At the STB Quarterly Board Meeting last Saturday –ok, informed nerds having brunch– we discussed at length various ways to improve STB. We want to grow our readership, fix technical challenges, and improve the reader experience. This thread is your chance to let us know what you’d like to see on STB. A few seed thoughts:
(1. Comments. Trolling is significantly diminishing the quality of comment threads. Of course, please don’t feed the trolls, but STB also has a strong position against blocking commenters unless they are abusive. To improve everyone’s experience, we are beginning the process of overhauling the comment system. What would you like to see? Possibilities include :
- Up/down ratings to bury trolls at the bottom of the thread and reward smart comments
- A return to deeper threading
- Integration with Facebook comments
- A preview/edit feature
(2. Template and Design. We’ve taken pride in the lightweight, minimalist framing of STB. Articles are always on the front page, there are no sections, etc… We’ve wanted to keep the posts timely, on-point, frequent, and accessible, and a simple site has been great at doing that. Nonetheless, cross-referencing with past posts is more difficult than it should be, and there is currently no organization of posts by thematic content. We’re considering adding tab-like features just above the current article, with your standard array of reference articles, such as About Us, Best Arguments, Seattle for Visitors, Agency Links, Blogroll, etc. We’re also working on a mobile theme. Aesthetic comments from information designers would be quite helpful.
(3. Content and Audience. We know that STB is a high-concept, incurably wonky blog. We attempt to conduct good analysis, have good conversation, and hopefully have a political impact. With a few exceptions (we’re human) we try to avoid the polemical, lazily framed writing that predominates at many other transportation sites. Most items here are news+analysis, with occasional strong editorials, guest pieces, and of course Sunday Open Threads. But what types of articles do you want more and less of?
(4. Advertising. How is the current advertising working for you? Our goal is for it to be mostly transportation related, non-intrusive, and bring in a healthy revenue stream. We value the ability to make the site financially self-sustaining and subsidize meetups, and advertising has been successful for us so far.
116 Replies to “Help Us Improve STB”
How about a “Page Two Girl” type feature, except it is a transit vehicle of some sort ;-)
It’s ok to be tough on trolls. There are million other places for them but there’s only one STB. Keep deleting their posts and they’ll go away. Let them post at the Seattle Times.
Since there is only one STB, the blog should require all commenters to swear an oath of allegiance to STB.
Generally speaking, the articles and posts are almost always very good reading–usually well thought out, well presented and almost always thought provoking. But we all know that the comment threads are usually a useless waste of reading time. Rarely does anything of value sift through all the trolling and snarky didacticism that follows a good post. There’s nothing more depressing than reading a good original post and then scrolling through 88 comments that are mostly of a middle finger mentality. But I think that’s partly due to the “breaking news” format at STB. I would like to see a message board that allows some topics a chance to evolve over the course of several days or even weeks. I’m thinking of message boards like Infopop or phpBB, for example. On those style boards, the topics that continue to generate interest rise to the top of the list and topics that aren’t timely will fall to the bottom of the list.
Yes, pretty please to Edit and Preview. And for those of us who aren’t tech geeks, a board that doesn’t require HTML. On most message boards, if a writer wants to quote, link, bold or underline, it doesn’t require a knowledge of HTML to get it done. It is rather ironic that a website devoted to modern, cutting edge transportation technology has a message board that is horse and buggy technology.
I’ll humbly disagree on your point about comment threads being useless. Many of the compliments I get in person about STB are about the valuable discussions that the posts elicit through comments. Trolls aside, I welcome many a hearty debate and discussion.
Actually the signal to noise ratio is quite high on STB posts.
OK–I’ll point the finger at myself and say that I am being snarky with the “useless” comment, but it is a huge frustration to read a good post and then watch the comment thread devolve into a bitch-slapping session.
Yeah, I agree that the comments on STB are uncommonly thoughtful and on-point, but I do think the idea of a message board makes sense to sustain more long-term discussions. After a day or two I think most people stop looking at the comment threads of older posts, even if some people would like to continue the conversation or have a question they’d like answered by the larger audience.
At least 50% of the comments contain new useful information. For instance, Velo’s comment about potentially redirecting the Issaquah-downtown expresses to Issaquah-South Bellevue-UW. The useless messages are easy to ignore if you’re not amused by them.
Nobody has to read past the article if the so wish. I personally think that there are a lot of sites with articles and the commenting (and the frequency of the articles) is what keeps me coming here every day. I don’t know of too many other sites that I visit daily.
While frustrating and annoying, I think on balance, the presence of certain “trolls” has added particular character to the place. Some of the trolls simply have a strong point of view and simply blather without any data to backup their assertions. Others use data but perhaps inappropriately. Even when the conclusions are “wrong” they provoke thought. At least it’s not an echo chamber.
I like the idea of comment ratings but would caution against a system that buries comments entirely (except for policy moderation). I would also strongly argue against ANY affiliation with Facebook. In my view, their tools are insidious and do not respect user privacy. On the other hand, and only because for some reason I trust Google more than I should, I’d be more comfortable with their +1 links. Heck, I’ve already established a “Transit Nerd” Circle on Google+.
To get really specific:
– Up/down: I hated doing up downs in PE (You stand on a mat, teacher blows whistle, you lay stomach-down on mat, stand back up, repeat every 1.5 seconds). But up/downs here are OK. I don’t care either way.
– deeper threading: Please!
