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Denise ([staff profile] denise) wrote in [site community profile] dw_news2012-03-17 01:42 am

Dreamwidth Update: 17 Mar 2012

Hello, Dreamwidth! As usual, I bring you apologies for the long gap since the last [site community profile] dw_news post (there is always something to prevent the good long chunk of time I need to write one, but I'm sick and tired of doing things that won't pan out for ages by now!) and a whole slew of interesting things to discuss and share.

Behind the cut, we bring you:

* Development update
* Text Captcha
* Icon-Related Changes
* A note from the antispam team
* Custom dictionary expansion
* Default styles poll
* Dreamwidth Arts & Culture - "Delights"

Development update

The period since last we've spoken has seen two code tours. (For our new neighbors: the "code tour" is the regular listing of all the changes, improvements, and bugfixes we've added to the codebase during the period in question.)

First off, there's 1 Feb 2012 through 22 Feb 2012, all of which are now live on the site and many of which you may have noticed already. In addition to some changes that I'll get to in a few sections, this includes:

* Opening up the Support History page to everyone, so if you're looking for a support request you filed ages ago, you can locate it again. (This page isn't linked on the main support pages yet -- we're still trying to figure out where to put it.)

* The ability to only track a single user's posts to a community (instead of tracking the community as a whole). This option now shows whenever you hit the "track this" icon or link for a community (as a whole) or an entry in a community. (And, while we were at it, we rearranged the options for tracking an entry to make them a little less overwhelming.) (Edited 3/21, I'd forgotten the exact implementation there!)

[I should point out, by the way, that the bug for adding that feature was bug #8 -- logged well before we actually opened our doors -- and was also the last single-digit bug we had remaining. Hooray for resolving older bugs!]

* Displaying the number of screened comments on entries with screened comments (to those who have the ability to see the screened comments on those entries, I mean) -- previously, if you had 2000 comments on an entry but only 20 were visible, the comment count on the entry would say "20 comments". Now, it will instead say "20 visible | 1980 screened comments". For now this is only available on site-skinned comment pages (including the light mode entry view), but now that the hard part's done, we can do the tedious part of enabling it in individual styles' custom comment pages.

Then, we have the code tour for 22 Feb - 13 March. Most of these improvements aren't available on the live site yet, with the exception of the FAQ changes that were made -- they're still in testing. But, you can take a look to see the interesting stuff that's coming up.

Text Captcha

One major change we've made recently is to the "human test" shown across the site when we want to make sure that it's an actual person on the other end of the keyboard, rather than a spambot. Previously, we used a service known as "reCAPTCHA" -- this is the familiar "type the words you see on your screen" image-based human test most people are familiar with from many, many other sites.

Those human tests are very bad for accessibility, though -- they're impossible for people with low vision or screenreader users to solve (the service does have an audio version of the test, but those are widely considered to be much more difficult than the visual version). The reCAPTCHA service has been making their human tests more and more difficult lately, because spambots have gotten better and better at solving them. And, finally, we'd been getting multiple (and annoying) reports of people being unable to load the human test at all, because their computers couldn't contact the service.

So, for sitewide use, we've replaced reCAPTCHA with a new service known as "Text Captcha", which asks you to solve a very basic question -- something like, "Tomorrow is Sunday. If this is true, what day is today?" They're written to be very simple for humans to solve, and harder for computers to solve. The advantage is that they can be solved much more easily by screenreader users, and it eliminates a very bad accessibility barrier. (Accessibility is one of our prime commitments -- we want Dreamwidth to be usable by anybody.)

The disadvantage of text captchas is that they're harder for non-English speakers to solve, so it is a slight tradeoff. Given how simple the questions are, though, translation software should be able to handle them fairly well, and Dreamwidth itself isn't translated into other languages (for many, many reasons), so it's a tradeoff we were comfortable making.

