Message Board Usability

This topic contains 180 replies, has 39 voices, and was last updated by  Vannevar 12 mos.

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Feb 16 2013 at 5:19pm #

I think things are pretty good now. The new stuff with linking to the latest post seems to work OK.
One thing, we should think about starting a new Tag-o-Rama thread. I’m pretty sure there’s no solution to the problem with it not linking properly to the last post because there are probably too many posts in that thread.


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Feb 16 2013 at 11:01pm #

Hi everyone – some updates from your friendly neighborhood web designer, aka. the Spiderman to your J. Jonah Jamesonisms.

Firstly, getting the functionality set up to link to the last post you read (and having it be tied to your account vs. your device) is on the list. It involves some custom programming, and therefore will take some time. Another wonderfully dedicated volunteer from the forums and bike community in PGH is working on that. I’ll leave his anonymity in check for now as to avoid people showing up at his door with their phones saying, “Hey, can you make all of the text purple on my Blackberry Flip Phone running Windows 95: The Oregon Trail” type stuff.

Enough of the potatoes though, let’s move onto the meat.

1) Hitting a thread takes you to the last entry. This is disorienting if it’s the first time you go there. I realize that most threads meander and that eventually the title says nothing about the current topic, but it’s hard when you’re dropped into the middle of something that consists of a succession of “+1? reactions to a four word comment.

Again, this is the primary thing we’re looking to get fixed. Until it does, some changes have been made to the main forums page:

  1. Clicking the title of a post takes you to the first post in that thread.
  2. You can still click the “10 mins”, “2 days” ago type of links to go to the most recent post in the thread.
  3. I’ve also added pagination buttons which should prove useful in some situations.

I’ll henceforth not address any more of these…

2) Signalling new posts by subtle changes in color and luminance doesn’t work. It doesn’t have to be the old yellow ball but you should at least be able to glance at the display and instantly see what’s new.

Changes in color have been made a bit more drastic for now. More to come with the fix mentioned above.

3) The cheat sheet on html markup is a vast improvement over the past but it’s cryptic for non-initiates. Why not a link to a Help or a How To Edit? You can then explain what each of the codes mean. Also your current info seems not to be regular html, unless you expect us to already know about stuff like…

If someone would like to create a cheat sheet, I’ll be happy to post it / link to it. My thinking here is that if you don’t know HTML you shouldn’t use it. :P Tables especially will not be able to be added, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be posting data that is appropriate for a table and since the forums run on tables it makes it all the more likely you could explode the moon by doing so.

5) This may not be easy, but it would be nice if the server could take the client into account. The current schemes seems great for mobiles but doesn’t feel right for desktops; the width feels like maybe good for QVGA. Some of us do work on actual computers.

The entire site has been “shrunk down” a bit in general for desktops.

7) My old PMs seem to have vanished. Sigh.

These have been restored, give it another check and see if yours made the cut.

Erok/Nathan/etc – are there any plans afoot to address any of these issues? Especially the new posts thing – is that something the board supports and it just isn’t enabled, or was that functionality removed? I understand it requires saving extra per-user state on the server, but pretty much every message board I have ever used has that feature – even going back to ‘rn’ in the good old days of usenet.

We are working on it! Also remember that Usenet was a predecessor of Skynet, and we all know that they took over the planet in 1998 and that’s probably what’s going on here.

Ah, my #8 (or maybe #2b) would be to change the display on the thread list from “thread starter” back to “last poster”.

I’ve actually added in the last poster…do people want the original poster to be displayed as well or would y’all rather that was disappeared?

Have you guys considered “real” forum software? There are paid and free solutions (free having usual caveats for being free), but most of them have WordPress connectors. bbpress is probably the worst I’ve come across in terms of usability and being programmed properly (the same could be said of WordPress, really).

WordPress is simply put the best content management software out there. BBPress, on the other hand, is not even close to the best forum software but is the best solution for working with WP as of this moment. IMVHO,OC.

People who change their posts in attempt to change after it’s been replied to shall be publicly humiliated.

Yes, I agree. I’m thinking their avatars should be automatically converted to Ohio license plates.

As to searching, one workaround (with the previous as well as the current incarnation) is to use the Google operator and then my terms.

This is a very valid idea and Google search can be pretty easily integrated into the site. Having a separate search for the website & the forums via Google…not so much. I’ll leave that up to Erok to decide for me.

Aside from that, I agree with lots of what is said above, and I want to reiterate what many of us have also said before, a big THANK YOU to Nathan for his pro bono work on this, despite our griping.

