Tiny compose windows March 12, 2019 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Is there a really good logistical reason why websites including Metafilter use such small compose windows (I mean physically small on the screen, not window as in time window)? I feel like it makes it hard to avoid mistakes while you're composing (yes I know about preview, it's not the same as seeing a larger window while you type).

I've especially seen complaints about this on disability forums by older people or people with weird vision or who have various neuro issues. This is pretty much universal everywhere across the Web and it's super annoying, unless you want to compose in a text editor first and then copy-paste.

Also, is there any chance whatsoever of changing that just a little? Right now I'm on a 13" computer screen and literally 40% of it is unused to the right of my compose window.
posted by twoplussix to Feature Requests at 12:07 PM (45 comments total)

As it stands, the compose window is set to 60 characters of width. In the Classic theme, that means that it shows at that width. In modern, this is then overridden to make it dynamically take up the full available space.

I think it would be totally reasonable to make it wider in classic, with the caveat that the full screen width is definitely too wide, but I'd like to hear what other people have to say before unilaterally changing it.
posted by frimble (staff) at 12:13 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Just if we're taking votes - for me, in Classic on a laptop, and my own personal preferences, I feel like it's an okay width right now. Sometimes I want it to have less width and more height, actually, but then I can use the draggable corner.

The one reason not to widen it, I think, would be what frimble points out -- that super-long lines can actually be harder to read. But I don't know the science of how to identify what's too long.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:30 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


i'm sure that in other circumstances we all compose things in a full-page word processor or text editor just fine. What about this is different in terms of "lines being too long"?

I'm not advocating for turning it into something radically different and word-processor-like, btw. I'm sure there's some history behind why the Web looks like this but for the life of me I can't figure out what the advantage is.

When I write I like to be able to see multiple paragraphs while I compose, and right now that's not really possible on longer posts or replies, unless you write blindly and then switch back and forth to preview and then scroll back and forth to your post window to scroll within yet again in order to find (to edit) whatever you were unhappy about. It's a pretty standard Web WYSIWYG editor and commenting post window format, but it's annoying as hell and I think difficult for people with vision or visual attention issues.
posted by twoplussix at 12:51 PM on March 12


also I had no idea that draggable corner existed (it makes things longer, which is a good start, though not wider). Thank you for pointing that out.
posted by twoplussix at 12:56 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I use Classic on a laptop and would definitely find a wider Compose window harder to read. As it is, my own preferred pony would be the opposite: I would like if I could set the width of the entire page so it's narrower and is thus easier for me to read.

As for full-page word processing/ text editing - I actually find that really hard to use. For example, my Notepad++ is set to only 50 characters wide and approximately the corresponding ISO ratio for height, which I find a perfect combination for small fixed-width text.
posted by tavegyl at 1:04 PM on March 12


Holy shit, there's a draggable corner?

Well my mind is fucking blown.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:20 PM on March 12 [19 favorites]


I feel that multiple paragraph comments are laudable, but are they what we should be optimizing for?
posted by zamboni at 1:33 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Yeah that draggable corner is awesome. Maybe the colors could be tweaked to make it more obvious as they are a very light grey on a slightly lighter grey in my screen? Perhaps the upper corner could be used to make the window wider.
posted by soelo at 1:55 PM on March 12


I think the current draggable corner can change the width as well as the height?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:57 PM on March 12


It only changes the height for me in Firefox using modern dark theme.
posted by soelo at 2:01 PM on March 12


Ah, maybe a modern vs classic thing then. Sorry for my confusion.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:03 PM on March 12


This might be an issue of neurodiversity or something. People take in visual stuff differently.

Maybe a quick note pointing out the draggable corner thing when you see a compose window would make everyone happy?
posted by twoplussix at 2:11 PM on March 12


as for paragraphs- being able to see what the hell you're writing actually makes you write fewer paragraphs, not more, because it's more obvious when you're repeating yourself or being otherwise overwordy.

