(Un)official AN Tech Request Thread

I don’t know what the upgrade schedule is for the SB Nation tech crew, but now that they’re done with the minor facelift and the regular season is over, I figure this is a good time to exchange notes about technical fixes and feature requests. I’ve seen occasional comments in other threads over the year, but I’m sure the techs never see them. If we put them all in one place, maybe they will.

Although the two are sometimes connected, I’d rather not let this thread be about the recent update to the look of the site. Perhaps there could be another thread for that. For this one I’m more interested in functionality than appearance.

Here's what I've collected on my wish list over the past year.

Do something about auto-format in comments.

If you type


it comes out as


This trick, along with other similar ones, was presumably intended to be helpful.

Unfortunately, there are also many undesired consequences. For example, if you write a syntactically reasonable sentence like:

His UZR was -1.5 but his wOBA was .350, so
over all I’d give him an A-

it would come out as

His UZR was 1.5 but his wOBA was .350, so over all I’d give him an A

Other examples abound.

Personally, I’m not bothered by auto-format. I have a pretty good idea of how the code algorithms work and I habitually use preview, so I am almost never tripped up by it. I do make use of it fairly often, but there’s nothing I use it for that I couldn’t do almost as easily with basic HTML tags. If I save a few keystrokes typing


instead of


I lose them right back when I have to type


to get


For me, the net gain is pretty trivial. For most other users I suspect the net is negative. My impression from what I’ve read in the threads is that most people dislike autoformat, and several loathe it with a passion. Few actually like it, and those who do use it, like me, wouldn’t miss it much if it were gone. (The poll below will get a fresh read on that to see if I’m right.

I can think of several ways in which auto-format could be improved, but I think the simplest solution would be just to get rid of it altogether.

Don’t mark all comments read when leaving a page.

It’s number two on this list, but for me personally this is my number one complaint and request. There are many many reasons why I might leave a thread before I’ve read all the comments, some intentional and some not. Maybe I have limited time, so I am able to read a few of the comments but not all of them. Or maybe I’m not in a hurry but the thread is so huge I need to take a break before I’m finished. Maybe I open up a thread but my browser chokes on an ad and crashes. Maybe I click on a link and forget to make it open in a separate tab. Maybe I’m in a busy game thread and just as I’m about to click "post" the screen jumps around with new comments so that my click lands on someone’s name instead, sending me to their user page. Maybe I’m just stupid and close the page when I didn’t want to.

No matter what the reason, when I come back to the thread, all the comments are marked read, even though I’ve read only some of them. This is very annoying. The feature that marks comments read is a wonderful wonderful thing and is a major part of SB Nation’s awesomeness. But the wonderfulness is rudely taken away any time it marks comments read when I haven’t read them yet.

There is almost no reason to deliberately mark all the comments read when leaving a thread. If you’re not done reading yet, you want them to remain in unread mode. If you are done reading, they’re all marked read anyway, so it doesn't matter. If you’ve lost interest and don’t intend to finish, you aren't coming back so against it doesn't matter. The only time you’d want them all marked is if you read them all but without using X and Z along the way, or in the unlikely event that you decide you don’t want to read the current comments but you do want to read any new ones that come along. And if ever that’s the case, all you have to do is type shift-A before leaving.

I don’t know how a user's comments-read data is stored, so I can’t say whether this is an easy fix or a hard one, but even if it is hard, it’s something you should figure out and make work, because it would be a big big improvement.

Different sig lines on different blogs

In the days before the SB Nation conglomeration, I had a sigline on Lookout Landing that said something like "visiting Oakland A's fan". It's useful to use the signature as a way to identify yourself, and how you would introduce yourself in a sports bar you only occasionally visit may be different from what you say to the gang where everybody knows your name.

Under the new regime, you get just one sigline and you have to use it everywhere. That sucks.

Earlier this year on LL I saw a line that I very much wanted to make my sigline there, but it was Seattle-centric, and it would confuse people if it were to appear on AN, so I couldn't use it. That sucks. I want to be able to have a different sigline on each blog.

(While you're at it, you may want to impose a maximum size on siglines. Right now, it's something enormous. Personally I don't like any sigline that goes beyond one line on a full column, but I know that would never fly with others here. Still, you could at least stop people from having a whole freakin' short story under every comment, as a few people have done.)

Subject lines for comments

An item on Lookout Landing’s style guide says:

Always use the subject line when making a comment. Even if it's one word that leads into your post. There are a few reasons for this, among them being that it makes comments easy to hide if necessary (while at work, some people don't want some of the more...shall we say, expressive images on their monitors for all to see), that it allows for easier moderation of comments, and that it just looks better.

AN is generally more permissive than LL, but I for one wish that subject lines were used more consistently here.

I love the feature for collapsing comments. (For those who don’t know, if you click on the subject line of a comment, it collapses down to just the subject line. Then if you click again the full comment returns.) I use this with great regularity. It’s especially useful on game threads with lots of pictures, but I’ll frequently reduce long text comments as well. I just like to tidy up the page and make it so I don’t have to scroll so far on a long thread.

But if a comment has no subject line, this does not work. Also, if you have your default comment format set to "closed" on your user settings – I experimented with this for a while, but am not using it now – any comment with no subject line disappears completely and can’t be retrieved at all.

Everything would work better if all comments had subject lines. However, I know my peers on AN, and I know that if someone tried to post without a subject line and got an error message saying "you must provide a subject line", that would piss people off. So instead of doing that, why not have a default subject line that always fills in? Any time someone posts without a subject line, AN makes one that says "..." or "[no subject]" or whatever.

Et cetera

Keep screen focused on highlighted comment. I've only noticed this on fast-moving gamethreads, but when a bunch of new comments come in, it makes things move around on the screen. If I'm in the process of reading unread comments, this can be confusing because it bumps my current comment right off the screen, forcing me to scroll around to figure out where the heck I was. Is it possible to make it so the highlighted comment stays visible?

Prevent excessive consecutive FanPosts. There have been a few times where an enthusiastic newcomer comes along and proceeds to write three or four FanPosts in one afternoon, shoving others off the front-page list prematurely. We don't want to limit participation too much, but I wonder if it isn't a good idea to impose a mild limit, like maybe no more than two per day. Or if it's possible, arrange it so that if you do post multiple successive fanposts, you bump your own off the list, not someone else's.

Underline. I would like to see <u> supported for underlines. (The HTML tag is fine, no need for auto-formatting.)

SF Gate links. If you include a URL in a comment, AN knows to convert it to a link. Ideally, posters would use the link tool instead, but since they often don't, this is a handy backup feature. However, the feature fails on SF Gate links. I think it has to do with the "=/" characters that appear in every SF Gate URL. AN thinks the URL ends with the equals sign, so the link is busted.

'Clear' button for new comment. If I type a reply to someone and then on second thought decide not to post, I click the "cancel" button and it's gone. If I'm typing a fresh comment at the bottom of the thread, there is no "cancel" button until I preview. Then if I cancel, it only makes the preview go away, but the text I typed is still there in the window until I deliberately delete it. I want a "clear" button to delete the rejected text.

Seconds in time stamp. There have been a few times in game threads when it was debated who said something first, where it would be fun to see the time stamp to the second. But maybe that's excessive....

That's everything on my list. If you have others, or further comments on any of these, please add them in the comments.

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