– Integration with Facebook comments: Dislike
– A preview/edit feature: Please! But if I could only pick one, I’d like deeper threading. And the reply link back up top.
2) Template and Design.
Seems fine as it is. I don’t like your chosen font, so I override it in my browser. Also, I have it as a fluid width instead of fixed. I don’t really care what you do; I’ll just override it in my browser. The white is kind of like shining a flashlight in my eyes though.
3) Content and Audience
Again seems fine. I keep coming back because I like what’s here.
You’re one of the few sites on my Adblock whitelist. Aside from the “Your Capitol Hill” ads, the ones seen here are unobtrusive and I actually look at them from time to time. But the Your Capitol Hill ads were overly flashy, and I blacklisted this site for a while until those ads went away.
One other thing I’d like–tagging. For posts. Nothing fancy, but an easy way to see all “East Link” or “First Hill Streetcar” posts via a tag would be nice.
This is probably the simplest “organization of posts by thematic content” you could do.
I was also going to suggest tagging – it would be be a really easy way for readers to get up to speed quickly, or research old posts, and topics would fall into place very simply, since so many of them are about specific construction projects.
NIX on that!
That would be nice along with a standard forum like array of buttons for embedded links, blockquote, etc. However, I found the site Real-time HTML Editor which I like even better than one suggested here a little while back.
Tags like “East Link” “Roosevelt” “Electric Trolly Bus” might be helpful. In general it’s difficult to search for old posts/comments. An archive search page would be nice. I don’t know about tabs above the current article. It might make the layout look cluttered.
Facebook? What’s that?
An edit/preview feature would be wonderful!
I agree that keywords or tags might be better than adding tabs. For sections, add a feature to search on keywords. The section is just a link that does the search. Finding old posts in the archive is a PITA.
+1 on tags. Tags could be easily and non-intrusively integrated into the current layout.
would suggest integrating tinyMCE for the text response field … it’s free and handles all of the formatting that people always have questions about
I too have been always wanting an actual forum for this site where we can discuss transit other than simply commenting on a post
1. The person in question has mastered the exploitation of STB’s well-meaning commitment to open discussion by skirting the letter of the rules but not debating in good faith. This can either be fixed by moderators deleting his posts out of hand or a popular vote up/down feature to hide. Facebook integration would not improve matters — it would discourage many posters and wouldn’t stop the kind of irascible person we’re dealing with. Preview/edit is vastly overdue. I would also agree that comment threads are often extremely informative when they’re not overrun with troll shit.
2. It’s fine, keep it.
3. Current mix is fine by me. I wish we could get more guest posts from electeds, but I realize you can’t just dial those up on demand. If anything I’d like to see more prescriptive policy discussions, but I realize that many of you who I’d most like to hear from are professionally enjoined from talking about such things.
4. I never see them anyway.
The letter of the rules allows us to do pretty much whatever we want. I don’t want to censor or block people that occasionally make a good or useful point.
I have no qualms with moderating thread hijacking, but it becomes much more difficult when people respond in those threads, or worse yet, preemptively feed the troll by anticipating such a comment.
So don’t do it, everyone.
Someone will ALWAYS respond. There are enough people here who get annoyed and it only takes one to bite and then it all goes downhill. The occasional interesting point is vastly outweighed by having to wade through frequent piles of shit.
By “letter of the rules” I meant that his posts are not blatantly off-topic or ad hominem, but are invariably unconstructive, disparaging and designed to infuriate, and the subsequent arguments are disingenuous and pointless, as nothing will ever cause him to admit the possibility of error.
We need to remember that there are plenty of Norman Chadwicks in the world and their viewpoints need to be heard, examined, discussed and refuted in a civilized manner. Norman is often intentionally provocative and he has a right to be. But I doubt that he has persuaded very many people to his point of view. I know I sometimes like to take a cheap swipe at Norman, but the result is usually a distraction from the issues at hand. If the comment thread goes haywire, it’s usually because some of us fail to keep our comments civil and on-topic, not because of Norman (and other’s) silliness.
There’s a difference between being intentionally provocative but open to persuasion, and intentionally and almost exclusively posting comments designed to sidetrack the debate into arguments that are incoherent, dishonest, misleading and which typically have been rehashed about eight different times before to no useful conclusion.
“The occasional interesting point is vastly outweighed by having to wade through frequent piles of shit.”
Yes, yes, and yes. Seriously, Martin, when was the last time you said, “Wow, that was a good and useful point”? Did the point’s value really outweigh the mountains of disparaging drivel you waded through to find it? And how sure are you no one else would have made the point anyway? I myself have certainly self-censored a small critique of (say, just for example) Link because I was so sure, as history has demonstrated time and again, the person in question would use it as an excuse to extrapolate into the world of boondoggles and start a whole fifty-comment storm.
Fine, I guess, if you don’t want to block, but at least trust this community enough to use an up/down feature responsibly. You can always take it away if it doesn’t work out.
Occasionally playing devil’s advocate = good. Being the devil but being coy about it = destructively provocative. It actually depletes my energy and patience when I read Norman’s posts. They’re very effective in that manner. If I could just hit down vote and move on, that would be helpful.
