Member Rara Avis
Thanks for all the feedback, guys. And for the support. To be honest, I was feeling a bit like the Grinch, and it's good to see others have noticed the problem, too.
Balladeer, I wish it was technically possible to put a size limitation on the larger graphics, but I'm afraid it's not. Athena doesn't know the size when the images are being loaded from a different web server, which is usually the case.
Doreen, copyright is ALWAYS a definite concern and I'm glad you brought it front and center again. Using someone else's bandwidth also bears mention again.
Sudhir, Midnitesun, there's plans for something "like" a visual forum, but we won't see until our next major software update. Even then, though, I hope we can continue to enjoy some presentation possibilities in ALL the forums.
Titia, the 5-image limitation will be on a go-forward basis only. So that's not a problem. However, anyone who has posts they consider important to them should ALWAYS keep their own copies. Please don't depend only on our server. Stuff happens, and it's not always good stuff. There was a time when I backed up the forums to my local disk every week, but the sheer size of our database no longer allows that luxury. Everyone should take what measures they need to protect their own data.
Finally, I'd like to clarify that this change is NOT prompted by a huge load on our server. Most of the larger graphics and all of the sound files are coming from other places on the Internet, and Athena is just passing along the request. No work at all. Even the multiple smilies aren't a burden. Your browser asks Athena for the first copy of a smilie, but the other dozen copies are coming directly from your own PC, pulled from your buffer cache. Athena isn't working too hard, which is exactly why I didn't notice the problems until I started spending a lot of time in Open. If anything, the changes I'm proposing will put more work on our server, because Athena will now be asked to monitor the number of images used.
Our server isn't working too hard, but your PC and Internet connection is. For some, like suthern, it's a deal-buster, a killer that prevents her from being a more active part of the forums. For most, like SEA and Midnitesun, it's just plain inconvenient. But slow loading pages affect everyone, and the sad part is, it's just plain unnecessary. After a certain point, which we seem to agree should be five images, it's all cost and virtually no benefit.
I'm still not sure what will eventually happen with some of our other problems, those centered more around HTML. I've disabled some, the ones no one should ever need, but am reluctant to disable all of them. They really can help with presentations, though very few people use them.
Interestingly, there's a post in Open right now that illustrates what I mean. Take a look at Lady In Pink by MyEnchanted_Melody. The author has put an image and the text of her poem inside of a black-filled HTML table. Looks really good, too, and I certainly don't mean to pick on MyEnchanted_Melody, but it presents us with a problem.
A table is nothing more than a grid, with rows and columns, that make it easier to format our pages. The blue parts of these pages are all tables, set against the white background, and they even have lines to show the gridwork of columns and rows. They're very useful critters.
To use tables, we essentially tell the browser to start a table here, put this inside the table, put this inside the table, then end the table here. MyEnchanted_Melody did all of the first steps, but left off the last one. She never ended the table.
Internet Explorer, the most popular browser, is pretty forgiving. It tries really hard to figure out what you "meant" to do. In this case, the table never ended, so IE kept putting everything else in that same table. All the replies became part of the originating post, as well as the links at the bottom of every page. When the page finished loading, IE said, "Well, she didn't close the table, so I guess I better do it for her." The result is a page where the replies are a little more narrow than usual, a page that loads more slowly because IE is doing more figuring, but a page that is nonetheless usable.
Unfortunately, not all browsers are as forgiving as Internet Explorer. Go to that same page with Netscape and you'll never see the poem. You'll just see the top of the page, down to where MyEnchanted_Melody starts her table, but everything else is just white screen. Even after the page finishes loading, Netscape is STILL waiting for her to close the table. And it won't show anything inside the table until she does.
Earlier today, I asked our esteemed Moderators to take a look at the page. Many of them couldn't tell anything at all was wrong. Several noticed it looked different, but didn't really know why. I have absolutely no doubt MyEnchanted_Melody uses IE and never saw the problem, either. I'm certainly not picking on her. It's a very, very common mistake, one that everyone makes from time to time, one that IE hides from us if we're not darn careful. But it exemplifies the problem of allowing HTML in the forums. Because even though IE is the most popular browser, it's certainly not the only browser.
Twenty-five percent of the people on the Internet will never see the poem, will just get a blank white page. It obviously hurts the poet, but it also makes the forums look bad. Untidy. Unprofessional. Definitely a case of "we can do better."
Unfortunately, there's no easy solution. Tables are the best thing since peanut butter, far too valuable to ignore or completely disable.
In the future, if you run across a post like this one, where you see all the replies jammed into a narrow corridor in IE or a blank page in Netscape, you might mention it to the poet and suggest they fix their tables. That way, the other 25 percent of everyone can enjoy their work, too.