OTB Site Suggestions

We're looking for reader input on site functionality and features.

blogging-word-mouse

OTB has been without tech support for quite some time now and the site is showing its age. We know we need to make the site more mobile-friendly and clean up the ads. We’re also aware of the bugginess of the spam filters; I’m not sure if that’s fixable but it’s certainly on our list.

But we’re mostly focused on the backend and may be less in touch with the user experience than regular readers and commenters. What are you guys seeing?

Do we need a major re-design of the home page and the blog pages, or just tweaks?

Are there features you’re seeing on other sites–not even necessarily other blogs—that you’d like to see incorporated?

Plug-ins or other features that we’ve been running for years that are past their sell-by? I’m not sure, for example, that the voting feature in the comments section has had the desired effect. Is there a better way to have readers police comments, encouraging more civil conversations?

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Blogosphere, Crowdsourcing, OTB History
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughters. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for in the way of suggestions, but sometimes it takes an eternity to post a comment. And often that ends up with a “Bad Gateway.” I don’t think this is just me; it happens with different computers at different locations.




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  2. Tony W says:

    I’d stick with just making tweaks. Most major redesigns involve huge compromises to existing functionality.

    Oftentimes the features you give up for a new platform are more important than you realized.




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  3. SKI says:

    Two persistent issues I encounter.

    1. OTB pages on Chrome never stop loading (even when all content is displayed). May have something to do with security settings or ads but it is all the time.

    2. Periodically, on my iPad, when I’m trying to open a post, I get an ad that grabs the screen announcing I’m a winner. No way to close it or even to go back to OTB. Have to crash the tab and start over at the home screen in a new tab.

    Second one is much more impactful and frustrating.




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  4. Kylopod says:

    1. I really have trouble loading the site often and sometimes have to wait several minutes before it becomes functional. This happens all the time.

    2. Give users the ability to create an account and login with a password.

    3. Either eliminate the downvote or stop calling it a downvote–call it a “troll vote” or “flag” or something, that makes clear it’s not just for disagreeing with someone but for identifying a comment that’s inappropriate in some way. That should reduce the mob mentality where if you disagree with the consensus of the crowd you’re treated like some disruptive troll.

    3. When looking at the site on a phone, it often flips me to some spam site that I can’t get out of without closing the page and reloading the original site. This problem has largely disappeared after I downloaded an ad blocker, but it still should be addressed

    4. In the PC version, recently there are weird ads appearing in the middle of articles. I actually don’t mind it that much, but it makes me do a double take.

    5. Once again, I ask someone to explain, but no one ever does: how did the name J-E-N-O-S get to be like Voldemort in the spam filters, where your comment gets automatically tossed out just from mention of that name?




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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I sometimes get the “bad gateway” page, also more than a little end up with a “looks like you’ve already said that” page but my comment won’t appear until I go to the Main page and then return to that thread.

    Those 2 amount to minor irritations compared to the periods of time when I get kicked into the spam box. Sometimes it’s only for a day but far more often it will last for weeks or even months. This comment will probably get kicked there again because the spam bot hates me.

    One last thing, start posting again James.




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  6. Bob@Youngstown says:

    at this risk of repeating others above:
    1) slow loading of site
    2) “You are a winner” hijacks that force me to reset mobile device

    3) A “Troll” vote category is an appealing concept. I would retain the downvote capability however.

    Hey, thanks for asking.




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  7. MarkedMan says:

    #1 with a bullet: spam ads. This is really bad on my iPhone and iPad, even with an adblocker.
    Sometimes the site is unusable and I just give up. From a computer it isn’t so bad

    The upvote/downvote thing is fine. I remember when you messed around with it a number of years ago and I think the result, I.e, what we are using now, is pretty good

    It would be good to see the comment count even for minor articles, as that is how I tell if there are new comments.

    And a way to subscribe to a comment thread without commenting myself would be good, as would a way to unsubscribe to a thread from within that thread.




