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Comment Preview Usability Issue

Date:  19th July, 2004

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I had reason to work directly in the Urban Mainframe's RDBMS this morning while implementing a couple of patches to the CMS.

While I was poking around, I noticed several records in my "user_comments" table that were in the "preview state" (see: The Ultimate Comments Handler).

Of course, this is not unusual. I frequently see "preview" comments appear in the database prior to their publication. However, the comments that I was looking at had timestamps outside of the normal envelope...

“there was a usability issue with the comments handler that was preventing the authors from successfully completing the process”

There were two possible explanations:

  • the authors of the comments had decided not to publish their messages or
  • there was a usability issue with the comments handler that was preventing the authors from successfully completing the process

I suspected the latter immediately and took another look at the comments handler.

The problem was immediately apparent (once I actually looked for it): the inline preview facility presents unpublished comments almost exactly the same as the published ones. The only real difference between the two is that a preview comment has "PREVIEW: Draft Comment" in comment's header. So users see their comment inline with the others and with the same presentation and assume that the comment has been published.

I realise now that I have to make it much clearer that a comment is unpublished when it is in the "preview" condition. As an interim measure, I have added a note to the bottom of comment previews that explicitly states "your comment has not yet been published".

I will adjust the comments handler in the next day or two to colour-code previews, or to provide some other visual cue. That should hopefully prevent this problem from recurring.

What to Do With Unpublished Comments

After I'd put the interim fix in place, I logged-on to the database to publish the rogue comments. Comments that are in a preview state have a "preview" column set to "1" in the "user_comments" table, so a simple "update" command, changing the "1" to "0", would add them to their respective threads. However, I realised that it would be unethical of me to publish these comments without the approval of their authors.

Maybe I was wrong in assuming that a usability issue had prevented their publication. Maybe the authors had simply discarded their comments. I couldn't be sure, so I left them as they were.

Ben and Smitty, if you read this, let me know whether or not you want your unpublished comments to go live.