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Newsletter #8 (August 2021)
Hello from the Codidact team! We're here with another update from our corner of the Internet.
We've made a lot of improvements large and small since our last newsletter. First, we finished threaded comments, and they are already helping people to organize conversations without being disruptive. Comment threads are visible but start out collapsed, so if you just want to find an answer to your question about C++ or Lagrangian systems or sorcerer attack bonuses, comments don't get in the way. If you want to understand why that answer about capacitors or sourdough or the Sabbath is controversial, you can dig into the discussion attached to it.
You can follow threads and be notified of new activity, which we've started to use to allow people to follow community proposals. And, at long last, we've made it easier to ping users by name without having to type the full user name yourself. We'll discuss what comment pings, search, and a tool we use for our Judaism community have in common later in this newsletter.
Because comments no longer require space on the main post page, we've been able to relax some of the restrictions we had in place -- for example, you can now format code in comments. We've also added moderation tools for comments and threads, including archiving a whole thread when it's no longer active but remains of interest.
We also added some new options to search. You can now restrict a search to posts in a particular category, or particular post types (questions, answers, articles, etc), or posts by a particular user. For questions, you can restrict a search by the number of answers, making it possible to find unanswered questions in your favorite tag or with certain keywords. In the future we hope to use these building blocks to add filtering in key places, such as on the user profile page or (eventually) with user-created filters. You can learn more about the new search options on Meta or in the help on any community.
A request we have heard over and over is better feedback on which of your posts are getting votes (and in which direction). If there's something wrong and people are downvoting, most people want to know so they can address the problem. More generally, if your reputation number is changing, it's natural to want to know why, and for older posts you might not notice on your own. When our community lead brought it up for about the zillionth time recently, our development lead took pity and added a "voting activity" page to profiles. See the feature announcement for more information.
Our team has been busy making other improvements too, from small usability improvements to fixing bugs to improving the help. Our group of contributors is slowly growing, and we're thankful for all those who have joined us so far. If you'd like to help with anything from a small bug to a large feature, head over to our main repository on GitHub.
What's next? Our developers are putting the finishing touches on a focused reactions system -- not the nine billion emoji of Discord, but specific, actionable reactions like "this answer is outdated" and "I have verified this works". Communities can decide which reactions they want to use, and of course can opt out. More information coming soon!
We've just launched Tabletop Role-Playing Games, our community for questions about playing or creating role-playing games. All RPGs, tabletop or virtual tabletop, fantasy or futuristic or any other genre, are welcome. We heard from players, gamemasters, and game creators about the need for this community, and we're looking forward to seeing it grow.
We've mentioned our Code Golf community before. Code Golf is all about programming challenges. There's a strong spirit of friendly competitiveness among the members of the community. And when you have a competition, you need to know who's winning -- how do you build that into a Q&A platform? Members of the community came to us with a proposal and did the lion's share of the work to build it, and the community now has a leaderboard, integrated into the community without the need for userscripts.
The Code Golf leaderboard isn't our first community-specific customization, but it's the first one that was actively developed by the community working together with the platform team. This project truly embodies the spirit of "by the community, for the community". We're proud of everybody who worked together to make it happen. You can learn more about this group effort in this blog post.
Tales from the Terminal
Some time ago, we had a request from our Judaism community to include a tool to make referencing various religious texts and sources easier. On its own, that’s quite a difficult request – but fortunately there’s already an existing tool to do just that: the Sefaria linker script. We were able to make use of that and some other Sefaria APIs to come up with tools to automatically reference text, and to suggest potentially related references while writing a post. In the course of doing that, we built a little component to help out: a small dropdown that pops up next to the cursor within a textarea where reference suggestions could appear.
That all lived in some community-specific code for Judaism, and we mostly left it alone for a few months. [Side note: if your community has requests for community-specific customizations, let us know! We have the ability to add community-specific scripting and styling, so we may be able to help.]
A few months ago, threaded comments came along, together with some long-overdue improvements in our pinging system. While we were building that, we realised we needed something that would pop up next to the cursor with some suggestions… and we remembered we already had that, in the Judaism script. So we moved the popup component out of there, into our main codebase, and generalised it so that it would work for both uses.
Soon after that, we were working on some search improvements, namely filtering by user, category, or post type. While user and category filters could use the ID without any additional help since the IDs are accessible in URLs, filtering by post type was more of a challenge – the IDs for post types aren’t exposed anywhere. So we did the same again: we took our popup component, generalised it, and added it to list post type suggestions.
This one little component has turned out to have a lot more uses than we thought it would when we added it. Since then, we’ve had to rewrite the code for it completely to structure it better and add in extra features. That rewrite also introduced some extra bugs that we’ve had to fix along the way. If you’re interested in more detail on this, keep an eye on our blog on Meta – there’ll be a blog post coming soon in much more detail.
Thank you for helping us to build our communities and platform. Whether you're participating on our network or submitting pull requests or asking questions about the project, you're helping us to grow. Thank you!
The Codidact Team