Thank you sir! I actually do really appreciate that. :)

Ah, got it! But why wasn’t the brown rectangle there to begin with? How am I supposed to know where to type? And, of course, the field is way too small for me to see what I typed.
Affordance means that you should be able to tell how to use something just by looking at it.

It would appear that you did just that, no?

I’d also be really interested (truly) in seeing a comparison of pre-change and post-change Board traffic. I’ve really reduced my participation because of what is (to me) a degradation of the interface.

It’s too early to tell with any significance as there will be some amount of time while Google checks all the redirects and agrees they’re the same page, but here are a few comparisons (though I won’t use actual #s of visits here as I don’t know if that would be prudent).

  1. Comparing the past 2 weeks to the same two weeks 2 years ago, visits are up 37.25% and pageviews are up 34.7%. New visits are up 60%.
  2. Comparing these 2 weeks to the same 2 weeks one month ago, visits are down 24.2% and pageviews are down 11.86%. The Bounce Rate is also down 10% which means that more people are coming to the site and clicking around instead of just leaving after seeing the first page.

Again, it’s way too early to tell anything as there can be a whole plethora of factors as to the changes in %s in any given 2 week period, after 2 months or so the data will be more solid. I can say that with every redesign of the website traffic has grown, and if the numbers above hold up the same will prove true again…though I would again be speculating if I took any meaning from those numbers.

I’d have to vote against the formatting changes that were made yesterday.
On desktop/laptop browsers, the margins seem to have grown even larger using less of the space for text.

I agree, but this was specifically requested.

On my Android tablet…From the main page ( there are no menus to navigate the site, I couldn’t find any way to get to the forums. On the thread list and thread display, there are no margins at all, which might be a good thing except the text is all crammed into the leftmost quarter of the screen. I haven’t looked on my phone yet.

What Android device do you have? There should be a “menu” button that you can click to expand the navigation and choose things from there.

Actual Fail from an actual (not hypothetical) event.
I wanted to search for a forum thread on “lock your bike”.
Top of the page, see the word Search, I’ve read that’s the search-box so I type in the search string, click the magnifying glass (none of which is intuitive)

I’m not sure what isn’t intuitive about this. I could defend my own position, but I’ll just state that pretty much every device made by apple currently consists of a place to type text and a magnifying glass (the universal symbol for search on the web).

All the results are from blog and website posts, nothing from the thread. That’s no good. What are they thinking? Scan the screen, no help.

This was a specific request from BikePGH because there are like 10 million forum posts per 1 piece of actual BikePGH content so the business was taking a backseat to the pleasure.

Scroll down to below-the-fold, Ah-ha! find another box, SearchTheForums.

Websites do not have folds, scrolling is a natural part of using the Internet. After you learn how to click a mouse button, you learn how to scroll. I think they teach it in kindergarten these days. I’ve heard that the government is going to require people to know how to scroll before allowing them to ever say lol. Etc, etc.

Sorry, I’m getting slightly more snarky as the night goes on… :P

Additional fail: Forum is losing right-side of the text I entered, here’s a screen-shot. (Firefox, XP sp3)

Please do continue to note where this is happening, should be fixed in that thread now but if it happens in other threads let me know.

On the problem of getting logged out. I had a bookmark set to

This shouldn’t be a continuing thing; the site is in the middle of transitioning from to As it does, if you were logged into, you won’t be logged into Once you log into the latter, and once everything is setup with that whole “lose the hyphen” thing, this won’t be an issue. I’m not in control of this aspect of the site, though.

Unfortunately, both and are set to redirect to the latter, broken URL.

Both of those properly redirect to the respective /mb/ site.

More updates to come, have a great weekend and feel free to keep any bugs coming.


Private Message

Feb 17 2013 at 12:56am #

On the android front, I have a nexus 10. Here’s a screenshot of this thread, this is fully zoomed out (100%). I can send more screenshots if you want to see them.

It looks similar on my phone (galaxy nexus).

You are correct about “menu”, I didn’t notice that at first. Although, I still prefer desktop layout to mobile layout in almost all cases on a tablet, and often even on the phone. Most sites respect the “request desktop site” box but this one does not appear to. I’m not sure exactly what it does’ some tweak to user-agent probably.

As far as the desktop margins, even before the change i thought the margins were too wide, and I think others were saying the same… What is the benefit of making them wider and using less space for actual content?

I do appreciate the work you’ve done, thanks! Overall I think the new board/site is an improvement over the old one, and when the last read thing is implemented I’ll be happy with the functionality. I know not everyone will agree about the layout but especially on the tablet I think it goes beyond aesthetics and impacts useability.


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Feb 17 2013 at 2:42am #

I get the same on my IPad2 as the screenshot Salty showed above.


