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About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

The most confusing aspect about ElkArte (and SMF) is the amount of buttons in the forum and the unintuitive implementation of their related functions. This is something that I notice now, when tinkering with the admin settings, but also as a long time user of another ElkArte forum.

Let's start, for example, with the buttons at the bottom of a topic:
elkarte buttons topic.png
Print: I can see how it can be useful in certain forums (cooking recipes...), but I don't think it's useful most of the time. Luckily, this one is easy to find and disable in the settings.
Share: This could make sense if it included Facebook/Twitter etc. buttons, but just for sending a link via email it seems much less useful and frankly most people wouldn't even expect it to do that. And it can (if abused) make the forum domain end up on an email spam list. This should also be disabled by default. And finding this setting is not easy, because it's called "Send topics to friends" (at least rename this).
Mark Read/Unread: Another feature, which IMO is so rarely used that it doesn't need its own dedicated button and doesn't need to be enabled by default.

Notify/Unnotify and Watch/Unwatch: Now we're getting close to features which are essential, but it's poorly implemented and incomplete. I was hoping at least Watch/Unwatch would work as a "subscribe/unsubscribe" button, but it doesn't (I'm not the first one to be confused by this). To make a list of topics I'm interested in, I need to install the Bookmarks add-on.
Instead of Notify/Unnotify, Watch/Unwatch and the Bookmarks add-on, I propose a single button: "Subscribe/Unsubscribe".
A subscribed topic would end up on a list (Subscriptions). This list would have two checkboxes, in two columns, next to each topic: one for "notify in the forum" and another for "notify by email". Additional notifications could also be added (phone/desktop notifications...).
A user would then select how to get notified for each topic, or to not be notified at all. Also, the user settings area would include an "Automatically subscribe when posting" setting (checked by default) with the "notify in forum/email/..." checkboxes (check the first option by default).

Another idea to reduce the visual button clutter is to have a combo-dropdown button (I've seen it called "thread tools" on another forum), which would include rarely used tasks such as print or mark read/unread. This is more of a compromise, but it would probably still be an improvement. SMF has something like this for notifications (see attachment), but I don't recommend copying it, it looks awkward.


Next, the header buttons area:
elkarte buttons upper.png
Community can stay, but the other 4 are questionable and could be replaced by something better.
I propose a "My Content" (or something) button, with the usual drop down functionality.
My Content would include: Subscriptions, Private Messages, Mentions, Likes... Technically, it could include the functionality of all 4 buttons, but especially of My Messages and Notifications. I don't think private messages are typically used often enough to justify their own button and the Notifications button isn't needed at all.
elkarte notifications.png
That notifications number bubble could just as easily be displayed on the "My Content" button instead. The user would then open that and see where the notifications came from.
"New Replies" and "New Posts" ... I'm not really sure about those. They are features which probably work for a small forum with few daily posts, but not on a big forum. I wouldn't miss them if they were gone.

Let me know what you think. I get that this is subjective and maybe it's affected by my habits from other (phpBB/vB/XF) forums, but I really think the current button layout and usability is not ideal.

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #1

Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful post!

