[pmwiki-users] It's time to change pmwiki default skin!

Petko Yotov 5ko at 5ko.fr
Tue Sep 13 08:17:44 CDT 2011

On Monday 12 September 2011 22:19:04, Forgeot Eric wrote :
> The drupal website is using blue link, but with a different color than the
> blue which was common during the geocities era: the design is classy and
> elegant, yet it's simple

For me the Geocities era was more about blinking and scrolling text, animated 
GIFs, tiled background images and lots of "under construction" and "optimized 
for MSIE" signs. :-)

I'll only comment on colored underlined links. I mostly agree that we could 
improve the homepage and the documentation.

Contrary to what has been said, the default PmWiki skin does *not* force the 
color or the decoration of links, visitors can configure their browsers to 
show the links the way they prefer seeing links.

There are many usability studies about how people behave on a website or 
intranet=wiki. By "people" I mean normal readers and editors who have some 
ordinary task (find a specific information or change some text), neither site 
admins, nor style designers, nor top users very experienced with the software 
or the website structure. It might be interesting for a site owner, for an 
admin or for a skin designer to keep themselves informed about the findings of 
these studies, for example:


Links need to be easily differentiated from other text, this is a usability 
need and also common sense if you know how people read. It is acceptable to 
have undecorated links in menus, sidebars and lists of links, but in a page 
body it should be clear what is a link:


(This was observed in 2004, and our eyes and brains haven't evolved too much 
since then.)

The "underlined" part is not a requirement but it is recommended as it is 
helpful for color-blind users, users with lower vision, or just older people 
like most of us become every day.

People do not read web pages like they read printed text. People "scan" a web 
page looking for keywords, and those keywords are the first 2-3 words of a 
paragraph, bold or italic words, and links.


While this was written in 1997, today with thousands if not millions *times* 
more websites, with better search engines, with information overload, lack of 
time and more experience or habit of the internet, users read even less today 
than in 1997. These conclusions are still current, even more accented, as you 
can see in publications about more recent studies, eg. this from 2008:


> http://drupal.org/documentation/customization/tutorials/beginners-cookbook
> The same goes for this localized version: http://drupalfr.org/documentation

Both these documentation sites have a defect: visited and unvisited links look 
the same way. This is a major usability problem, especially for large sites 
(lots of pages, lot of information) and the Top 3 worse design mistake of all 
times. When people search for something, if they don't know which pages they 
have already visited, they turn in circles, visiting the same pages again and 
again, and getting frustrated.


> There are some trends in webdesign. It's not a shame to follow them,
> especially for a publishing tool. The current design is at least 6 year
> old: http://web.archive.org/web/20050913023010/http://pmwiki.org/

It would be a shame if following a fashion kills function and usability both 
for editors and for readers. But I'd think it was caused by ignorance (lack of 
information or lack of interest) rather than, say, stupidity. It is fixable.


P.S. I've been involved with a quite large wiki community (50-200 experienced, 
intelligent editors active weekly, 100K+ pages, thousands of readers). Since 
2003 the links were like on pmwiki, browser-default which in most browsers is 
underlined and blue. Every once in a while, a newcomer editor or even a 
visitor (this is a fairly democratic community) comes to tell us that he 
doesn't like underlined links and that we are retarded to use them. The 
community rejected by a vote one proposition to force non-underlined links, 
and we also held a poll open to editors and to readers and the results were 
not conclusive: most active editors stated that they preferred underlined 
links, and about half of the unregistered visitors who voted too.
I should add that last year the site owner unilaterally and without consulting 
the community (or the web usability guidelines) changed the default skin and 
links now are no longer underlined. But as editors can set in their personal 
preferences underlined links, and even switch back to the old skin, nobody 
bothered to organize a protest or another vote. :-)

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