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Feb 17 2013 at 3:51am #

“The entire site has been “shrunk down” a bit in general for desktops…. this was specifically requested.”

Who specifically asked for more wasted space on desktops? It seems like people were asking for just the opposite. Maybe there was a miscommunication?

“Websites do not have folds, scrolling is a natural part of using the Internet.”

I think the point was that if a user is on a forum page, wants to search the forums, and sees a search box, it’s unreasonable to ask him to begin by scrolling down the page to see if there’s a second search box later on.

Could the site-wide search results page have a Search Forums button on it, to repeat the search just in the forums? And vice versa for the forum search results: have a button to also search the rest of the site? That would address part of the problem with having two different search functions. (Ideally, there would be an input field, filled in with the search terms, and two buttons next to it for the two types of searching, at the top of the search results.)

Also, I think one reason people are complaining about the search is simply that search boxes (and other text input fields) on the web or elsewhere generally have a white background with a border around them, while the ones here have the same background color as a menu item (top search box) or a page title (forum search box) and no border. Give them black text on a white background with a thin dark border and they should look like input fields again, not other types of design elements as they do now.

Also, hint text in an input field like “Search…” or “your email” that goes away when you start typing is normally gray, and becomes black when you start typing.


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Feb 17 2013 at 6:49am #

Thanks for posting that screenshot, Salty. That’s exactly my experience on the original iPad and it’s very annoying.

I did not get the PMs back, but then I was one of the ones that got completely dumped in the transition- had to register all over again, and showed up as annonymous for several entries, so I’m guessing I’m SOL there.

It may not be “technically” correct, but the reference to “above the fold” is a good, valid description of what you see when you first look at the page – just like you first saw the information above the fold in a newspaper. maybe you have to be of-a-certain-age to get that, but that doesn’t invalidate it as a useful, descriptive phrase. You knew what was meant by the comment.

Can’t find any option to see the desktop version on the iPad. Is there one?

Like having the page links on the main message board list and a way to get to the last entry in a thread again.

I don’t see a reason for having two separate search buttons on one page. That’s just confusing.

Thanks for providing more time to edit.

Please put this inch and a half wide display issue on the front burner? I do know how to scroll, (I have almost never used ‘LOL’), but I hate needing to constantly scroll in order to read more than one sentence.


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Feb 17 2013 at 11:07am #

Site size: It was initially designed to be adaptive to screen size. This made it disorienting in terms of how large it looked, especially on smaller laptop screens like Macbook 13″ and Macbook Airs to be specific. We heard from a couple of people, and had the experience in-house that the site didn’t show enough above the bottom of the screen (the online version of “above the fold”). We wanted to make the site peek up from below so that people were more willing to scroll down a bit to see the blog content, twitter feed, and calendar.

This is the reasoning behind putting a threshold on the size.


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Feb 17 2013 at 1:01pm #

The site didn’t show enough above the fold (i.e. on the display before any scrolling), so you made the content narrower? That made even less show above the fold, no? Making the page narrower makes it taller.

Do you have any screen shots of the “bad” version? Maybe people on the forum could suggest other ways to change it.

I think one problem here is sorting out the intentional changes from the remaining bugs. Salty’s Android screen shot shows text pushed to the left of a big blue box. When I look at the same page in Firefox with a larger display, I see that same paragraph filling the full width of a blue box, with additional wide borders on the sides. I’m guessing the text is supposed to fill the blue box in both cases. It seems like the wide border inside the blue box on Android may be a separate issue from the wide borders outside that box on Firefox.


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Feb 17 2013 at 6:00pm #

You’re misunderstanding. The entire thing looked enormous. We were trying to shrink the overall look of the site just a bit. We weren’t only looking to narrow it, but make everything just a bit smaller looking. Maybe it’s not working? Would you rather it be as large as it was when it first launched?

Bugs are all logged and being worked out. Hopefully by the end of the week most of this will be taken care of.


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Feb 17 2013 at 8:34pm #

I would like to say, sincerely, that I admire Nathan’s humor and balance and professionalism. Especially in his posted responses, which are somehow simultaneously specific, technical, humorous and good-natured. I really admire that and had to give him a shout-out.

(that combination is hard for anybody, let alone a code-guru)

I really appreciate the stats on usage, that’s informative (and quantitative and that just does something for me) and also, very few people would share numbers but it does help me to understand.



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Feb 17 2013 at 10:36pm #

Thanks for clarifying, Scott.

Honestly I don’t remember all the elements that were different when you guys first introduced the new design. I noticed the avatars got much smaller since then, which was good.

