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Jun 29, 2006 09:29 PM

Do you like the current interface?

Dear Chowhound Team (and kind fellow members of the Chowhound community),

This post is a follow-up to my post of a few days ago where I attempted to build a case for a return to the older style Chowhound interface. The title of that post is "Technical interface considerations (long)", and it can be found at the following URL:

Although my previous post was authored with the Chowhound Team primarily in mind, I would like to now open the discussion to any of my fellow chowhounds who would like to join in. I believe this to be an issue of utmost importance which needs to be fully explored NOW; while there still may be time to change it.

If this item is still on the table, then I would like to offer another installation of what I hope is being received as clear thinking on the subject. Otherwise, kindly inform me that this issue has been closed and I will post no further concerning it.

First, let's take a look at the current state of the Chowhound interface.

The new interface is hierarchial, yes. But not in a relevant way as it was in the old interface. The benefit of a hierarchial layout is that it provides the user a means to "follow" the various conversations that are taking place within any given thread. This benefit is gained through allowing the user to click their way through the thread at their own speed -- one post at a time -- until all information in that thread has been digested to the user's satisfaction.

This benefit is totally lost in the new interface where all the posts in a given thread are opened and ready to be read at once -- from top to bottom. In doing this, the hierarchial tree -- present as it may be -- is rendered unusable. When shown a list of items (or posts) on a page, human nature is to read them one after the other, in sequential order until finished. The hierarchial tree is not a "normal" example of sequential order; top to bottom is! So, when presented with a list of posts (even though a hierarchial structure is present *in* that list), our nature is to read that list from top to bottom. In doing this, we lose the context of each post in the list. And the benefit of the hierarchial system is not gained. Yes, one could go back after reading the list and make the effort to "re-assemble" the various conversations and responses *in* that thread -- by using the (included) hierarchial interface. But why would they? The list of information (posts) has already been skimmed for relevant substance. And all relevant content has been digested, from the user's standpoint. Most will simply click onto the next thread and continue skimming.

But will they have received all the value that was contained in that thread?

No, they will have not. Because inherent in the drone-like "skimming" process (as the user is encouraged to do in the case of an expanded thread view -- as is present in the new interface), is the temptation to ignore the relationships between and identities contained within each post in a given thread. The skimming process does not need to know the origin of a post or the history behind it; only the post is relevant to the skimmer.

And that is what this new interface is destined to turn us into; skimmers. And the value of the Chowhound resource will diminish. And the quality of the user base will wane.

Because we will cease to be a community. Our identities will be lost amid a sea of posts; posts that we compose but are no longer given credit for.

The old interface made us gleaners; searchers; treasure-hunters -- Chowhounds! We could see the whole set of conversations in front of us; unexpanded and waiting to be clicked on and discovered. We could see who was responsible for each individual post *before* we began to digest it. In this way, the vital link between subject and author remained intact; and we were a community!

I could go on, but I am curious what others' feelings are on the subject.

Fellow chowhounds? Chowhound Team?


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  1. Content seems the same to me. I don't miss spending half my time clicking and going back and forth.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I agree. I also find it easy to see what I have alread read and if I want to reference a post it is just a matter of scrolling. I like being able to see the whole thread without clicking back and forth

      1. re: Candy

        I'm with you two - very happy with the new interface and much prefer it to the clickity clicking of the old, archaic site that everyone bitched about then and asked why it wasn't updated.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        Exactly! Plus the search feature makes it so much easier to find things. I hated it for a day or two, but now I think its a big improvement.

      3. Personally, I very much DISLIKE the new look, the new interface, just about everything about the site now. David hit on most of the reasons in his post, but I will add that there is an entirely different look and feel to the site now that is cold, impersonal, false, corporate... call it what you will, but it isn't as welcoming and friendly-looking as it was before. That sense leads me to come here less often and be less likely to post on the boards, which is the only reason I ever visited.

        It is bad enough for me, watching the number of posts fall off the charts, to wonder if this will result in the end of Chowhound as we knew it. It would be ironic that the thing that purportedly came along to save Chowhound... ends up destroying it.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Greg B

          I agree with you. I loved the ghetto-ness of the previous hound... without all the colors and what not. More focused on the food rather than the shiny pretty graphics. Just pure talk. The new interface does seem a lot more corporate and impersonal.
          However, I'm wondering if we will like this more once we get used to it??

          1. re: Greg B

            Wait, so you prefer blue links on a white backgrond? You like that retro 1996 thing?

            1. re: biscuit

              It didn't partiuclarly bother me -- in some ways, it added to the character of the site, sort of like the anachronistic architecture of a great restaurant in a quirky old building. This new place feels like a McDonald's. To be honest, gee-whiz features like some of the things I see here (like the changing colors of the box your text appears in when you make a post -- why bother coding something like that?) annoys me far more. Especially when other things fail to work and I think of how those development resources could have been put to better use. For example, the links in the Big Red Box at the bottom of the screen will lock up my browser with great regularity. I'm surprised something like that wasn't found in testing.

