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

June 23, 2020

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.)

Written on 23 June 2020.
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Last modified: Tue Jun 23 23:35:14 2020
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