Under the Boxes-and-Arrows hood

Posted by

Boxes and Arrows started as a lunchtime conversation, a whim shared by two colleagues pondering the emerging disciplines the web bubble had produced. Before long, it grew up into a respectable magazine (although we still won’t admit that in public) with professionals around the world contributing content that matters to them. We’ve already made a difference.

As an editorial team, we thank you. We think about you all the time, in fact, and enjoy working with you. But now there are so many of you. And you have such brilliant ideas. That’s why we’ve decided to give the magazine to you, in part.

Starting today, you’ll begin to see some changes. While the editorial team will still maintain the tone and consistency of B&A, you’re now officially invited to be part of the process.

Here’s how:

Better ideas, better magazine.
Instead of emailing your new story idea to an editor, you post it here for comments and ratings …by everyone. This shared editorialship will help authors refine ideas and help us understand what you want and need to read.

Say that again?
Yes. You decide what gets published. (Well ok, we’ll weigh in some too.)

Ratings and transparency and reputation points. Oh my.
The B&A community has always been a smart, respectful community. We’ve been amazed at how little spam and how few trolls we attract. But we know this can’t last forever, so we’ve instituted a reputation manager. See an offensive comment? You no longer have to wait for us to get to the issue, you can help get rid of the drek. Moreover, you can star the best comments, and help the cream rise to the top!

Location, location, location.
You can see where the conversations are happening and who’s having them. Each page posts stats on conversations and people, so you can quickly find the most interesting, controversial or insightful moments on the site.

Home transparent home.
The homepage gives you the full list of site stats as well as access to your profile on B&A. You can now see what we see—what a vibrant, smart community we’ve got!

But wait! This is only the beginning. The new look and feel is still to come, now that we’ve got a new set of features. And you, our beloved community, are invited to let us know how we’re doing (as if you’d hold back!) And watch this spot—the tool we’ve build for you to enjoy B&A, we plan to make available to you to build your own community of practice.



  1. “so we’ve institiuted a reputation manger…you can help get rid of the drek”

    Not sure if that was intentional? But two typos in one sentence.

  2. The first certainly wasn’t, but the second (assuming you mean “drek”) was. It’s an accepted spelling, I believe.

    Thanks for helping make B&A better. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the new features! I’d love to read some articles that go deeper into your process –

    * A look at the background and psychology of this kind of participatory/community centered publishing and content vetting

    * Insights on user testing and analysis that went into adding these features

    * Thoughts on presenting a clean, coherent UI system with community generated content ratings and comment

  4. You’re welcome!

    “Drek” looked right, I was referring to the 2 words. The “if that was intentional” question was whether “[getting] rid of the drek” included catching typos.

  5. Getting rid of the drek does, indeed, include catching typos. Whether things like that are intentional or not, I will never tell!

    We are starting to make public our B&A house styleguide so that we can be persistently consistent, revealing our POV on things such as the one-worded “sitemap” and hyphenless “email.” For many years, it’s lived in a private wiki, only accessible to editors. Now, we’ve started to make it public and hope that you can help us build it.

    True; at the moment, it is a static page, but we are continuing to build up B&A features. Stay tuned over the next couple of months to watch the evolution…

  6. The terminology portion of the styleguide sounds most intriguing. Please also include whether “the Web” and “the Interent” are still proper nouns or not, or if they every should have been.

    “Front end” and “backend” in terms of programming or site architecture always catch my attention too.

  7. I hate to be a naysayer or detractor, but I gotta say I’m looking at the new features a bit…askance. For example–the preview feature below is somewhat unnerving–it’s cool, yeah, but it interrupts my peripheral cognition.

    Also, I’m not so sure that editing by committee is the best course of action. I’know y’all have probably cussed & discussed this issue. Let me just weigh in on the side of those who like their magazines edited by a few rather than by a lot.

    Also, I’m not a fan of things like “reputation points.” it enforces an idea that somehow those kids who alwyas answer the questions in class are somehow better than those who listen & learn.

    Just an initial thought–I’ll watch & learn, though.

  8. Hi Rob,

    Because not everyone’s qualified to be an editor…in the same way that not everyone’s qualified to be a .Net programmer or a user researcher or an information architect or a CEO. Editing in all its forms takes specific skill, be it substantive editing, copy editing, or proofreading.

  9. I am enjoy using this, appreciate the thought behind. Ratings on Suggestions does not show how many people rated though. Will be interesting to see that.


  10. Joe and all– We really believe in the importance of the editor also. That’s why we have taken a different, hybrid attack.

    The CMS supports editorial workflow, and B&A articles will always have a true editor to shepard the process, leaving the author’s voice intact and preserving the integrety of the magazine’s style as well. But it also harnesses the power of the crowd. Reputation points, while leaving the nonparticipant behind– or unaffected, depending on your point of view– also rewards an intellegently crafted participation, and punish trolls.

    It will be interesting to see how it all shapes up in the coming months. We plan to adapt the program to the community’s behavior, learning as we go.

    (excelsior was used by Comics great Stan Lee as a closing for his lettercol. It was borrowed from Longfellow’s poem, Excelsior. Obscure, yes, but who doesn’t love a fun fact? Speaking of, it’s also what they call the material used to stuff teddy bears.)

  11. note– we were hacked, and are recovering. some things may look odd, or comments will be missing. please bear with us….

  12. Nice comments, Christina. Too, I’ve been reading/browsing/lurking/participating, and taking the new version for a test ride. I do see the value in input from the crowd. I’m definitely not counting it out! You guys have done such good and hard work–I am impressed!