Reminds me of this recent controversy:
“It’s not political correctness, it’s fundamental respect. If you think the swastika symbol should be re-evaluated by societies all over the Earth, I think that’s great. Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is probably not the right place to do that. And by the way, that doesn’t just go for the Swastika, it applies to many other symbols as well that my team does indeed take action on when we see it. ”
Some people think that our society should completely re-think transportation, telecommuting, etc, and that’s great. However a blog with “Transit” in the name is probably not the right place to do that, and deleting the threads seems like a completely appropriate response.
There is no such thing as a “troll”. There is no such thing as “hijacking a thread”.
There are people who make provocative comments (no result unless others respond in-kind) There are folks who allow conversational drift to draw a discussion off-topic. But blaming one or more individuals for posting in such a manner as to (in the view of some) “create” an “undesirable result” is short-sighted, illogical, and in some way claiming that there are those with Svengali-like influence over others that needs to be smacked down with the Force in order to prevent the Dark Side from “taking over”.
Nobody has to read anything that they don’t want to read. Nobody has to respond to something that they find offensive. Nobody has to “wade through” anytyhing unless they actively choose to do so beyond the microsecond or more it takes to scan with eyeball and move to the next post or thread.
If you guys want to bump traffic, you’ll look at having more features to allow users to make choices consistent with varied preferences – but not more rules to control the words of those who take the time to participate and contribute to your resource in any fashion
I have been using the STB site for years as an example of my good web design skills. I’ll have to save a copy somewhere if you guys change it!
No ranking please. It has a tendency to get corrupted by trolls. If moderators want to highlight comments they find useful, that might be interesting.
Enforce moderation of off-topic posts more strictly. Consider making some topics off-topic, even for open threads, e.g., hydrogen-fueled vehicles, bus/train economy, telecommuting. In compensation, you could have a few sacrificial posts on those topics.
As noted above, ixnay on the acebookfay, and preview/edit is very desireable.
Deeper threading would be very nice. Five levels would probably be enough; three is not.
Template and design:
Simplicity and quick loading should be the priority. Unlike Tim, i like the white background, but I usually have the lights on when I’m reading.
Don’t blow up when someone uses a long URL.
Content and audience:
Fewer posts on the SR 99 tunnel.
Just make it unobtrusive. And quick-loading.
Try visiting at midnight, with a new moon, in a darkened room, in the winter ;)
+ 1 on the tags. Easy, unobtrusive, and widely known solution
I’d also add that I think it’s difficult for new readers and/or new transit enthusiasts to break into this blog. It might be wise to balance dense content with some additional lighter content. Perhaps a “Transit 101” series that is featured a couple times a month – things that could be shared on Facebook and draw in new readers. Perhaps guest writers who detail their transportation “journal” or stories of their riding experiences. Yes, this might be considered “fluff” content, but it’s the face to the numbers, and it could help draw in others.
Oran blogged about his inter-country transit adventure here.
I’ve enjoyed the various posts by Oran and others regarding lengthy, obscure and interesting transit journeys. I also notice that some of us don’t live in the Seattle area currently, for one reason or another–perhaps there could be a tab or page that has posts, photos etc. about different transit systems elsewhere–good, bad and downright ugly! (Travelers could add to this as well.)
It’s been useful to see from posters’ personal experience what works and doesn’t work elsewhere, and how that could be applicable to our area.
How about some interviews, debates, or guest posts from people you disagree with? Kemper Freeman, Kevin Wallace, etc. Not only would it be an interesting for us to read, it would grow your readership because if your guest says something quotable, local news organizations would then mention your blog in association with the quote.
Also, thumbs down on Facebook integration.
Editing, yes. Facebook, no. Ads are fine as they are.
More open threads per week would be nice, or a separate forums area where readers can comment on various topics.
Re: 3. Content. I propose an ongoing series of foundational articles named “Seattle Transit 101”. They would be about how certain institutions, operations, places, landmarks, and people related to Seattle transit came to be, not to be, or ceased to be. Basically, posts about the what, why, how, when, who of transit operations in Seattle. You have some examples under “Best Arguments”/”Best Reference Posts” – though they’d be more historical.
I’d like to see an expansion of the political action aspect. On a variety of topics the last line will be something like: ‘Send your comments to X.’ Instead, of X just being an email address what if it linked to an already typed up form letter. Give the ability to edit/add to but make it as easy as possible. This will not only make it easier/quicker for STB readers to send in comments, but also easier for us to share and get our friends/contacts/followers/etc who may care about transit, but aren’t as wonky as us to do so.
Along those lines, have a ‘Share this article with Facebook’ button.
Yes, yes, yes! More activism from this blog would be VERY helpful…
1) I’m sure if you did some analysis you’d find the comment threads where the trolls are active are some of the most heavily-commented of all. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, it just is what it is. Trolls have a tendency to raise the emotional tone of the comments but also elicit comments from those who otherwise may not be inclined. Being able to vote down troll comments is the best way to deal with it in my humble opinion.
– Up/down ratings – YES PLEASE – I personally have requested this feature in the past.
– A return to deeper threading – No opinion
– Integration with Facebook comments – Meh
– A preview/edit feature – YES PLEASE
2) The mobile theme seems most important to me here. I really appreciate the emphasis on keeping STB lightweight.
3) The content has kept me captive, so keep up the good work.
4) The advertising is minimally intrusive and when I have noticed it, it seems relevant. I understand it is required to cover costs, so I think the balance you have chosen is fine.
