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Questions about IP.Board 3.2.0: Search/VNC Interface Improvements


crabpaws

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A concept for the new IP.Board 3.2.0: Search/VNC Interface is posted in the IPS blog at

The image is at http://community.invisionpower.com/index.php?app=core&module=attach&section=attach&attach_rel_module=blogentry&attach_id=29516

In the other topic on the new interface, bfarber says this is what you get when you click on View New Content, so that answers my initial question.

I think we all might agree that, lacking other tools to view fresh content, VNC is probably one of the most used and most important functions in the IP.Board user experience.

Right now, while View New Content is hampered by technical flaws and a lack of UCP and ACP settings, it is an admirable model of simplicity. You click on a tab in a content area (for most users, this is going to be Forums) and then you click on View New Content. If the gods are with you, you see a list of topics with content that is new to you.

The current topic list could use some tweaks but is otherwise serviceable. There's a huge amount of discussion about details of the proposed IP.Board 3.2.0 topic list, but my questions right now concern the overall user experience, particularly the activity involved in setting the filters in the left-side panel.

My impression is that this left-hand panel has a distracting amount of complexity that most users don't need.

So -- Now, VNC involves 2 clicks: One click for the content tab (for most users, this is going to be Forums) and one click on the View New Content link. Then you can scroll down the list to see what topics you'd like to read, and open one at a time.

Here are some of my questions about the new VNC:

1) You click on the View New Content link and you get new content across all content areas -- forums, blogs, etc.? For example, why would you always want content from Members mixed in with content from Forums? Or is the default Forums? Or is there some kind of ACP or UCP pref setting for the default?

2) What if your site has forums only and not blogs, etc.? Is there some kind of ACP setting to shut off the By Applications part of the control panel? (Should be called By Area, not the techie By Applications.)

3) Does the user have to select Content Area, By Time Period, and Other upon every viewing of this page? Or are the settings sticky for each user? Is there a UCP pref setting for the defaults?

4) Will there be an ACP setting to set choices in By Time Period? Can it be set to one time period and all the others turned off, eliminating the By Time Period section?

5) Maybe some of the less-often-used slices of time could be folded into Advanced search (which needs heck of a lot of work itself)? Or set in the ACP?

6) There is only one item in Other, Just Items I Follow, all the way at the bottom of the panel, where it can easily be missed. How often do users use Just Items I Follow? If it is another top function in Topic List View, are you going to provide another more accessible way to get to it?

That's all for now. Thanks for your attention!;)

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1) You click on the View New Content link and you get new content across all content areas -- forums, blogs, etc.? For example, why would you always want content from Members mixed in with content from Forums? Or is the default Forums? Or is there some kind of ACP or UCP pref setting for the default?



The search system is contextual. If you are in the forums and click "View New Content" it defaults to showing you content from the forums. If you are in the blog and click "View New Content" it defaults to showing you content from the blog. From within that interface you can switch to any section you want.


2) What if your site has forums only and not blogs, etc.? Is there some kind of ACP setting to shut off the By Applications part of the control panel? (Should be called By Area, not the techie By Applications.)



Remember that you can edit the skin and language files to your liking from the ACP interface. If "by applications" is how we ship and you don't like it, you can change it to whatever you want in the ACP. ;)

Setting that aside, you will always have "forums" and "members". You cannot shut off the sidebar with a setting, but you could skin it out using the skin manager in the ACP should you determine you don't want it. You could switch it back to a tab system if you wanted, etc. It's all in the templates.


3) Does the user have to select Content Area, By Time Period, and Other upon every viewing of this page? Or are the settings sticky for each user? Is there a UCP pref setting for the defaults?



The user does not *have* to do anything. By default, it will search the application you are in (as described above), and look for content you have not read. If the user prefers a different filter, when they select it this will be remembered, even if they leave the View New Content area and come back the next day.

We are working towards moving settings out of the usercp area and putting them contextually in places that a user would expect. For instance, a user would expect to be able to change their view new content preferences from the view new content page, thus we have moved this option here. Previously they would go to VNC, then find they want to change their preference, have to leave and go to the usercp, update their preference, then return to the VNC. Now they can do this right from the VNC interface without having to go to the usercp. In other words, we have made the process of selecting what type of content to view easier for the user in this regard.


4) Will there be an ACP setting to set choices in By Time Period? Can it be set to one time period and all the others turned off, eliminating the By Time Period section?



Not at this time, no. I can't see why we shouldn't give users the choice (they've had this choice since at least IPB 1.3, and we've never had complaints about it - in fact, the only feedback we've received about this functionality is requests to improve it and give more options, such as "last week" and "two weeks ago" instead of "the last two weeks"). Still, you could skin out that part of the sidebar if you find it useless on your site for some reason.


