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Skeptical Science housekeeping: navigation, comments and Thai translation

Posted on 13 May 2010 by John Cook

The process of upgrading Skeptical Science rolls on. As I've been procrastinating updating the navigation bar for months, I've now converted the navigation links to text. It doesn't look as pretty as the old graphical version but it's much easier to edit now so I have no excuse for not updating it. To make room, the About Us and Contact Us links have been relegated to the footer. New navigation links include Translations, the iPhone app and a reminder of how you can support Skeptical Science.

I've also revamped the Recent Comments page and added it to the navigation bar. The link to this page was buried away deep in the left margin, only visible to those logged in. But this page has become more important of late with more discussion across a range of topics. Some people post off-topic comments on new threads for fear that a new comment on an old thread won't get noticed. Rest assured, they do get noticed. The Comments page is to ensure even old discussion threads get noticed if you post a new comment.

Thanks to Tom Dayton who suggested making Recent Comments more prominent as well as a number of other changes to improve the page (yeah, thanks for all that extra work, Tom :-). One of the other suggestions was that any comments listed on Recent Comments link directly to that comment in its discussion thread. It wasn't as easy as it sounds - it involved working out how many comments preceded that comment in order to calculate the page number if there were more than 50 comments... well, anyway, enough whinging, it's all sorted.

As there's so much discussion on Skeptical Science, I've been very grateful to have the help of a number of moderators who ensure the comments all adhere to our Comments Policy. It's thanks to them that the quality of discussion here is generally very high (IMHO). I've programmed the site so moderators can now post direct responses to comments. My direct responses are displayed as green boxes directly below the comment. Moderator responses are in blue boxes below the comment. Generally, moderator responses are to point off-topic comments to the relevant page.

Lastly, Skeptical Science is now being translated into Thai. Many thanks to translator Anond Snidvongs from the Climate Change Knowledge Management Center (an initiative of Thailand's Ministry of Science and Technology). If anyone is interested in translating Skeptical Science into other languages, don't hesitate to contact me.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 18:

  1. Actually I think the links look ever so much better as text. However as someone who has worked designing web pages I must say that the markup of your site just isn't up to current standards. I come here for the content of course, and that's always the most important thing. But still tables for layout went out ten years ago and the site would be much better and easier to use if you'd convert to modern semantic coding methods. I am not trashing tables, which have their function for marking up properly tabular data. But, for example, menus are not tabular, a menu is a list of links, and should be marked up with one of the html list structures, normally the UL element. I hasten to add that this is far less important than having good content, which you do, and it makes up for many sins. Still the basic design elements of this site are not up to scratch for a recently designed site. Sorry to be so negative, but I think you deserve to hear the truth!
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    Response: I actually did use CSS mark-up to layout SkS but am actually transitioning back to tables. I just find it too time consuming to get the results I need using pure CSS layout. It's not as 'pure' as tables but sometimes tables just get the job done quick and dirty when I don't have much time.
  2. Well, I like it the way it is. It renders very quickly, is reliable, decent layout and easy on the eyes. Something that half the sites on the web can't manage. If John finds CSS to be a drain on his time, I think thats sufficient reason to not use it. It is all to easy in software to place too much emphasis on technique and to forget the objective of getting the job done. As long as current technique is not leading to an unreasonable future maintenance burden it is often best to leave things the way they are.
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    Response: I used to be a HTML code purist before the weight of the world broke my spirit. Now I use any hack solution that gets the job done. My earlier, idealistic self would despise my current self.
  3. I'm also an adherent of the "if it works well, it's good enough" school... I've fallen into the trap of doing things the 'right' way before, sometimes it means you end up doing 10 times the amount of work to achieve the same result (a programmer friend of mine called it 'premature optimisation' - where you spend more time optimising the code than you could possibly save by optimising it). To be honest, I've never used the "Recent Comments" page. I like it! :-D One suggestion - the title for the page the comment is on is currently placed after the comment. Is it possible to have it positioned before it? That makes more sense to my engineer's brain, and would make it a bit easier to skip comments I've already read (by way of reading the entire page).
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    Response: Tried the titles above the comment. Don't know if I like it better but then, I'm not an engineer :-)
  4. "I've been very grateful to have the help of a number of moderators who ensure the comments all adhere to our Comments Policy. It's thanks to them that the quality of discussion... " ...however, there is a higher probability of getting a comment pruned if it isnt aligned in some way to the accepted school of thought.... and the website continues to call itself "Skeptical"Science.
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    Response: Comments are pruned based on behaviour, not whether the comment adheres to a particular view. Lately, I've actually been deleting more comments that are pro-AGW but violate the "no ad hominem attacks" rule (calm down, people!). Regular visitors to this site have found when they post comments that stick to the Comments Policy (eg - learn to play nice), their comments are left online. This applies to both sides - many newcomers, both skeptic and pro-AGW, have had to adjust their usual online discussion style here.
  5. John, I know you have lots to do, but may I make some suggestions to further improve the site navigation? There still remain several pages on the site which are not easy to find quickly. These include: • The About page (which should probably be more prominent since it’s likely to be what people will look for when they first arrive on your blog). • The Articles page. • The Contradictions page. • The page ordering skeptic arguments by percentage. • The explanation of how Skeptical Science measures skeptic argument frequency. • Archives (which can only be found by scrolling to the very bottom of the sidebar). • Your to-do list. (Incidentally, the purpose of this page might need more explanation – perhaps you could copy from the relevant paragraph on the Support SkS page.) One way to make all these pages more accessible would be to add drop-down menus to the navigation bar, as I recall you were intending to do at one stage. Alternately would it be possible to have two rows of links in the header? (I don’t know anything about web design so I don’t know how much effort this would involve.) A couple of other suggestions: • As I’m sure you’re aware, you currently have two pages which are called “Links” (this one in the header and this one in the footer). This could be confusing to people who haven’t been following your housekeeping updates. Perhaps you could distinguish the two by calling one “Resources” and one “Links”, and placing them next to each other in the header/footer? • In the sidebar, the text saying “Link to us” is presumably supposed to go here, but it actually goes to the iPhone icons page. As usual, all this is offered in the spirit of constructive criticism. I wouldn’t want to distract you from the more important task of updating the site content.
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    Response: The good thing about you, James, is all the high quality feedback you supply. The bad thing is then I have to implement it! I'm still yet to go through all the suggestions you suggested on the Every skeptic argument page.

