Introducing Slate's new, spruced-up message boards.

Help rebuild Slate's aging message boards.
June 4 2007 11:08 AM

Fray's Anatomy

Introducing our new, spruced-up message boards.

Today we celebrate our biggest project launch since last summer's site redesign. For the first time in at least five years, we've completed a major upgrade of our online forum for reader comments and discussion. Welcome to the new Fray! Please click here try it out.

For too long we let our community of talented reader-commentators fester on bug-ridden and outmoded message boards. They were cluttered, slow, and nearly impossible to navigate. As we pointed out two months ago, the fact that you could find any lively debate at all in that Web-0.5 application said more about the quality of our Fraysters than it did about the resources we gave them.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Now, with the support of Cisco, we've finally given the Fray the wholesale renovation it deserved. We've updated the software, remodeled the interface, and fixed the long-standing bugs that kept new users from joining the conversation. And we've made the new system more flexible and much easier to navigate.

We started the project to fix the Fray back in April, with an open call for suggestions. We wanted to hear from the veterans, who'd spent so much time on the site despite its problems. And we wanted to hear from the folks who had thought of the Fray only with fear or indifference. You were happy to oblige: In just a few weeks, we received almost 900 e-mails suggesting ways to improve the site; 2,451 readers responded to our online polls; more than a thousand comments were posted to the "Fix the Fray" message board.

It wouldn't be the Fray if everyone agreed on the right course of action. There were those who wanted a complete overhaul: Some asked for a social networking site, with personal profiles, pictures, and a system for private messages. Others wanted to ditch the chit-chat and gear the boards exclusively toward comments on Slate articles. And then there were the Fray die-hards who wanted to preserve—at all costs—the old-school "charm" of the original.

We've tried to address as many of your suggestions as we could with the new Fray. First and foremost, we've made it much easier to respond to specific Slate articles. In the old days, we lumped together comments on all articles that happened to be in the same department. If you wanted to read the reactions to the latest "Culturebox," for example, you'd be stuck reading posts about every "Culturebox" piece we've ever published, not to mention off-topic personal asides from other Fraysters.

As of today, casual readers can click from an article page to see only those posts directly related to that article. But you don't have to browse the Fray that way. If you come into the message boards directly (and not through an article page), you'll see every post, whether or not it's a comment on an article. And if you'd rather focus on your own discussions, you can set a filter to shut the article comments out of your personal view.

Personal settings make the message boards easier to navigate than ever before. In the old system, you had to sift through thousands of posts in chronological order in order to find the best posts. That meant that if you wanted to find a brilliant essay from one of our star posters, you'd have to read through countless messages on the order of "bush stinks (eom)." Now you can get to the good stuff with one click. We've got filters that allow you to see only the Editors' Picks, or the most-read posts, or the posts that have been recommended by your fellow readers. You can also switch between the Fray's classic "threaded" view of the message boards, which allows you to see which replies go with which messages, and the "flat" view, showing all the messages in one long column.

Under the "More Options" tab at the bottom of the screen, you can tinker even more with your personal settings. You can set date filters; for example, so that you see only those posts that are new since your last visit. You can filter out posts you've already read, or threads you've already participated in. And you can request an e-mail alert whenever someone responds to your favorite forums, threads, or messages.

The list of upgrades goes on and on. We've scrapped Microsoft's cumbersome Passport system for login. For the first time, Fraysters have the benefit of a rich text editor for composing their messages. (No more hand-coding basic HTML tags to add links or bold your text.) Now you can refer to the text of a post as you compose a reply, and you can quote the original automatically. If you make a typo or click the wrong button, you can even take down your own post and make a correction. (Be warned: Once someone replies to your post, it's locked in place.) You can also assign tags to your posts, and browse the Fray for posts with similar tags. With the new Fray search engine, you can find archived posts by any combination of words, tags, author, and date. And on our new Fray homepage, the "Best of the Fray" box lets you jump right into the most interesting discussions on the boards with a single click.

We're confident these changes will help to attract new users and raise the level of discourse in the Fray. They'll also help us to get our writers and editors more involved in the message boards. (As always, they'll be posting with a maroon "S" icon next to their names.) And the Fray editors will make a special effort to get more of our stellar posts appended to the bottoms of article pages.

Those of you who are familiar with the old Fray will notice a few things missing. First, the archives. The Fray's history has been taken down temporarily while we work on importing it into the new system. You can expect to see all of these old messages back online within the next month or two. Second, the "star" posters. We decided to even the playing field for new users by eliminating the star icons that had been bestowed on talented Fraysters in the past. Third, your login names. Over the past several weeks, Fray regulars have been invited to reserve their login names for the new system. We'll have those data transferred over as soon as possible, but in the meantime, everyone will have to sign in today as a new user. (You don't need a username and password to browse the boards, but you have to sign in if you want to post your own messages.)

We'd love to get as much feedback as possible on all these changes. (We're expecting an earful.) But we also want you to let us know if you encounter any bugs or glitches along the way. We already know that the text box for composing messages is a bit too narrow; we're working on a fix. The fly-out menus are also acting a bit funny.  And we're sure you'll find many other problems. Please post your bug reports to the "Fix the Fray" board, or send us e-mail at fix.the.fray@gmail.com. We know we'll need to make some tweaks to the system before we get things running perfectly.

But that's enough from us. Why not pop into the Fray right now, and see what your fellow readers are saying about the redesign? We're happy to sit back and let the discussion begin.

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