Quote from: Unuser  -  Print: I can see how it can be useful in certain forums (cooking recipes...), but I don't think it's useful most of the time. Luckily, this one is easy to find and disable in the settings
There is also a nice addon (shameless plug) that changes that to a PDF button, useful for some sites that have guide / tutorials.  But agree that can be limited in wide usage, fortunately its easy to disable to remove that button.
Quote from: Unuser  -  Share: This could make sense if it included Facebook/Twitter etc. buttons, but just for sending a link via email it seems much less useful and frankly most people wouldn't even expect it to do that. And it can (if abused) make the forum domain end up on an email spam list. This should also be disabled by default. And finding this setting is not easy, because it's called "Send topics to friends" (at least rename this).
That is an old:poop:that should/will be removed in 2.0.  It was really left in place to allow addons, or the core, a decent place to add those links w/o adding even more click points to the first level of the UI.  Anyway none of that panned out so I feel it should be dropped.
Quote from: Unuser  -  Mark Read/Unread: Another feature, which IMO is so rarely used that it doesn't need its own dedicated button and doesn't need to be enabled by default.
I actually use that all the time.  I check on things often but don't always have the time to respond in detail.  So I mark it as unread so I can come back to it / find it as it will show up in my unread list.
Quote from: Unuser  -  Notify/Unnotify and Watch/Unwatch: Now we're getting close to features which are essential, but it's poorly implemented and incomplete. I was hoping at least Watch/Unwatch would work as a "subscribe/unsubscribe" button, but it doesn't (I'm not the first one to be confused by this). To make a list of topics I'm interested in, I need to install the Bookmarks add-on.
The intention of Watch/Unwatched was to remove, from your view, any replies to a topic you have no interest in, or that went off the rails.  Either way you don't want to be informed, ever, of new posts or discussions in that topic.  I suppose its really ignore topic, like the ignore user option.  Even on focused discussion forums there tends to be a need for this option. There is the admin panel option to disable this function (removing the button) as well.  So maybe a rename to ignore or hide would help, or placing that less used option in a dropdown, could add the 'hamburger' icon in that row with print, watch, mark unread, etc in its dropdown.

Quote from: Unuser  -  Instead of Notify/Unnotify, Watch/Unwatch and the Bookmarks add-on, I propose a single button: "Subscribe/Unsubscribe".
A subscribed topic would end up on a list (Subscriptions). This list would have two checkboxes, in two columns, next to each topic: one for "notify in the forum" and another for "notify by email". Additional notifications could also be added (phone/desktop notifications...).
A user would then select how to get notified for each topic, or to not be notified at all. Also, the user settings area would include an "Automatically subscribe when posting" setting (checked by default) with the "notify in forum/email/..." checkboxes (check the first option by default).
INotify/Unnotify is just that, you will be notified based on how you have chosen to be notified from your Profile Notifications section.  You can choose to be notified to any topic you have posted in, a specific topic, or all posts on a specific board or boards.  There are quite a few options of what you get and how often you get your notifications.  In that section there is also your list of subscribed topics / boards.  Perhaps renaming that subscribe could help, and improving the profile notification layout (some changes were made already in 2.0)
Quote from: Unuser  - 
Another idea to reduce the visual button clutter is to have a combo-dropdown button (I've seen it called "thread tools" on another forum), which would include rarely used tasks such as print or mark read/unread. This is more of a compromise, but it would probably still be an improvement. SMF has something like this for notifications (see attachment), but I don't recommend copying it, it looks awkward.
IThere is some room for improvement for sure, and as stated above a expand button that holds less used options may be the best.
The idea of using notify is that is what is in the top ribbon as well as in your profile area, it provides some consistency.  Of course notifications is a wider scope than just topics (likes, buddies, mentions) so .... inconsistent LOL. I'm in favor of removing visual clutter and less used click points with recognizing the need for quick access to the most common functions.  Dropdowns get complex when you code them to support assistive technology needs. 
Quote from: Unuser  - 
Next, the header buttons area:
[attach type=image]9980[/attach]
Community can stay, but the other 4 are questionable and could be replaced by something better.
I propose a "My Content" (or something) button, with the usual drop down functionality.
My Content would include: Subscriptions, Private Messages, Mentions, Likes... Technically, it could include the functionality of all 4 buttons, but especially of My Messages and Notifications. I don't think private messages are typically used often enough to justify their own button and the Notifications button isn't needed at all.
[attach type=image]9982[/attach]
I feel those buttons are some of the most used, and hiding them, IMO, just makes a site more difficult to navigate.  Possibly the PM section could be placed under notifications, or drop the my messages dropdown items which do not terribly useful.
Quote from: Unuser  -  That notifications number bubble could just as easily be displayed on the "My Content" button instead. The user would then open that and see where the notifications came from.
I've been working on a dark theme variant and changed those to simple highlight dots with no count.  I don't think seeing the actual number brings that much to the party.
Quote from: Unuser  -  "New Replies" and "New Posts" ... I'm not really sure about those. They are features which probably work for a small forum with few daily posts, but not on a big forum. I wouldn't miss them if they were gone.