It makes it easier to see the whole document for what it is rather than encouraging 'wall of text' situations when you're not properly editing.
posted by twoplussix at 2:16 PM on March 12


Is it possible that a draggable corner might still be problematic for someone with vision or motor difficulties? I remember that we recently had a thread about difficulty clicking on links, so I can imagine that there could be similar difficulties with clicking and dragging. If this is the case, I'd be interested to know if there are workarounds, like being able to select a default window size on the preferences page.

Are there any kinds of web accessibility standards out there? It seems like general guidelines would help avoid some pitfalls.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:20 PM on March 12


for me, in Classic on a laptop, and my own personal preferences, I feel like it's an okay width right now.

Ditto. If the draggable corner is okay w/r/t accessibility, maybe making it stand out more might help people.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 3:10 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Hey, while we're talking about the compose window, for me on mobile I find that the Post and Preview buttons being below the window make it too easy to accidentally hit Post instead of either the HTML buttons that appear right above them, or the suggested words that appear on the top of my keyboard.

Is there a way to change or create an option to move the post / preview buttons above the compose window on mobile? That would reduce the (admittedly smallish) number of times I have to flag my own comments for fat-fingering the post button.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:20 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


My mind is blown by the draggable corner. Definitely making this stand out a bit more, if possible, would be wonderful.

I typed this comment with the biggest input box my screen would allow!
posted by sockermom at 3:27 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


In Firefox, classic theme, the compose window has a resize handle in the lower right. Switch to the Professional Whiteâ„¢ theme, and it's still there. Oh, now I see it's been noted. Back to the Ol' Blue.
posted by theora55 at 3:33 PM on March 12


One time I grabbed(ctrl+a, ctrl+c) all of a Terms of Use Agreement that was presented in a box that showed maybe 8 lines of 48 characters, it was several pages, so some of those small windows are possibly skeevy, just not on MeFi. Wrote to the company, heard nothing.
posted by theora55 at 3:42 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


When I'm halfway serious I just use a browser plugin to compose in my friendly text editor. So it's 80x24 and has my dictionary / grammar-checker and I can edit (ha!) with familiarity and hit ':wq'.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:44 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


> Is there a really good logistical reason why websites including Metafilter use such small compose windows

In my experience, I think it's a compromise based on the dual audience of people writing short comments, where a full text editor would be an annoyance, and people writing lengthy comments, where even the best site-specific text editor would be sub par compared to pre-composing in a local one. I'd enjoy it if there were a standardised way to connect a text box to a chosen editor, including a view of the original website on a panel.
posted by lucidium at 4:38 PM on March 12


I think the current draggable corner can change the width as well as the height?

Mac (10.13.6) Safari: only height
Mac Firefox (65.0.1): only height
posted by terrapin at 5:36 PM on March 12


WIN7 Firefox 65.0.2 on an old garbage-can Lenovo laptop opens to full screen width to the right, opens as far as I want going down.

Nice to know it's there, agreeing with others that it would be A Good Thing to darken the corner drag indicator, which I had never noticed before.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:33 PM on March 12


I've got FF 65.0.1 on a Mac and I can adjust height and width, fwiw.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:35 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Modern Dark:
- Safari 12.0.3 - can only adjust height
- Chrome 72.0.3626.109 - can only adjust height
- Firefox 65.0.1 - can only adjust height
posted by slkinsey at 7:21 PM on March 12


Classic theme, Waterfox 56.2.7.1 - adjusts height and width
posted by Chrysostom at 8:11 PM on March 12


Firefox 65 Classic on Debian Linux: height and width

I'm pretty sure it's been this way for me on Chrome Debian as well, for years. I've never noticed it resizing in only one dimension, but I don't change it very often.
posted by rhizome at 8:58 PM on March 12


Firefox on Windows for, IDK, ten years? Both width and height adjustable on the classic theme. I vaguely remember the feature being rolled out.

After some searching around: here is the resizeable text area announcement (2007). Looks like it originally was two handles; not sure when we moved to an integrated handle that does both directions.
posted by Mitheral at 10:15 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


But I don't know the science of how to identify what's too long.