We know that many of you use the human test for commenting in your journal (for anonymous comments only or for all comments) to minimize spam risk, though, and your audience may be different than the audience for Dreamwidth as a whole -- if you have multiple non-English-speaking commenters and no readers who are screenreader users or who have low vision, you may want to go back to using the image-based human test. If that's the case, go to the Privacy tab of Account Settings and look for the "Anti-Spam Type" setting. You can choose between text-based and image-based human tests for your journal. (It won't change which version you see elsewhere on the site, but it will hold for your journal.)

Icon Changes

As many people noticed, our last code push changed a few things about how icons are displayed, and there are a few more changes coming.

Multiple Pages of Icons

The page that shows all of an account's icons -- -- is now paginated. Each page will show 50 icons to a page, and there's a navigation box to move forward and backward in the list. (There's also a "view all" link, if you'd still like to see all the icons at once; right now you can't easily get to the "all icons" page when sorted by keyword order rather than upload order, but that will be fixed with the next code push.)

This was done for several reasons. First, we're in the process of letting people choose to show the icon page in journal styles (rather than only being available in site skin) if they'd like, which is part of a major and ongoing effort to make everything that has to do with your journal display in your journal style. (The other major effort there involves the profile page.)

Second, one of the pieces of feedback we hear most often is that it's very, very painful to view and manage icons once you get up over a certain number. Because we're working on a way to let people buy more icon slots if they want (more about that in a second), fixing up icon management and display for large numbers of icons was a pre-requisite. Many people with slow connections, older computers, or mobile browsers were already having trouble loading icon pages past a certain number of icons, and it will only get worse as we allow people to have more icon slots! (Watch for further optimization efforts in the next few months as we gear up to releasing icon add-ons.)

Changes in hover text

With the last code push, we changed how hover text on icons is formed, so that instead of being "username, icon keyword" it is now username, keyword, and description. (Well, that's a slight inaccuracy: currently it's username, keyword, comment, and description. Seeing it in action, and based on feedback we've received, it's clear that the comment field shouldn't be there; it will be removed with the next code push, along with fixing a bug that's causing all keywords for each icon to display instead of only the keyword used to select the icon.)

We've been going around and around in circles on this since, I kid you not, 2010. The reason for making the change: the Description field on the icon management page is intended for people to write descriptions of the icon, which will be read to people who use screenreaders and shown to people who are using text-only browsers. So many people use icons as an additional channel of metadata about their comments, or as a hint about how their comment should be interpreted, and that information was totally lost to people who weren't browsing or weren't able to browse the site visually. The Description field was one of the first accessibility improvements we made to the site (and a lot of people who don't browse the site visually have told us they really, really appreciate it!)

The problem was, most browser make it nearly impossible for someone to get at the "alt text" (the text displayed in lieu of an image) without viewing the source of the page. Many people weren't even aware of the reason for that field being there. By putting the description into the hover text (which is shown in graphical browsers) as well as the alt text (which isn't), we hope to make it more clear to everyone what the description field is used for, thus encouraging more people to fill out descriptions for their icons.

Similar changes were made to (HTML) comment notification emails -- adding in the description and the keywords used for each icon -- to sync with the way icons are displayed on the site.

All of thse changes are to follow one of the core "best practices" of accessibility: there should be no information that is only available to users who are accessing your site in one particular way. (For instance: there should be no information only available to sighted users, or only to people who can use the mouse to hover, or only to people who are able to use the keyboard, etc.) We know we're not perfect on this yet -- there's still a few things that you need to be able to mouse in order to use, although we've nearly gotten to a point where we're happy with screenreader users' experience -- but accessibility for people with disabilities is one of our key values as a site, and we'll keep chipping away at the problem.

Icon add-ons brainstorming

As I mentioned up there, we are in the process of designing the icon add-on system for paid account holders to buy more icon slots if they feel they don't have enough!

Our current thoughts on how it will work, and our questions for you about how you would want it to work, are in the Brainstorming: icon add-ons post in [site community profile] dw_biz. If this is something you're interested in, head on over there and give it a read-through, then weigh in.

