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Interface: Usability, UI, Navigation, Help (Project)

Directory and summary page for Codev discussions related to usability issues, including: user interface; navigation; ease-of-use of features; overall feature set; accessability and quality of documentation and Help.


What the User needs

Look-and-feel and usability seem to be equally important at this point.

  • For design, the tools are certainly there to create a modular, easy-to-update TWiki site, with topic classification system, for a wide range of CollaborationSituations. Providing the features - the tools: configurable variables, template system, WebForms, Plugin API, etc - would seem to be sufficient.
    • ALERT! Is providing templates, example implementations, and extensive docs, a core dev concern?
  • The above applies as well to probably the majority of concerns that would be classified as "usability" issues: they can be corrected by the end installer, within the template system, and by adding JavaScript and other code as required, with VARIABLES, with several of the current "essential" Plugins,...
    • ALERT! Is the core dev line drawn at whether or not programming is required to get a result - the core code has to be tweaked, or a plugin scripted - or, as above, is providing examples, templates, docs, part of the (i)deal?

Usability is not about adding functionality, but about invisibility of the system. A good interface doesn't show - it's there, helping in the background without being obtrusive.

To answer above questions: the core dev should make maximum effort to see that the TWiki default distribution contains a optimized user interface. An optimized interface supports and enhances workflow, shows functionalities without leaving it open, should be uncluttered (relative to the professional situation in which TWiki is used) and not tiring to the eyes.

A custom skin can be employed by a twiki admin to adjust the looks to a corporate (or personal) environment. Extra plugins can be used to add functionalities. But it should never be necessary to use custom templates or core hacking to patch a non-optimal system. You won't get a good interface that way, only a patched up patient.

A non-obtrusive interface does not mean an easy-for-everyone-interface. TWiki has some advanced functionalities, and there is no need to hide them. For an interesting read on the subject, see: Alan Cooper's About Face. -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003


User Interface elements

A head-on first pass at a breakdown of UI elements. The list goes on...

  • Control strip/toolbars
    • upper toolbar
    • lower tool
  • Display modes
    • main rendered screen
    • printable skin
    • other skins (customized)
    • other templates (customized)
  • Edit modes
    • main text entry
    • More screen
      • Rename/move screen
  • Version modes
    • previous versions
      • display mode
      • raw text mode
    • Diffs
      • full diffs history
      • version-to-version diffs
  • Log-in (Basic Authentication; secure server)
  • WebForms
    • Display mode
    • Edit mode


Text Entry & Editing

Easy, freeform text editing is the central differentiating feature of Wikis from other messaging and collaboration platforms. This involves three core requirements:

  1. Edit anything, anywhere in the body content, on any page
  2. Enter copy and links using plain text
  3. Apply basic text formatting - ex: bold, italic - using a simple shorthand notation that is rendered to HTML for display

This sounds pretty well like the basic intent of the original Web/HTTP initiative: a way to allow electronic publication of research-type papers, allowing easy, minimal, self-created markup to increase readability, and interlinking of documents. The HTML shorthand goes it one better, making markup even easier, at the price of increased server-side processing.

TWiki has faithfully preserved these criteria, and in fact taken them to extremes, compared to other WikiClones (at last look, a few months ago).

For new or incidental users, TWikiShorthand is not optimal - or at least they perceive it as a hurdle: "yet another thing to learn instead of formatting my text." See HtmlAreaEditor. For regular users TWikiShorthand is probably faster and easier to use than a wysiwyg editor. -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003


Orientation & Navigation

TWiki's site-web-topic model is straightforward, easy to understand, and parallels the Web itself (Net/Web-site-page).

  • The default navigation standards of web links on the right of the upper toolbar, hierarchical site-web-topic pathc on the left, are basically effective.
    • What can be improved is a way to navigate a topic's children. -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003

  • Color-coding of each web is a comfortable feature.
    • It's not clear whether it helps with real-time navigation and orientation: do people think, "Pink, I'm in Codev" on a functional level?
    • How well does this work when the number of webs increases?
      • As saturation of colors becomes necessary to differentiate (darker, lighter), does this affect text color for toolbar readability?
    • Does choice of color affect perception of a web?

  • Naming conventions for TWiki site elements may be confusing, although in practice, there doesn't seem to be a problem. In written documentation, conflicts come up:
    • Web vs web: I try to keep WWW Web capitalized, and TWiki web lowercase.
    • TWiki site vs Web site: TWikiWeb was being used to refer to an entire site. I changed this to TWikiSite, or site. A TWiki site is a Web site (or part of one), that consists of TWiki webs...
    • topics vs pages: topics is the TWiki term for a page unit - data & metadata - while a TWiki page is a regular HTML Web page - the rendering of a topic combined shorthand processing and merging with template/skin. But it's still easiest to think of as a "page" in any form. So I created, in the User's docs, TWikiPage - while preserving the topic definition.

  • Versioning system again may or may not be a strictly InterfaceProject concern. For those who think in terms of using programs by version numbers, Allware v2, or Everyware v3.5, the TWiki dated production release convention is unconventional and possibly confusing.
    • 01-Sep-2001 is the last major production release
    • 01-Dec-2001 (Athens) is the last official minor production update (x.xx)
    • Betas are (have been) frequently released, with the same dating convention, often with new features and fixes, but not as official minor production releases. So, using the variable %WIKIVERSION%, if you update to a Beta, your site will simply display, say Version: TWiki-6.0.0, Mon, 14 Oct 2013, build 26523 (case in point), and it's not clear where you are in the production/stable update/Beta chain.


Finding info & WebSearch

Fast, full-text search is the other Wiki cornerstone, fully implemented and far extended in TWiki.

Search functionality (and thus the user interface) can be improved with KeywordSearchWithImplicitAnd. The WebSearch page can be improved on many points, so this can be an easy win. -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003


Ease-of-use & feature set

There are endless specific feature/problem notes spread through Codev. The two main underlying threads apparent so far are grouped in separate areas: ChangesProject and CollaborationProject.


Docs & Help system

  • There is no real inline Help system, apart from:
  • Is inline Help a necessary feature?
The above mentioned Alan Cooper shows an easy but powerful alternative to foster "perpetual intermediates": ToolTips. Well, this has to be worked out. -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003


Current problems

  • ChangesProject & CollaborationProject both heavily involve interface elements, on the day-to-day usage level
  • No basic template options
  • Few demos of features in the official docs
  • Possibly too many included pages (with RCS, I believe about half of the 1MB compressed TWiki distrib is included data pages).


Proposed solutions with related topics

  • need "gets it" graphic design input
    • requires a fairly serious mental commitment to internalize the project, and probably not too much actual design work after that
Not sure what this means... -- Main.AC - 18 Aug 2003


Near future

Plans and proposals

  • Work on new page structure and default templates is happening: PatternSkinCodeChanges
  • New templates should adhere to W3C standards
  • Generated HTML by twiki should adhere to W3C standards too
  • It should be possible to target page elements by CSS
  • twiki pages should be accessible according to Section 508. See AccessibleTWiki.
-- ArthurClemens - 25 Sep 2003
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Topic revision: r19 - 2005-08-31 - PeterThoeny
 
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