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Slate turned 10 last summer, and we celebrated our first decade on the Web with a brand-new look. With the help of our readers—who supplied hundreds of suggestions for how to improve the site—we implemented a more intuitive layout that made the magazine cleaner and easier to read.
Despite all that house-cleaning, some parts of the site were neglected. “The Fray,” our reader discussion area, remained as messy as ever. For years, the Fray has forced our community of reader-commentators into a cluttered attic of outmoded software and design. Our message boards are unwieldy to read, slow to load, and difficult to search. Dozens of moribund forums litter the Fray’s main page, which gives new readers little information about what’s inside. The fact that new visitors can still wander in and find lively debate says more about the quality of our Fraysters than it does about the resources we’ve given them.
Today, we begin the next phase of our renovations. With the help of our users, we’re going to fix up the Fray. We’d like to set up a new landing page that highlights the most interesting and relevant commentary from our readers. We want to make it less daunting for new visitors to jump into the Fray, and easier for experienced users to sort and find individual posts. We’d also like to raise the level of conversation, which is brilliant and sophisticated in some areas, but off-point and uncivil in others.
The new, improved Fray should retain important aspects of the current version. Our dedicated Fray editors will continue to sift through the boards, highlighting posts of particular wit or insight, and pointing to them in their regular “Fraywatch” columns. At the same time, we’d like to empower Fray users to provide another form of stewardship, by letting each other know which posts they found most interesting, and which ones they’d recommend to others. A system of customizable filters might make it possible to skip between our editorial picks—based on the predilections of a few Slate staffers—and the popular favorites.
This isn’t the first time we’ve raised the possibility of fixing the Fray. Many of our most ardent users have already weighed in with helpful thoughts and suggestions. Some have even suggested passing the hat to raise money for an overhaul. That won’t be necessary. Today, with support from a corporate sponsor, we’re opening up the discussion one more time. (Thank you, Cisco!) For the next two weeks, between now and April 16, we’d like you to send us e-mails, vote in online polls placed throughout the Fray, and—most of all—post comments in the “Fix the Fray” discussion area. (New posters can click here for tips on how to log in.) In the meantime, we’ll set up a clearinghouse for regular updates of our progress as we move forward with the redesign.
Here are a few questions to get started:
For you die-hards who continue to post despite all the bugs and glitches: What’s most important to you about the Fray in its current incarnation? What’s most important for us to change? How could we unintentionally ruin the Fray for you, and how might we save it?
For the casual Fraysters, those of you who drop in from time to time: What would make you stay longer? How could we make the discussion more interesting and inviting?
And for those of you who never visit the Fray: What keeps you away? What kind of discussion board would be more appealing?
Please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re eager to get the renovations right and look forward to hearing from you.