5) Maybe some of the less-often-used slices of time could be folded into Advanced search (which needs heck of a lot of work itself)? Or set in the ACP?



We don't have plans to do this at this time. We'll keep your suggestion in mind, based on feedback we get from other customers of course.


6) There is only one item in Other, Just Items I Follow, all the way at the bottom of the panel, where it can easily be missed. How often do users use Just Items I Follow? If it is another top function in Topic List View, are you going to provide another more accessible way to get to it?




There is only one option there right now, however I'm not sure where you would propose moving it. Two things here:

1) If we put all of these filters in the left hand bar, it is counter-intuitive to move just one some other random place on the page. I, as a user, would expect all filter options to be together, and not most in the left hand bar and then one random one at the top or bottom of the page elsewhere. That's my personal opinion.

2) Who's to say there won't be other options there?.... I can easily envision a "Content I have started" or "Content I have participated in" filter being added there too. Perhaps we will come up with others as well.
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The search system is contextual. If you are in the forums and click "View New Content" it defaults to showing you content from the forums. If you are in the blog and click "View New Content" it defaults to showing you content from the blog. From within that interface you can switch to any section you want....


If that's the case, why not stick with the tabs and have filter defaults set in the UCP?

Seems to me the Applications (should be Areas) choices are unnecessary -- the tabs serve the same function, take up less space, and are less intrusive visually.

Remember that you can edit the skin and language files to your liking from the ACP interface....You could switch it back to a tab system if you wanted, etc. It's all in the templates.


Oh, gosh, bfarber, what happened to that "out of the box" promise?;)

The user does not *have* to do anything. By default, it will search the application you are in (as described above), and look for content you have not read. If the user prefers a different filter, when they select it this will be remembered, even if they leave the View New Content area and come back the next day.


Doesn't the user has to set up the filters once? Or are the defaults by Area and Time Period set in the ACP?

We are working towards moving settings out of the usercp area and putting them contextually in places that a user would expect....


Rethinking UCP and making settings easier to use is a great idea. Moving controls "contextually" to make a key function (viewing fresh content) more complex -- well, there's a usability cost to that.

The cost is this: On one hand, users go to the UCP, deal with the complexity once, set their preferences, and go back to years of happy VNC. On the other hand, with the "contextual" controls, users are presented with unneeded choices and unnecessary visual complexity upon every single viewing.

The visual complexity interferes with finding content to read and reply to, the essential purpose of this gol-danged software.

The decision is this: What controls need to be set most often and which need to be set rarely? Less-used controls would be relegated to the UCP while frequently used controls are "contextual." For example, I would make the Time Period choices a UCP setting with override in a drop-down at the top and bottom of the topic list to be used, as needed, contextually.

Unless you do user testing, how do you know what users will expect? Users will expect what they're used to, so there will be a learning curve with a radically different interface.


Also -- One cost of using a vertical element to display these choices is scrolling. Are you folks by any chance working on large monitors? If so, it may seem easy to access Just Items I Follow at the bottom of the list, but many people use smaller monitors and will have to scroll even to see it. As a rule, more commonly used items should be at the top of a control panel like this to increase visibility and reduce scrolling.


To sum up: IMHO, adding visual complexity to a key function is a drawback. I would make this interface as simple as possible. I would lose the Areas choices, maintaining the functionality in the present tabs. I would put the Time Period choices in a drop-down at the top and bottom of the topic list.

This leaves Other (in interface design circles, known as The Miscellaneous Basket). Surely we can find a place for Just Items I Follow. Perhaps make the View New Topics link a drop-down with choices?
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You seem to be stuck on a "tab bar across the top" ... all the functions are still there we just moved them into a sidebar. I mean you could think of it as a vertical tab bar if it makes you feel better. It's cleaner, easier to quickly scan down your options and much simpler for the end user to quickly toggle between content. You are here posting a huge topic of your opinions based simply on a screenshot. I cannot see how you, as a self-proclaimed interface expert, can make judgements on the interface of VNC, the UserCP, etc. when you cannot actually use those interfaces just yet (for that matter we haven't even shown anyone the new UserCP).

Taken from another direction:

I have (obviously) used IP.Board from day one and I never use view new content. However, with the changes in 3.2, I now do. So in a user case such as me it's clearly a huge difference and more approachable for the end user (even me who is an experienced end user suddenly finds view new content more approachable). I would call that a success and, though we will always have a handful of people who dislike anything we do, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

So, take it from me as someone who has actually used version 3.2: these changes make huge leaps in usability. They even reintroduce users (like me) to features that were previously considered confusing.

