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I'm someone who uses Stack Exchange relatively regularly, and I think the new top bar is horrible. I get the impression that this feeling is shared by most other frequent users.1, 2

But at the same time, the data behind the top bar shows that it does a good job of getting people to register, log in, and use the search tool. Which is great! So why do all these regular users hate it.

Do you remember the profile page redesign? I really liked it. I get the sense everyone did as well. What worked about it? Well, one of the things that worked was the developers realized that there were two different use cases for profile. There were people who were looking at their own profile to keep track of their rep, badges, and content, and there were people looking at other people's profile, who were more interested in seeing a picture and an about me section. Rather than combining these two use cases into one profile, we made two profiles--one for each use case. And it's worked really well.

I get the sense that the top bar has the exact same situation. There are new features that new users really enjoy, but because frequent users have different needs, the features for the new users don't work for the frequent users.

Why don't we make two top bars?

  • There essentially are two different top bars. Check out this site in a private browser window. – Cody Gray Sep 20 '17 at 1:28
  • @CodyGray not really. Logo that does nothing on the left, search bar in the middle, buttons on the right. Looks the same to me. – user160606 Sep 20 '17 at 1:35
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So... I actually kinda hated the profile redesign.

Oh, don't get me wrong - I understand that it was probably a huge improvement for most users, but as someone who often has to dabble in moderating multiple sites and handle support issues that involve drawing together as much data on individual users as possible, it was a massive pain for me, personally. After using it for a little bit and realizing I was constantly having to open two pages for each user to get all the info I needed... I wrote a userscript that scraped both and consolidated it on one page and used that.

...This eventually led to a third profile page built just for moderators:

moderator dashboard for my own profile here on MSE

Great story, eh? Ok, so here's my point:

Which established users?

Problem with targeting established users is... Once established... Folks tend to develop rather specific ways of using the site. Ways that don't necessarily match how other established users use the site.

There's an old story about Microsoft, dismayed by how bloated MS-Word had become during the feature-wars, studied which parts of the app a whole bunch of power users actually used and found that most users only touched 10% of the features in the app... "Great! We can cut the bloat!" Eh... Problem was, none of them used the same 10%. So... Which 10% of Stack Exchange do you use?

Now... Ideally, we'd recognize this diversity and build a system that encourages customizing your tooling to match your specific needs. But that's a massive undertaking. That possibly-apocryphal Microsoft story I told above? They ended up spending ungodly amounts of time and resources to create The Ribbon, intended to adapt smoothly to each user's individual needs. It was, of course, universally loved, so hopefully we'll get there someday too... But it won't be today, or probably 6-8 years from today.

That leaves us with the next best thing: make it convenient for individual users to hack away at the UI with custom userscripts, apps, etc. Instead of 2 top-bars, why not dozens? Hundreds?

So... Go forth and script. And, if you end up creating something useful, please share it with the rest of the class!

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    Did I mention I was a Word PM back in the day? You're preaching my sermon. ;) This is the ever present problem of UX design. – Joe Friend Sep 20 '17 at 2:15
  • Apparently you did... Journeyman Geek just brought this up in the TL. – Shog9 Sep 20 '17 at 2:16
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    There's one thing though, the mobile site is horrible but I don't think you can script mobile browsers. This is more of a concern for tablets because using full site on a phone is... challenging... but it gets difficult to switch between computers and devices when things look really similar but are just dissimilar enough to be annoying. – Catija Sep 20 '17 at 2:24
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    I also think that, and I'm not saying you're excluding the possibility, but this current top bar still has some kinks that need to be worked out... implying "this is what it's going to be and we're not changing it, go script it if you want it different" implies a disinterest in considering the user. I haven't heard a single person (here on MSE, I haven't looked at MSO) say "OMG, this is awesome, don't change anything". I don't think we need two versions of the top bar (other than perhaps a sticky one and a non-sticky one) but I hope the current one, isn't the final "official" one. – Catija Sep 20 '17 at 2:29
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    This is why I'm looking forward to Firefox 57 on mobile, @Catija: there's never been (to my knowledge at least) a usable version of Greasemonkey on mobile, but as of 57 FF is moving to WebExtensions - which are reasonably close to userscripts already (also see this interesting thread). The mobile issue is a massive, crippling problem in numerous areas - ignoring navigation, I rely on various userscripts for tons of functionality on these sites and have to give it all up when I'm on mobile. – Shog9 Sep 20 '17 at 2:40
  • Also, I'm totally not saying we can't or won't fix stuff that's just straight-up broken. Simply... Without some mechanism for customization, the results are all but guaranteed to be less than ideal for just about everyone, and the more you use these sites the less ideal those results are gonna be. – Shog9 Sep 20 '17 at 2:42
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    I don't disagree that two designs won't solve things, but scripting doesn't solve it either. I can't use scripts on my tablet (which means a lot of site functionality, including much of moderation, is unavailable to me), and the script I'm now using to move things and increase font sizes has noticable lag on page-load, so I see top-bar icons skittering across the screen. I don't know what the answer is, but there are limits to what scripts can do. – Monica Cellio Sep 20 '17 at 4:07
  • Wow, CMs have all that info on q/a bans right there on the mod dashboard? – Rand al'Thor Sep 20 '17 at 7:40
  • Heh... We do have rather a lot of info on bans available, @Rand... But that's not what's shown. The stats are helpful for support, folks often contact us about bans and pointing out that they have a bunch of downvoted questions saves digging through them all. – Shog9 Sep 20 '17 at 15:13

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