The usability of the site has suffered considerably.
I actually disagree, it might not be what you are used to but I think the usability is vastly improved over the last site. Forum software has no examples of great usability at all, people are just used to them.
I'm a bit of a usability nut, and it's just my pet peeve to see people express their confusion as a matter of usability, not that I think this site is usable enough (not even close) but more that they really don't know what constitutes usability in web development so it just means it confused them (which given the navigation habits to change is inevitable so hard to differentiate from real usability issues).
My question is, is there any way of knowing if these items will be addressed at any point?
I'm not good at predicting things, and would rather not try to commit to timelines I probably won't be able to keep. I can say that we'll address what we can as fast as we can but that it won't always be what you'd wanted (can't make everyone happy).
..at what point was it decided that making users do extra work to accomplish the exact same tasks, was good usability?
I think you are being unfairly sarcastic, and I think you know that this is a loaded question. Of course no such decision was made, but if you give me specific examples of the extra work I'll be happy to tell you why it's that way now and if it is likely to change in the short term.
Upgrades should make things easier to use, easier to find, and more fluid.
Sure, and it'd also be great to have a ton more money to pay for more development time and more testing. But I'm doing what I can with the resources I have. We are launching rough, like I warned we would. I don't think it's nearly as bad as you seem to though.
Many of the changes to A2K have done the exact opposite of this. There is less information on the screen at one time then there used to be - by a lot!
This is what I mean by my frustration about "usability" critiques that don't fundamentally understand usability. There are vastly different use patterns for the site, and for the 5% of hard-core users more information is generally the preference. For the rest, less is more (in general).
So developers need to follow something like the 80/20 rule to make very usable sites for brand new users (as opposed to existing users used to specific features). See here: http://www.usabilityfirst.com/glossary/term_498.txl
Much of the screen space is purely wasted. Here's an example - everything in the red box is truly wasted.
You do realize that screens come in different sizes and for those on smaller resolutions that whitespace doesn't exist? And you do realize whitespace has a strong place in usability?
We have some things we are working on to better support the differences in screen resolutions (for example there is a non-liquid layout we already have but need to test more for release) but the bottom line is that the old site caused horizontal scrolling for many users on lower resolutions than you. This kind of change is an example where we improved the usability overall but caused more whitespace than you would like.
In any case, we do have plans to make things better, but I think this kind of criticism is a much ado about nothing. You can't realistically make the case that the whitespace is making much of a difference in your use. Sure, you can make the case that not having the last post username or read tracking is getting in your way but that's not a design decision but merely features we aren't done with yet. Even when they are added if we support low resolution browsers higher resolutions will have more space.
You were familiar with the old grids, but quite frankly they didn't have much "usability" to speak of. They were cluttered grids with a mess of icons and links without indicating which was the most relevant one (for example, the first one was the forum link, which is less important than the next column's topic link). This format is actually much more user friendly for the 80%, but lacks some of the power shortcuts for the power users.
We'll add them, but may be as preferences you enable to keep it simpler for new users. But my point is that what you are saying is "usability" is for your specific use pattern and the extra options make it less usable for less experienced forum users.
Why can't we have the old way, where different columns gave useful information and used the entire space on the page? This allows one to see more topics at one time.
For the same reason Google, for example, doesn't put their search results in table columns. It's horrible
usability. The columns just divided all the white space up making it require more overall and without anything to focus on. In addition some of the columns don't really exist in the same way (like the old "forum" column).
Now I do think that your criticism is rooted in some fundamental usability truth (even if it's not expressed once that way) . For example, not having the last post username makes it hard to tell if the last post is the one you just made or a new one. Or for example, the lack of "forum" for the topic, so "apple info" as a topic title doesn't have the distinction of, say, the computers or food forum.
In any case, we are looking at ways to provide the things like that that we are missing, but we put a lot of work into ui decisions (even if it doesn't look like it yet, it actually takes us longer to do the ui level than the backend due to how picky we are about it) and we simply aren't finished. Hell the logo of the site isn't even what the real logo will be, nor are the voting graphics and much else about design.
Things will get better, but might not meet every armchair designer's recommendations. I think they'll address the underlying reasons you find it harder to use but not the specific design recommendations that you made.
I could go on, but to sum it up: every time you have to scroll, it's bad.
So we saved horizontal scrolling. That should be a plus in your book. It's far worse a usability problem than vertical scrolling.