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  8. Jc says:

    Only thing I would fix is the mobile issue with all the redirects to “winner” etc… spam sites/pop ups. Makes it annoying to view the site on an ipod or iphone.

    Otherwise I like the format etc…very user friendly and easy to follow, check, read, comment etc…




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  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @SKI:

    2. Periodically, on my iPad, when I’m trying to open a post, I get an ad that grabs the screen announcing I’m a winner.

    I get that almost every time on my phone. Limits my participation when I’m away from my desk-top. (Y’all may be thankful for that!!! Maybe it’s a feature and not a bug???)

    Generally speaking I like the site. I don’t sit here thinking, “Gee, I wish I could do this or that.”
    I’m more interested in content than anything else. But I get that more features may mean more eyes on the site, and thus more revenue. Whatever it takes to keep the site going!!!




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  10. Electroman says:

    I have the “really long load time issue” most of the time I visit here; I have yet to get a Bad Gateway error, but I suspect that these two issues are related.

    Ads? I see none, but this is due to ad blockers and related technologies.

    As to the format – I see no reason to change. Don’t fix it if it’s not broke, and that’s not broken. Please keep the ability to downvote.




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  11. CET says:

    I agree with the votes for ‘clean things up a bit, but no major redesigns are needed’.

    I think adding a troll flag would be interesting on a trial basis, but at most, I’d want it to bring posts to the moderator’s attention rather than trigger action automatically. The latter seems prone to abuse. I also think ‘downvotes’ separate from a troll flag are useful.

    If you want to clean up comments in general, I might have a general policy that ad-hominem attacks aren’t useful contributions, and the staff reserves the right to remove them. Most of the least useful threads seems to start and/or end that way.

    I kind of miss being able to see who the upvotes are from. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I can make a point that one of the commenters who usually disagrees with me finds interesting or useful.

    @Kylopod:
    It’s….complicated, and I probably only saw the tail end of it. I left OTB for a couple of years because it seemed like (1) pretty much every thread turned into commenters finding new and inventive ways to call each other stupid (or racist, or whatever), and (2) some of the commenters developed a tendency to assume that anyone who disagreed with them was a sock-puppet of ‘he who shall not be named.’




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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kylopod:

    3. Either eliminate the downvote or stop calling it a downvote–call it a “troll vote” or “flag” or something, that makes clear it’s not just for disagreeing with someone but for identifying a comment that’s inappropriate in some way. That should reduce the mob mentality where if you disagree with the consensus of the crowd you’re treated like some disruptive troll.

    Human nature is such that the button will be used as an “I disagree” button regardless of what its stated purpose is.




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  13. michael reynolds says:

    1) Load times ditto.

    2) Phone issues ditto.

    3) More writers. Doug does yeoman’s work but the site would benefit from additional posters.

    4) A ‘donate’ button. I’m never entirely comfortable using something I don’t pay for.




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  14. Andy says:

    Since you’re asking I do have a list:

    1. Site loads WAY too slowly and seems to have a lot of bloat under the hood. Plus the ads. On slower connections (which I’m on often now as I travel full-time), it can be unbearable. Thankfully I can read the full text of a post on my RSS reader.
    2. As others mentioned, mobile support is lacking and frankly I don’t bother anymore on mobile because of the ad hijack issue.
    3. The upvote/downvote system seems to serve no real purpose and it is probably counterproductive. It does not promote or reward good comments and does nothing about bad comments much less trolling.
    4. When the site was redesigned last time, I suggested a third party comment system. I still think you should do that as it offloads a lot of the hassle on your end and will be more frequently updated to deal with moderation and spam than a bespoke system would. Just please, please please don’t use Facebook. Last time I suggest Disqus and it is still a good system. If you guys don’t have the time to actively moderate comments, then you really need a third-party solution in this day and age. Your comment policies are essentially meaningless because they are rarely enforced.
    5. The overall site design (look and feel) is fine but does seem a bit dated. Maybe it’s not required this go around, but eventually you’ll want a refresh. If you’re tinkering under the hood anyway then a refresh might be a good idea.

