4, or 7 topics grouped by category is just a very odd ordering.

For people that want “improved latest”:

What value does listing 4 topics in a category that has not been posted in for 2 years every time I visit the home page? Also this “chunked” ordering is just very very hard to mentally process.

For people that want a “map”:

We are missing a bunch of cartographic information like descriptions of subcategories etc.

(Jeff Atwood) #10

No, we used to do that and explicitly removed it.

(Jeff Atwood) #11

One thing you neglected to mention is the blizzard example lets people expand and collapse the categories. Look at the upper right of the category block.

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #12

Absolutely. This support-centric forum frontend for Dropbox for instance is all about the key directories:

I’ve always wanted to have a few different Categories templates to choose between. I’d love it if this is something we could make extensible enough that developers could start contributing to, i.e. sharing “Category templates” the same way they’re contributing plugins today. I don’t think there’s one right way to structure a category index.

One of my new personal favorites after a quick research stint just now is

  1. Clean & simple call-to-action for unregistered users.

  2. Recent posts in its own little space. Makes it much easier to digest. I’d probably swap “recent” out with “popular (this week)” though.

  3. Categories neatly sectioned and ordered much like how you’d organise a knowledgebase.

(Drew) #13

Doesn’t look very user-friendly to me. I looked at the webpage before reading what you posted beneath it, and I immediately skipped over everything below Latest and the 5 users displayed – I imagine because the groups and categories look a lot like the link spam websites sometimes have on footers. Regardless of the reason, that list of categories is definitely something I’d personally avoid using at all costs. I already don’t use the default category page, but I’d be convinced to not ever touch it if I was just going to be presented the category dropdown on Latest but a whole lot messier.

I’m a fan of the Notepad++ screenshot you posted. It looks a lot more Discourse-y than that last image, and a lot more pleasant to use. I still wouldn’t use it because I already know most category descriptions, but I wouldn’t mind using it if I couldn’t use the dropdown on Latest for whatever reason.

(Mittineague) #14

Not going into discussion about the problems inherent with over-categorizing I’m wondering if a petition might help?

That is, areas of Discourse have been “virtual DOM-ized”

AFAICT making the change is not trivial and requires rounds of patching and polishing.

But it has been done when doing so resulted in very substantial performance improvements.
That is, it was worth doing.

AFAIK the Categories list page does not have a performance issue.

Being VDOM allows for different sections of the DOM to be worked with via “widgets”

I think if other areas of Discourse, such as the Category page could be “widget friendly” it could help.
Even if not fully widgetized, if there was (is?) a way for plugins to get a foot-in-the-door it would be a lot better than over-riding templates.

(Jeff Atwood) #15

We gotta do something here, I think our current category page design is … punishing. The NodeBB default is not bad:

It’s a little odd in that the right column is the last post in each category, whereas I think the right column should be a chronological list of updated topics. I guess they have the four most recent topics at the top, which seems… too prominent.

(Tom Newsom) #16

I’d love to use a “Hybrid” view as the default homepage. Latest is best for old hands, but we have Categories by default so that newbies can orient themselves.

Of course, Categories shows the most recent posts in each category, but it’s completely evenly spread. A single quiet category shows just as many posts as a busy multi-subcategorised category.

The two column solution seems obvious.

(I’m sure this can be improved)

(Jeff Atwood) #17

It’s not a bad idea to use only colors there since the “key” to the colors is literally on the same screen. I don’t know that I’d include avatars on this page though.

(Tom Newsom) #18

Heck, why not go all the way :slight_smile:

(I can think of some reasons)

(Jeff Atwood) #19

@zogstrip will work on revamping the default categories page this week. So far here’s what we have:

  • stick to one date range for topic count in the category (week, or month, depending on which has enough data)

  • use the category color chip in the latest column to identify which category each topic is

  • possibly show the date of last reply in a category, under the 9/week or 12/month?

  • try to re-use one of our existing topic list renderers for the Latest column (maybe mobile topic list would fit there?) – this is literally the same logic as the /latest page in this column

Categories view does not keep vertical scroll position
(Tom Newsom) #20

Might it be wise to call this a new “Home” page so that people can continue using the “Legacy” categories page if that’s what they like?