This Week In Techdirt History: We Finally Start Testing Responsive Design!

from the it's-about-time dept

Try out Techdirt’s new responsive design on our beta site »

It hasn’t escaped our notice that the design of Techdirt is a little… behind the times. There was a spate of high-profile redesigns a few years ago, with many blogs transitioning to a more “magazine”-esque style, and although they looked great, it wasn’t always the most useful choice for readers — and that’s part of why we didn’t end up going along with the trend. We’ve heard from various readers over the years that they appreciate our adherence to a traditional blog format with a chronological list of posts, and the fact that we don’t force the use of photos and imagery when they don’t actually add anything to the content. We’re also a very small and very busy team, so when we tinker with the site, we try to focus on adding streamlined features that are immediately useful, like the ability to expand posts on the front page instead of clicking through, or to hide all ads on Techdirt. We’ve also tweaked the appearance of the site in small ways from time to time, and in general we prefer this incremental approach over making a splash with a big redesign.

That being said, there’s something very important that we’ve been neglecting for far too long: how Techdirt works on mobile devices. Our “lite” format is much too basic — a holdover from an earlier era of the mobile web — while our default site is extremely inconvenient on a small screen. And so today we’re happy to announce that we’re almost ready to launch a new responsive framework for Techdirt, enabling the default version of the site to perform well on devices of all shapes and sizes, and we’d like your help with the beta test. We built this framework ourselves using fairly basic responsive CSS, since so many pre-packaged solutions are overly complex and/or unnecessarily reliant on JavaScript.

Click this link to switch to Techdirt’s beta site and try out our new responsive design! Your preference will be saved in a cookie, and you can go back to the regular version of the site at any time via your user preferences or the prominent “Exit Beta” link in the header of every page.

You’ll notice a few small tweaks to the layout of our posts, but the main change is that every page should now respond nicely to any viewport size and organize itself to be easily readable and navigable. Please give it a try on your phones and tablets (or by resizing your browser window) and let us know how your experience goes. If you encounter any bugs, or have any general suggestions or comments, get in touch using our contact form or by reaching out to us on Twitter (or here in the comments!)

If all goes well, we hope to roll this change out to the site very soon, and we’ve got a few more adjustments (plus a general tidying-up of the visual design) in the pipeline.

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History: We Finally Start Testing Responsive Design!”

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69 Comments
Daydream says:

We built this framework ourselves using fairly basic responsive CSS, since so many pre-packaged solutions are overly complex and/or unnecessarily reliant on JavaScript.

Neat. I have JavaScript turned off on my mobile, after a bazillion crashed pages and ad redirects and so on, so I’m glad this site doesn’t rely on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“JavaScript turned off … so I’m glad this site doesn’t rely on it.”

But it does, if you ever find yourself curious enough to actually want to read the “troll” comments that regularly set off everyone in a frenzy replying to. But at least all text is contained in the page code, unlike many javascript sites which embargo script-free browsers.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think we could probably make it possible to expand hidden comments without javascript and without reloading the page, though I’m pretty sure it’d only be possible to have one comment expanded at a time (and there might be some other weird behaviours like the comments collapsing when you try to reply) due to the limitations of pure-CSS for that kind of interactivity. Or we could potentially do it using the HTML5 summary/details tags, although those have no support in Microsoft browsers. In any case, we’ll look into it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How about an option to just show all comments, perhaps having a separate page without that code (maybe dust off the old Techdirt page code)? If the idea for hidden comments was to keep people from ever seeing troll comments, being triggered and clogging up the page with unnecessary rebuttals, that strategy has obviously not been working perfectly.

Or how about this suggestion: every time a comment gets hidden, then all replies to it get hidden as well (and unhiding it restores the entire thread in one click).

Anyway, it’s always seemed a bit ironic that for a site with such an ideological and unwavering anti-censorship stance as Techdirt, the default opt-in choice is … comment censorship. (not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, as virtually every country in the world, with one notable exception, believes in and practices censorship for the “greater good”)

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

We’ve considered collapsing entire reply threads before, it’s something we may revisit.

I do think the "irony" you’re seeing is rather imagined though. Our comments are actually among the most open of any blog on the web. How many sites do you know that even allow fully anonymous comments without requiring you to so much as enter an email address? Or that has a reporting system that never results in any comments actually being deleted (apart from spam)?

As for our unwavering stance, that has always been in favour of the first amendment and against censorship by the government. Meanwhile, though we believe leaning towards openness is the right choice in many situations, we’ve always maintained that it is perfectly acceptable, often preferable, and essentially inevitable that almost all online forums will employ some level of content moderation.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Collapsing all the comments to a flagged comment has some benefits (and I am actually sorta for this), I should point out that some of the weekly most insightful and funniest comment come from those that would be collapsed. On the other hand, were those comments voted most insightful/funny because of their relationship to the flagged comment or would they have been insightfult/funny if posted freely. Then would they have been thought of if not for the discussion of the idiocy that got flagged. Hard to know.