    Suggested tweaks:

    1. There doesn’t seem to be a way to filter posts by author – clicking on a linked name takes me to the author’s personal blog or does nothing at all.
    2. The search function often misses things I’m looking for. There doesn’t seem to be a way to search for whole words, as one example. I usually skip the search function and use google.
    3. When editing a comment, there’s no easy way to go back to the main post without using the browser history. This is another problem a third-party comment system would sovle.

    Most of the other suggestions here, so far, are good ones.

    More generally, I think you need to expand your list of contributors. This site has really become just Doug on the weekdays and Steven on the weekends and thus I think it could use some more diversity.




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  15. CSK says:

    Okay, this is odd. All of a sudden–and I mean as of this morning–I’m getting pop-up ads that obscure the post. And I have AdBlock Plus.




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  16. Andy says:

    @CET:

    I agree. The toxic nature of the comments at this site are a big reason why I rarely bother spending the time anymore. While toxicity and ad hominem are par for the course generally in comment sections, I think the lack of moderation and and the upvote/downvote system promote it.

    I also get that moderation is hard – I currently moderate a Facebook group with ~50,000 members and I realize what a PITA it is in terms of enforcing rules and the time requirement. It’s quite clear the hosts here do not have the time (totally understandable!), which is why I think they should use a system that will make it much easier going forward as well as improve the climate in the comments section.




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  17. CSK says:

    Why does my comment above say that my comment is awaiting moderation?




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  18. James Pearce says:

    RE: the “bad gateway” thing. For me, this always occurs between 3PM and 3:20PM MST. Before the time change, it occurred at 4:00PM. My guess this is some kind of automated daily maintenance. Is it necessary? I dunno. Should it be rescheduled? Yeah, probably.




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  19. @James Pearce:

    Yea I generally experience the “Bad Gateway” issue around the same time you do, although here on the East Coast the most common time seems to be during the 5 pm to 5;30 pm time frame. I don’t know much about what goes on “under the hood” so to speak, but, yea, it does seem like too much of a coincidence not to be due to some scheduled server activity.




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  20. Gustopher says:

    I like the downvotes — they provide a quick, easy and pretty ignorable way of saying “you’re an idiot”.

    It cuts down on the number of people posting “you’re an idiot”, and keeps the site much more civil. Once you have to write out “you’re an idiot”, you also want to be more flowery with your words, and break down exactly why they are an idiot, which the idiot is then going to rebutt. A downvote gives less of an opening.

    OTB, for an unmoderated blog, has a shockingly civil comment section compared to the rest of the internet, particularly for a political blog with a very diverse group of commentators. The dismissive downvote is a big part of that.




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  21. Gustopher says:

    I do find the entire “i was designed in 2006” look of the site quaint and adorable. Adorbs as the kids say. It’s not a bad look, and everything is simple, clean and straightforward.

    I get bored with the ads — they don’t rotate often enough, and you get the sagging skin in the armpit ad way too often (well, I do…).

    And, a few new front page posters would be good. James has checked out a little to a lot (not criticizing him, priorities in life change), and Doug and Steven have two very distinct views. We are missing the old-school Republican with a growing disgust with his party view.

    I don’t think we need the Trumpeter view or an actual liberal view on the front page. I like that this is a give-or-take traditional Republican blog. It’s always been the George Herbert Walker Bush of blogs, and its losing that a little.




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  22. MarkedMan says:

    Comments on comments….

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Human nature is such that the button will be used as an “I disagree” button regardless of what its stated purpose is.

    FWIW, I vaguely remember when this went through a number of iterations between versions of “I disagree” and “You are a troll”. Each one resulted in a lot of sidebar discussion as to the proper use of the button. Since going to upvote/downvote I don’t remember seeing those sidebars

    @michael reynolds:

    3) More writers. Doug does yeoman’s work but the site would benefit from additional posters.

    100% agree. Years ago I wouldn’t even read Doug’s posts and now I find his stuff quite good. (I wonder who has changed more, me or him?). But I really look forward to someone else showing up on the site. Steven’s posts and photos are great.

