Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at NCDevCon 2011 (Raleigh, NC) with:

The User Experience (UX) Of Trello Comments

By Ben Nadel on

I've been using Trello for about a year now and I really like it. As with any project management (PM) system, it has its strengths and its weaknesses; but, overall, it's the best PM application that I've tried so far. It does a lot of things right - one of which is "comments." But, I didn't always love the comments. At first, I found the user experience (UX) of Trello comments to be frustrating. But, in the last year, I feel like they've made me a more considerate team member and a much more conscientious commenter.

Before Trello, I used Basecamp. Basecamp is also an awesome product that does a lot of things right. And, when I switched over to Trello, one of the Basecamp features that I immediately lamented was the ability to see which team members were going to be notified in a comment thread.


 
 
 

 
 The user experience (UX) of Basecamp comment notifications. 
 
 
 

As you can see, in Basecamp, the conversation participants are clearly defined. And, you can change the list as the conversation proceeds. It's really nice.

In Trello, on the other hand, there is zero indication as to who will receive comment notifications. Card members can unsubscribe from comments; and, people who aren't on the card can subscribe to comments. None of this is conveyed on the Trello card itself.


 
 
 

 
 The user experience (UX) of Trello comment notifications. 
 
 
 

In Trello, the only way to make sure that a user is notified by a comment is to "mention" them (aka, "at" them) in the comment itself:


 
 
 

 
 The user experience (UX) of having to mention people in Trello comments. 
 
 
 

When I first started using the comments on Trello, this seemed like a horrible approach. I found myself having to "mention" like 4 or 5 people in every comment; which, even with the auto-complete, was quite laborious. I did this because I was trying to replicate the Basecamp behavior where every participant was notified on every new comment.

Over time, I became lazier about trying to notify "everyone" and simply reserved the "mentions" for when I really wanted individuals to know about the comment. Now, in retrospect, this is the only way that I can imagine using comments. It truly provides the best user experience.

For starters, I love that I can pull random people into a conversation without adding them to the card. If I'm in the middle of a development task, and I need some creative direction, I simply "mention" one of the designers. They get the notification, jump in, leave their own comment, and get out without being spammed by the rest of the conversation.

This also makes me feel way more freedom when leaving comments for myself. I use comments as both a collaboration platform and as a record-keeping platform; half the comments I post are never meant to be read by others. When I can collaborate without adding people to the conversation, I don't have to feel bad about spamming people with record-keeping information.

The "mention" also makes the intent of the comment a lot more clear. When everyone gets notified on every comment, no one is sure if they are supposed to respond (this is the same problem that "CC" creates in emails). And, if someone is unsure as to what is required of them, they will likely default to doing nothing; this is especially true if they believe that other team members were also notified.

Over all, the need to explicitly mention people in comments has made me a lot more conscious of the commenting system and about what I'm writing. This has, I believe, made me a better communicator and a better team member. I can leave notes for myself without bothering others; and, when I really do need someone to be notified, I do so very explicitly with "mentions."

From a user experience (UX) standpoint, one of the things that I love most about this is that the application has, in some ways, taught me to be a better user and a better team member. Most applications tend to bend to the wills and wishes of the user, allowing users, like myself, to continue on with their bad habits. But Trello, with their commenting UX, has taught me to become a more effective user. And that, from a design standpoint, is all kinds of awesome.



Reader Comments

@Ben -

I don't know how the @someone started but I've seen and used it for a long time, even before I was a developer - specially on email threads where there are multiple recipients doing the 're-all' thing. I never found it laborious, though :p - although facebook's implementation was ridiculous (aka @johndoe becomes "John Doe" ) then you'll have to backspace to remove the lastname - it's kinda weird to call friends their whole name. I'm not sure that's changed as I've permanently unsubscribed to fb in a looooong time.

Trello's @mention would even be cooler if you can select multiple members in the popup suggestion box..

Reply to this Comment

@Jojo,

I think I first started seeing it in blog comments. Since most blog comments are not threaded (at least not the Disqus ones), it seemed like a good way to reference people when every comment is in a single thread.

When I started seeing that, I started using it in a lot of places. Also, in emails, like you. It is really good for specifying people. In general, I think it's a great mechanism.

That said, I totally agree - there's something about Facebook's implementation that just isn't right. I almost never use it. Not sure why I dislike it so much.

Reply to this Comment

@Ben,

Your blog is awesome, always write about interesting things.

I have also started using Trello to organize my personal projects; I find it really easy to use, it does what I need and the fact it's free if you only need the standard features is a bonus.

At work we use JIRA which is a great issue and project tracking tool if your company has adopted AGILE as the main development methodology; it is an awesome tool which has a lot of extra useful features (some free, some not), I'd suggest you give it a go as they have a free trial available.

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