And I should point out that one of my comments was removed this week, the one where I pointed out about how inconsistent you were with removing actual spam comments. Not that I care much, but the hypocrasy, given your statement to the contrary, is a bit much.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Well, my comment was surrounded by two spam comments. They were not deleted.

It may be error, or lack of checking each flagged comment, but I have noticed that flagged spam comments are not always deleted. They were flagged, so they were not a problem, but the opportunity to update your spam filter seems to be missed.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

FYI, my deleted comment came from this article and it appears that both the spam comments have been removed now.

Yes, we remove spam comments. If we miss some, we miss some, and I’m sorry about that I guess. And if you submitted a comment that was intentionally masquerading a spam comment, and we deleted it as spam, well… what did you expect? As I said, we only delete spam comments – not sure why you’re accusing me of hypocrisy over that.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Accusing you, no. But my comment was a critique of Techdirts inconsistancy with removing spam comments, noticed over some time. The hypocracy comes with removing a critique of Techdirt (no individuals named or intended). It was not in any way masquerading as spam. It was a critique of Techdirt and responding to one of the comments in this thread

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Accusing you, no. But my comment was a critique of Techdirts inconsistancy with removing spam comments, noticed over some time. The hypocracy comes with removing a critique of Techdirt (no individuals named or intended).

Once again, this did not and would not happen. We do not ever remove criticism of Techdirt. As I stated earlier, I went though the comments that we’ve marked spam over the last week and none of yours are in there.

And, again, we would not and do not remove comments critical of us. The ONLY comments we remove are pure spam comments.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

the opportunity to update your spam filter seems to be missed

What opportunity was missed? I don’t really know what that means…

We operate several concurrent spam filters that catch hundreds of spam comments every day – and we’re not aware of any superior alternative that we should be installing instead. There’s no such thing as a perfect filter.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Sorry, I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that you could update the spam filter with new, known spam.

Would it be possible to hold for moderation any comment that has a url included with the username? And maybe a whitelist for those that use a url with their username but are not spam. Thad, I think, for example, uses a url with his username, but his is not spam.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

FYI, my deleted comment came from this article and it appears that both the spam comments have been removed now.

I will have to double check how exactly our filters respond to username URLs right now – we’ve tweaked that in the past when there were specific bursts of spam getting in at various times, but not sure the current status.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

And I should point out that one of my comments was removed this week, the one where I pointed out about how inconsistent you were with removing actual spam comments. Not that I care much, but the hypocrasy, given your statement to the contrary, is a bit much.

I do most (not all) of removing any actual spam comments, and I can assure you I did not remove one of your comments. I just went and looked at the comments that we moved to spam this week (we keep them for a while) and there are no comments by you in that list. None of your comments were removed.

Furthermore, we would NEVER remove a comment from someone merely criticizing us. Hell, someone else this week threatened to kill me and we left that comment up.

So I’m a bit confused about your claim of hypocrisy. We are entirely consistent in our position.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:5 SPAM and filtering

For me, the filtering (actually moderation, but not in the traditional sense) seems to work pretty well. SPAM does not last, our least favorite commenters get flagged for their BS, and those with a morbid fascination can respond to it.

oh, and the half-formed comments that my phone posts sometimes also seem to get deleted, which is also good. Those are a function of some unintended motions on Chrome on iOS amounting to hitting the “submit” button before I am ready, and the difficulty of seeing what I have typed while I am typing it. Hopefully the site upgrade for mobile will help with that.

****
I see Techdirt’s moderation as driving away those that would use the comments for things besides discussing Techdirt’s material.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"How many sites do you know that even allow fully anonymous comments without requiring you to so much as enter an email address?"

I never understood the point of requiring an email address to post, as most such sites seem happy to accept fake ones.

Sites that allowed fully anonymous guest posts used to be very common years ago, but sadly it’s fallen out of fashion, due to a wide variety of reasons. To name one such site, frequently referenced here on Techdirt, TorrentFreak allowed anonymous guest comments for many years. Even Wikipedia today is largely closed off to guests.

ryuugami says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think we could probably make it possible to expand hidden comments without javascript and without reloading the page, though I’m pretty sure it’d only be possible to have one comment expanded at a time (and there might be some other weird behaviours like the comments collapsing when you try to reply) due to the limitations of pure-CSS for that kind of interactivity. Or we could potentially do it using the HTML5 summary/details tags, although those have no support in Microsoft browsers. In any case, we’ll look into it!

You could check how SoylentNews is doing it. There, you can open or collapse entire (sub-)threads or individual comments, and as many of them as you want. It works pretty great.

IIRC that functionality is written entirely in CSS. I’m certain that at least it doesn’t use JavaScript — I have it blocked and everything works flawlessly 🙂

You could inspect it in the browser as usual, or check it out on GitHub, as the entire site code is open source (GPLv2). If you have any questions about the implementation, you could drop in to the site’s IRC channel (which does need JS, of course) and try asking the devs.