    @Andy:

    The toxic nature of the comments at this site are a big reason why I rarely bother spending the time anymore.

    I don’t really agree with this (obvious from the amount of comments I make) but I empathize. However, I’ve been on various types of user groups and listserves and usenet since 1979 and nothing, and I mean nothing, can save a thread once the trolls start being fed. Except for moderation. I for one would have no problem with someone booting me off for 24 hours if I started name calling other commenters (I reserve the right to call The Great Mangolini anything I want to). So I would say if the commenting system would allow a 24 hour ban, you should give more of the regulars moderating authority.

    Oh, and it would be great if you could get rid of that “Read More: [link]” addendum whenever you quote somebody.




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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    I get bored with the ads — they don’t rotate often enough, and you get the sagging skin in the armpit ad way too often (well, I do…)

    Wait, aren’t ads targeted? How are your armpits? Just asking…




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  24. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    The dismissive downvote is a big part of that.

    I was neutral on the downvote, seeing not very many opportunities to use it, but having experienced first hand Kylopod’s “mob mentality where if you disagree with the consensus of the crowd you’re treated like some disruptive troll,” I can say that it’s only useful for the pile-on.




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  25. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    “Idiot” is subjective and here it is broadly applied to include unpopular viewpoints. More than that, however, it’s clear that many here downvote for reasons other than “idiot” posts. There is no standard for “like” or “dislike” so everyone does what they want.

    Additionally, I don’t see much evidence the system makes OTB’s comment section more civil. The system doesn’t actually do anything so the votes are meaningless eye candy – There is no way to filter or prioritize comments based on the like/dislike ratio. If anything, I’m more apt to read a comment with a ton of downvotes simply to see what the fuss is about.




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  26. CET says:

    @CSK:

    Have you tried using a more general script blocker? I use NoScript for firefox, but regardless of your platform, I think it’s worth having something on there to prevent your browser from having unprotected sex with the internet.




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  27. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s also considerably more literate than the general run of comment sections.




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  28. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Like you, I’ve been debating on the internet since the BBS days. I also agree with you about feeding the trolls – but the trolls here get fed regularly unfortunately. The 24 hour ban is a good idea actually.

    It’s one reason why I think a third-party comment system is warranted – if the hosts here do not have the time for active moderation (and I’m sure they don’t), then a more automated system is the next best thing.




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  29. @Gustopher:

    Actually the last major redesign was in 2010 shortly after I joined the staff.

    As for the format, When I look around at other blogs, even ones that are hosted by major media organizations, it seems as though their format isn’t that much different from what we’re doing right now. If there have been major changes I really haven’t seen it. Heck, some bloggers (i.e. Instapundit) are still using the same basic format they had when they started 15 years ago or more.

    The one “new” think I’m glad we avoid is the whole listicle thing that Buzzfeed started and the “List of” kind of posts that post each item on a separate page in an effort to up their ad revenue.

    Also, someone mentioned the search issue. Yea, that’s a problem. To be honest, I think it’s a WordPress issue because I often have trouble finding a post I know I’ve written sometime in the last seven years and want to refer back to.




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  30. michael reynolds says:

    The problem with the up-vote/down-vote system is that we don’t quite know or agree on what they mean. I generally give an upvote to anything I’ve read (time permitting). I don’t upvote anything from the trolls, but I don’t downvote them unless they’re being especially egregious. I don’t downvote people I disagree with, but I do refrain from up-voting people I disagree with, which is pretty silly, all in all, especially given that everyone else is making up their own system.




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  31. Andy says:

    BTW, here’s an interesting article on the issue of comment moderation:

    https://www.wired.com/2016/03/want-save-comments-trolls/




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  32. Andy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yes, thank you for not doing annoying trendy stuff like listicles and clickbait.




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  33. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    I don’t have any problems with my Ipad or smarphone, but only because I don’t use either format at all. (Still use an LG flip phone with Trakfone service for about $8/mo and no data charges.) I like the up/down vote thing and would probably be marked by a troll flag a lot but think the troll flag is a potential good idea. One format change I would like is to thumbprint/indent (?) replies under the original comment, but that function may require more tech service that you’re willing/able to provide.