Let me know what you think. I get that this is subjective and maybe it's affected by my habits from other (phpBB/vB/XF) forums, but I really think the current button layout and usability is not ideal.
I'll admit that I only use the new posts button and almost never use the new replies, that's just my usage.  If you have a very busy forum and are a very active user I could see the usage of new replies, its quick access to what you are currently involved in. Finish with that and then on to new posts to see what else you may want to jump into.  Perhaps move both to a whats new button (default action of new posts) with new posts, new replies under that.

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #2

>There is also a nice addon (shameless plug) that changes that to a PDF button, useful for some sites that have guide / tutorials.

I have the option to "Print to PDF (Adobe Acrobat Pro)" as part of my computer's print options..

BTW, you ought to see the size of that turd when you hit the PRINT button on this thread..!  :o 

(That alone is justification for not using it..)  :)

// Deep inside every dilemma lies a solution that involves explosives //

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #3

That is an impressive poop!

ETA: Fixed on my local along with another little issue wrt print page
Last Edit: April 09, 2022, 04:06:45 pm by Spuds
Be safe, Be kind, Happy Programing

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #4

Thanks for the feedback!

Quote from: Spuds  -  I actually use that all the time.  I check on things often but don't always have the time to respond in detail.  So I mark it as unread so I can come back to it / find it as it will show up in my unread list.
Fair enough. For situations like these in ElkArte, I currently use the Bookmarks add-on.
But wouldn't a "Subscribe" feature work well for that too? Especially if the Subscriptions list is easy to reach, as I suggest.

QuoteSo maybe a rename to ignore or hide would help, or placing that less used option in a dropdown, could add the 'hamburger' icon in that row with print, watch, mark unread, etc in its dropdown.
Calling it "Ignore" probably makes more sense, yeah. But this [New Posts/New Replies] functionality is not something that I've found much use for (yet), so I don't have a strong opinion about it.

QuoteINotify/Unnotify is just that, you will be notified based on how you have chosen to be notified from your Profile Notifications section.  You can choose to be notified to any topic you have posted in, a specific topic, or all posts on a specific board or boards.  There are quite a few options of what you get and how often you get your notifications.  In that section there is also your list of subscribed topics / boards.  Perhaps renaming that subscribe could help, and improving the profile notification layout (some changes were made already in 2.0)
I have to take a step back, because I was testing some more and there are actually more problems with notifications than I initially thought. Some might be bugs, but I'll list them anyway:
1. There are no notifications for topic replies equivalent to the notifications for likes or mentions [the number over the Notifications button]. You only get a "new" text/link next to a topic on that list of topics, which is difficult to access. It seems that this is by design, but it makes no sense to me. Why not have them in the same place as likes/mentions..?
2. The "Notify me of topics and boards I've requested notification on" doesn't make it clear whether this will send any emails or not. (I'm pretty sure I did receive emails on an ElkArte forum in the past, but now when testing I can't make them work - this is probably a bug, though.)
3. There should be a separate setting with checkboxes for the default notification behavior (forum, email, both or neither), like in SMF:
SMF alert settings.png

In addition, as I said already, I propose such checkboxes also for the list of subscribed topics, so that every topic/board would get its own notification preference. Basically, this would provide the same functionality that SMF has inside a topic, but on the list of topics instead, which IMO would look a bit nicer (but even copying the current SMF functionality would be an improvement).

In any case, I strongly recommend to place the list of those "subscribed" topics somewhere more easily accessible, which I why I suggested a "My Content" section. Because the current topic list location [Account Settings > Modify Profile > Notifications > below the settings] is quite weird, to say the least. I challenge any new ElkArte user to find it in less than one minute. ;)
It makes it more difficult to curate a list of topics and basically forces you to install something like the Bookmarks add-on, which shouldn't be necessary.

