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The changing face of CC - Basic Layout -- by Jon Bjarnason

There has been some discussion lately about how dated CC has become since the look-and-feel of the site hasn't much in the last ten years or so. I will make it my new-years resolution to slap on a new coat of paint and make some visual adjustments.

I will write a few short blogs over the next few weeks where I outline some of the changes that I want to make in the Year 2014 with regards to the look-and-feel of our beloved writing website. Many of our members have (rightly so) strong opinions on how CC should look like so I decided to involve you guys and to crowd-source some of the decision making a bit. :-)

These are not laid out in a priority order, or in the order in which they will be implemented. Also keep in mind that while I want to do all this stuff I cannot promise when it will happen, how it will happen, in what order it will happen or indeed if it will happen. :o)

Alrighty, on to the topic for today!

Better support for mobile platforms

One of the big things that I need to work on is to make CC better on mobile. We have a lot of people using CC on tablet and their phones and now that I've finally bought myself an ipad (which is the most wonderful thing in the world by the way) I have a platform to test this out.

There is a lot of stuff I can do so that critting and working the forums from a tablet can be better. It's not bad at all right now mind you, but it could be better using some new spiffy reactive css tricks.

For example I need to make hover-links work with click-interfaces (which don't have the concept of hover), Also, I need to make it easier to read stories and crit so that you don't need to fiddle around with zoom levels and stuff when reading; I'm looking at the kindle app on the iPad to draw inspiration from.

With a whopping 20% of our visits on tablet and mobile, I will need to support these platforms better. It should be awesome to crit stories on the iPad.

Vertical layout

The main menu is on the right side of the page and most websites have moved to having the menu at the top instead. This makes a lot of sense for mobile platforms and is becoming the way people expect websites to behave.

I'm also reducing the number of top-level items in the menu. I will probably end up with something like four big categories which will then contain all the rest of the pages. This will help remove clutter and should appeal to new members. I will need to try to reorganize the content so that this will make sense to new people while not making navigation harder (e.g. more clicks) for the veterans.

The new vertical layout will also be slimmer so the main content of each page has more space to work with. Hopefully this new layout will also be a bit lighter meaning you will have slightly reduced load times, since I will be refactoring some of the logic to make it more... logical.

This new layouting scheme should go down well with new users and make the site a bit easier to navigate for those that are not used to CC.

So that you can get an idea of what I'm talking about here, we will be turning this:

into something like this:

It won't be exactly like this mind you, but you get the idea. The menu stuff is all above the content area and clicking on the handful of top-level menu items will reveal a menu with the relevant subpages.

Fixed-width layout

CC used to use all the horizontal space on your screen which was fine when 800x600 was the norm but since then resolutions have gotten higher and I made the content fixed-width a couple of years ago, while the menu was to the far-left and we have an ad to the far-right.

This doesn´t look so good on high-resolution monitors and makes layouting rather difficult between different devices. Since I'm moving the menu to the top I'm also thinking of having the layout fixed width, possibly with the right-hand ad outside of the main container. I might also experiment with horizontal ad banners inside the content area.

This won't be a big usability change but hopefully the site will look a bit nicer.

The dark side of change

Change can be difficult, especially when you have grown accustomed to a certain way of doing things for many-a-year. I've used CC for ten years myself and radically changing the layout scares me a bit. Going from menu-on-the-left to menu-on-the-top won't be a big programming change but it might be a difficult transition.

I also bet some people are cursing me right now saying something like "I only use CC on my computer, why do I have to suffer for the tablet users???", to which I respond that the online world is changing fast and CC needs to catch up or be left behind. I will need to support mobile users and hopefully I will manage to make the desktop experience a bit better at the same time.

Not to worry though, if you are passionate about CC's layout you will have your voice and I would urge you to add your thoughts to the comment section on this blog so that I can digest it.

Next episode

Be sure to tune in next week when I will be discussing the heart of CC; the story view and the critique process.