(I'm actually trying my hand at coding this one myself. Meep.)

A message from the antispam team

The increase in traffic and usage we've been seeing in the past few months -- we've nearly tripled our regular traffic over the past four months -- has brought with it a corresponding increase in spam, since spammers gravitate more towards more-active forums. It's thanks to the tireless efforts of our antispam team (who enjoy smacking spammers with a visceral glee) that we've been able to hold off the incursions so far -- spammers choose targets based not only on the service's activity and search engine visibility, but also on how well the service is protected and how quickly spam is removed.

If you receive spam comments, delete them and mark them as spam, whether they came from a logged-in user or an anonymous user. This is the best and fastest way to report spam and the way that will result in the quickest handling of spammers. It's tempting to report spammers spamming from a Dreamwidth account to the Terms of Service team, and if you do that they will still get handled, but the antispam system is still faster!

Please don't mark things as spam if they're not actually spam -- which is defined as commercial promotion, unwanted bulk solicitation, or automated gibberish (used to test a site's search engine visibility). Marking other things as spam only wastes the time and energy of the antispam team and prevents them from handling actual spam as quickly as they otherwise could.

Things that are not spam are generally aimed at a specific account or community and unique to that account or community: a single individual leaving comments that are critical of you or your community; a group of multiple individuals trying to disrupt your discussion with low-volume but annoying comments; a single individual leaving comments that are unpleasant, obnoxious, outrageous, or otherwise antisocial; low-volume trolling; comments designed to "page break", contain large/disgusting images, or otherwise disrupt the discussion; other general acts of asspimplehood. All of those things are definitely obnoxious and unwanted, but they aren't spam. They can be dealt with by turning on the "human test" (which may discourage the casual asspimple commenter), enabling comment IP logging, and in the worst cases by disabling anonymous comments and banning logged-in commenters whose comments you don't want.

If you're in doubt as to whether something is a wider automated spam campaign or if there's a human behind it trying to disrupt your individual account or community, it's okay to report it anyway -- there'll always be some false alarms and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between one person doing ill-advised self-promotion manually and an automated spam campaign. Still, you can help us fight automated spam by making sure that you only report things that are spam.

Custom dictionary expansion

Way back in the dawn of Dreamwidth, we made a few changes that would let us define custom words in the dictionary used for on-site spellchecking. (This is the system that you can access when you preview and spellcheck your comment, not the computer-specific system that highlights potentially misspelled words as you type them with squiggles/underlines/highlights/other as-you-type indicators.) At the time we added a bunch of words we thought should be in the dictionary and then said we'd come back to the question after a few years once our users had had a chance to build up more site-specific vocabulary.

We're marching steadily towards DW's third anniversary (oh my goodness where has the time gone?), so it's time to re-visit the question! If you've noticed anything missing from the spellcheck dictionary, take a second to pop over to the Custom Dictionary brainstorming entry on our development wiki and add your contributions. (Editing is limited to logged-in users, but you can log in with your Dreamwidth URL using OpenID -- just enter your journal's address, such as

We may not add every suggestion to the dictionary -- there are performance implications to a large custom dictionary -- but the wider the initial list, the better.

Default styles poll

Another thing we do here now and then is poll all y'all about what the default style and theme for newly-created accounts should be. (This doesn't prevent people from changing their styles, and it doesn't change the style for people who have already created their accounts; it only specifies what style should be used for newly-created accounts.)

It's been a while since we've done that -- the last poll was October of 2010, in which the default theme was selected as Neutral Good for the Practicality style. We've added a shitpot (that's a technical term) of new themes and styles since then, thanks to the hard work of the [site community profile] dreamscapes crew, so it's more than time to pick a new default.

Below please find a poll for which style you think should be the default style. Once we've chosen that, the next news post will include a poll with all the themes for the winning style. Once that poll's had a chance to run for a bit, that theme will be set to the new default theme.

