Tuesday 28th of March 2023

Forae are now active

As of 8th March the forums are active.

Critical and Constructive Review

My apologies that most of what I have to say about the current organisation of the site is critical, but I offer it in a constructive spirit to help improve things.

To help ameliorate it somewhat, let me first say how glad I am that this site exists.

To sum up my problems with the site as it stands:

  • If you were to run this site by someone who designs websites so that they are easily understood and navigable by those with disabilities, they'd fall in a screaming heap. I strongly suggest running this site through one of the online checkers that will highlight ways to make it a more functional site for everyone - the usual bottom line is the KISS rule
  • Overall the site is very cluttered, there are multiple divisions, functionality keys (such as 'post comment') are hard to find, and the contrasting texts don't contrast particularly well.
  • The ways comments appear after a bulk text, in a staggered line of thinly identified boxes is terrible - comments following sequentially one after the other is much easier to follow. Most people find the latest comment going to the top of the queue (which doesn't seem to happen consistently here even), confusing and counter-intuitive. It would be much better to at least make this a user choice, not a set formatting (and if it already is, my apologies).
  • It is very unclear if / how comments & posts in the forums make their way to the front page, where apparently the blogs reside as the primary site driver. EG the article on framing was posted in a forum, and is still there, but also appeared as a blog entry. Some clarity on just how this works - even if it's as simple as moderator discretion on what gets promoted to the front page- is needed.
  • Contributions: It seems only a select few can blog on the front page, but forums are not usually the place for posting whole stand-alone entries (ie wannabe blog entries), and I'm a bit concerned that efforts by contributors that involve some serious research and/or effort to analyse as a stand alone piece to generate discussion will get lost in the multiple forums. If the front page is entirely controlled by the mods, it also doesn't allow for a function where community members can 'vote' a well-done piece from the forums to the front page. At the very least, I suggest that just as there is a side-bar displaying recent blog posts, the current one is split to also show forum topics receiving the most comments ("hot topics" if you like).
  • I also think that having a dozen or so forums, plus blog entries which people can comment on, is going to split discussion far too much, especially for a new site. To generate good discussion, you need a decent gathering of a minimal number of individuals. Having forums and blog entries is confusing message sent by the site owners to the community - do you want our energies focussed on discussing blog entries, or do you want us to be beavering away in the forums? Ie where is the engine room on this site?
  • As a general note, I think there are far too many forums, and on other sites where I have seen this, what usually results is that some topics simply don't get much or any attention at all. It also makes it very difficult to talk about issues that strike across multiple 'topics', and what one person thinks should logically go in one forum, another thinks belongs under another forum topic heading.
  • There is in general no way for site members to 'vote' or rate comments, be they stand-alone or responses to others. I think this is a damn shame, because a self-moderating community, with strong guidelines of course, works far better than one or two people having the (hopefully enormous if this site grows rapidly) task of moderating everyone.
  • On that note, submitting a comment and having to wait for a mod to approve it is going to become rapidly utterly impractical, and will cripple the spontenaity and rythm of discussion. Not to mention, is at the more extreme end of autocracy. What one person thinks is a sensible edit to my comments, might in fact from my pov change the entire tone / meaning / context/ point of my post. If, on the other hand, we could freely post comments and rate each other's, truly offensive posts would quickly disappear, and discussion can continue at the pace we, the users, drive it at. I think we can all cope with spelling errors.
  • The cartoons - love them, but please convert them to a small file size before loading them, as the slow the site loading considerably for those on dial-up connections (which is a considerable amount of Australians). They also completely muck up the formatting and readability of the site. Consider posting them on smaller, with a clickable link to open them in a new window.

Ok, I'll shut up now.

I keep editing to try and fix the sudden loss of paragraph breaks - hence use of bullet points

Update to Layout

I've just fixed up the style sheet so that the initial list of forum categories makes more sense, by highlighting headings and alternating row colours.

As well the comments style has been modified so they display in the same way on IE6 and Firefox 1.0.1. Please have a look and let me know how it is looks for other people, especially Safari.

Thanks Nigel

Thanks Nigel. It looks heaps better. But I'm not a Safari person. Anyone?

Incidentally, Nigel has done most of the actual programming work to bring the site to where it is so far. He is a professional person and does this work in his own time. So a huge thanks from all of us mate.

Thanks very much David & Hamish

I really appreciate the detailed responses; and also that the site is all new. I hope you'll continue to see my list of comments as very much a sign of the enthusiasm your efforts have generated for me.

I suspect that the vast majority of the issues come down to formatting & visual style. For eg other sites I use have the same - definitely powerful - feature of threads within threads, but the visual layout is much clearer, and in addition, users can choose from a series of visual layouts for threads as to which suits them best.

