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I currently have a UX problem that I have seldom seen done well (or at all)...

I am developing a messaging feature for a site (a messaging system for business, think Yammer), and I am in the wireframing stage right now.

After working out all the basics, I realized that I didn't have an answer for one thing...

When a user replies to another user in the thread, how do you display that? Yammer says "John Doe in reply to Bob Smith" and you can hover over the "in reply to" to see the previous message (see the example below). Keep in mind I want the user to be able to reply to any comment within that thread but I need to keep things small, because the messaging for this site is just a feature, not the feature.

There's the solution that you just right justify/offset that response directly under the message in which you are replying to - but then you could have a endless chain effect if a user just keeps on replying to a message then someone replies to that message and so on...

yammer style messaging

Hopefully this all makes sense and sorry if it has already been asked (or if it is obvious). I am not a UX professional (yet), so any help would be greatly appreciated.

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What is it that you dislike from Yammer's solution? It looks quite appropriate. Nicer than infinitely nested replies for sure. –  Ricardo Sánchez-Sáez Sep 3 '13 at 13:44
    
@RicardoSánchez-Sáez I'm just wondering if it is too confusing for the everyday user. I'm a developer, so I know to look for certain things. But working with people in the business world I start to see how little they how about using a computer. So me personally, I kinda like the way Yammer does it. I just wasn't sure what else was out there for this problem. I'd love to get my hands on a case study from Yammer on this approach. –  jamez14 Sep 3 '13 at 13:49
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Yeah, I get you. Not sure how could this feature get simpler. Maybe you can drop it altogether? Maybe your users don't have a need to know what message was replied to. If they actually do, one possible minor improvement I can think over the Yammer approach could be highlighting the replied to message in-place when hovering "in reply to". The popup needlessly duplicates information. But this would make the feature to not work with very long chains in which you replied an old message which is now off screen. If this is infrequent enough, it may be a worthwhile improvement. –  Ricardo Sánchez-Sáez Sep 3 '13 at 13:57
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Also, look at www.discourse.org for inspiration. They are working on a kind of flat-message board which I find quite nice. Their intention is the replace the "internet forum" paradigm, which has lots of historical cruft and doesn't provide a very modern experience. Every time somebody sees a "Your browser will redirect you in a minute" message after replying on one of these old-style forums, Santa Claus kills a kitten. –  Ricardo Sánchez-Sáez Sep 3 '13 at 14:02
    
Thanks for the thoughtful response. That's a decent solution/spin-off to the problem. I'm beginning to lean towards the Yammer style and just hope the user understands how it functions and if not, I guess I'll run into the same issue that Yammer has (if they consider it a problem). I'm still working out my wireframes with more ideas. And thanks for the link and the laugh! –  jamez14 Sep 3 '13 at 14:07

1 Answer 1

My understanding of this is that the original uppermost content becomes the anchor of the interaction. Everything below it is a reply. To reply to a reply, you'd need to set that as an anchor (in many UX cases). Tweets in reply, for example, unfold the whole conversation in this manner with a "More" option if there's more than X-number of Tweets threaded. Facebook comments work in a similar, albeit less contextual manner.

"Name in reply to Othername" fragments the conversation, so it's less easy to follow it coherently throughout a single thread.

The following is a very lightweight way to thread a conversation. One reply shows up indented without threading. Two or more replies creates a collapsed thread, which slides open when clicked.

This is very lightweight in that hard rules dictate the experience. It can, of course, be made much more elegant with subtle styling - but for wireframe/UX purposes, this gets the idea across. The main idea is using indenting to signify what came after what, and collapsed text areas to signify a bunch of stuff is hidden in reply.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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So when I open the "(5) replies to user 2" thread and then I reply to the first comment in that thread and someone then replies to the comment I just wrote and so on, wouldn't I be in an endless chain of indents/offsets? *hopefully that all made sense –  jamez14 Sep 3 '13 at 16:57
    
See above wireframe edit. –  Arman Sep 3 '13 at 17:12
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Sorry for the delayed response. I have been working on other projects lately. But this is definitely an approach that is a possibility, basically just making the replies to each individual comment a "flat" layout. I agree that the way Yammer does it could be confusing, but www.discourse.org that the commenter at the top suggested is a nice approach to show the hierarchy of comments. Thanks for your detailed response. –  jamez14 Sep 5 '13 at 13:36

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