2010.01.20 12:59

This site isn’t perfect and needs to be fixed

We’ve been dancing around this topic for months. Typophile functions all right most of the time. This is not a ringing endorsement, nor is it a reason not to fix what doesn’t work. Typophile is a Web forum about typography. It has to succeed as a Web forum first and foremost. It isn’t.

The fact that you don’t even notice when Typophile fails does not mean your own inability to notice the obvious should prevail. If you think Typophile is running just fine, then you won’t mind, or even notice, if we improve things. If you don’t know enough to recognize what Typophile is doing wrong, you shouldn’t expect to get your way.

We’re all experts here

We’re all experts on typography here – save for the many spammers and their close cousins, students who show up out of nowhere and expect us to write their homework assignments for them. Except for those groups, we all know a great deal about typography. We might be polite about it, but we wouldn’t sit around and let ignorant outsiders tell us that everything should just be typeset in Arial (and Times “New Roman”) because who can tell the difference?

We can. We have expertise.

Some of us have expertise in online discussion fora. In my case, circa 11 years’ worth. At least one of my colleagues on this site also knows how things should really be run. I’m not going to pretend I don’t know more than most of you about this topic. I’m not going to pretend to be humble about it, either. If you accept typographic expertise on Typophile then you have to accept online expertise on Typophile.

First among equals in Web fora is MetaFilter, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary. I’m user 250 (user 100,000 was just allocated) and I’ve been there since year one. MetaFilter has learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t. Often they’ve learned things the hard way. But that’s over and done with. A great many techniques of forum moderation and cultivation are now settled facts, not just a difference of opinion.

Hence a lot of the complaints I’ll be making would be resolved if Typophile ran more like MetaFilter. (Great artists steal.) This is not the time to defensively claim that Typophile isn’t like MetaFilter (in all important respects it is) or that what works at MeFi won’t work here (it will). You don’t really mean that and you don’t have enough knowledge or evidence to back it up. I do.


I find the defensiveness and evasiveness of Typophile apologists and its shadowy so-called “moderators” particularly enraging. Typophile needs fixing in important ways. To repeat an earlier point, if you can’t tell the difference between Typophile as we currently know it and a properly functioning Typophile, you don’t have enough expertise to help. “I like things just the way they are” isn’t a viable argument. (“I don’t like your tone” also isn’t.)

I will be posting a separate bug about the complete inadequacy of Typophile admins (as they are properly called), but the fact they sit there and stammer out justifications for their own failings when one somehow manages to contact them is, again, a bug, not a feature.

Typophile needs improvement. It starts today.

Bugs list

  1. This site needs a MetaPhile forum

    A functioning online community needs a separate place to discuss that community. Specific topic discussions should not be polluted by metadiscussions about how the site works.

    Typophile needs to clone what MetaFilter does and start a separate forum called MetaPhile. It is there that site policy and the specifics of individual posts can be discussed. If you have a concern about a post in one of the other forums, start a new post in MetaPhile to talk about it.

    In particular, posts about new site features should not be buried in somebody’s “blog,” a feature this site never needed.

    It goes without saying that all these posts with subject lines beginning “MetaPhile” should be moved there.

  2. This site’s admins are not “moderators”

    The administrators of this site are just that – administrators or admins. They are not “moderators.” A moderator prescreens content. Content is notoriously not prescreened on Typophile, resulting in spam post after spam post.

    The choice of terminology is important. (Times “New Roman” is not a “sansserif.”) “Moderator” connotes a degree of prior restraint that doesn’t exist. It also insinuates that immoderate comments will be censored. Whereas an admin merely administers a site and keeps it running.

    “Moderators” need to stop using that malapropism to refer to themselves. They’re admins, not moderators.

  3. There is no clear ownership of or accountability for Typophile

    Small print tells us, in smarmy marketer’s vernacular, “Typophile is a Punchcut gig.” (You can just feel the backwards baseball cap and last year’s sneakers.)

    Who or what is a Punchcut? Why should we care who or what Punchcut is, or what its “gigs” are? Here is what we should care about:

    1. Who are the real owners of Typophile?
    2. What are their names?
    3. How do we contact them?

    Why are these facts not listed?