1) up/down: Yes. I have specific ideas on this. How about a simple button next to each comment (that looks like a troll? some sites label it “abuse”) indicating someone’s broken the rules (which are posted somewhere), and each time someone clicks it the comment becomes lighter and lighter. This frees your editors up, and would allow them to quickly scan for comments to delete.
deeper threading: yes please.
I don’t have many comments on 2-4 – I generally like the look and feel of this site, and the ads aren’t invasive.
1. Yes to deeper threading (comments get lost if not timely) and an edit feature. I proof my comments being submitted but spot mistakes immediately after posting.
Some of your readers feel they have to counter every post that doesn’t neatly fit into their view of things. I find alternate opinions to require some thought and enjoy them, as long as it doesn’t become a mud slinging competition. As soon as a comment gets personal, I move to the next, so they wasted their ink on me. I don’t visit the blog much because of all the ‘kill the trolls’ foot soldiers out there. If they want a monocrome world, read George Orwell’s 1984.
3. It’s a Blog, run by volunteers, and a good one. Thank you gentlemen and ladies from time to time for you service to transit. It does make a difference.
4. Somebody has to keep the light on.
I’d actually prefer to do away with threading. I find it makes it harder to track new comments on a page. I have to re-read the entire thread to see if there are any new ones. The discussions on MetaFilter are some of the best on the internet, in my opinion, and part of the reason for that is that they don’t have threading that lets people take over little corners of the conversation.
I definately vote for some way of seeing new comments. This could be by removing threading, but I’d prefer keeping the threading and indicating in some way which comments are new since you visited last (a little star next to them would work).
+1 on the little star idea.
Or instead of a star, a small version of the site logo.
(Add me as another voice in favor of a tagging system, too.)
I have a CSS feed of all comments to STB I watch. I believe you can do this for individual posts if you want as well.
Voting on comments might seem like a good idea, but it never seems to work like you’d imagine. I like the discussion, thread-based commenting here. My favorite thing about STB is that the comments can actually be productive and sometimes a consensus can be reached. That’s amazing, and a big strength to the site. Maybe a feature where if enough people vote down a comment it gets hidden would work, but don’t do a most-popular up top sort of thing.
I agree that some simple tags would go a long way.
I don’t like facebook-based comments.
More ads would be fine if that means it helps you all out. So long as there are no pop-ups, overlay ads or ads with sound, sell what you can!
No Facebook integration.
Overall I basically think the commenting system is working. Because signal-to-noise is still high here, I like that all comments are exposed to read by default. With a couple of exceptions:
1. I was thinking almost exactly what Matt the Engineer wrote regarding trolls: just have a simple troll button readers can click. At some threshold it collapses the thread, or maybe the thread collapses when the moderators agree.
2. I definitely want to edit comments.
3. Increasing the nesting would be great — I like to know what exactly what people are responding to.
I generally like the template, design and content. My two-year old son would argue that you need “more trains,” however I don’t think you could add enough trains to the blog to please him anyway. :-)
WPTouch Plugin: please, for us on mobile devices
Facebook: Having STB using The Root Of All Evil(TM)? Heck NO!!
phpBB? Yes, something like that
Transit 101? Yes please. Always a pleasure explaining ORCA & the different agencies to the tourists. NOT!! Related humor: just last week there was someone looking for the 194 and refused to believe when my brother said “there is no 194, take Central Link” – they were so stubborn that they eventually called a cab, because they refused to believe anyone who said the 194 was long dead.
Comment editing? Yes, I’ve made errors than needed minor corrections
WYSIWYG Editor? Yes, a simple editor and hopefully an end to long links blowing up the page.
Fluid layout for my oversized laptop monitor (MacRumors, for example, has a fixed, fluid (within reason; only expands so much so it’s not too wide), and “Fluid HD” (that expands all the way) selector depending on your choice.
Vehemently disagree on WPTouch plugin. I don’t visit sites that use WPTouch.
ok fair enough.
WPTouch is what came to mind when I was viewing this site on my Windows Phone
I think STP used the WPTouch plugin for a while. I absolutely hated it. If for no other reason that it completely ignored comment threading.
I know I’m the only one who hates threading here, so ignoring threading isn’t a negative to me. But I’ve been outnumbered on that for a long time.
Anyway, the site is very hard to read on my iPhone. Please do something to fix that.
I think the facebook idea is great. Myballard.com recently did this and trolling completely stopped. Keep people accountable.
Keep people away, more like it. My family members don’t care about my transit interests, and people here probably don’t care about videos of my son. I’d probably create a second Facebook profile just to post comments.
Plus my office blocks links to anything like Facebook, so no more lunchtime reading for me. That’s why I’ve stopped reading Publicola.
Sounds like MyBallard had pretty amateurish trolls.
There are various “wider than one site” comment frameworks blogs can use, e.g. Disqus; they have their good points, and I’m not completely opposed to them, but Facebook is another story — Facebook is too creepy, too greedy, too technically incompetent, and far too willing to sacrifice the interests of its users.
[I try to do my part: If a site uses Facebook commenting, I won’t leave any comments.]
I don’t have a Facebook account.
and i came here to note that facebook commenting has killed commenting on the myballard front page. not only have the trolls stayed away, but so have most of the people with interesting or constructive things to say. it’s gone from pages of comments to two or three that are completely bland. no thank you.
I’m a big fan of the News Roundup stuff – I often read at least 30-50% of the links provided. I realize there is only so many you can sniff out and provide for us, but the more of those the better in my opinion, as long as they remain interesting and relevant.
