moderated Web/Online FOLLOW functionality enhancement #suggestion


Christos G. Psarras
 

Hi folks,

Short version:
Enable the Follow/Unfollow functionality not just at the All Groups-All Topics central hub, but also anytime one is in topic (or maybe also message) view in any group; or at least enable it based on whether someone has set a specific group's subscription to Following-Only or not.

Alternatively, upgrade the All Groups-All Topics screen with various sorts and filters to enhance functionality and usability; the way that screen is naked now, makes using it cumbersome to anyone but folks with exclusive Following-Only subscription setting and/or very few groups.


Long version:

I had some of my groups' online-only users ask me how to follow online and I had to research it and by consequence, test-use it for a while.  (as a sidenote, I really ended up liking this functionality a lot as it allows you to greatly finetune your subscription on certain types of chatty groups)  As it turns out, email-mostly/only users have it made using the Following-Only (FO) functionality as the footers have all the necessary links for Following/Unfollowing topics and one can easily use them (in conjunction with the First Message and/or Auto Follow Replies setting) to easily follow/unfollow topics, only for those specific group(s) they have set the FO prefs, and cut down the email traffic of chatty groups to only interesting topics.

Those users were not as quite thrilled though when they found out that if one wants to do the same scheme exclusively-online things get a bit murky and cumbersome.  As things work now, besides the transparent auto-follows, one can only (normally***) follow a topic online if they go to the All Groups-All Topics page and open topics there.  The problem with this "Follow Central Hub/Depository" approach is that it mimics an email user's Inbox, where everything is lumped together, only in that case, one can do all kinds of sorting (or create inbox re-route filters if they want), so for an email user, the central-hub scheme works OK.  But having a topic "Inbox" online doesn't work quite the same in terms of ease, especially since that "inbox" doesn't give you any sort/filters.  The central hub approach may work fine if someone belongs only to very few groups, or especially if they are more or less exclusive FO users, but for others who have a mix of subscription types and also possibly a larger amount of groups (for example 10 in my case), this method can become unwieldy pretty quick.  The screen says All Groups-All Topics and it really means it, in the main list page you are presented with all topics from the beginning of your groups' time, from all groups you belong to, regardless of whether you have set the FO option on those groups or not; in other words, close to 100K in my case, and even if I have my row limit set to 100, some days I have to go to page 2 for just one day's posted topics ... but in any case, the real problem is that there are no filters whatsoever to narrow/limit the returned set, and the only sort order available is PostedDate-NewerFirst which is rather superfluous to be honest, because first, one would kinda expect the topics to be sorted like this by default in this type of usage situation, and second, if one sorts them in OldestFirst order, they could be looking at messages from the 90s possibly, which would be rather useless to follow those old topics anymore.  The list even includes messages/topics one has already followed (some visual indicator may be helpful), and in the cases of messages of groups where the member's subscription is receive all emails (without FO set), one wonders why should those group topics be shown, i.e. why would one want to follow a topic in a group where they already want and get all emails to begin with. (unless if the aim is so one can have a topic handy for future online reference if they don't have access to their email, so I can see a value allowing that)

So the average user may naturally think to themselves, "OK, I'll just do this at the group level", but it doesn't work like that unfortunately, no follow option at the group level.  A good percentage of users prefer to go to one group, do their reading, and when done, go to another group and do the same, etc., instead of having everything lumped-up together.  One would think that at the least, when one is visiting the Messages/Topics of a specific group they set FO to ON, the Follow/Unfollow functionality should also be enabled when perusing topics/messages at the individual group level, don't you agree?  Even better, since we are currently presented with all group topics to follow in the All Groups-All Topics pages, including for groups we don't have FO set to on, why not just then have the capability available at anywhere one might be browsing a topic, i.e. in the individual groups pages, regardless of FO subscription setting.

Alternatively, the central hub All Groups-All Topics screen can really use some strategic sorts and filters to limit topics returned, like restrict display to a specific group for example, restrict/specify date range (which would then make the current PostedDate sort really usable), maybe add a Group-PostedDate sort, a search box, maybe visually indicate if a topic is already followed, or whatever other filter/setting could be of benefit in making that screen more functional and more user-friendly.


Ideally, IMO it would be nice to have both of those enhancements implemented, but in terms of work, I suspect the former would be a lot less work and faster to implement as the follow/unfollow buttons and code are already there in the Topic view page regardless, it's just that they are shown and enabled only when one is in the All Topics/Followed pages, by the use of a URL parameter.

One can also take it a bit further, when one clicks on a hashtag's dropdown menu, maybe also add a Follow/Unfollow Hashtag option there as well.

Cheers,

Christos

*** There are a couple of roundabout URL-mod ways to allow you to follow/unfollow a topic inside any group you are currently perusing, not just at the All Groups-All Topics pages, and if done in a new tab, both methods allow you to continue where you were in that group; I'll post those in a separate message.

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