50-75 characters per line is usually considered standard in UX. Though you'll see a bunch of disagreement in that link.
posted by Candleman at 11:17 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Hi, I have been on MetaFilter for 16 years and 363 days, and I learned today that the comment boxes have draggable corners.
posted by yhbc at 6:43 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I think there's probably no way to make everyone happy with this, it's too dependent on screen size/resolution and the device/browser you're using.

For me on Linux in classic theme it's always been fine on the laptop in FF, I don't comment on MeFi from the Mac, and on the work Windows computer in classic theme I noticed the draggable corner pretty early on and haven't had an issue with it. I've never really been able to engage with MeFi on mobile.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:08 AM on March 13


May I suggest that you might be able to make the comment box wider and offset the longer-lines-hard-to-read concern by increasing the comment box font size somewhat, including the HTML buttons? On my perfectly ordinary Android phone the box corner is not draggable, and the fonts and buttons are unpleasantly tiny (white background theme.)
posted by davejay at 7:09 AM on March 13


There have been various studies of optimal line width for ease of readability; the consensus seems to be that around 60-80 characters is optimal.

It varies a bit with text size; at smaller sizes, you can obviously pack more letters into a comfortable width ("comfortable" being basically defined as the area your eyes can easily scan without having to move your head or strain at all, and where both eyes can see the text equally well without significant parallax), but it gets harder to read. Larger type is easier to read, but of course you can't put as many letters on the line.

What is a little weird here on MeFi is that we have an optimal-width compose box (well, maybe a little on the short side; personally I'd have gone with 80 characters because that's the de facto standard for everything) but when a comment is actually posted, the page is much wider. It's not a huge deal or anything, but sometimes it causes me to regret where I've broken up paragraphs and stuff; what seems like a terrible wall-of-text at 60 characters per line can seem pretty thin when it's smeared across the entire width of a widescreen display. But I suppose that's within the user's ability to control by altering the browser window.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:08 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Chrome, Windows, Classic Dark: Height & Width
Chrome, Windows, Modern Dark: Height only

(Also, this is the first time I've switched to Modern in a while, and I actually really like it, BUT the green accent color is a dealbreaker for me. Any chance of Modern Yellow ever being an option? I know, Stylish, Greasemonkey, CSS, etc. I've tried that and it was not reliable, and not possible on mobile.)
posted by Rock Steady at 9:42 AM on March 13


Many sites will increase the height of a text field automatically as you type (perhaps up to some maximum, like the height of the browser window). Adding this feature could be useful for people writing long MetaFilter comments, including people who haven't discovered the draggable corner, or are using browsers that don't support it.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:09 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


draggable corner, where have you been all my life
posted by terretu at 2:26 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


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posted by some loser at 3:48 PM on March 13


I've seen the draggable window icon and always assumed it was aesthetic. This is awesome.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:12 PM on March 13


Do I drag the icon or does the icon drag me?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:32 PM on March 13


Draggable? Corner?

MIND BLOWN.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:30 PM on March 14


I'd enjoy it if there were a standardised way to connect a text box to a chosen editor, including a view of the original website on a panel.

Edit in Emacs for Chrome

Edit with Emacs for Firefox

And now that I go looking, here are a bunch of fancy new ones I've never used:

GhostText looks like a modular middleman thing with plugins for various browsers and plugins for various editors. It syncs the text area continuously in both directions, which is cool, although I'm not sure when I'd ever use that feature.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:43 PM on March 14


I've always considered draggable corners on input boxes to be a browser feature, not a website feature. For example, the input box that I'm typing this comment in can be stretched by dragging the corner. But is it actually (or also) a website feature?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:28 AM on March 15


It's a browser feature. For example, it was added to Firefox in 2010 as part of bug 442228. Web sites can override it with CSS, but it's enabled by default.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:14 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Back in my day we had to write long comments one character at a time.
posted by spitbull at 11:33 AM on March 17


I remember the draggable corner being a lot more prominent/visible in the past - maybe because of different resolutions

I definitely have the same issue on mobile, but my desktop browser has both the resizeable corner thingy and the live preview. I'm very surprised to hear someone having this issue on desktop.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:29 AM on March 20


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