QuoteI've been working on a dark theme variant and changed those to simple highlight dots with no count.  I don't think seeing the actual number brings that much to the party.
I agree, although I don't really care if it's a number or a dot.
What's more crucial and I'm going to repeat it, just in case: a dedicated Notifications button IMO isn't needed, because its functionality can be replaced with a "My Content" direct access to all the subscribed topics, all the received likes, mentions etc. Old and new, read and unread, all in one place. The new/unread ones would simply jump at the top of their respective list and would stay highlighted until you interact with them by opening the associated link. And you could also mark them read with a button click, to clear these notifications faster.
I imagine it working like this: by default the "My Content" would open on the Subscriptions list, which would be separated into topic and board subscriptions, just as it's separated now. But if you receive a new like and the "My Content" button gets a dot/number, it would open on the "likes" section. If you receive notifications for multiple things, it would open in the section that has the first (oldest) notification. And some visual clue would be there to show where the unread notifications are.
It's possible that I overlooked something about this functionality, I didn't think a lot about all possible use cases. But the general idea is to reduce the amount of buttons and to make the content the user wants to follow more easily accessible.

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #5

Quote from: Unuser  -  I have to take a step back, because I was testing some more and there are actually more problems with notifications than I initially thought. Some might be bugs, but I'll list them anyway:
1. There are no notifications for topic replies equivalent to the notifications for likes or mentions [the number over the Notifications button]. You only get a "new" text/link next to a topic on that list of topics, which is difficult to access. It seems that this is by design, but it makes no sense to me. Why not have them in the same place as likes/mentions..?

That is correct, there are no "site" notifications for a reply to a topic you are watching, you would have to click the new Replies button.  Are you saying  you would like to see an indicator or count over that button (or some consolidated button) in the top menu?  e.g. a site notification/indication when a new reply is made to a watched post?

Quote from: Unuser  -  2. The "Notify me of topics and boards I've requested notification on" doesn't make it clear whether this will send any emails or not. (I'm pretty sure I did receive emails on an ElkArte forum in the past, but now when testing I can't make them work - this is probably a bug, though.)

That area needs to be cleaned up so it evident that it is referring to the sending of email notifications.  Some updates have been made but its still ugly at best.

Quote from: Unuser  -  3. There should be a separate setting with checkboxes for the default notification behavior (forum, email, both or neither), like in SMF:
[attach type=image]9984[/attach]

In addition, as I said already, I propose such checkboxes also for the list of subscribed topics, so that every topic/board would get its own notification preference. Basically, this would provide the same functionality that SMF has inside a topic, but on the list of topics instead, which IMO would look a bit nicer (but even copying the current SMF functionality would be an improvement).

In any case, I strongly recommend to place the list of those "subscribed" topics somewhere more easily accessible, which I why I suggested a "My Content" section. Because the current topic list location [Account Settings > Modify Profile > Notifications > below the settings] is quite weird, to say the least. I challenge any new ElkArte user to find it in less than one minute. ;)
It makes it more difficult to curate a list of topics and basically forces you to install something like the Bookmarks add-on, which shouldn't be necessary.
TBH I'm not fully following all of what you are asking (with all the checkboxes).  If your saying you want to be able to set individual notifications on a per board and per topic basis, then I feel thats going to lead to further UI confusion. 
Hitting notify on a topic does add it to your notifications topic listing which in a way is the start of a "bookmark" list (setting aside FTM that is currently buried in the UI)  I guess if you watch a topic that you don't participate in, then there is not currently any convenient way to see just those updates when you are on the site, so that could be improved.  If you participate then it would be in new replies, but that does not help the lurkers.

Quote from: Unuser  -  What's more crucial and I'm going to repeat it, just in case: a dedicated Notifications button IMO isn't needed, because its functionality can be replaced with a "My Content" direct access to all the subscribed topics, all the received likes, mentions etc. Old and new, read and unread, all in one place. The new/unread ones would simply jump at the top of their respective list and would stay highlighted until you interact with them by opening the associated link. And you could also mark them read with a button click, to clear these notifications faster.
I imagine it working like this: by default the "My Content" would open on the Subscriptions list, which would be separated into topic and board subscriptions, just as it's separated now. But if you receive a new like and the "My Content" button gets a dot/number, it would open on the "likes" section. If you receive notifications for multiple things, it would open in the section that has the first (oldest) notification. And some visual clue would be there to show where the unread notifications are.
It's possible that I overlooked something about this functionality, I didn't think a lot about all possible use cases. But the general idea is to reduce the amount of buttons and to make the content the user wants to follow more easily accessible.
Setting aside the name of the button, we could add a watched topics tab that also indicated ones with new posts.  Could also add a new posts on watched boards tab which would narrow the scope of the current New Posts button (there is already a way to do that, but its one of those find it if you can links).  I'd really like to continue to cull the number of links on a page and consolidate those functions.  For example I did a link count on a forum (not this one) and on the board index there were >250 click options, thats just crazy IMO, and good luck with a screen reader.