    Mostly I have no complaints or suggestions, but I’m not a serious member of either the tech community or the blogosphere.




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  34. Mikey says:

    I’d like to be able to easily put an image into a comment. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.




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  35. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Andy: The Wired article was interesting. It’s a good idea, but I don’t know if I’d be willing to jump through that hoop in order to make a comment. Much like I’m only a Discus registered user on only one blog (for which I’ve forgotten my password) and generally forego reading comments using Discus because I can’t. On the other hand, keeping me off comment threads may be an unvarnished good, in which case Civil may be a good solution.




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  36. de stijl says:

    1. Auto-correct grave accent ` to normal apostrophe ‘ so “it`s” becomes “it’s”

    2. Automatically append the following text at the bottom of every comment:

    Yo, LOOK IT UP It`s all over FB, bitch!

    3. Actually, I have no concerns or desires for a site update. Others appear to have an ad hijack issue that should obviously be addressed on the various mobile platforms. Otherwise, I agree with whoever said “if it ain’t broke….”

    I would be dead-set against a third-party comment system, myself, but I’m just one person. If comments moved to Disqus, that would be very unfortunate, in my opinion. I also prefer the current non-nested comments.

    4. More Kittens!




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  37. Andy says:

    BTW,

    I forgot to mention a few things that I like to balance out my criticisms above:

    – I like how easy it is to quote and link without manually doing the HTML.
    – I like that you can edit a post, though I do wish the timer was longer or based on another metric (like # of edits).
    – I like that you can reply directly to a comment and have a link back to that comment without using threaded comments.
    – I like that you don’t block the full-text of the post from the RSS reader. I realize that means that fewer people click through to your site and likely less ad revenue for you. (here I’ll second Michael’s call for a tip jar) However, if the site loading times an annoyances get fixed I wouldn’t mind being forced to go to the site to get the full text.

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Yeah, civil is an interesting system. I don’t think it would work well on a smaller site like this one though.




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  38. gVOR08 says:

    I agree with @Gustopher: on downvotes. This place is more civil than any other non-moderated site as is. Downvote and move on seems to support that. Not about to ask anyone to take on the burden of moderation.

    Same slow load issues, and the “you won” ads, but I get those on other sites, don’t know that the ads are an OTB issue. Don’t like ads, but minor irritation is a price I’m happy to pay for the site.

    More James would be good, otherwise happy.




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  39. Kylopod says:

    I rarely use the downvote button. As I mentioned to MBunge recently, in his whole time as a troll here I’ve downvoted him exactly once–when he argued that Trump’s remarks on the Access Hollywood tape weren’t describing sexual assault but consensual behavior. I used to use the downvote a lot on Superdestroyer when he posted here. That was an easy call: not only was he an outright racist, he was trying to derail every single thread to talk about his stupid “one party state” theory. I don’t know if he was ever banned, but anyone that disruptive deserves to be.

    I use the upvote fairly inconsistently, I admit. My basic criterion is not that it’s something I agree with per se, but something I just consider a smart comment. I don’t throw it around for every comment I like, but I do use it quite often.

    I kind of prefer the way Disqus does it where you can see who upvoted you, and that’s partly dependent on there being a login system where each person has an individual account. Of course you can open more than one account, but I do think it cuts down on people giving multiple upvotes, and because I know the person can see my upvote, it saves me having to write out a comment saying “I agree” or “smart comment.”




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  40. CSK says:

    @CET:

    I’ll try that. Thanks.




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  41. Mister Bluster says:

    Sneezin’ just hijacked Volokh from the Washington Post.
    How did you guys let that slip away?




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  42. Electroman says:

    @CSK: I use uBlock Origin and see no ads at all here. NoScript will definitely work, but it’s a lot more complicated to set up. Either one is good, though.




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  43. Mister Bluster says:

    UpVote DnVote

    If reynolds is not the one UpVoting my prose, I don’t really care who is.