  4. One Typophile administrator has a conflict of interest

    Jared Benson is, apparently, a Typophile administrator. He also sits on the review board (FontBoard) at FontShop, a major supplier and occasional advertiser. As such he has a conflict of interest.

  5. This site’s admins are functionally invisible

    I offer this challenge one more time: Strictly from memory, list the real name or usernames of three of this site’s admins.

    Now write a couple of sentences documenting the personal background or merely the administrative approach of one admin. Do you know anything about them?

    Next, explain exactly how one would contact any admin or a specific admin. I mean exactly.

    Admins need to be listed by full name and username, with a way to contact them. When one merely wishes to contact any admin, that has to be possible too.

  6. There is no way to flag a post or comment

    Some posts and comments violate guidelines, are personal attacks, or otherwise harm the site. There is no way to flag posts or comments. Since site admins are functionally invisible, unnamed, and essentially impossible to contact, there is no practical method to submit any such complaint.

    There is no way to flag a double post or double comment, either.

  7. 404 pages are misleading

    If a post or something else gets deleted, the page you see should state the content was deleted. (As done on MetaFilter. In fact, there’s a blog of nothing but deleted MetaFilter [blue] threads.) If necessary, a customized 404 page could be displayed, but that wouldn’t tell enough of the story.

    Presently, a deleted page leads you to some other page, usually a calendar of events. In essence, the site lies to you: You wanted one page, but we deleted that one without telling you and have decided to show you something you didn’t want instead. It’s misleading and anti-Web.

  8. We need a forum just for student questions

    Nearly every week, students show up to ask questions based on their coursework. Some of these questions are plainly an appeal for us to do their work for them and should be deleted. Others show that the student has done some work and just needs a nudge or a pointer, and those are fine.

    But the fact remains that these student discussions are a species unto themselves. They need their own space. They certainly are not “general” discussions.

  9. We can swear if we want to

    I don’t want Mormons or Islamic fundamentalists or born-again Christians running Typophile. I also don’t want squeamish, schoolmarmy atheists running it. As it stands now I can’t tell which of those groups is in charge, because the result is the same: You can’t really swear on this site.

    In particular, not only can you not write the word “fuck” or any derivative, you can’t even post a link that includes those four characters in its URL (even if you’re using an actual A element rather than being dumb as a mule and pasting in an URL like it was plain text). You have to obfuscate the link.

    It’s OK if you’re offended by the word “fuck.” I’m offended by Arial, but I don’t try to ban its usage, which is what the self-proclaimed “moderators” of this site are doing. And they’ve gone to elaborate lengths to set up a system that automatically censors your words without human intervention. (Yes, Americans, it’s still censorship even if the government isn’t the one doing it.)

    Typophile has a whole list of banned topics, implicitly including all the topics I am posting under the MetaPhile rubric but explicitly including any topic explicable with the word “fuck.”

    It’s simple: The most uptight and censorious members of Typophile, even if, for some reason, they have the keys to the house, should not get their way. If this is a discussion forum, I expect to be able to discuss things, and in particular I expect to be able to express indisputable facts (like the full and accurate text of a link) without interference.

  10. Press releases need to be banned or given their own forum with comments

    For reasons I don’t understand and that the “moderators” probably could not defend, typefoundries and others are allocated space to publish press releases. Seriously: Don’t they have their own Web sites?

    There is an argument – marginal at best – that Typophile is the place to go to find typographic news, so such news should be published here. Let’s imagine that argument held water. What’s the argument against opening up those press releases to comments? Why are comments disabled on such posts?

    Also, the so-called “moderators” of this site must go out of their way to publish, in a prominent and stable location, the exact criteria that are used to accept or reject a press release or similar pure-marketing postings.

  11. Signups need to be constrained

    It should not be possible to register a new account and immediately post to Typophile. That’s how spammers (and students who want us to do their homework for them) get in.