If you have a troll problem, it’s pretty benign. I am not sure who your troll even is .
Leave the same, exept add edit feature.
If you must rank, keep it positive-only. Highlight exceptional comments with it in some graphical way.
Of course it could be like a poker table; if you can’t spot the fish, you are the fish.
My priorities, in order:
1. Collapse all comments except those made since my last visit to a thread
2. An edit function
3. Tags and other features to improve site search
4. Up/down arrows that push down or fade out the obnoxious stuff, or whatever you can do to limit the troll no one seems to want to name in this thread.
5. Not sure why, in 2011, I’m still typing out “” on any site
6. Those of us who aren’t bus nerds would love an image-heavy reference post on bus manufacturers and models (as well as pros and cons and various route applications)—at the moment I wouldn’t know a Breda from a Gillig from a New Flyer if one ran me over.
7. See? Edit function.
1) Comments, NO linking with facebook. YES to preview/edit.
2) I like the lightweight design. How about adding a tagging system? The other day I wanted to show my Bellevue-born coworker the excellent coverage STB has done of the Bellevue light rail controversy, but I couldn’t figure out how to gather the several articles together. If each of them had a clickable hashtag or something “#Bellevue” for example, and clicking on that page would bring up all posts about Bellevue, that would be rad.
3) Content: STB is the best source of transit information in the whole state. I’d love to see more on regional integration, best practices being adopted by transit systems around the state, and news from the small transit agencies. What’s going on in Clark County with the link to Portland MAX? What can the success of WWU bus pass integration with WTA in Whatcom County teach other transit systems that serve colleges? Are we ever going to see an Amtrak Cascades-style train linking Seattle and Spokane? Bumping up the frequency of the occasional regionwide/statewide-focused articles just a tad would be great. Maybe once a week do a short “outside Seattle” piece? (I know it’s SEATTLE Transit blog, so I’m not saying do it all the time, just a little more often)
4) Ads are fine. Amtrak Cascades should be throwing more money at you though. Talk about targeted marketing for them!!
I like your outside Seattle piece idea! Would be great to have thoughts on other systems.
We occasionally have the “transit report card” series reviewing other cities like SF.
I would love to see Markdown support. It’s much simpler than HTML, and harder to get wrong.
An edit feature would be handy, but if you add one, make sure that you indicate that a post has been edited. Otherwise, you can have weird situations where a reply no longer makes sense because the comment it’s replying to has changed so much. Alternatively, you could skip the edit feature, and just add a delete feature.
I think that a message board is a great idea, and would be a fantastic replacement for open threads. This, combined with stricter topic enforcement for regular posts, would go a long way towards keeping conversations relevant. And if there were forum threads for “bus vs. rail”, and for “alternative fuels”, then we could declare those topics off-topic for other threads, which would be great.
Also, +1 on the up/down vote.
Most—OK, many—sites turn off the edit function either once someone replies to the comment or after a certain period of time (or both). Seems to pretty much take care of any confusion.
The “You have 15 minutes to edit” works well on sites that have it. It gives enough time to reread your post and spot errors or things you forgot.
I like the above ideas on content like political and equipment details. There’s a lot of historical knowledge here too, maybe some history posts.
That would definitely be cool!
1. Comments: Up/down ratings would be great for relevance and popularity. Bring back further threading, but make it so threads can be hidden at-will. It would be great if ye used Disqus and had Twitter integrated/login. Don’t care too much for Facebook. I don’t think it’s as relevant for this website. If you do include Facebook, you have to include Twitter! Preview/edit option would be great!
2. Template and Design: Definitely make tabs. It’d be great if posts were better organised. Perhaps into series?
3. Content: I’d genuinely like to see more guest posts, especially by others within the STB community. Martin does A LOT of posting, and while he is always intelligent, thought-provoking, and well-researched, it’s nice to have a change of pace. I know Sherwin and such post too, but it’s seems very disproportionate and would be interesting to have a number of voices. I’ve always been a fan of Ben and it’d great to see more by him too! Content-wise, it you guys are doing well. But it’d be interesting to hear more about future planning, i.e. ST3 speculation, streetcars, and BRT.
4. Advertising: It is fine. It’s not intrusive and seems relevant. It’s a keeper.
By the way, commenting: it’d be nice to know when someone responds to your comment!
If not a voting feature, then maybe just some DHTML action so I can collapse a thread and not have to scroll through ten pages of Norman’s madness.
Yes to tags, no to Facebook. I wouldn’t mind something that used Twitter for authentication, though.
The ads are fine.
1) Edit, YES! (#1 feature request!!!!) Most of the clunkiness in the comments is because we can’t correct mistakes.
Up/down: tentative yes. I’ve never actively used it (i.e., clicked a button), but it does benefit to have a default view without bottom-rated items.
Deeper threading: yes. No threading: no. STB threads tend to have lots of subtopics, and often a certain subtopic is reference material. So the threads really help. On some other sites threads don’t matter much, but on STB they do.
Facebook integration: no, unless somebody can articulate a substantial benefit for us.
2) I’ve appreciated the minimalism. Some tweaks would be fine.
The main issue with the style is to get the “Reply” button back to the right place. It should be where the message will appear, not up at the top of the subthread. People put messages in the wrong place because they miscalculate which Reply button to press.
3) The articles are already high quality and have gotten better this year. I’m not sure about allowing opposition articles (“Kemper articles”). Maybe a few of them would be OK, if there’s a disclaimer next to the article.