    Two rows of links are not a good idea - becomes a bit of a mess (general rule of thumb, don't have more than 6 to 8 navigation links). I still plan to add drop downs - would've done it today but revamping the comments page took a while so it's been relegated to the next housekeeping session. I'll go through your other ideas at that time too. In fact, with all the comments and suggestions coming in, my dance card for the next housekeeping session is filling rapidly.
  6. Would it be possible to have a link somewhere to "new comments to skeptical arguemnts"? The present "recent comment" link seems to get swamped by recent comments to the last three or four threads, which I usually skim anyhow. I understand that the house policy is to direct comments to the "proper thread". This is an excellent policy, but at least I tend to miss such comments if they are made to threads older than the last ones.
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    Response: This is a good idea as it's relatively quick and easy to program. I'll do this next housekeeping.
  7. It's actually possible to have your top menu with a graphic look and for it to be editable. Use the sliding doors css technique. This lets you have each menu item with a graphic that stretches to fit the width of the text. In a nutshell, your menu is created as an unordered list, presented horizontally. The 'A' elements have the left side of each graphic as their background images. And the 'LI' elements have the right side of each graphic as their background images. Once you have the CSS set up you can add, remove or edit the menu list elements and they will all automatically be rendered correctly regardless of the width of each item. Also, to ease the pain of making your site compatable with multiple browsers, use a css reset stylesheet before your other stylesheets.
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  8. Hi Mr Cook , thank you for your efforts and all the other posters , they are very valuable in the fight against ignorance . One thing I would like to see is how many people login are read your blog , you seem to have followers from many countries and it would be encouraging to see how many ppl do understand greenhouse gases effects on climate .
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  9. As a part time "hobby" web developer, I too used to hate and fear css, until I discovered css frameworks like this one.
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  10. "Response: I actually did use CSS mark-up to layout SkS but am actually transitioning back to tables. I just find it too time consuming to get the results I need using pure CSS layout. It's not as 'pure' as tables but sometimes tables just get the job done quick and dirty when I don't have much time." Actually I think you'll end up doing a good deal more work for poorer results. It is, unfortunately, true that there is a learning period to go to the "correct" methods. I am sure you have much to do and I'd much rather have your site with the bad code practices than not at all, much much rather. But in my opinion by sticking to these out of date methods you are losing much more time than than you would gain if you used correct ones. IF you could find the time to learn to do it right you'd end up saving a lot more time in the end. Using CSS is not the big solution, though. There are plenty of sites using CSS whose designers end up with worse results than if they just kept using tables. For good results with CSS you need to understand how to write valid and semantic html first, before you do any CSS work at all. Validity is easy, because validity can be checked by computers, and a few hours or days working with the free on line validators, or with browser attachments that can also do it, can teach you how to do it right with little effort. Semantic coding methods, however, require a different understanding, and the machines can't help you much, you have to grasp the basic idea and understand why it works. But it really isn't that hard and can be understood in just a few days. If you write valid and semantic html without regard, during the markup phase, to layout or presentation, then it makes the whole process much much easier and make producing a good page much easier and faster once you learn it. Applying CSS to a properly marked up valid and semantic html page is a doddle. Trying to apply it to old fashioned pages using tables for layout is a right pain. Once again, I'd rather have your present content (and more please!)in a badly designed page such as you have now, than a well designed page without the content. Content rules!