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  44. MarkedMan says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Sneezin’ just hijacked Volokh from the Washington Post.
    How did you guys let that slip away?

    OK, I give up. What was that comment about?




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  45. R.Dave says:

    No need for a major re-design in my opinion; I like the design simplicity. The ad redirects on iOS devices make the site unusable on my iPad and iPhone, though, so that definitely has to be rectified. I come here far less than I used to solely because of that issue. Beyond that, if you’re looking to make some tweaks, adding the ability to edit comments would be good, and making it so the “Reply” feature also offers a “quote text” option so we don’t have to manually copy/paste and blockquote the comment we’re replying to.




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  46. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Sneezin’ just hijacked Volokh from the Washington Post.

    OK, I give up. What was that comment about?

    Reason’s (libertarianish) blog, Hit & Run, is the new host site for Volokh. Mr. Bluster’s “Sneezin’” is slang for “Reason” I’m guessing.




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  47. The good news about the VC’s move to Reason is that it will no longer be behind a paywal




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  48. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: The “you’ve bought X, therefore you want to see ads for X multiple months afterwards” has always amused me because of the sheer inefficiency of whatever bot keeps pushing the stuff in front of my eyeballs. No one ever seems to have thought “hey, if that person has bought a suitcase, she’s probably not going to NEED another suitcase for a while and will just be annoyed at all the cheery Samsonite ads.” While on the other hand, “Hey, this person is interested in a book on Victorian ornamentation, maybe she’d like this other book as well” does make sense.

    As said, clueless clueless clueless.




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  49. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The problem with Hit & Run is that alt-righters have captured the comments which for a libertarian site is a big problem. The front pagers are not horrible, but they have no star writers. David Weigel was by far the best writer they’ve ever had and he left in, when, 2009 or so?

    If you want predictable and uninteresting libertarian boilerplate, then Hit & Run totally rocks. That audience slice is pretty small, though.

    PS – I forgot Radley Balko. Who has done a man’s job on his beat. Within his specialty, Balko is deity adjacent.




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  50. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    “Idiot” is subjective and here it is broadly applied to include unpopular viewpoints. More than that, however, it’s clear that many here downvote for reasons other than “idiot” posts. There is no standard for “like” or “dislike” so everyone does what they want.

    Imagine a world in which each of those downvotes was replaced with a person being argumentative. Or even half or a quarter.

    Downvote buttons are a nice replacement for the crap content that would otherwise be generated by people arguing pointlessly. It’s not 100% successful in capturing all the crap, but it gets a lot.

    We don’t have a perfect A/B test we can perform, but we have seen a lot of sites without them, and they tend to either be horrible flame wars or group think (or are very, very tiny, like Dave Schuler’s place). This site doesn’t have that (at least as much, certainly), so poking at these doesn’t seem like a good idea.




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  51. de stijl says:

    I am astounded at how civil and thoughtful and astute the vast majority of comments are here at OTB.

    Several regulars routinely trade in ad hominem arguments as a matter of course, but as a specific example of a political blog, the tone of the comment section is a rarity.

    Yes, there are too many comments where mentioning that Trump’s name rhymes with “rump” is passed off as an argument, but as an aggregate the comments at OTB are an oasis of informed, thoughtful dialog. Compared to other sites, the tone and content of OTB comments (as a whole) is very rare in an unmoderated blog.




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  52. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    Maybe it’s just my premature old-fartiness kicking in, but I like a lot of the “old-school” aspects of the site. No clickbait or listicles, minimal graphics, just good ol’ text that’s (wonder of wonders) spelled properly, grammatically correct, broken up into paragraphs, and wel-written. While I tend to disagree with their content, it’s literate and civil.

    It’s a refreshing taste of How Things Used To Be, back in The Glory Days of blogging. I’d minimize any changes.




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  53. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Downvote buttons are a nice replacement for the crap content that would otherwise be generated by people arguing pointlessly. It’s not 100% successful in capturing all the crap, but it gets a lot.