Anyway good thoughts/suggestions you have provided, I'm going to look into watched topics<=>bookmarks and adding that under Notifications (Ha) just for now and see where that may lead.  That also implies a site vs current email only notification, just like mentions, likes, etc.

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #6

Quote from: Spuds  -  Are you saying  you would like to see an indicator or count over that button (or some consolidated button) in the top menu?  e.g. a site notification/indication when a new reply is made to a watched post?
Yep. The same kind of notifications that you get for a like/mention/quote.
Just to be sure we're talking about the same thing: I mean the "subscribed" topics or "topics for which I receive notifications" as they're currently presented in ElkArte, rather than topics affected by the Watch/Unwatch button.

(In SMF, the topics with notifications are called Watched Topics, though. And it also looks like the notifications and watch-for-new-replies settings there were kinda consolidated, as can be seen in the SMF screenshot from my first post.)


QuoteTBH I'm not fully following all of what you are asking (with all the checkboxes).  If your saying you want to be able to set individual notifications on a per board and per topic basis, then I feel thats going to lead to further UI confusion.
Generally speaking, I have different "tiers" of interest/urgency/notifications for a topic:
1. I don't care at all, I don't want to receive anything about a topic, no "new replies", nothing.
2. I want to put a topic on a list, because I might want to read it at some point in the future, but I don't want to receive notifications for it (a kind of a "bookmark" feature).
3. I want to receive notifications of new replies, but only on-site, when I feel like visiting the forum.
4. I want to receive notifications by email, because I might not log into the forum regularly or it's an important topic.
Frankly, I'm not sure how many people feel like this is required. But seeing how SMF has similar per-topic notifications, I'm not the only one either.
UI clutter is a very valid concern, but I don't think there would be much confusion if this is well implemented.
Here's a very rough sketch of what I had in mind, just so you get an idea:
notifications one.png
I didn't add "site" and "email" checkboxes for the entire list ("check all"), but they could be added, by either rearranging/renaming those column titles or by increasing the height of that area.
As a bonus I threw a "mark as read" button on there, which would kinda make sense (but it isn't urgent). The Unnotify button wouldn't be very needed either, if those new checkboxes were added... it would only serve as a "remove from list" button (one could always do that from within a topic).

That said, I completely understand if people have a different priorities or UI tastes... I'm just putting it out there.

Re: About all the buttons, and subscriptions...

Reply #7

Thanks ... lots to think about here.

Setting the events / notifications is actually  a simple matter in the 2.0 code base, as a test I added watched topics to the ACP (where the admin can choose what methods are available) and Profile notification area (where the user can choose how to be notified) with just a couple of simple classes as well as the actual action of that, so the email / site notification is set as well. 

Anyway its the various 'overlapping' options that would need consideration.  Just a simple case where someone has board notifications on and a watched topic in that board, and has chosen both onsite and email as the notification type(s).  So now we need to deal properly with not sending duplicate notifications. and ensuring the site "whats new" is correctly reflected.  

There is also the old issue of email posts in general (nothing really to do with this suggestion)  today  they are sent on post, as this is really no additional overhead, but the issue is when someone posts and deletes or posts and edits, the notification does not follow the grace period.  That is again IMO the edge case (meaning for the vast majority of posts, that does not happen).  Again the fix is not  complex but its more overhead on the site/server.  Just rolling things around in my head !

Welp tornado watch tonight, got to go before the power does.