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  11. Being one of those stuck on slow dial-up, I appreciate your text menus and everything else that minimizes bandwidth. Your site is one of the fastest loading I frequent. RE: Tables vs CSS. I consider this a bit of arrogance by those deeply involved in CSS. Most do not do it properly. I have old eyes, and use a default font of 18 pt, and still have to increase font display 2 or 3 times on most sites in order to read easily. CSS usually gets messed up with overlapping and truncated text. Up with tables! They work in all browsers, are much faster to create and load! Thanks you for your effort! Bill
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  12. Kernos, the idea that it is "tables vs. CSS" is just false. Tables are perfectly useful html constructs when used to mark up tabular information. If the information is indeed tabular in nature it is an abuse *not* to use them. BUT they are not designed for layout and shouldn't be used for that. I agree with your remarks about fonts and font sizes, being visually challenged myself. But valid semantic html with CSS for layout is in fact the solution to this problem. Alas, there are many myths about html/CSS going around and a real scientific skeptic should be wary about falling for them. Unfortunately many do. I will admit that it is far more important to apply skeptical thinking skills to climate change as John does at this site. But it is still rather sad that he does not apply it also to the site itself, because that could make it so much better while consuming less time and effort.
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  13. Hi John, I think it will be useful (especially for people who only speak 1 lang.) to have contact info. of translators on the Translations page and/or at the footer of each translation article. I second tadzio's suggestion to show a widget that tracks the reader composition (e.g. Clustrmaps). Currently I have no idea if my translations are read by anybody :)
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  14. I disagree. Tables are perfectly valid for layout. CSS is considered more 'modern' by those who were in school this century. Fads come and go. Where CSS is useful is with DHTML, but that's another story.
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  15. Kernos, you may feel free to disagree, and so am I, but the authority if their is one is the W3C who designed the html/css standard and, as it happens they agree with me. I have done html both ways, and my experience is that your way is much harder and leads to worse web pages. The way you word your reply suggests that you haven't really understood the alternate, so maybe you should find out what all the fuss is about before you condemn it out of hand. I know from experience that the approach using valid semantic html, separation of concerns, and CSS to define presentation and layout is just ever so much easier. But it does require you to be willing to put away some of the erroneous things you have learned about how to do web pages. You seem to be saying something like "I know the best way and have made up my mind and am unwilling to change it even if the evidence says I should change it." Remind you of some of the global change deniers on this site?
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  16. Here's one more suggestion for the site. A glossary would be quite useful, especially for readers less acquainted the science. I'm thinking particularly of acronyms such as SST, TOA etc. It could be simply a link to for example the RealClimate glossary or something more elaborate with links in posts etc.
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    Response: This is a good idea. How I'd approach it is to set it up as a database where others can edit it, wiki style. That way, it's not too much of a time sink for me - just the initial set up time. The main thing I'm wondering is to whether to make it open access or just limited access. I welcome thoughts.
  17. quokka, i like your idea, but it's a lot of work. Maybe it could be feasible if limited to the acronyms and if someone else, not John, takes care of the compilation (you? :)).
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  18. Wrt to a glossary, one of the easiest ways of getting started may be to contact other friendly sites that have one and ask permission to reproduce portions (or even the whole thing) with appropriate acknowledgements. Even organizations such as NOAA might be agreeable. I'd expect some conditions such as verbatim transcription, and a commitment to keep it up to date, which is fair enough.
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