4) There’s advertising on STB? It’s so unobtrusive I rarely notice it. I don’t really care if off-topic ads are allowed. I may be annoyed by opposition ads.
I would really like a preview/edit feature – especially edit, as I always seem to find a mistake right after post/submit. Even if this requires a login process – of course then make the login stay persistent on my computer.
I don’t want my comments tied to my Facebook wall or content, but Facebook would be acceptable as a login mechanism
It would really be nice to be able to highlight new comments that were posted since your last visit to a topic.
I find the existing advertising non-obtrusive and acceptable.
Crazy idea: Turn STB into the Seattle edition of Streetsblog.org?
Hmm, interesting idea.
I don’t really like Facebook integration much but like discus okay.
The thing I find most confusing is the threading though: having the thread nesting end so quick makes things really confusing and you can’t really reply to the right person sometimes. I’d prefer a expand/hide system (like say dailykos) with arbitrary nesting or absolutely none like metafilter. In between is too confusing.
Otherwise STB is a pretty awesome local site. When’s the next get together so I can meet some of you folks? :)
Discus is horrible. A friend runs a Discus blog. My comments on her blog have vanished into the ether several times. She says it happened to several other readers too. Discus support refused to do anything about it.
1) I’ve been using Disqus for years and have never had that problem. It makes running commenting really easy. You get nesting, likes, log in with virtually any popular service (so I don’t have to run accounts), spam filtering, notifications, reply from email (nice for my phone), media links, profiles, ratings, activity streams, social network sharing, most recent comments etc.. I think it includes just about everything everyone has asked for outside of a WYSIWYG editor (you have an image button though). Oh, and it’s easy to theme.
2) The one other thing I think we need beyond something like Disqus is a tag cloud
3)General Discussion board. Sometimes I’d like to just jump on here and start a discussion about something. Currently it’s like waiting for a spot on a merry-go-round.
4) In addition I’d like to stress that things need to stay light. What makes STB so easy is we go one place and we comment. There’s no digging around for that one thing you saw 6 months ago. Maybe this is a problem as well.
5) Don’t limit the width of the active portion of the website. It only takes up half my screen. Allowing it to dynamically size would allow more nesting of comments.
For a while I couldn’t read Publicola on my iPod touch because the Disqus comments seemed to drag the thing down, they’ve since added a mobile theme and everything is more readable and faster loading. So I’m open to Disqus, as long as it’s integrated with the look of the site. Please don’t make it look like Publicola or yet-another-Disqus-site. Note that Disqus doesn’t appear to do much for anti-trolling.
Yeah discus does have problems but I’ve had friends run comment systems and adding your own features and handling growth is almost a full time job. At least discus (or for that matter Facebook) is basically ready with most useful features. Discus seemed to have a lot of problems at publicola that I didn’t see at other sites (with higher comment volumes) so I think that might have been a publicola problem.
As for trolling, no system really does anything for trolling. You’re almost always left with the blunt hammers of deleting commens and banning accounts manually. Mefi has a “flag” system that let’s the mods easily identify all kinds of comment violations just by looking at flag category tallies, but that’s really just an optimized way of discovering the bad apples which isn’t really needed at lower volume sites.
Disqus sites are crashy on my iPad.
Like everyone else, I’d like the preview/edit feature, thanks for considering it.
I’m not so happy about the various rating systems. I like the “abuse” button more. With rating systems it’s impossible to know whether someone is behaving badly, or simply having an unpopular opinion. With an “abuse” button it’s a lot clearer.
I really appreciate this blog. In the earlier years I stopped commenting here because there was less tolerance for criticism of anything related to light rail or Sound Transit. But it seems to me everyone involved has become a lot more open to constructive skepticism and more focused on practical outcomes than just transit ideology. It’s been a great addition to local debate.
Still though, this seems to be an era for polarization and strong opinions, which leave people who have a scientific bent and an outcome orientation on the outside looking in to most public debates. I hope the STB will keep fostering a learning environment, and keep making this a site where skeptical viewpoints are welcomed if offered with a sincere interest in improving transit and the urban environment. I think a rating system would not help that – just my opinion of course.
So far the best part about the advertising: none of that “Shoot the Duck, Win a FREE* iPod” rubbish. Thank you. This is the only site which I told Adblock Plus to not filter out, since they are not obnoxious ads nor silly pop-up/pop-under ads (what do these advertisers think we’re running? Internet Explorer 4.0 on Windows 98? That ship has sailed years ago)
Thank you for only using the unobtrusive ads seen today :)
1) Please consider using a comment platform (such as Disqus) rather than inventing a wheel. Deep threading is for forums, and I appreciate the blog focus on articles here.
2-4) just keep up the good work! Including the minimalism and high SNR.
1. Comments- yes to deep threads, no to Facebook, yes to a preview feature. As for trolls, they have not been as bad here as some other places I have seen. Generally I think they should be ignored. I don’t like the idea of shutting someone up just because you don’t like what they say, so I only favor blocking if a particular post is way off topic or abusive. If one person’s behavior is really, really, bad, warn them privately, then block them if their behavior crosses the line to abuse. I don’t see what voting arrows will do.
2. Design- I like the design and look of the site.
3. Concepts- a few more articles about trains. Some stuff about other transit systems in the region (to include Portland, Spokane, Vancouver BC). It is interesting to see what challenges they face and how they approach them. Cities that are farther away don’t mean as much to me. Opposing viewpoints- yes, let those who disagree with STB have their say on occasion. It could lead to some interesting comments.