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Sorry, Charles. I was editing and added the point about using vertical elements while you were posting.

I am not "stuck on tabs." I would be wildly enthusiastic about this design if I thought it was a significant improvement.

As a user, your personal experience with the software you designed, live with, and sell is perhaps the least representative possible

PS Oh, yeah. I thought you welcomed thoughtful comments. I am trying to communicate my reservations about the new interface. I have carefully explained what I consider to be its design flaws. The reason I do this is because I don't want to have to move to Xenforo or vBulletin. I have a lot of hopes for 3.2.

As for me being a self-proclaimed expert, anyone who knows anything about usability design can read my comments and decide on my level of expertise.

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I do welcome thoughtful comments :) I am responding in kind. My point is simply that as someone who has used the new view new content it is way more user-friendly than the old version. I am just very confused how you can parse and analyze a simple screenshot on user-interface without being able to actually use the interface in a live environment.

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...I am just very confused how you can parse and analyze a simple screenshot on user-interface without being able to actually use the interface in a live environment.



I often have to work from screenshots when I'm evaluating software in development.

I have parsed the obvious elements of the interface, finding issues in visual complexity, use of prime screen real estate for less-utilized functions, need for vertical scrolling, and distraction of the user from primary purpose.

Because of the allocation of screen real estate, if columns are added to the forums list (it does need to show at least which forum a topic appears in), they may push rows out, necessitating horizontal scrolling as well, and adding to vertical scrolling if content is wrapped and rows are made fatter.

This is simply a cost-benefit analysis. You folks have identified the benefits of the new design; I am suggesting there are costs, too.

A functional prototype of 3.2 will not show anything different.
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I think we all might agree that, lacking other tools to view fresh content, VNC is probably one of the most used and most important functions in the IP.Board user experience.




Didn't read your whole suggestion but I just need to throw it in here; VNC is hardly one of the most used and most important functions. I've almost NEVER used .. like.. EVER. I mark all forums as read and read the forums I'm interested in whenever there's a new reply/topic.

I'm not saying your suggestion is bad(since I didn't read it all), I just feel that saying VNC is one of the most used and most important functions is extremely exaggerated.
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...I'm not saying your suggestion is bad(since I didn't read it all), I just feel that saying VNC is one of the most used and most important functions is extremely exaggerated.



Hmmm....then what's it doing up there on that very pricey real estate?
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I have no problem with filter controls as such. They're common and helpful.

Because of the limitations of the Web page medium, vertical elements are always more "expensive" in terms of scrolling. In this case, they may also crowd the main attraction, the topic list, and, being relatively rarely used but taking up a big chunk of the screen, incur additional costs in unwarranted intrusiveness.

Here's an example of horizontal filters in search results for general users, from Nordstrom.com:

post-192431-0-80697400-1302466135_thumb.

The advantage is they take up minimal vertical space but offer a lot of options. (I don't care for the way the drop-downs stay open after selections are made, pushing the contents further down on the screen, but the drop-downs each permit multiple choices, so I guess that's the best they could do.) If the technology permitted, with one choice per drop-down, such as IPB would offer, selected choices could be displayed upon the drop-down bar.

Fiddling could be mimimized by the use of ACP global default settings and UCP overrides. The user would change the drop-downs locally only as desired.

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It's in a highly visible location:


post-192431-0-38442500-1302395364_thumb.

Usually high-visibility locations are reserved for important controls that users use frequently (e.g. the user drop-down or search) or advertisements that pay a lot of money.




While I generally agree with you, it doesn't seem to be the case for this feature. I think they put it there because there's not really any other place they could think of that would make it fit in. Now, I can only speak for my behalf but like I said, I never use VNC, ever. Nor the RSS-feed(and that's located right next to the VNC so it's also in a "high-visibility location").

But really, it doesn't matter. I haven't even read your suggestion, I just wanted to comment on the "VNC is probably the most important feature for viewing content" since I never use it. But perhaps I'm wrong and everyone else always use it :P
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While a couple of people in this topic have mentioned they don't use VNC much, feedback over the years has indicated that many people find this to be the most important feature. That's why it has the visibility it does.

RSS isn't used nearly as much (besides, many browsers handle that themselves these days anyway), so that's been moved in 3.2.

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I have no problem with filter controls as such. They're common and helpful.



Because of the limitations of the Web page medium, vertical elements are always more "expensive" in terms of scrolling. In this case, they may also crowd the main attraction, the topic list, and, being relatively rarely used but taking up a big chunk of the screen, incur additional costs in unwarranted intrusiveness.