I'd also like to make it clear that I appreciate this is a private site, and have no problem with a fair level of control by those who have put in the time, $ and commitment to make this site available. Indeed, I hope to see strong leadership that while allowing dissent, optimum participation and robust discussion; also sets a clear direction for the site, and thus keeps us all on track via posts and moderation.

Many thanks again, and I will look forward to watching and contributing to the site's evolution.

Thanks for your remarks, Myriad

Many thanks for all the feedback, and please keep it coming. If I may make some general remarks first. The site is in its infancy. There are a number of features which are being tested, and still a large number of features to come, most of which have bee suggested by contributors to Webdiary. Please bear with us on this - we estimate that things will mature over the next six months or so, and some things will take longer than others. Second, if I may address some of your concerns and explain some of our thinking on how some of these issues may be dealt with:
  • Accessibility
    Yes, I agree - the site is not particularly accessible for people with sight disabilities. We will try to develop a user selectable theme which addresses this.
  • Clutter
    The cluttered appearance is in part due to the lack of a proper theme for the site - we are working to address this but we need a good designer to assist. The programmers are not particularly good designers - they've done their best, but they acknowledge that it is far from ideal. So, volunteers, please step forward! Clutter also comes about with additional functionality - From the point of view of the user, we need a balance between functions being accessible with the minimum number of key/mouse presses and on-screen clutter. This balance has not yet been reached.
  • Comments
    At the moment we have a slightly more complex commenting structure, because not only can you comment on the original post, but you can start a new branch of comments by replying to comments themselves. I hope that people will get used to this powerful feature, but I also agree that we need to make the structure clearer and this is partly to do with the overall look and feel of the site, ie the user theme.
  • Front page
    Stuff makes it's way to the front page because one of the editors decides it should be published on the front page - we have an editorial structure like a newspaper. I agree this should be clearly explained. One thing to bear in mind is that all posts are 'content' - whether a piece is a blog or a forum entry is really a question of semantics.
  • Contributions and forums
    I believe, personally, that this is a very valid concern. However, whilst there is tight editorial control, and this is one of the factors that made the Webdiary so successful, I am afraid this is how the site is going to work. Contributors to the forums can be reassured that everything will be read by several editors and particularly noteworthy (in the opinion of the editors) pieces will be promoted to the front page. I guess that regular contributors to the forums might well end up with their own blog on the site at some point.
  • Engine room
    The real engine room is the blog section. Blogs are entries by the regular contributors. I agree that the forums need to be rethought - we are currently working on this very point.
  • Voting
    We are hoping to introduce the first reader voting/moderating scheme with the introduction of the News Portal. Comments on News portal items will be karma/mojo moderated. The moderators will be a group of trusted readers. Trusted readers are probably those folk who've made a valuable contribution to the site over time.
  • Modding every comment
    It's early days yet. We hope to begin relaxing the modding of comments in particular areas at some point, but this has still to be decided.
  • Cartoons
    Certainly one of the site's best features and many, many thanks to the contributors. We have now introduced a guideline that only one cartoon ought to be published on the front page at any one time. We aim for a page that will not take an inordinate amount of time to download on a dial-up link, but with coloured graphics there is some overhead. If the cartoons were much smaller they would be unreadable on some screens - it's a compromise, I'm afraid. I would be very interested in exactly how long it takes to open the front page using a dial-up line as this is not something we can easily test.

  • Many thanks again, and please keep the comments coming.


Hi David, I'll volunteer to help out with the design aspect. I have limited experience with web design, but I do have a little experience with design/layout in printed material. If you're interested send me an email...


A few newspapers run two site on a single web address. One is the full box and dice with the graphics for broadband users, and one with plain text for dial up. May be we could look at that...

safari rendering feedback

Safari display feedback: this is of course ignoring the front page admonition about dem not being a spectator sport ;-)

'Your demo' style: renders very nicely contrasted. I like the way you got rid of the default of too many different fonts and shades. And I like the carefully spartan application of frame background shades. Makes scanning around a third faster.

Just a smidge not enough of the margin at the LH summary frame (the blue line gets lost and makes the box unbalanced) I like this much more in Safari than in firefox/mozilla. It is my preferred view.

"shapeshifter" looks as good in safari as in firefox/mozilla. Too 'trasty for my eyes but. And you should be aware that eyes moving in to presbyopia can pull reds up above other shades.

I take it you don't want any feedback on the default display.

On a heavier note: maybe Gus could add some tears of blood running down the home flag for Woods' brave, articulate and beautiful brothers and the articulate Sheik Hilaly who's been the first cleric to speak up for us against our government. And for all the Iraqis who our government have helped to kill in our name. I am not a religious person but I had waited for so long for some religious leader to say how much most of us hate the killing and destruction.