              1. re: Greg B

                Greg B - perhaps you are simply very used to the old format, and need to give this one a chance? Some points from a Chowhound "n00b"-

                1) Are the number of posts really decreasing? I signed up today, despite being a Chowhound lurker for years now, because of the new interface.

                2) Correct me if I'm wrong, but is this simply a problem of "threaded view" (the old chowhound) and "flat mode" (the current chowhound).

                I post on another message board where the *overwhelming consensus* is that flat mode is far superior to threaded mode. Who likes to click on links all the time? And how difficult is it to scan through a full thread by scrolling?

                To the Chowhound engineers - why not simply put, as many other message boards do, user options to viewe in threaded or flat mode?

                3) Searching - is maybe 1 billion times easier now, thank you for that.


                1. re: Aloysius

                  I agree with you, Al!

                  First, the search *is* awesome now. And I join you in thanking the Chowhound Team for fixing that.

                  Second, you're right; this is simply a problem of "threaded view" (the old chowhound) and "flat mode" (the current chowhound).

                  Finally, I echo your suggestion to the Chowhound engineers that (they) consider "...simply put (ting), as many other message boards do, user options to view in threaded or flat mode".

                  That would work for everyone!


                  P.S. I actually do have a comment on your fourth point:

                  "I post on another message board where the *overwhelming consensus* is that flat mode is far superior to threaded mode. Who likes to click on links all the time? And how difficult is it to scan through a full thread by scrolling?"

                  Not all message boards are special in the same way that Chowhound is. Chowhound generates so much passion from its users because of the unique community that it has been successful in building. It is not unusual for a chowhound to be on the "fringe" of popular culture; leading the way!

                  I say all that to say this: In other message boards, people do not speak "to" each other as they generally have done in Chowhound; they speak "at" each other. And many times, they do not even care if they are heard.

                  1. re: David Ford

                    That's not true of one foodie site I hang out on, which will go unnamed (since every time I've posted it's name here the post was deleted). Folks are very passionate there and for me, the site has a far more developed sense of "community" and folks there, have communicated with me directly a whole lot more than here on CH.

                2. re: Greg B

                  Just because the new interface isn't living up to its potential doesn't mean the old interface was automatically great. I always hated the old interface, but accepted it as the only way to interact with this particular community. As time wore on, with broken promises of site revamps, and interface advancements elsewhere, it got harder and harder to take the old interface. Good riddance.

                3. Gotta say that I absolutely love the new style Chowhound. I confess that I am relatively new to Chowhound, but when I was reading the threads in the old format, it was a pain in the rump to scroll down to threads I wanted to read (and re-read). Searching for topics was nearly impossible, and was only enabled through the Mozilla search option. Whenever I did a search, my computer screen would freeze. Also, the older format was rather messy.

                  The new format is very user-friendly and easy on the eyes.

                  Regardless, though, I think both the Chowhound administrators, as well as the posters, are doing superb jobs with respect to recommendations, reviews, website management, etc. This is such a wonderful site!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Pamela

                    Hi.. You mention 'easy on the eyes', regarding the new style. Boy, I could not disagree more. The old interface only required a literal glance, I swear, just a *glance*, to determine whether a specific response (to a specific response) was new and therefore of interest within each subset of a thread. Livin' was easy, back in the day. New Chowhound is better than no Chowhound at all, so I'll adapt. As humans, it's aruguably what we do best...

                  2. I like the new interface. The clicking back and forth and waiting for the board to slowly reload each time. I have little trouble following the trees, and like the relatively sleek new look.

                    The only think I would find very useful on this issue is making the trees collapsible. Not a huge deal (and probably a programming nightmare), but that might make sorting a tad easier. Overall, the current interface is a marked improvement.

                    1. Hi folks,
                      I say this with a tremendous amount of respect for the community you helped to build on Chowhound, but if you actually enjoyed using the previous software, then there was absolutely nothing we could have done to make the transition any less abrupt than it was.

                      The old system was a simple piece of code that was never meant to handle the load that Chowhound put on it and was a perfect example of what a user interface should _not_ be.

                      -Chowhound Engineering

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: PJ Hyett

                        > it and was a perfect example of what a user interface should _not_ be. <

                        With equal respect, that comment would be sent back to the kitchen by a fair number of us here. I would suggest that the number of people commenting exactly the opposite should be sufficient to make you reconsider the sureness of your position.

                        1. re: Greg B

                          But greg - you took it out of context - the line before from PJ says it ALL:

                          "The old system was a simple piece of code that was never meant to handle the load that Chowhound put on it"

                          The old system was complained and complained and complained about and just as many of us LIKE the updated version. While great changes are probably to come - what do you expect: that this will all be ditched and we'll go back to the old board?

