I’m approaching my fourth anniversary of using github. I should hardly have to state that it’s a wonderful service, and especially so for being kept freely available to the open source community. At the same time, I’ve noticed over the past year or so that in many ways I feel less efficient using it now than I used to, even though the github team continues to roll out new features that make me shout “hooray!”
I doubt that these difficulties are unique to me, or even related to the fact that I’ve got a new baby (so I have the cognitive sharpness of a cotton ball). So here’s what I’m seeing; I hope that these observations are helpful to the github folks in understanding how their service is used.
Firstly, a spot of cognitive organizing: I really like the newish “issues across all of my projects” dashboard, but when I’m thinking about “stuff that’s mine”, I tend to navigate to github.com/bos, and that dashboard isn’t there. Instead, I kick myself and navigate to plain old github.com. You could reasonably respond “okay, fine, just remember that, and you’re done”. And yet somehow this knowledge refuses to stick in my head.
What I find more confusing is the visual clutter at the top of a project page. There are now seven short-but-wide horizontal rows of stuff (both information and links) at the top of a project’s main page. Here’s an annotated screenshot that I hope illustrates what I’m talking about.
I frequently find myself looking for the commits page, which is in the middle of row number 6. At least for me, there seems to be no escaping the need to scan across every row in turn until I reach row 6, where I find the word “commits”. That is, I usually find it; I can easily miss it among all the similar entries if I’m not paying close attention. I find it difficult to visually distinguish the rows at a glance, so there’s no skipping past clusters of stuff that aren’t relevant.
These aren’t killer problems by any stretch, but I do all too often find myself staring at github web pages for 30 seconds at a time, wondering “am I looking at the right page? Did I miss the row of stuff I’m looking for?” I imagine there might be a way to organize these things better, though I’m no visual designer, and I’m afraid I don’t have any crisp suggestions for what might work.