Devonavar says:

Tweaks

I like it. Fast and functional.

I feel like “expand all collapse all” isn’t as relevant for mobile, so I would hide this element.

Also, a lot of the touch spots are quite small… The menu and expand post buttons could be larger. Putting the menu on the same vertical plane as the search bar would work better visually and save space. I also miss the pull down to access menu feature that some sites have… But maybe that requires JavaScript?

Visually, a bit more left margin for the text would be nice… It hugs the left side of the screen very closely and make the text look off centre.

Other than that, it still feels like TechDirt, which I like. I wish other blogs had stayed closer to the blog format like you have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

zero left margin (first letter on every line cut in half), almost column-width right margin, and the right sidebar is almost as wide as the main text column.

Ignore the part of being unreadable, this browser momentarily hung up and showed a discombobulated page (changing the text size on one page automatically changes text size on every page, no matter how many open browser windows exist … a rather thoughtless “feature”)

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Were you using the lite version on mobile before, or just zooming in on the regular desktop version? Is it possible you have some sort of zoom or text-size-adjustment still applied? The font is larger on mobile now, but only because it was previously unreadable mouseprint until you zoomed in on it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Specifically, I would upsize anything that’s interactive and currently one line in height to have two lines of height via either directly resizing it or padding, but feel like everything else is fine.

Then again, I have a huge phone, so I might not be your best test case.

Also in the regular form, I think something about Chrome causes the text box to expand ~2 lines into the checkboxes beneath the input, on regular mode.

Daydream says:

Re: Re: Re:

It looks to me as though when clicking on the link to Preferences, it automatically changes to the beta site instead of the ‘normal’ site.
From there, clicking any link takes you to the beta equivalent instead of the ‘normal’ equivalent.
The ‘Exit Beta’ link up the very top of the main page still works to return to the original site, though.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah there definitely seem to be a few strange things happening for some people with regards to getting into/out of the beta – we’ll try to resolve it ASAP, but for the moment it seems like most of it happens when interacting with this post, so hopefully it doesn’t cause too many problems for folks who just want to stick with the normal site for now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Beta layout: Desktop Chrome(has flash), iMac osx 10.6.8

Very similar platform here. I don’t really see any difference at all apart from this “add a reply” box. I was kinda hoping the layout would be different. Not a huge fan of the expandable in-line articles and how they lose my place when hitting the back button after reviewing the comments. Also, tons and tons of wasted white space on the left and right. “Responsive” generally means the content reformats to fit your screen and, well, this doesn’t.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Beta layout: Desktop Chrome(has flash), iMac osx 10.6.8

Are you sure you’ve switched to the beta? You should definitely be seeing the page respond to your screen size, and there shouldn’t be extra white space. Or are you just referring to the desktop version? This update is focused on mobile, no major changes to the desktop site.

I’ll think about anything that might mitigate the back-button issues with post expanders (could possibly add expanded posts to a URL-string so they remain expanded when you return to the page that way) but overall the expanders are a very popular feature.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Still fixed width by default

I was going to comment to ask whether you could make the site full-width in the responsive version, then I decided to log in to comment… and et voila the site was full width, then I remembered when you made that an option.

So I’ll still ask if you’d consider making the site full-width on large screens by default, but there’s a workaround so there is that.

Your biggest fan or so I bet at nearly 500 pounds! says:

Re: Still fixed width by default -- Zombie alert!

“MrTroy” has 435 comments, average of 59 per year, BUT a 16 month gap, AND and even more definitional 33 month gap with name change after a few in 2011. This “account” skipped 2012 and 2013 entirely!

Just ODD, like so many. I see only one conclusion.

Your biggest fan (or so I bet, at nearly 500 pound says:

Great! Cosmetic changes are ALWAYS death knell!

Seen it dozens of times (mostly in print). Readership falls off, so "management / editor / publisher" try a new format, which the regulars despise simply for being new, and which in any case does not address the orders-of-magnitude more important problem of interesting CONTENT.

I’ve always found Techdirt to be GLARING and TOO SLICK. — By the way, pro-tip: host out "ii.techdirt.com" or whatever it is, turn off javascript, and I think you’ll be able to see all of front page without clicking in…

Have advised you several times to just glance at Drudge and then write whatever damn foolishness occurs. You call this a "blog", then write to an agenda. — But you never take my advice! You haven’t been since I advised 9 or so years ago now to actually Moderate your nasty little fanboys, NOT "hide" those who dissent. — Again, central problem is lack of interest here (by vigorous disscussion), NOT lack of unavoidable banners and flashing adverts.

You will simply make true my prediction that 2017 was Techdirt’s last full year. It’s so visibly attenuated this year that I declare victory on the point.

So you conflict me: more fun if you quicken the collapse with new format, or take my advice of more interesting content in same old dull layout? Hmm. Either way, I win!

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