4. Advertising- the ads are fine, they are not annoying, I have actually clicked on a couple because I was interested in them. I hope that what ever amount STB makes off them helps with the costs of the site.
I hadn’t noticed any trolls, but then maybe that’s because they’re actively removed?
They’re talking about Norman’s very long and frequent diatribes against light rail, and how he injects them into almost every thread that even mentions Link. Read any three articles and you’ll find them.
Oh ok, well if that’s the operating definition of “troll” then yes, I’ve noticed it, and it is a dire problem, LOL.
Deeper threading for starters, mabye a comment/mod system for the posts. Also i think you guys are hurting your street cred by taking a stance on the Alaskan Way Tunnel project. Yes, its another big dig, yes it may not be as transit frendly as some of the other options, yes something needs to be done – and anything at this point before the bloody viaduct falls down and kills a bunch of motorists. Hopefully not within the next couple of hours though, when i’m driving over it.
This post asked a question. How can this blog improve? Which made me ask myself, how can I improve what I bring to discussion in the comment section? But in all honesty, I don’t believe there’s any room for improvement on my part. Which reminds me, I’d like to take a moment to thank myself for the work that I do here.
I am very proud of myself.
The STB is very good as sites go. The only thing I would add is a “in reply to” link under a person’s name in the comment section, so you can click and go right to the post they are replying to. No need for scoring or deeper, distracting threading.
(1) Comments: I’d rather not see thumbs up/thumbs down voting on comments. I like the clean, avatar-free, text-only comment system the way it is. STB staffers do a fine job already of filtering spammers and trolls. A preview feature would be swell.
(2) Design: Looks great already. Evolutionary changes (e.g. tabs), great idea.
(3) Content and audience: As a layperson, I like the open threads (Sundays, News Roundups) and anything accessible to a general reader. I can filter out the articles that are over my head, so I don’t mind seeing more/fewer technical articles.
(4) Advertising: Can’t complain.
One word on Disqus:
Okay, maybe it is just Publicola that has a really buggy interface.
Mobile friendly site would be much appreciated. Great examples are thesource.metro.net or http://www.thetransportpolitic.com (access from your phone to see mobile site). I lean towards Transport Politic’s version since it has pictures for the articles. Your access via RSS feed (aka Google Reader) is great, so please don’t change that.
Also, hashtags are a great way to group articles by multiple keywords. Make them hotlinks, so that any hashtag you click brings up a page with all articles tagged with that word/theme. Simple and trendy. However, so they don’t get out of control, I’d decide on a set base list of hashtags to help keep things organized.
You guys do a great job covering what you cover: tech/planning/policy-wonk/etc.
But I’d like to see more attention on this blog paid to the *social* conditions in and around the buses: crime/violence/harassment/incivility/asbos.
You avoid these topics whenever they’re in the news, and some of you insist it’s not a problem. Yet anytime I ride the bus, there it is.
It’s the major reason most folks I know refuse to ride Metro. If you want more people out of their cars and into transit: you’ve got to tackle the more social issues.
This site does a great job with transit new to a (generally) transit-friendly crowd. If your goal is to have a political impact, there is a world of options as to how to go about that – everything from finding ways to more broadly disseminate and communicate information to lay audiences and elected all the way towards building up a political base of transit riders, much like the Cascade bicycle club did for bikers. There may be little or no appetite amongst the leaders of this blog to do any of this. That said, I, for one, would love to see the incredible technical knowledge on display at this blog translated into action – results in the real world, and personally would be willing to commit time and energy to make that happen.
*) Facebook: No thanks, their interface sucks
*) 15 minute edit window would be great. I hate it when I see that I’ve left a word out, and I’d fix it if could.
*) A thumbs up/down to collapse a posting would be useful. Too many thumbs down and it’s auto collapsed so I can skim the postings better.
*) collapse response I’ve already read, but that means more cookies, and I toss mine after every session.
*) More articles on bicycles! Yeah baby! What’s with all these articles on Light Rail? Transit is inclusive of other modes. Oh yeah, Monorails! Rather than make me wander over to the Monorails.org site, post links when something actually useful happens with alternative technologies. I find the links to the hydrogen fuel stuff useful as well.
*) Natural Gas as fuel: We really haven’t had a good full discussion of the problems with Fracking. Natural gas conversions keep coming up, but I don’t want to have to endless point out that we are contaminating our water supply while we pump out the gas.
1. Comments. I really don’t think trolling non-productive comments have been much of an issue on the site. You’ve been pretty ruthless in deleting anything that doesn’t follow the comment guidelines. It is true there are a couple of people who either seem to have pet hobby horses or who seem to be deliberately contrary and in the habit of derailing threads. I believe the solution there is to put those people on a short leash. Moderate all of their comments and warn them not to be so disruptive. Its your blog so don’t worry about being “fair” if some people are subject to stricter comment rules than the rest of us.
Up/down ratings to bury trolls at the bottom of the thread and reward smart comments
Not sure this helps anything. I haven’t seen such a system help find the more informative comments. Perhaps the way to go is some system for highlighting the “editors picks” which would be the best comments on the site?
A return to deeper threading
Please? Three levels just isn’t deep enough. Though there needs to be a limit to nesting to keep the site layout sane. Perhaps make the level of nesting a user selectable feature and provide a way to quickly expand/collapse threads.