                          I'm going to go ahead and say that an engineering team for CNET has a better idea of how the back-end of an interface works (I'm sure there was wailing and gnashing of teeth when they saw the old site) and whether or not it is sustainable or workable for the volumes we have.

                          My husband (software engineer) did some work on another project for Jim and they had conversations about just how broken the old site was for the year 2006 with thousands of posts per day. This was no big secret to anyone.

                          I don't mean disrespect but I think it's time for a lot of people to move on and let it go.

                          1. re: krissywats

                            I don't think it was out of context at all. The first part dealt with load issues and the part I quoted dealt with a very negative comment over the quality of the interface. Two entirely different (and in my mind unrelated) subjects.

                            I am a bit sensitive to changes in board software largely because I used to be a regular at an automotive board at that has been systematically destroyed by the site owners over the years, largely by a series of ill-advised software changes that were very poorly implemented and largely unexplained to the user community. It would be a shame to have the same thing happen here.

                        2. re: PJ Hyett

                          Hello PJ,

                          I respect you too, but part of what you have just said makes no sense to me.

                          In particular:

                          >The old system was a simple piece
                          >of code that was never meant to handle
                          >the load that Chowhound put on it and
                          >was a perfect example of what a user
                          >interface should _not_ be.

                          I have no problem understanding how the old system was a simple piece of code that was never meant to handle the load that Chowhound put on it.

                          Fine. Sounds like you had a simple "plumbing" issue on your hands. Break down the work cycles; distribute the various jobs to a more specialized network of servers; re-code inefficient cycles to be more efficient; things of this nature. I have no doubt that the old site was choking the hardware. You don't have to be a system administrator with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Chowhound to see how inefficient it was to enable users to re-load the entire board just to read the next thread.

                          Again, fine. And much respect to Chowhound Engineering for the job you have all done in this emergency plumbing repair. And for putting all the hard work in trying your best to build a new Chowhound from the ground up.

                          However, the second part of what you said is not at all related to this. At least if you mean the same thing when you say "interface" as I do.

                          Nowhere in either of my two posts outlining my reasons why I think the new interface should be improved -- and in my suggestions for how the new interface *could* be improved -- do I say anything that should relate in any way to placing an increased load on a server. Certainly not once you have cleaned up the code and limited message board re-loading to 40 at a time (down from 36,000 plus on my home board).

                          Please tell me how, for example, that re-coding the thread view from being a scroll-based process to a click-based process would place any significant load increase on your servers? This, after all, is the heart of my complaint. Matter of fact, it is my ONLY compaint!

                          The thread view is already hierarchial -- just like the old board. All I am asking that you do is to collapse the threads and let us click again. Scrolling does not serve an adequate function for all the reasons that I have given. I have no problem with the 40 thread view. I also think you could tone down the font size and clean up some of the graphics; but that is not a deal-breaker.

                          Scrolling through expanded threads is evil, though. It completely disconnects us from the identities and relationships that we have spent so much time developing. And it serves to discourage community-building; which is at the heart of Chowhound.

                          All I am asking is that you collapse the threads and let us click again. I am not asking that you trash the entire interface. Just apply the necessary tweaks to this (I hope) small part of it.

                          Thanks for listening,


                          1. re: David Ford

                            "Scrolling through expanded threads is evil, though. It completely disconnects us from the identities and relationships that we have spent so much time developing. And it serves to discourage community-building; which is at the heart of Chowhound."

                            Please remember that that is your opinion, not fact. I'm finding exactly the opposite.

                            1. re: krissywats

                              Hi krissywats,

                              Thanks for replying. Let me begin by saying that I completely respect your right to a different opinion than mine concerning scrolling. And I regret that my admittedly passionate set of posts gave you the mistakened impression that I am under the illusion that my opinions are anything more than, well, *opinions*.

                              Finally, I can appreciate what you are saying -- to a point.

                              Here is where perhaps you can elaborate a little more. When you say that you are "finding exactly the opposite (to be true)", do you mean that you just don't dislike scrolling as much as I do (and for the reasons that I do), or do you mean that the old interface was guilty of all the bad things that I have attributed to the new interface?

                              I bring up the point for the simple reason that the two are very different.

                              Thanks for clearing that up! And again, thanks for your opinion -- disagreeable as it may be.


                              1. re: David Ford

                                Hey David,

                                I was specifically speaking to the idea that we are disconnected from other users and that this site, in it's current form, does not engender community-building. I'm finding I actually take notice of names more often and enjoy personalities here that I didn't before. I'm also spending time on many different boards, rather than just one, and 'meeting' new people I hadn't before. I'm defintely way more involved.

                                I've said before that I'd scroll rather than click any day - but perhaps because that is my preference I am enjoying myself which is leading to my own 'community-building' whereas someone that is unhappy with scrolling might be disagreeable to a feeling of community because they are unhappy.

                                Have no idea what could be done about that, however. SOMEONE is going to be unhappy either way.