Small text and lack of prominence of the topic title were also fundamental usability no-nos. In any case, you're getting more information when we can make it, but you aren't looking at the big picture in usability like I would like t0, you are looking at your specific use pattern in your specific screen resolution.
Every time I can't find a topic, because the new 'tagging' system really isn't as great as some seem to think, it's bad. It's difficult for me to see how anyone could have thought these were positive changes, to make things MORE difficult for users.
Maybe they are just imaginative enough to recognize the fundamental difference the tagging represents for Information Architecture and realize that the navigation and usability deficiencies of the tagging is a completely separate problem (hey, I'll be the first to admit the tag navigation is rough, it's the most unfinished live feature).
The tag navigation is: a) not finished and b) needs more user data to build some of the tools
It's a fundamentally different information architecture, and needs much more use to become very useful. That and we need to make it browseable, which right now it does very poor at.
But on a fundamental level it's not going to be as small and as simple as the old forums, because now instead of having a limited number of forums we have an unlimited number of tags. There is also a fundamental trade-off between the simplicity and diversity.
Understanding that some might value the diversity and scale more than the simplicity of pre-defined forums might help you understand those view, but I honestly think your biggest qualm is with the fact that the features are far from finished and admittedly hard to browse. But it may not be, and you may just be one of those guys who hates labels and likes folders. Despite the advantages of tags, there are plenty of people who like the information architecture of simple containers than the more fluid labels.
Now, are these things going to be fixed, or not?
If you think "fixed" means we do exactly what your poorly-thought 9no offense as users have little reason to try to think about it as long as we do since they only really need to care about their experience) then I'm not sure you'll get everything you want.
But we will
continue to work to improve things, and even if your personal design recommendations might not get implemented exactly some of the fundamental deficiencies that frustrate you probably will.
Is there a timeline for possible upgrades to the site?
No. We do this part time and just do it as fast as we can. We could guess at timelines but they'd be wild guesses, and to make them accurate we'd have to slow down the development and sandbag.
So like many such projects done by a couple of overworked guys, the only good answer I can give you is: "as fast as we can".
I ask because I really love posting here. I have made this my primary discussion site for several years now. I click on ads. I am what you would call a dedicated user, with 15-20 posts per day on average. But many of the changes have reduced the usability of the site to the point where I feel frustration, and that makes me not want to post here.
I know you don't mean it this way but to be honest it's never a personal evaluation. Accessibility means we try to make it work for as many people as we can. Your use pattern is well represented here and we certainly don't need any convincing to try to serve it. We will try, and it doesn't matter if I think you are valuable or if you click ads. There are a lot of users like you, and good usability means we try to support your use pattern regardless of your personality etc.
So: is there a timeline? If there isn't any real commitment to fixing issues that long-time users raise, then I'm going to start looking for another place to post.
I have to disagree with the implication that without a timeline there is no real commitment to fixing things. It just means there's less resources to dedicate to trying to predict the future and communicate it. Right now, the visibility I have for example is:
I estimate we have another few weeks to tackle the various bugs and tweaks we need to make that we already committed to (much of which are things that bother you, even if you don't know it yet). Then our big priority is restoring private messaging. I estimate that will take at most a few weeks.
I don't have any visibility after that that I think is accurate enough to be worth communicating. I don't know how many extra hours Nick and I will want to put in (frankly we hit a bit of a wall two weeks ago, and are exhausted, we may take a breather at some point). I just don't know how complicated some things may turn out to be.
So if we were a slow-moving group with more rigid development structure (we are closer to agile development and freewheeling pair coding than that) we'd have timelines, but they'd all be much further out than we can now do, because that kind of structure comes with overhead and sandbagging (essentially take what you think will be the timeline and add more time).
I am not willing to commit to that style of development for a2k, both because it's not my full-time job and because it's a lot slower and you'll get your fixes later if we want to try to accurately predict them.
But I feel quite sure that there are many others who feel the same way about it and I KNOW the volume of posting (in politics forum, at least) has dropped off tremendously.
I'm not sure how you know that, but it doesn't necessarily mean much about the things you mentioned if it's true. We'll take a large dip in traffic overall for at least a few weeks, after all we moved several million urls and the rest of the internet needs to catch up to the change (e.g. google).
In any case, you don't need to sell us on the need to improve usability. Usability is one of my passions and we are certainly going to care a lot about this no matter what.