Integration with Facebook comments
No. Announcing new posts on a facebook page is one thing but keep the comment system separate (other than perhaps allowing people to use FB to log in here). Something like Disqus might be OK but I don’t like the avatars or other nonsense.
A preview/edit feature
Please? Most other blogs allow this now. I know I’ve made errors I wish I’d caught before hitting the “Post Comment” button. A rich editor would be nice for those who don’t really know HTML.
2. Template and Layout. I have to agree with those who say some form of post tagging would be the best way to accomplish what you want. This could be accessed with some list of all tags on the site with perhaps the most useful tags in tabs/sections across the top. Also fix the template so long URLs don’t break the CSS template. Otherwise I mostly like things as they are. For reference information perhaps some sort of “transitpedia” is in order?
3. Content. No real complaints here. More guest posts, more links to interesting things on other blogs/news sites, and more advocacy would be the only additions I’d like to see. Maybe some way to include more user photo/video content, though the current flikr photostream does a pretty good job of that and I’d hate to see the comment threads cluttered up with a bunch of images and videos.
4. Ads? You have ads? I find the current advertising very unobtrusive. If it is paying for the hosting costs then don’t change a thing. The only real improvement would be if it helped me find goods and services I find I want/need but otherwise would not have known about. Say restaurants/stores/apartments near transit.
Please use a flexible-width layout. I always have to maximize my browser window in order to read STB because the text won’t shrink to the window width.
Another out-of-towner here who reads this site to keep up on transit stuff happening in the state only a few miles north and across a river. I’ll try to be brief and not repeat what’s already been said.
Main things that keep me coming back: news roundups and posts/links to some of the more recent transit research going on. STB has already increased my knowledge of transit in Washington State.
On annoying commenters: no matter what, every site will have them. I simply don’t read those posts. I’ve been on sites that have done “everything” to try to stem the tide, however there are/were some people that would keep coming back no matter what, making it wasted time and energy.
Overall, everyone here is rather thoughtful and polite.
I also don’t have Facebook, in fact I avoid it like the plague.
Hope everyone has a great 4th of July Weekend!
STB is one of the best blogs on my reading list, hands down. The quality of reportage is exceptional. The comments are, with a few exceptions, thoughtful, courteous, and informative.
I live in the San Juan Islands, and my husband & I love to come to Seattle for our city “fix.” STB his a valuable source of info for us, as we prefer not to drive our car once we hit the city. I ordered us both ORCA cards based on what I’ve learned from this site.
Here is my input:
-Up/down ratings: Meh. I think there’s way too much emphasis today on ratings, aka “the wisdom of the crowd.” The Crowd has no Wisdom. Rating comments can easily be abused, used to indicate simply that the rater disagrees with the ratee. I prefer a “Report abuse” link, where the reporter has to explain the reason for reporting the comment–e.g. abusive, ad hominem, off-topic, etc.
-Deeper threading: No opinion. From a usability standpoint, really deep threads can become unreadable due to excessive indentation. Problematic with fluid layouts in a narrow viewport.
-Integration with Facebook comments: Absolutely not. Do not trust any sort of Facebook integration.
-A preview/edit feature: Absolutely yes. Several WP plugins are available to make implementing this fairly painless.
Re: Template & Design
-TemplateThe template is OK, though I suspect it is getting a bit long in the tooth. I would recommend looking for a more current Theme, one that supports the newest/upcoming WP 3.2 features and HTML5. For example, if your current theme doesn’t support the WP Custom Menu feature, get a new one.
Just a side note re WordPress (disclaimer: I’m a web designer who runs a lot of client sites with WordPress): be sure you keep the site updated to the latest version, always. There have been some high-level hacks of WP lately and you don’t want to become one of them. Have an experienced WP manager check your site to make sure that your installation is secure.
-Organization: Tags, definitely. Tags are the easiest way to enable your readers to find related content. Use multiple tags for every article, and make sure they are granular: e.g. instead of “Link” use “university link,” etc. I would also like to see byline links to your Who We Are page as an Author Archive. Categories are powerful organizational tools in WordPress, as they can become the basis for high-level organization–much better than Pages, IMHO. A tabbed main navigation would be very helpful. I would keep it simple, though: use the sidebar for things like links, blogroll, tags, archives, etc. and use the main nav for high-level stuff like articles, reference, etc.
-Mobile: Your WordPress Theme should be mobile-friendly. A flexible/fluid layout gets you a long way. Re-think the need for a “mobile site.”
See my opening remarks. Your content is excellent! As an out-of-towner, I appreciate these types of articles: transit for newbies/tourists; transit connections around the Sound; WSF articles; a bit of regional transit, e.g. Portland, California HSR, etc. (A plug for inclusion in your blogroll: I help run run the San Juan Islands Ferry Group blog.)
Re: Advertising As others have mentioned, you have advertising? That’s fine by me, keeps the lights on. I could live with three ads, if you need more revenue.
Final thoughts: keep up the good work! Seattle Transit Blog is a shining example of the best in citizen-driven journalism.
P.S. I would like to see a “subscribe to comment” feature. I appreciate being able to keep abreast of a particularly interesting thread.
It would be nice if there was a feature that allowed you to see all the comments you have personally made on STB in one place. The audience here seems very participative and seeing some comment history seems useful and informative.
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