I’d prefer somewhat wider message board content. Right now it looks like it’s using a fixed width of 500 pixels or so on desktops, no matter how wide the browser window gets. Stories on the PG use 675 pixels. Around there seems a little better (or somewhat higher even). But all this is minor. Looking forward to seeing the bugs squashed.


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Feb 18 2013 at 3:05am #

The 40 or 50 or so most common posters on the board have mainly gotten back into the swing of things, but I see too many people have had their identities lost. Any idea what caused that? Mine came through OK, but people like srpit and pbeaver lost theirs and signed up with new IDs.

Is there any way of linking back up some of the people who still show up as “anonymous”, such as nlesgold?


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:13am #

Here’s a shot of the thread list from my phone, like the thread display there is a lot of wasted horizontal space:

That is on a Galaxy Nexus, it looks similar on my Nexus 10 (with more wasted space), and as others have indicated above it’s not just an Android issue but happens on ipads as well.


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:22am #

And, as far as devices with small screens, I use a range of devices from a desktop with a 30″ monitor down to an 11.6″ chromebook and I don’t agree that squeezing things into a narrow portion of the screen helps on any screen size. Here’s a screenshot from my chromebook, maybe 1/3 of the width is used for actual content which means a whole lot of unnecessary scrolling. There is absolutely nothing in the greyish spaces on the sides, so it’s just wasted.

Also, note the embedded image in the screenshot below (i.e. the N10 screenshot I posted earlier which is 1600px wids) is cut off and there is no way to see the whole image aside from right-clicking and “view image in new tab”. It’s definitely good to limit the visual width of embedded images since I’ve seen that wreak havoc on other forums, but there should be some way to click and see the whole image (many users may not realize the “open in new tab” trick), and I think preferably the image should be scaled instead of truncated.


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:24am #

You can see the same issue in Salty’s Nexus images on desktops too, when the browser window is narrow enough. Looks like it’s still leaving space for the column it omits when the window’s narrow.


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:53am #

Posts cut off on right side on iPhone 5 in profile view, no way to scroll right for the rest of the post. :(


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:59am #

Argh, images too on the desktop

Screenshot of the previous issue so it fits:


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Feb 18 2013 at 12:10pm #

testing 1, 2, check.


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Feb 18 2013 at 12:47pm #


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Feb 18 2013 at 1:26pm # — bad formatting for the last two posts.


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Feb 18 2013 at 1:34pm #

^yep me too.


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Feb 18 2013 at 1:36pm #

I like the current setup. There are enough bells and whistles without there being a ton of crap. Simple and well done.


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Feb 18 2013 at 1:57pm #

Okay an update on the read/unread posts front: We’ve made some progress, though you still can’t link to the last post you read, you’ll now see yellow icons next to posts you haven’t read yet. That means both posts you’ve never read and those which have new posts on them that you just haven’t read yet.

As always, let the feedback pour in!

@salty and others seeing text / images cut off, please if you would let me know if you’re still seeing this. I can’t test on every device out there but have done some testing on a few Android devices (phones & tablets) and believe this is largely sorted out, but likely there will still be some additional tweaks needed.

One question though @salty, what phone do you

The site does not respect “request desktop version” because there is only one version of the site which is changed dynamically based on screen size vs. device.

Could the site-wide search results page have a Search Forums button on it, to repeat the search just in the forums?

Great idea, implemented! I’ve also added a link on that page to allow you to Google something you were searching for and restrict the results to

It may not be “technically” correct, but the reference to “above the fold” is a good, valid description of what you see when you first look at the page

I agree but unlike newspapers which have set sizes, computers, laptops, etc. don’t and so there are 1,000 different “folds” and therefore it’s a bit impossible to account for them.

The site didn’t show enough above the fold (i.e. on the display before any scrolling), so you made the content narrower? That made even less show above the fold, no? Making the page narrower makes it taller.

No, because while we increased the margins we shrunk everything else down, too. It’s all sort of tied together.

I would like to say, sincerely, that I admire Nathan’s humor and balance and professionalism.

And I would like to say that I love you, Vannevar! I’m a very emotional person and spent the weekend crying myself to sleep (instead of drinking myself to said state, so I suppose all worked out for the best!)

Sinceriously though, I do appreciate everyone’s positive and negative/constructive bits. Still working at everything to make sure it’s 100% across all devices.


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Feb 18 2013 at 2:15pm #

Kinda curious as to the differentiation among “Key Master”, Member, and Participant. The first is Nathan and the Bike-Pgh staffers who have God privileges over the site, or effectively so. As to Members, it only seems to be a precious few people. I see that srpit’s new ID classifies as such, same with Mikhail.