Posted by Jon Bjarnason 8 Jan 2014 at 01:08
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Responses to this blog

Addiecass 8 Jan 2014 at 14:49  
This might not be the place for this suggestion, but here goes. Scribophile allows a critiquer to edit within the text, which is REALLY helpful. If I want to delete a word in someone's story, I can highlight it and put a line through it. I can add a word into his text, etc.
Nonnib (administrator) 8 Jan 2014 at 17:51  
The main reason I opted for the crit-paragraph approach is because I want to allow people to do in-paragraph edits of their work and still retain the integrity of the crits. If people can put comments on a block of text and that text then changes it becomes pretty messy pretty quickly.

I personally think that the paragraph-commenting system we have in our inline crits is fine and if anything it discourages people from doing line edits and lets them focus more on the important bits, but other people might think differently.

To not derail this particular blog comment thread though, I would suggest that you make a new thread in the about cc forum and see what other people think. Maybe people would like to see that ability rather than be able to edit their text afterwards or maybe someone has a smart idea for a way that would allow for both.
Purplek 8 Jan 2014 at 20:03  
I like the layout of CC but if it has to change so be it.
Ek89027 9 Jan 2014 at 02:28  
Wouldn't it be possible to present the current layout as "classic" (Or some other phrase.) and offer it as an alternative layout of the page so that those who do not like the change can have the option of using the older version?
Sarahbeth 9 Jan 2014 at 05:03  
If "dated" is another word for "works and is efficient", could you allow the user option to go with "classic?"
That is in case your hard work results in something slick, pretty, fast, appealing, trendy, classy, but like the new New York Times Web Presence that is all that, is a disaster.
Sarahbeth 9 Jan 2014 at 05:06  
One other comment.
Tablets. Those decently designed, i.e. Windows 8, have NO problems even vertical with CC.
I have seen some strange iPad renditions of other sites. Do not have a clue how it mangles CC.
Scila 9 Jan 2014 at 13:26  
As someone who likes reading critiques and the forum via IPhone, I'm glad for this news - I think CC current layout works fine and the critique system is awesome (better than Scrib karma), but a new sleek design is better for the site in the long run, in terms not only of new devices but maintaining a professional appearance and attracting new members as time goes by.

Improving usability is always a win-win to me. So thanks for investing time on this!
Kids_table 9 Jan 2014 at 14:14  
I agree the critique system is superior as it is. I also think it's time for a change. I love CC, but the honest truth is I almost didn't join because the front page looked so dated. I had no idea there'd be so many active users inside.

There are some great cover designers and graphic artists at CC who might help if you wanted to outsource things like logo design or color schemes, maybe.

I'm a fan of tabs (like on MS Word), I wonder if that would be an option when converting the menu at the left to the top of the screen. I teach computer basics, and I find Word a lot easier to teach to beginners than, say, Open Office. It is in large part because the tabs lay things out so clearly (instead of a user having to remember what's in a menu before they open it).

And of course, I'd prefer my horizontal ads at the bottom of the page if possible, please.

I do expect you'll get a lot of backlash and that sucks. People are more likely to be vocal when they don't like change than when they do and it's about to be a lot of changes in a relatively short amount of time. But I'm really excited. Can't wait to love CC even more.
Celebc¨en 9 Jan 2014 at 15:07  
Honestly, I think it is time for a change

I love the system as it is, I mean the way crits are done, the way the fora work, maybe I'd like a bit improvement on the cc-mail, but I won't complain. I really like the 'new' novel system, that was a fine change.

But the graphic really needs to update. When I first joined CC I didn't really care for the graphic, because a friend of mine introduced me to the workshop and promoted it so enthusiastically, I just trusted her. But now I've seen a few other whorkshops online and I wouldn't mind a change in looks.
Aries75 9 Jan 2014 at 15:12  
Tablets. Those decently designed, i.e. Windows 8, have NO problems even vertical with CC.
The tablets may not have problems, but the eyesight of certain users most definitely does! I've used CC on my MS Surface, and even though it may look fine on the high-res screen, the teeny-tiny font and icon size is barbed wire to my eyes Yes, I can zoom, but there's only so much of that one can do before the layout goes all out of whack. That's why I keep pushing the notion of a responsive design, that flows and morphs in a sensible way to accommodate a user's preference for larger fonts.

I think CC current layout works fine and the critique system is awesome (better than Scrib karma), but a new sleek design is better for the site in the long run
Funny you mention Scribophile, because they certainly have an extremely slick, professional, dare I say "sexy" layout (making potential members go, Ooh, shiny!) But then when you take a closer look at what they offer (especially for free accounts), CC is an infinitely better deal.

