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Recently at Crypto.SE

screenshot

image source

To be sure the problem is clear: all the questions underneath the “Related” headline are crypto questions, related to the question I was viewing. They are not related to Math.SE in any way.

Now, for all of us who’ve been using SE/SO for a while, it’s less confusing because we know and have seen those advertisements about a hundred times, so we can differ that stuff. But what about the rest of the world? When I stumble upon something like this and find it a bit confusing/misleading, I’m pretty sure new users will be more than confused – because it looks as if the bottom of that advertisement is the header to the “Related” part.

Potential Solutions

  1. From my point of view, a small but clearly visible CSS border around the advertisement’s image would do wonders.
  2. Moving the advertisement up (above the “Asked/Viewed/Active” section) would probably be even better as it would separate the advertisement from the content more clearly.

I’m currently assuming I’m not the only one seeing an issue with the current design, but I could be wrong. Therefore, I’ll throw in two questions to make it easy for every opinion to share two cents:

  1. Do you disagree with my observation? If you disagree, why do you think it’s not a problem?
  2. If you agree, do have some better ideas than what I was able to come up with? What would be your constructive way/idea to handle/solve this UI design issue?

By the way: this is an issue which affects all SE sites. To be more exact: those site designs that hug a simple white sidebar.

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    I'm not sure why they didn't put a border on that image. Even for the Community Ads program, we enforce a 1px border on images which would blend into the background too much. – animuson Sep 5 '14 at 14:33
  • @animuson I don’t have a complete overview of all advertising images at SE… if it’s just this one image from Math.SE, I can imagine a quick pixelshoving-job would be easier than fiddling with the CSS. – e-sushi Sep 5 '14 at 14:36
  • @animuson Really? Come on. It has to be 1 whole pixel? I can't have a pure green subpixel border where the RGB tuple is { 0, 255, 0 }? That's stupid. </sarcasm> – Cole Johnson Sep 5 '14 at 16:24
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Thank you for pointing this out! The same reason you offer as to why it didn't affect you is likely the same reason why no one here noticed it. After seeing something so many times it just becomes part of the background.

A border has been added to the creative in question to make it a little clearer. We're also taking a look at the rest of our internal promotion ads to make sure that the standards we hold for our own ads are the same as those we hold our external advertisers to.

You may not see the updates live on the site immediately, but trust me-- they're coming.

ALSO: if you see any ads that are questionable for similar reasons, please let us know here.

Thank you again!

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This is specifically an issue with sites that have a white background (beta sites are particularly prone to this) in combination with a white background for the SE network advertisement for some graduated sites.

Beta site

You can see that this beta site advertisement is bordered - there is no issue of what is grouped with what.

Sci Fi

Other sites have a large consistent background that makes the grouping obvious.

But when you have a white (as Math.SE does) or near white background (as Mathematic.SE does) for the advertisement, it can be hard to distinguish the grouping on the page:

Mathematics.SE on white background

... unless the background of the site isn't a basic white, though it can still be challenging...

Mathematics.SE on RPG background

The proper approach for this would be to ensure that the community advertisement is properly bordered, especially when there is a white or light grey background to the advert or the site:

Unix and Linux on Programmers.SE


After the change mentioned by stevvve, things are looking like:

Mathematica on P.SE

and Mathematics (the one that gave the confusion in the original question) looks like:

Mathematics on P.SE

This is good.

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Potential Solutions

The following solutions could solve the problem (sorted from most-easy to most-radical change):

  1. Verify and ensure that all community advertisements actually have the enforced 1px border on images to avoid confusion on near-white sidebar backgrounds, or
  2. Add a small but clearly visible 1px CSS border around the advertisement’s image that fits the individual SE site theme, or
  3. Move the advertisement up above the “Asked/Viewed/Active” section to separate the advertisement from the content more clearly (which represents the most radical change).

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