If there is some cross-reference between paid BP membership and what pops up on the list, it isn’t working. I guess it really doesn’t matter, and I guess I do long for the old distinctions among
* people who are newcomers
* people who have made a couple dozen posts
* people who have made a couple hundred posts
* people who have made over 1,000 posts
– or however that distinction was made.


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Feb 18 2013 at 2:39pm #

As of a minute ago, a few posts in the “lock it right” thread are cut off for me (as described above). The words just vanish at the end of the grey/blue blocks as if covered by the white background of the page.

It’s happening to all of the posts on the page, not just the last few… but it’s more evident in some. All of the pictures look a bit off, except for erica’s at the top of the page.

I’m on a Mac desktop via chrome at the moment.


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Feb 18 2013 at 2:45pm #

I finally surrendered and switched to Firefox from IE9 (on W7). My user satisfaction went up 768% as measured by calculating some obscure variables with my blood pressure and overall mood….this regularly fluctuates around 200% on it’s own…so this is a good thing! :)


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Feb 18 2013 at 2:48pm #

^Oh, and I did that last nonsensical post to test Stu’s theory. I’m a member but show up here as a participant…why did I bother to test it?! intellectual curiousity, I guess, because I really don’t care what you call me as long as it isn’t late for dinner (as my grandparents would say).


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Feb 18 2013 at 2:52pm #

I like the yellow icons. And thanks Nathan for introducing me to the word “sinceriously”.

It looks like the cut off text starts in the post following one with an over-wide image:

It’s as if it takes the wide image’s edge as a new right margin.

Also, the topic list is getting pushed in somehow. It’s not extending into the area I have subtly indicated below. :-)

This is with Firefox on Windows.


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Feb 18 2013 at 3:58pm #

I’m not sure at what resolution this starts happening, but if my firefox window is small, the website and forum lose all menu options at the top of the page. All that shows is the search bar.

Also, at the small resolution, the avatars are super small. Smaller than the text.

Lastly, if I’m not mistaken, in the old forums, clicking on the username in the latest message page would take you to the last message, now it takes you to the user-page

buffalo buffalo

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Feb 18 2013 at 5:15pm #

@pierce, clicking usernames i think always takes you to the user-page–clicking the time code for the last post now takes you to that last post.


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Feb 18 2013 at 6:12pm #

Thank you for the yellow dots. That definitely helps usability.

Meanwhile, I’ve trained myself to type Ctrl-End then PgUp a time or two, which gets me close enough to the last unread post.


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Feb 18 2013 at 7:40pm #

@nathan – right side of text no longer cutting off on iphone… good fix. Thanks!


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Feb 18 2013 at 8:43pm #

My scrolling problem is fixed. Thanks Nathan!


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Feb 18 2013 at 10:29pm #

Looks much better on my tablet and phone now, the text isn’t completely crammed to the left – thanks!

Although, there’s still a bit of weird line wrapping going on, on both mobile and desktop devices. The first paragraph in each post is formatted slightly differently. I’m on my tablet now so I can’t easily look at the CSS but it looks like the font is a tad larger and the line length is a bit longer on the first paragraph vs subsequent paragraphs. I prefer the longer lines, the font size I could go either way on.


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Feb 18 2013 at 10:37pm #

nathan wrote:The site does not respect “request desktop version” because there is only one version of the site which is changed dynamically based on screen size vs. device

I see what you’re saying but in effect you do get fairly different layouts on desktop vs mobile. On mobile there is only a single “menu” button, the margins are much smaller, and there is no stuff on the right. I actually prefer all of that aside from the menu thing, now that the formatting is fixed. But I’m used to being able to get the “real” site if I want it for some reason.

PS, I just discovered one cool feature, if I select a block of text and hit quote it only quotes the selected text. I hoped it worked that way.


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:28pm #

Perhaps the next site should just be a custom theme built by everyone here. So much nerdy bike talk goes on here that I just log it on my time sheet as general user research.


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Feb 18 2013 at 11:38pm #

Both the dots and the “last posted” names are a great help–thanks, Nathan!


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Feb 19 2013 at 8:02am #

I would love it if the width of the site took in to account whether my phone was in landscape mode or portrait. The layout is currently only ever as wide as portrait mode on safari and chrome on iphone5.


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Feb 19 2013 at 9:07am #

On my tablet the width definitely adjusts for portrait vs landscape, but mostly just by making the fonts larger. The margins also change but the content per line is roughly the same (although not identical).


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Feb 19 2013 at 10:29am #

And, what I just said does not apply to my phone, where I see the same thing as benzo (on a galaxy nexus)

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