I agree the critique system is superior as it is. I also think it's time for a change. I love CC, but the honest truth is I almost didn't join because the front page looked so dated. I had no idea there'd be so many active users inside.
And that's just it! Change-haters, please pay attention to the bolded portion - this is NOT a case of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Rather, it's "Yeah, it ain't broke, but we're losing out on potential members who think it is." I mean, someone who takes a quick look at Scribophile and a quick look at CC may very well assume Scrib is better because it looks more modern (and in the minds of many web surfers, "modern" look = fresh, current, useful content actively being looked after, while "dated" look = stale site, ancient content, no one maintains it, do not use)

And I don't understand where this knee-jerk "oh noes change for the worse!!!" fear is coming from - just because some sites have screwed up as far as modernization goes, why automatically assume CC will do the same? The Nano site did a revamp last year which preserved the essence of their previous look while making their site responsive and usable for mobile/tablet users. From what I could see, users for the most part loved the changes and the new look and feel. I see no reason at all why CC can't accomplish the same thing
Owllady 9 Jan 2014 at 19:39  
Aries, I agree with your whole post
Jaramsli 10 Jan 2014 at 08:45  
Integration with Google Docs would be nice
But my most important issue is this.
When I upload a story with cut and paste, my italics are gone.
It would be great to have those tags preserved. Just the italics.
You already preserve newline tags, right?.

Nonnib (administrator) 10 Jan 2014 at 13:04  
Are you using the "paste from MS Word" feature?
Ratrilyn 10 Jan 2014 at 23:46  
I've tried the "paste from MS Word" (but from google docs and open office writer as I don't have Word), and I could not get it to preserve my italics or paragraph indents. Perhaps I am just very technologically challenged though.
Laniseb 11 Jan 2014 at 18:29  
I have a suggestion for CC getting more likes for its Facebook page. Why not add a Facebook follow button or like box to the sidebar or somewhere? So people can easily 'like' the page. I'm sure it wouldn't harm any changes with design, and the more likes the merrier.
I was afraid I'd eat your brains 'cause I'm evil. -The National

Nonnib (administrator) 11 Jan 2014 at 18:31  
Great minds thing alike Lanise, that is the plan.
Laniseb 11 Jan 2014 at 18:40  
Ok, great.
I was afraid I'd eat your brains 'cause I'm evil. -The National

Rellrod 11 Jan 2014 at 20:02  
I like the current interface, and I've always been impressed with how many extremely useful features it has, but no doubt it can be improved and modernized.

I particularly like Kids_table's idea about tabs: I normally have a number of Firefox tabs open at one time while in CC. (If there's one thing I'd like to be able to do but can't under the current interface, it's to be able to scroll back through earlier pages of a forum thread while writing a reply; that's one case where I especially need to go back and open a separate tab.)

Aheila 12 Jan 2014 at 16:00  
That's a great initiative, and I like the way you decided to include the users from the get-go. It'll go a long way in helping the community to accept the change. Kudos! Just that makes me really glad I chose CC over other sites.

One idea that came to my mind when I read the comment about Facebook likes: a lot of writers have a dedicated author page on Facebook and a Twitter account. It would be nice to be able to share our new chapters and our forum discussions to a) recruit new members on CC and b) ease the process of getting existing critique partners/fanbase to participate in shaping our story.

The flip-side to that idea is that the CC community would grow to include more pure readers (who may critique, but who don't write). And I'm unsure about the first print rights (if they would be considered "used" if too many people see the story). Some people might not care about either situation, but it's worth mentioning.

I also think we can find ways to mitigate them. For example, in the video game industry, we often have beta phase with users, in which a limited number of users access a game before its launch and help developer polish it. It's a great way to create excitement and reward dedicated fans.

If people visiting through shared links accessed the story as a "guest" account (no signup = the core community of CC remains writers) and we limit the number of "guest" who can see a story (at the author's choice), a "Share" option could become a great polishing and promotion tool that works within the current expectations of the publishing industry.

Enough rambling. I hope I'm making sense. *laughs*

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