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Community Central
Staff blogs

Portable Infoboxes now offer more

community customization options
FishTank | March 7, 2019 | User blog:FishTank
For a while now, we've wanted to fix many of the outstanding issues with
one of our widely-used but under-developed products: Portable Infoboxes.
With the help of the Vanguard volunteers, many of our communities over
the years have adopted these adaptable templates to put their best faces
forward on all platforms. This has been especially apparent with the rise of
mobile devices, where we've made recent changes to improve the look and
feel of infoboxes for a clean user experience.
As useful as these infoboxes have been for mobile presentation, there was
a lot of room for improvement to help communities show off their data and
content in the way that they wanted to. So, in addition to fixes and a new
look on mobile web and the Fandom app, we’ve added in useful
customization options and more innovative ways to add depth to the
information without losing the simplicity that makes Portable Infoboxes
easier to code for all users.

It took us too long to get to that point. Portable Infoboxes were introduced
years ago, we didn’t develop them further for a long time, and that led to
some difficult community conversations where we could have done better
in meeting the needs of individual wikis. Part of that was a philosophical
debate we were having internally: if we're going to separate content (what
users see) from presentation (how you create the infobox), how much
customization should there be versus standardization? Do customization
options mean that an infobox isn't simple anymore? But, after a year of
changes within Fandom, we finally knew that it was time to add these
options in so Portable Infoboxes would be more powerful in meeting the
needs of individual communities.


First we wanted to address the obvious: infoboxes are primarily about
information. Each element of an infobox is meant to provide a data item
(whether that's text or images) or navigation (usually links). Communities
have all kinds of data, and they style or format individual items in unique
ways. Fandom Staff and the Vanguard volunteers that work closely with us
in reaching out to communities kept running into some of the same
problems that didn't happen with simple wikitext. Mostly these involved
layout and style that was easily made in wikitext tables but hard for
regulated elements like those used in Portable Infoboxes. This resulted in
very complex CSS code that was hard to understand and which limited a
community's ability to change or adapt; many hacks involved very ugly
code workarounds.

We've addressed this by adding methods to access and style nearly any
individual part of an infobox by JavaScript and CSS. We've also added a
new way to identify infoboxes not by how they should look with themes, but
by what they are logically describing. For example, an infobox for a
Pokémon monster should display with a specific layout in mind, regardless
of whether it is a Fire or Water type (themes which should re-color the
infobox but not change the layout). Previously, themes were the only way
to do this. We believe that this will allow for more powerful and flexible
CSS, and doing more with less code.

Next, we saw a lot of creative ways that infoboxes were being used in
unanticipated forms. Some communities would add multiple infoboxes to
individual articles, and would stack them up, nest them inside each other,
or switch between them with sophisticated custom solutions that did not
work well on mobile devices. Ultimately, many of these clever displays do
not function well on all devices. So again, we took notes about what
communities were building and built native functions into Portable
Infoboxes based on community feedback. The new "panels" feature will
allow for more layers of infobox elements that can be dynamically switched-
between. By default, these sections of a panel work much like our popular
"tabbers", responsively working on mobile and desktop devices.

We have added the new features to our documentation, and they are ready
for use on your communities today. We do not intend for this to be the end
of the journey for Portable Infoboxes, and have more exciting things in
mind. How can Portable Infoboxes better meet your community's needs?
Tell us at Special:Contact, and we'll see if it's something we can
incorporate into future updates. This also isn't the last time you'll hear from
us in the near-term about long-awaited development updates, so keep
following the staff blog for what's to come.

Isaac FischerFANDOM Staff

Isaac rose from the ranks of FANDOM contributors to join the Community
Technical team in late 2015. Isaac is a television and book fanatic, a sucker
for the great outdoors, and a lifelong learner. He's been coding since
before attending school but didn't discover FANDOM until 2010. Even now,
he's hard-pressed to identify his favorite fandoms.
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