    Take a page from MetaFilter yet again:

    If you don’t like this prospect, what’s your alternative? Nothing? That’s what we’ve got now and it has led, as “moderators” should have predicted, to spammers infiltrating this site. Retaining the current system guarantees more spam. Something has to be done, and the MetaFilter system is proven to work.

  12. The homepage is a disgrace and Flash has got to go

    Typophile is a discussion forum, but you’d never know it from the homepage, a baffling and angering display of Flashturbation from a junior Web designer with a point to make that even he can’t articulate properly.

    Seriously: Safari 4 takes 28 seconds to load just the Flash component of the homepage. (I paused my stopwatch when the animated logotype, another useless and unwanted fillip, stopped moving.) You are then presented with an interface, using custom scrollbars and jammed into a little rectangle, to what appears to be the actual purpose of the site – discussion. Select an item and whaddya know – you’re sent away to the actual forum, built mostly around HTML. (Actually, it should be entirely HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; there is no cause for Flash, save perhaps for sIFR.)

    What should the new homepage look like? It should look like the homepage of a site whose owners aren’t trying to show off and who actually want visitors to understand and use the site. The homepage should be the Forums page. Hire somebody like Jason Santa Maria or Zeldman or Andy Clarke or Simplebits to work on it. But nearly anything would be better than the Flash monstrosity we’re stuck with now.

  13. Important structural elements are unavailable

    This bug is well known. We need BLOCKQUOTE, actual heading elements (perhaps just H2 through H6), possibly a few more.

    However, enabling the IMG element is dangerous, as MetaFilter has learned the hard way. One can encode JavaScript exploits in URLs or the src of an image. Limiting images to attachments (kind of odd for a Web site, less so for a discussion forum) is a reasonable compromise.

  14. Every comment needs a permalink. A fragment identifier (starting with a letter, followed by letters, numbers, dashes, or periods) is sufficient if such is exposed to us without having to view source. (It doesn’t have to be like Twitter, where every Twit gets its own Web page.)

  15. Cannot view all posts by a user or favourite or block users

    If I want to read all the posts and/or comments by user X, I can’t. Nor can I favourite or block a user.

  16. Blogs here are pointless

    Typophile should not be hosting blogs. It’s a discussion forum, not a hosting service.

  17. Character encoding in post headings is borked

    Time and time again, the use of any character in a post subject line or heading beyond the US-ASCII repertoire causes such characters to be incorrectly escaped. The entire site has to be UTF-8-compliant.

  18. No threaded replies

    Message threading is a necessity for any properly-functioning Web forum. It’s something neither Typophile nor MetaFilter has, so we could innovate here.

    It is difficult to set up properly, not least of all from a coding perspective, since it involves confusingly nested unordered lists. But for long threads, it makes the difference between “comprehensible” and “chatter.”

  19. Pagination is harmful and deceptive

    Breaking long threads into multiple pages is a bad idea for several reasons:

    Pagination needs to be eliminated.

  20. Clarifications for our less-attentive members

    (2010.01.25) I’ve been working on the MetaPhile concept off and on since November. It does not represent any sudden rush of work. In fact, I’ve mostly been putting it off, but over a great deal of time I assembled several index cards’ worth of ideas into 19 (now 20) distinct bug reports.

    As ever in bug reporting, we file one bug per report to avoid mixing apples and oranges. Check any bug-tracking system.

    I indeed did not embark on a parallel project of listing everything salutary about Typophile. This is a bug-reporting project. I’m not here to reinforce your own impressions of how fabulous Typophile is. I repeat: If you never even noticed these problems, you won’t notice when they fix them, either.

    As a member of this site and just as an informed member of the citizenry, I do in fact have a right to submit these bugs. The fact I don’t run the site or pay for it means nothing. The people who do and do needed a few corrections along the way. And since I am now not the only one filing MetaPhile bugs, I see I must have been on to something all along. I don’t have to use a tone you like. But you aren’t fooling anybody: There is no tone you’d like when reporting bugs or when in any way advancing the idea this place is less than perfect.

    It’s up to the administrators (not the “moderators”) of this site to create a separate MetaPhile forum and move these postings there.

2010.01.26 14:31

CSS improvements

Posted: 2015.06.06