While there's a balance, I find it difficult to accept this on the face of it. Google recently added a filter bar to the search results page. Possibly the most important screen on the internet, traditionally a bastion of usability in which even variations of the color blue are A/B tested for months. Yet they feel a filter bar improves usability over 'advanced' options and screens.

Not to mention eBay, Amazon and every other eCommerce store in existence.

I'm not claiming ours is perfect. That's why I asked if you dislike filter tools as a rule, or if there's an issue with ours specifically. You've just suggested using a horizontal bar though. How can we improve the vertical one that is far more common online, in your opinion?
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While there's a balance, I find it difficult to accept this on the face of it. Google recently added a filter bar to the search results page. Possibly the most important screen on the internet, traditionally a bastion of usability in which even variations of the color blue are A/B tested for months. Yet they feel a filter bar improves usability over 'advanced' options and screens.



Not to mention eBay and every other eCommerce store in existence.



I'm not claiming ours is perfect. That's why I asked if you dislike filter tools as a rule, or if there's an issue with ours specifically. You've just suggested using a horizontal bar though. How can we improve the vertical one that is far more common online, in your opinion?




Hello,

Please list all NEW content and not only the UNREAD since the last visit ... this is the expected behavior and members are lost without this:

%7Boption%7D


More [url=" are asking for this!

Thanks
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There's another important point that you probably can't recognize looking at a stock installation of IP.Board which matters as well. Addons.

Our software is customizable and every customer has different uses and needs for the software.

When a customer installs 5 or 10 addon applications, and there's a tab for every one of them, guess what happens with a horizontal tab bar? It spills over to a new row. If you get crafty you can create left/right sliders, but that is rather confusing for most users in my experience. It's fine for administrators who are generally slightly more technically-inclined, but an average user isn't going to readily understand you can slide a tab bar left or right. It's one thing when you have a fixed number of elements, but our software has no such constraints, and we have to plan for that too. A simple vertical filter bar seems very common (i.e. Google, Ebay, Amazon) and easy to understand.

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I wonder if people have any idea how much of design plays to their subconscious? I find all this fascinating.

We've all had those little moments of discovery, where we stumble upon a feature that is really cool that we never knew existed. The real trick here is to make sure people naturally stumble upon all the features that will make their use of the software enjoyable. The problem is that everyone is different and the things that make the experience enjoyable to one may not be the same thing for another. The prime real estate allotted to the VNC button is wasted on those who could care less about using it.

I may not always agree with crabpaws, but I am enjoying the process of evaluating all the little bits and how they play into the bigger picture. These are things that all together form the popularity of a software. If it doesn't feel right to people, they will be uncomfortable with it and possibly move on to a different forum simply because it feels more natural to them. The subliminal effects of using the software can literally make or break a forums success. Mousing effortlessly and without too much thinking while accomplishing the various tasks that we want our users to do is important. Things acting the way they expect, or better yet, surprising them with better than expected performance.

I don't envy the people who have to put all these things into perspective and come up with solutions that will make the most people happy. But I am learning a lot from the discussions.

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The prime real estate allotted to the VNC button is wasted on those who could care less about using it.



The problem is one of perception. I personally do not use VNC however I also know that many, many people use it as their primary browsing method.
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Hello,



Please list all NEW content and not only the UNREAD since the last visit ... this is the expected behavior and members are lost without this:



[img]

[/img]




More [url="

are asking for this[/url]!



Thanks




I would show you a screenshot but that would give stuff away but I will describe it:

I am currently logged into our internal 3.2 install. I click view new content and have the option "New since my last visit" checked. It is showing my both read and unread content that was posted since my last visit. Those topics that are unread have a visual indicator showing me that they are unread.

Is that what you mean?
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I would show you a screenshot but that would give stuff away but I will describe it:



I am currently logged into our internal 3.2 install. I click view new content and have the option "New since my last visit" checked. It is showing my both read and unread content that was posted since my last visit. Those topics that are unread have a visual indicator showing me that they are unread.



Is that what you mean?





Please show :D

It's not easy to express my self since English ins't my mother language, but [url=" I said here, the idea is to list all content since my last visit and highlight only the unread content, so I would say THAT'S IT :)
It's easy for the members since it's everything in the same place and they already know the difference between highlight content when listing categories.

Please add an option for us (admins) to define the default behavior for VNC for all members.
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If I am understanding you correctly that's what it does :)



An admin setting is not necessary in 3.2 as it remembers the user options as they toggle between the various options in the sidebar.




Just need a way to make this the default behavior for all members, mainly for new ones.
Thanks for this one ... ;)
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