    Except downvotes don’t prevent arguments or keep people from posting. The system does not “capture” anything. They don’t prevent anyone from seeing the comment, you can’t filter or prioritize them. They are just eye candy.

    BTW, I’m not saying it should go – some people obviously find value in it, but for me it is useless. I would rather have a system that I can filter and prioritize without having to scroll through 100 comments that are mostly just a flame war.




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  54. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I believe what Gustopher meant is that when I think to myself, “I really disagree with that Andy, I should write a comment and call him he a doofus (hypothetical here)” the down vote button, in a not insignificant number of cases, lulls me into taking the easier road and just press it, thus sparing the proletariat from my mindless flame.




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  55. de stijl says:

    I’m writing this comment to say I just downvoted @Andy and upvoted (yes, those are words now) @MarkedMan, because Andy obviously didn’t understand Gustopher’s argument, and then MarkedMan schooled Andy in a civil way.

    I didn’t *have* to add a new comment to explain my upvote and downvote decision-making process, but here it is anyway.




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  56. Andy says:

    Ok, I see that Gustopher (and maybe a few others) use a downvote in lieu of an actual comment. For me it is different and the voting buttons have no effect on my decision to comment or not. While I still think the like/dislike system is mostly useless, I appreciate that others here value it. So if it stays, I’ll just go back to ignoring it and everyone will be happy!




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  57. de stijl says:

    @Andy:

    I upvote your comment.




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  58. Just get a new theme, but keep the same muted color scheme. There will be some hiccups in the transfer, but you’re already on WordPress so it wont be too bad, and it’ll be worth the hassle over time.

    This is a good source for the sort of themes you’re looking for:

    https://themeforest.net/category/wordpress/blog-magazine/news-editorial




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  59. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: I actually very rarely downvote. I do, however, really like seeing others downvote.

    I’m a software engineer, and have been working on community software for the past decade, and work closely with the product managers, etc. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve worked with people who are, and some of it has rubbed off. There is a segment of people who do not want to let a false or offensive statement on comment boards stand unchallenged — and politics brings that out more than anything else. The downvoting lets them challenge in a way that is really easy for everyone else to ignore.

    I also love the color change. It says “pile on here, but don’t worry, we got this one so there’s no need to comment”




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  60. The site load times would probably mostly be fixed by better hosting, though it will cost more. It does load quite slowly, and on pages that really don’t have a whole lot going on.




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  61. Gustopher says:

    Some of the ads — particularly the most prominent “How to shut up an Atheist in 15 seconds” and “Odd trick to ‘fix’ sagging skin in seconds” — seem to be the “prey upon the stupid and get them to buy snake oil” variety rather than the “here’s a product” or “this semi-reputable group wants money” variety. Click through, watch the videos, they’re kind of awesome as they very slowly lead you to some random supplement that cost who knows how much (I got bored after some time… they try to get you to invest time, and then convert that time investment into a purchase)

    They’re really scummy and scammy.

    On the other hand, given their placement, they probably bring in the money to keep this place running.

    Spoiler: apparently the way to shut up an atheist in 15 seconds is to take this magical supplement that activates your Adam Gene that cures all disease. What Atheist could possibly speak after that? They will be too busy rolling their eyes…




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  62. al-Ameda says:

    @Andy:

    5. The overall site design (look and feel) is fine but does seem a bit dated. Maybe it’s not required this go around, but eventually you’ll want a refresh. If you’re tinkering under the hood anyway then a refresh might be a good idea.

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I think Andy’s suggestion is a good one, and like him I do not see it as an urgent priority.

    Also, keep the thumbs-up-thumbs-down feature – often it’s a way top say ‘I agree’ (or ‘disagree’ without posting an empty calories “I agree (or disagree)” comment.




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  63. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Solomon Kleinsmith:

    The site load times like more like a design issue than a hosting problem:

    https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.outsidethebeltway.com%2Fotb-site-suggestions%2F

    The server is slow, but the big problem appears to be a large number of synchronous script resources that block the actual content parts of the page from loading until they complete.

