jesse_the_k: mirror reflection of 1/3 of my head, creating a central third eye, a heart shaped face, and a super-pucker mouth (expectant)
Jesse the K ([personal profile] jesse_the_k) wrote in [site community profile] dw_accessibility2010-02-14 12:12 pm

version 2 Explicit Comment Heirarchy Indicators

Howdy! Thanks to the useful comments on my previous post, I've revised my proposal and inserted it into the DW suggestion generator. Please leave comments and vote in the poll at the [site community profile] dw_suggestions community.

However, that channel doesn't support HTML tags, so I'm duplicating my post here so I can present my case visually as well as in text.

Title: Style Comments Page with Outline Indicators

Summary: Improve usability and accessibility when following comment threads, where indentation implies structural hierarchy. Especially for those of us using smaller screens (phones, netbooks) or screen reader/braille displays.

I floated this idea at [site community profile] dw_accessibility. Thanks to [personal profile] lightgetsin, [personal profile] jadelennox, [personal profile] zvi, [personal profile] rb, [personal profile] fish_echo, [personal profile] kyrielle, [personal profile] codeman38, [personal profile] sqbr, & [personal profile] turlough for helping me refine this proposal; you can read our initial discussion here.
http://dw-accessibility.dreamwidth.org/10606.html

Full Explanation:

The Problem

The structural hierarchy of comments—who is replying to whom—is implicit in the amount of white space between the left screen edge and the start of the comment. (How the comment begins varies, depending on the page's style: could be the words in the comment itself, or the user icon, or the optional subject title.)

For some of us inferring indentation doesn't work well. For folks with small screens—phones, netbooks, and large print users—it's difficult. For folks using audio or braille display, it's impossible.

My proposal is to provide a style that makes the outline of comments explicit with printing characters. Because we don't have enough jargon, I'll refer to these as "explicit comment hierarchy indicators" (abbreviated ECHI).

The ECHI would alternate Arabic numerals and alpha, concatenated without spaces and concluding with "period space." (I've rejected upper v lowercase as more difficult to disambiguate, and Roman numeral systems because they're less familiar.) The ECHI would be prepended to the "subject" string, or *be* the subject string if none is present (which would also provide a handy way to reference comments.) Each ECHI would unambiguously show its comment's place in the hierarchy.

Problem Samples

I'm a large print user. This screen grab shows how easy it is to lose the context of long discussion threads, even with "style=light".

http://i277.photobucket.com/albums/kk58/jesse_the_k/SharedPix/LosingCommentContext.png

It's like browsing the web through a soda straw. Relatively few lines fill the screen vertically, so there's meager context to judge the horizontal indents. The screen grab is a Firefox/Mac window showing 20 pt fonts. There are two comments in the middle of a long thread in. The earlier comment uses 2/3rd screen width; its reply is indented 1/4 in further. Vertically there's just 14 lines of text plus two "header" lines containing user icons, subjects, usernames & dates.

This is how threaded comments appear now to those using screen readers, or any user adding ?style=flat to an URL for mobile browsing.

Original post
Base-level comment
alpha's response
beta responds to alpha
gamma responds to beta
delta responds to alpha
gamma responds to alpha
beta responds to base level comment
gamma responds to original post

There is no information about comment hierarchy. In our initial discussion [personal profile] lightgetsin had never understood how sighted users were understanding who was responding to what.

Solution Samples

Approach 1: implement ECHIs in place of indentation:
0. Original post
1. Base-level comment
1a. alpha's response
1a1. beta responds to alpha
1a1a. gamma responds to beta
1a2. delta responds to alpha
1a3. gamma responds to alpha
1b. beta responds to base level comment
2. gamma responds to original post


Approach 2: implement ECHIs in addition to indentation:
0. Original post
	1. Base-level comment
		1a. alpha's response
			1a1. beta responds to alpha
				1a1a. gamma responds to beta
			1a2. delta responds to alpha
			1a3. gamma responds to alpha
		1b. beta responds to base level comment
	2. gamma responds to original post


Solution Discussion

In my perfect world, I would be able to select ECHIs & indent for any style, as a new option under "Presentation" for "Customize your theme."
http://www.dreamwidth.org/customize/options

That option would be:
View Comments
(ticky) using indents to track threading
(ticky) in my own style
(ticky) in light style
(ticky) using outline numbers & letters to track threading

with the first and second options selected by default

Alas, that may not prove possible.

If so, I see the following options:
A. No indent and ECHIs always on in the light style
B. Both ECHIs and indent always on in the light style
C. ECHIs selectable and indent selectable in the light style
D. Additional light style with ECHIs but no indent
E. Additional light style with both ECHIs and indent
Z. Indent always on in the light style (current case)

Options D and E require the least infrastructure, but require education to become accessible.

As a large print user, I'd prefer A (or D); regular print/mobile users may well prefer B (or E).

Option C does require some replumbing, but only for one style.

I'm hoping Z is no longer acceptable.