Designers — please help me figure out what to do with the new Discourse sidebar

I feel reasonably happy with the design and function of this site. It’s got some quirks, but… I at least am mostly happy. But like always in Fedora, here comes upstream, throwing a wrench in things. :classic_smiley:

Discourse now by default (available as an option on existing sites but not flipped) moves the contents of the hamburger menu in the top right (as you can see on our site currently) to a new left-side sidebar. See this in action (and read about it) at Try out the new sidebar and notification menus! - announcements - Discourse Meta.

To be honest, I’m not super fond of this. I see some utility, but there are a number of hugely clunky things. Among them:

  • I hate “Community”[1] as the title for the first menu category. This is an amazing example of using the word “community” in the sense “okay, that’s meaningless enough, but we need to put something there”. Stahhhhhhp.
  • I feel like the design is overwhelming and busy enough as it is, and this crams in even more
  • The default front page here is designed to lead people into the right categories. Now we have another category list on the left?
    • and worse, one where there’s no category tree – they’re in an alphabetical list!!!
    • and configuring watched/tracked/muted categories is already confusing enough, but now there’s a whole separate place to configure which ones show in your personal sidebar.

I’ve noted some of these upstream (and would welcome designers weighing in there too – their designers are thoughtful, reasonable, lovely people), but would also love y’all’s help in figuring out how we can make this work best for us. (Of course, we can just choose to leave it off — I expect that will be an option for quite a while at least.

But I also don’t want to drift too far from the normal experience people might have on Discourse sites. One of the reasons for choosing Discourse is that [2] they’re becoming the defacto post-mailing-lists async discussion platform (GNOME, Home Assistant, Krita, Python — in fact, Python has moved their devel list to discourse[3]).

So… help! :classic_smiley:


  1. please do not quote me saying this phrase out of context! ↩︎

  2. in addition to being an all open-source SaaS success story I want to support! ↩︎

  3. something still very much in my aspirations for Fedora — I’d like to move everything except broadcast/push-oriented announcement lists ↩︎

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I use a lot of Discourse sites and there is already a wide variety of configurations visible; I don’t think it would be harmful if this site chose not to enable the sidebar until after the broader community has had some experience with it and it’s been improved as a result.

My initial impressions of the new sidebar match yours pretty closely, but I’m biased since I’ve been a DIscourse user since the very early days and using the hamburger menu to get to the places I need to go seems ‘natural’.

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Hello @mattdm ,
I took a look, but mostly read the comments at the link you provided. I do find it a bit busy with the changes as they present them, but was encouraged by some of the thoughtful discussion that has sprouted around it. Currently, I use the ‘hamburger menu’ (I’d call it pancakes, but meh?) quite naturally and have from the beginning of my visiting this site. I agree with some of the comments around the personal messaging, and I think that you POV seems to generally reflect my concerns for our users here and at ask.fp.o. Definitely, the Community title at the top is not wanted, as we have been consistently insisting here, everything Fedora is the community. Perhaps the suggestion of no title for the top, or at least alterable title, is the right call. In the end I will work within the parameters the community decides is best for it.

I very much prefer the :hamburger: / :pancakes: menu. The main reason being, that it doesn’t distract when reading.

One thing I noticed, having glanced at the preview, is that it draws some attention to tags. That’s currently a bit hidden, but a great way of finding related discussions.

Regarding your ambition, @mattdm, making Discourse the new Mailman: I think it will take as much effort as convincing IRC users to switch over to Matrix. By which I don’t mean you should stop trying. I know I can reply directly to a notification and this will end up as a post on Discourse. But I’m always concerned about messing up the Markdown. And that’s pretty much the spice Discourse adds to Mailman.

Wait and see how it develops is also my preferred approach.

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2 posts were split to a new topic: Does this site run on Fedora Linux?

Just a note on how this may work. As of now it seems like clicking the hamburger menu on the top left will hide the new sidebar, so effectively I think the sidebar can be there as a way to access those categories for those who want it while remaining hidden for those who don’t. Because the sidebar can be hidden from the hamburger menu, I don’t think we would have to change our current front page.

Sidebar by default on the left of the home page

I click the hamburger menu and now sidebar is gone

Will this always work this way? I don’t know.

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Yeah, it seems to all be in flux.

I agree on the “community” part, but… I actually like the sidebar. You can say it is “busy”, I’d say it is more compact than the default categories overview, which makes it much easier for me to “see” the whole hierarchy in one glance.

And it also works similar to Element and Pidgin interfaces.
It does make the default Categories list redundant, but it was not of much use anyway.

I hope they will have it as a per-user option. And I hope some other interface elements can be made more compact too. Like the very list of topics, which currently shows only 8 entries by default.

I think it’s important to have space to explain what the categories are, like the current front page here. And (with your earlier very helpful thoughts!) we’ve kept the top-level list small. Currently, the sidebar doesn’t actually present a hierarchy — just all categories you’ve marked to be on the sidebar in a flat, alphabetical list.

I do agree that having categories on the sidebar matches what people are used to from chat — Element, and Slack and Discord too for that matter. It’s not a bad design pattern, just trying to figure out how to fit it in.

I don’t think it will be per-user, but there is currently an option to allow it to be collapsable back into a hamburger menu (this time on the left side).

What do you mean about the list of topics with 8 entries? Which view is that?

This is how default page looks for me:

While description of the categories is indeed very helpful when you start, it becomes completeky irrelevant once you are familiar with the forum.

And the actual content you want to see when you enter the forum is the list of topics. And currently in that list I can only see 7.5 topics at a time.

Even in Gmail interface (which is in no way ideal) I can see at least 10 topics at once and not just topics but also the snippets from them.

And even if I switch to “Latest” view, I don’t exactly know what makes it look wrong, but i think combination of fonts used by Discourse is not really working for me. They are too large, too “white” or too “spacy” or something like that.

Hyperkitty’s view looks much more condensed and readable to me:

I have had the “Latest” tab as my default view for many years, that “Categories” tab is almost useless for a user with a few weeks of experience on the site :slight_smile:

Ah, I see. Not literally limited to 8 topics, but limited by your window size and the screen space.

Yes, me too. Except on Fedora Discussion for some reason. I’ll have to do some personal introspection on why I’ve left it at the default front page. :classic_smiley: I think suggesting experienced users switch the default would be a good addition to Tips and tricks: what do you need to know about Discourse platform.

Anyway, @bookwar, this styling is very much within our control. We could even provide a separate user-selectable “high density” theme if enough folks would find that helpful.

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