    I would, though, recommend that the colors of the comments icons & things be toned down. That is, the stars, the pluses, the minuses, the bubbles…could they be a bit more subdued? even the same blue as the links? I’m just thinkin’…

  13. This is a great site! I must be a very very newbie, but I don’t see any description of what the +, -, and ! buttons for each comment do. I’m afraid I just clicked on a minus sign (thinking it might be a collapse button) and apparently rendered a negative opinion about the comment (or the commenter!). Perhaps an explanation of the function of the buttons would be in order :^)

  14. I do agree with David Carlson that – and + buttons’ purpose is not clear at all. This might be a common type of failure all over the web, but ‘information architecture’ is all about making the world of web applications better :-))). I am just trying to write a paper on ‘information architecture’ and I feel a bit like most of IA it is made-up and reinventing the wheel, although I admit there are some (few) new aspects I saw nowhere else. But, many slight glitches (like printing complete content of right-hand bar after the main article and too shortened titles on this unwanted right-hand bar) on the boxandarrows site show that although IAs talk big on web sites, usability etc., it is much easier to talk about it than to achieve it.

  15. The new design has some really nice ideas, but also many kinks that need to be worked out. I agree with previous comments with respect to toning down the icon colours, the lack of guidance on the function of the + and – buttons, and the distracting effect of the continually updated comment preview. Regarding the latter, the write-preview-post interaction sequence seems to work well for most CMS/blog systems, so I wonder about the design rationale for this approach. There also seem to be some issues with the search functionality. Search results pages are labeled “Browse stories”, and a search for “ia summit 2005” returns no relevant articles before the 10th (!) result – a bit ironic given our profession’s recent focus on findability.

    Overall, my impression is that of a project still in beta, and I believe that it should be clearly indicated as such. This would ensure that readers are not left with the impression that IA’s fail to practice what they preach.

  16. What I find interesting is most of the complaints are not IA complaints, but interface design complaints. That’s not to say there aren’t IA problems on B&A– there are plenty!
    In any case, we added tooltips to the +,- and are redesigning them.

    Search deserves its own special time. We aren’t designing our own engine, so it may take awhile before we have a great search. What we are looking at is keywording/tagging to improve relevency first.

    Keep those cards and letters coming!

  17. Nice redesign! My one request – make the search box bigger! It will encourage me to elaborate more on my query 😉

  18. This is a fantastic site! I wonder, however, about the reputation points “engine”: how many reputation points do you get from what? Is it based solely on how others rate your stories? Does the amount of comments to your stories count in as well? And what about your own productivity: does writing a lot (of stories or comments) do you any good in terms of improving your reputation?

    And what are the reputation points used for?

    I can’t seem to find the explanation anywhere on the site, hope someone on the staff can provice some answers.

    Best Jon

  19. Hi Jon

    You get reputation points from people rating your stories and voting for or against your comments (the plus/minus sign). One of its non-obvious uses is to help the editors decide who to turn to when they need to expand the editorial staff.

  20. I liked the previous design better 🙁

    Also, the comment names and reputation points on the left seem to overlap the left menu in FF 2.0 on a mac.

  21. The comment authors’ names and reputations still overlap the left-side nav in Safari. List bullets are also pulled outside the left margin of their containers in Safari, too.

  22. Have you any idea what a mess the left column is on this page, with the overlapping headings and text? And way more than a month after having it pointed out, you still haven’t fixed the disappearing left column. Plus, the links in your newsletter worked just one time out of the last three. Your interface is such a mess I would never, ever consider using PublicSquare. The new interface is just wrong and no feedback from the anybody about when it’s going to be fixed. Not a very inspirational site anymore — the interface problems irritate me too much to care what else you have to say — I just assume the editorial oversite and content vetting is as just as careless as the spelling and interface flaws. I know this isn’t your day job, but after waiting for a couple of years to see what miraculous new design arose from the contest, the site is like a slap in the face, especially since nobody seems to be fixing it. I so wanted to love the new site and the new software.

  23. Hi Lee. I am sorry to say that 100% of what’s wrong with this is not present in the PublicSquare base templates, but in the bad code made in the redesign. It’s getting fixed soooo slowly, and no one knows the pain more than me. If you are pained, why don’t you help fix it?

  24. Wish I had the time to get under the hood and make some repairs — I would love to but can’t take on any more pro bono work and still pay the bills. I don’t get why the folks that designed the new B&A to begin with aren’t the ones with a huge stake in fixing it, or even the folks at Public Square if this is a “showcase” site.

    By the way, the email notice came with dead links again. It was right the one time you used pointy brackets instead of square brackets.

  25. I’ll tell chris about the newsletter.

    you may have noticed that many of the issues you mentioned are fixed. Slowly things are better.

  26. Well, this looks like as good a place as any to post my first comment. An effort to locate an explicit “feedback” link yielded no fruit. Please be kind to me (a newbie) if my offering is misplaced. (I’d hate to start out with a negative reputation. Oh my.) Moving on…

    Just discovered this site and am excited about what I think I’m going to learn here. However, it also strikes me as irksomely ironic that a site focused on a better user experience would ignore my browser’s text size setting (a pet peeve of mine as my aging eyes turn me into a poster child for accessibility). Any chance this behavior can be fixed? It’s rather tedious reading articles by copying the text and pasting it into my word processor so I can enlarge the font enough to read comfortably. (BTW: The font size used in comments is great. It’s only the article text that is a bit diminutive for me.)

Comments are closed.