(In this poll, I have removed Practicality, Skittlish Dreams, Transmogrified, and Negatives, all of which have previously been the default styles, so that the new default style will be one that hasn't been featured before! I've also removed EasyRead and Tabula Rasa, which are specialist styles designed for accessibility needs and for CSS skinning, respectively, and Zesty, which is a legacy style from our early closed-beta days.)

You can view all the base styles all at once. Each style in the poll is linked to all the themes available for each style. We hope you enjoy the chance to look through all the awesome styles and themes we've been adding!

Poll #9894 The 2012 Default Style Poll
This poll is anonymous.
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 467

Which base style should be the default style for newly-created accounts?

View Answers

69 (14.8%)

11 (2.4%)

Basic Boxes
13 (2.8%)

12 (2.6%)

Boxes and Borders
11 (2.4%)

15 (3.2%)

10 (2.1%)

18 (3.9%)

24 (5.1%)

20 (4.3%)

7 (1.5%)

Dusty Foot
31 (6.6%)

Five AM
91 (19.5%)

Fluid Measure
15 (3.2%)

Funky Circles
18 (3.9%)

6 (1.3%)

4 (0.9%)

26 (5.6%)

Nouveau Oleanders
9 (1.9%)

9 (1.9%)

Refried Tablet
10 (2.1%)

Stepping Stones
3 (0.6%)

Sunday Morning
11 (2.4%)

Tranquility III
24 (5.1%)

Arts & Culture - "Delights"

As many of you may remember, previously I've tried to include a section in news updates highlighting some of the awesomely creative things that DW users make, do, create, and share. I haven't been able to do this for a while, because it's an incredibly resource-intensive thing that I just haven't been able to keep up, but I've really missed having it -- DW users are doing some amazing things out there and I love seeing them!

But! Fear not, because [personal profile] pinesandmaples has volunteered to assemble a "Dreamwidth Arts and Culture" section in news posts. (And if you have something awesome that you've made/done/created/shared, drop her a PM!) I'll turn it over:

My theme this week is inspired by my recent reading assignments in early Quaker theology. Some of Dorothy White's words in an early tract pushed me to "look to the small delights, enjoy the world we have."

  • [personal profile] michiru tells a delightful little story of beans in her comic [community profile] chibibeans. Recommended is Prince of Tennis bean!

  • [personal profile] sneezer222 posted the only picture of snow that has ever caused my little Southern heart to squeal with glee, captured with only the flash and unaltered! The gentle glow of the falling flakes makes this view a sweet taste of wonderland.

  • [personal profile] noelleno offers art that shows a dramatic range of facial expression via very simple lines. Follow the progression down the post; don't just take my word for it!

  • The team at [personal profile] namsan_daily posted a photograph and description of hiking around Seoul, South Korea. Their post is a mini-vacation, a little jump away.

  • [personal profile] lorres shared one of her recent knitting projects and the process it took to get there her knitting blog. The cohesive neutrals were no accident, and they slide together so well. Beautiful.

  • [personal profile] argentumlupine blinded me with some mad science! A rad crash course on electric circuits basics (complete with diagrams!) makes all of these visual delights possible. I love electricity.

  • *

    And that's it from us for another update! As always, if you're having problems with Dreamwidth, Support can help you; for notices of site problems and downtime, check the Twitter status page; if you've got an idea to make the site better, you can make a suggestion.

    We'll see you in a few weeks for our next update. (And oh goodness I just previewed this entry and noticed that the styles poll actually looked like a poll in the preview. I always forget how many absolutely awesome little fixes we've done until I see them in action.)
    nometal_alchemist: (pic#2786403)

    [personal profile] nometal_alchemist 2012-03-18 01:08 am (UTC)(link)
    For my own two cents, this actually looks very nice, from the point of view of a sighted user who would really like to be able to see the "Name" associated with journals I'm replying to. In fact, I prefer this to the LJ way of doing things (the hover/mouse-over), and it has the benefit that an additional action (said hover) isn't required to view it, making it easily accessible to mobility-impaired users too.