System details: OS X 10.3.9 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 Safari 1.3 (V312), Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X Mach-O; en-GB; rv:1.7.7) Gecko/20050414 Firefox/1.0.3

Final input is on a feature which would make my use of the site a lot more efficient:

RSS. It is a useful way to update yourself on developments very efficiently. I haven't as much online time as I would like these days. Sorry if RSS has been proposed somewhere else on the site; the search function didn't reveal it.

Thanks for the chance to comment.

RSS feeds

Darky: The site has an RSS feed at:


I'm not sure about Safari, but firefox picks it up automatically.

RSS, Safari and Firefox

Right - we have an RSS feed which can be found automatically by some browsers: late versions of Safari (v2.0+) and Firefox, and possibly others. (OS X users - whilst Safari does a good job, it doesn't seem to be growl-enabled, so you may want to stick with Shrook or similar.)

You can also make use of the feed with any of the numerous RSS viewers available. Currently we only show new blogs - not comments. We hope to extend this to comments in the next few weeks.

RSS clarification

Hi David and thanks for the RSS clarification. Now for mine: Already aware of the RSS feed for blogs, I neglected to emphasise in my original post that the comments and fora feeds are the ones I am more interested in.

Blog feeds are of course useful, but given that they are only the headlines, so to speak, they are in the most quickly navigated-to areas on the site and therefore RSS isn't a great efficiency help just for them.

Looking forward to your adding the conversation feeds when you can :-)

For any OS X users, the best little newsreader is "NetNewsWire Lite". It has the same UI as Mac Mail and is a free offshoot of the big boy. It interacts with Safari very precisely in the way the user configures it.

Compared to it, the Firefox bookmark-style thingy is a UI nightmare. Things like Growl and Shrook are so far, without wanting to run them down, much too full of complicated stuff for a user who just wants to monitor information streams rather than bookmark hop.

And, most importantly, NetNewsWire handles every kind of feed without faltering. In comparison, the Firefox one hiccups a lot, and Shrook is a little hesitant too.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

RSS & Safari

OS X 10.4 has a newer version of Safari which has an RSS feed reader built in. I'm hopefully going to be testing it a bit later today. Also, we'll add the usual xml icon to the shapeshifter theme in the next day or so to make it a bit easier. We're also working on making not only blog entries, but also comments available on RSS.

Site development

Thanks Myriad and David for this discussion. The site does have a lot of problems at this early stage, and I too agree with most of what Myriad said. Slowly but surely, things will change and that process will no doubt be hugely driven by this discussion. I wish to add a few points.

  • On comments, although the ability to thread out in multiple directions sounds great, I'm starting to wonder. It certainly needs to be much clearer what's happening, and not just on the page with the comments. Throughout the system it should be clear where a comment threads from.
  • People have become resident 'bloggers' essentially as we know them. We are constantly on the lookout for talent, and as people become known and trusted as forum-starters and commentators, we will be excited to invite them to run their own blog on the site. The way I visualise things at the moment, a forum-post should almost be considered like the everyperson's blog.
  • I'm not sure if we have 'tight editorial control'. But we do edit every post. So far every post has been accepted, most with minor editing, just to make them look better. A couple of them would have looked really bad had they been automatically posted. I know people like the instant-grat of seeing their post as they write it (though noone's ever had that joy at Webdiary), but apart from that bit of private grat, I don't think it adds much else.

Why not a new beginning from Webdiary?

Why is it, that Webdiary always seems to come up?

As I understand it, this is a new project, a new beginning . . . bit like a second marriage . . . and if one keeps looking back to what happened in the first marriage, and compares or insists not to change anything, one will not be able to progress.

Let the past be the past :)

Building on Webdiary

The reason Webdiary keeps being raised is that we are trying to build on Webdiary's successes.

One of Webdiary's many strengths was that it was subject to some editorial control. And in all fairness, so are most sites. Think about it for five seconds - just to stay within the letter of the law it is necessary to exercise some editorial control. The argument seems to be over the level of control!

This site is set to go way beyond Webdiary. There are already a number of differences from Webdiary and, of course, we have tried to keep what we see as the strengths of Webdiary. If we were to simply use 'difference' from Webdiary as our criteria for development, we'd basically be saying that we'd not learnt anything from the Webdiary experience (to keep the marriage metaphor going)!

I think people need to start focusing on the debate about democracy rather than worrying unduly about editorial control.

Never shut up :)

Never shut up :)

As I understand it ........... this site wants us to talk :) .............

(South Australia)