Wandering Thoughts archives


Sometimes it takes other people to show you some of your site's design flaws

Recently, I wrote an entry about people's efficiency expectations for generics in Go, and also wound up having a little discussion in the comments of that entry. The r/golang reddit linked to my entry, so I read it, and one thing I noticed was that one of the people commenting probably didn't realize that the entry and my comment on it had been written by the same person.

My first reaction was uncharitable, but then I put myself in that commentator's shoes and had a rather more humbling reaction. Looking at it from the outside, right now there's no particularly obvious sign in how I display comments here that the 'cks' who left a comment is in fact the author of the entry. There are contextual clues (for example 'cks' appears in several places around Wandering Thoughts, including the URL and my Fediverse link), but there's nothing that says it clearly. Even my name is not directly visible on the comment; I hide it behind an <abbr> element with a title, which is not obvious at the best of times and is probably completely invisible on mobile browsers, something I didn't know until yesterday.

(Because I'm likely to change how comments are displayed, right now the comment authorship for me looks like 'By cks at ...'. The 'cks' is the <abbr>, if it doesn't show in your browser.)

Obviously I should do something about this specific flaw in how DWiki (the wiki engine underlying this blog) displays comments written by myself, although I haven't decided exactly how it should look. But this is also a useful general lesson in how flaws in our own designs can linger until someone points them out, and also on how the flaws may not be pointed out in an obvious and explicit way. Any time you wind up thinking 'how could someone not see that?' about some aspect of your website, you should probably step back and take a serious attempt at figuring out why. There may be a good reason.

(This can be extended to more than websites. Over time, I've learned that when people miss something or misunderstand what I've written here, often I haven't quite written what I thought I did. I've assumed too much background, or I haven't written out what was obvious in my head, or I've cut some corners. It all looked good to me in reading it over before posting, because I knew what I was talking about, but other people don't. I've seen similar issues come up when I put together Grafana dashboards for our monitoring setup; I knew what they were saying and how to read them, but my co-workers didn't and so couldn't follow the morass.)

PeopleShowYouSiteFlaws written at 23:35:14; Add Comment


Today I learned that HTML <abbr> may not do much on mobile browsers

For some time, I've been using HTML <abbr> elements with title attributes in my writing here on Wandering Thoughts. Sometimes I use it purely to provide a friendly expansion of abbreviations, like a TLS CA or MITM; sometimes the expansion acquires some additional commentary, such as the mention of <abbr> itself in this entry, and sometimes I use it for little asides. In a couple of contexts I use it to provide additional information; for example, any of my comments here (currently) say that they are 'by cks', where the <abbr> is used to add my name.

Today I had a reason to look at some of my pages that are using <abbr> in a mobile browser, specifically the iOS mobile browser. That was when I learned that iOS Safari doesn't render <abbr> in any visible way, which is fairly reasonable because there's no real way to interact with it; on desktops, an <abbr>'s title is shown when you hover the mouse over it, but on mobile there's no hover. This is a bit surprising because both MDN's <abbr> page and CanIUse currently say that it's fully supported on mobile browsers.

Once I started doing Internet searches it appears that this is a long standing issue and unlikely to change (because of the hover problem). There are various workarounds with both CSS and JavaScript, but I'm not certain I like any of them, especially with how I've historically used <abbr> here; some of my <abbr> usage would look very out of place if displayed inline in some way. Given that a decent amount of browsing comes from mobile these days, this is likely going to cause me to rethink how I use <abbr> here on Wandering Thoughts and likely use it a lot less, if at all. Probably a lot more terms will wind up as actual links to explanations of them, which is not necessarily a bad change overall.

This is a useful lesson to me that the web, and especially the mobile web, is an ongoing learning experience. Things that I think I know should be tested every so often, and I should look at my own sites in a mobile browser more often.

(As part of this, I should find out if there's a not too annoying and difficult way to look at and interact with my sites from an Android browser, despite not having any Android devices myself.)

HTMLAbbrAndMobileBrowsers written at 23:16:50; Add Comment

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