    I suspect that is what is happening is that the page currently waits until all the ads are chosen before rending anything instead of creating placeholders and loading the ads after the page renders.




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  64. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    People should be able to monetize their thoughts. Unfortunately, the only current method for them to do that is to foist intrusive advertisements on readers. That, or a tip jar.

    It’s the ubiquitous and unsolvable issue. Core functionality is compromised because money.

    I want in on this gig! Hereafter, every time I comment on OTB I will insert an unavoidable autoplay ad with my comment. I’m gonna be rich!




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  65. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    BTW, PageSpeed & PageSpeed Insights from Google is pretty damned cool.

    Yeah, Google is The Devil, but they know what they’re doing and generally do it well. The Devil wouldn’t be The Devil unless he had supercool sh!t to sell you that you didn’t have access to otherwise.




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  66. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: I’ve never had the “shut up an atheist” ad. I feel left out (:-(




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  67. DrDaveT says:

    For what it’s worth:

    1. I don’t care about fashion trends in web design. If it’s functional and clean and not actively ugly, it doesn’t need to be ‘modernized’. Style beats fashion.

    2. I also like the existing comment formatting tools, and dislike the comment editing tool. Being able to preview edits and get returned to the thread you were editing would be Good Things. Being able to do formatted bulleted/numbered lists would also be nice, but very low priority.

    3. I agree that up/down voting serves to some extent as a vaccine against excess unproductive backlash or “me too” posting. Like the flu vaccine, it doesn’t prevent all of it, or even most of it in some cases — but every little bit helps.

    4. That said, I personally would love a richer variety of options. “Like or Dislike” isn’t even the best binary choice. My ideal set of flags would be something like:
    * Everyone should read this
    * I agree
    * I disagree
    * This is based on bad data
    * This is a deliberate troll
    * Please PayPal $1 to the author of this comment
    (Select all that apply.)

    For a binary, I’d go with “This was/wasn’t worth posting.”

    5. I also agree that the general levels of civility, erudition, and wit displayed in the comments at this blog are at least two orders of magnitude higher than anything I’ve seen since the best of UseNet, 25 years ago. It’s hardly perfect, but please don’t do anything to break it.




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  68. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    OTB, for an unmoderated blog, has a shockingly civil comment section compared to the rest of the internet, particularly for a political blog with a very diverse group of commentators.

    One of the most civil and intelligent unmoderated commenting sections I ever saw was the original incarnation of 538, before it moved to the NYT. My theory was that it reflected the analytic, data-oriented tone of most of the articles, which tended not to attract the red-hot partisans. (After its move to NYT, comments had to be approved, making back-and-forth conversation difficult. When it got its own server again it required login from Facebook or other social-media sites, and I just haven’t paid it much attention anymore.)

    OTB is unique in the sense that it’s run by right-of-center bloggers but has a commenting section dominated by left-of-center commenters. Partisans have a tendency to seek out blogs that tell them what they want to hear, and I think that’s what leads the commenting section of a typical partisan blog to get very tribal and nasty, because the commenters are simply seeking reinforcement of their existing views. I’ve complained about tribalism here at OTB before, but if it’s more civil than normal for a political blog, that might have to do with the fact that it was built on some level of engagement between different sides.




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  69. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Periodically, on my iPad, when I’m trying to open a post, I get an ad that grabs the screen announcing I’m a winner. No way to close it or even to go back to OTB. Have to crash the tab and start over at the home screen in a new tab

    I had the same problem. While I was initially loathe to block the ads, since the revenue they generate helps to support the site, it finally just became too much.

    I use AdBlock browser on the iOS devices now for sites in which the ads have just gotten out of control. Completely solves the problem. No ads displayed. Ever.




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  70. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    4) A ‘donate’ button. I’m never entirely comfortable using something I don’t pay for.

    +1. I would gladly write a check / homing pigeon some cash into the pot, especially if it meant a decrease in / elimination of the advertisements. They’ve become, IMO, this site’s number 1 problem.




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