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Making Links Useful aka Where Does That Link Go??


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#1 projectphp

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 10:25 PM

I recently installed phpBB as the Forum for a bunch of my uni mates to use as a place to rabbit on about not much productive. Now, I really like it, but having not really used the Admin section before, I was really, really annoyed by all the "Click Here to go to XYZ" links tat I was presented with, and this got me to thinking about links in general, and how they are utilised on many sites (including, oddly enough, this site!!!)

OK, to backtrack a bit, phpBB uses a format for all its links after an action (like posting), in the format of "Click Here to" followed by the place the link takes you. As an example, after you edit a post here at Cre8asite, you get the following message:
[quote]Your message has been entered successfully.

Click Here to view your message
Click Here to return to the forum
Click Here to see posts from the last 24 hours.
Click Here to see posts since your last visit.
Click Here

The problem with this "Click Here" to click. Now that might be fine after you are a forum regular, but for a first timer, it is very frustrating. Even for a regular it can be annoying, as in this case the meta refresh gives you only a few seconds to read what all the "Here" options are. I must admit, I rarely click on these links after a post, even if I did want to "see posts since (my) last visit".

Now most people don't actually read on the web, they just "skim" and try to get the overall gist. Links, because they are (usually) a different colour to the regular font, naturally draw one's attention. Knowing this, one can safely assume that links are one piece of text that people are more likely to read, so maximising the information you squeeze into links would seem pretty important.

So I thought what we need is a quick guide on how to incorporate links onto a page for maximum benefit.

Here is what I came up with:
1. Assume people wont read your page, so each link will only have the words in the link for context. Make these words meaningful.
2. Put the most important information into links, ie "Sony Erikson 1234 mobile phone Specs"
3. Avoid having multiple links with the same format in quick succession, e.g.
"Click Here to XYZ"
Click Here to ABC"
4. Make links standout. Avoid a link color that is the same or similar to the regular font colour.
5. Link throughout text as relevant, e.g. if you quote someone, link to the quote "As was mentioned by Ammon Johns athe cre8asite forums." Similarly, link to expanded information using relevant words.

IMHO, this is important even when it can be safely assumed someone will read the text, such as an article. A great example of using links productively is Search Engine Watch. The way Danny Sullivane links throughout articles, like this article on the Florida Update is excellent. This article links to a lot of background, usually using link text that, after the first read, makes it easy to go back and read more on a specific issue.

So, having said all that, is there any chance we can get the "Click Here to" links changed?? :)

#2 BillSlawski

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 11:00 PM

Excellent post!

I like posts that also serve to make the forum more usable. :)

Thanks.

It can be an experience setting something like this up, and it's great to get a fresh perspective on it.

We need to make certain that ILoveJackDaniels sees this thread.

So, instead of this:

[quote]Your message has been entered successfully.

Click Here to view your message
Click Here to return to the forum
Click Here to see posts from the last 24 hours.
Click Here to see posts since your last visit.
Click Here

It might be better if we did this:

[quote]Your message has been entered successfully.

view your message
return to the forum
see posts from the last 24 hours.
see posts since your last visit.
see unanswered posts


And rather than listing the links in a row, how about horizontally?


[quote]Your message has been entered successfully.

view your message

I agree with your statements about posts embedded in text. As long as there isn't too much, they can be pretty powerful. It's a matter of presenting the right information at the right time.

#3 wanderer

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 11:47 PM

I'll second that - excellent post! Very good points.

I think that this way:

[quote]Your message has been entered successfully.

view your message
return to the forum
see posts from the last 24 hours.
see posts since your last visit.
[u]see unanswered posts


would work better than putting them horizontally - IMO it's much easier to skim and find the link you want.

#4 BillSlawski

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 11:56 PM

Horizontal vs vertical?

Let me explain why I considered making them horizontal, and maybe I can convince you (though I'm willing to listen to opposing views).

It is more difficult to quickly scan those links when they're horizontal, and where they lead. But, after the first few posts, you have a good idea of what those links say, and if you want to use one, considerably less of a chance of clicking on the wrong one. :)

#5 wanderer

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:00 AM

OK. You convinced me. You're right - much less likely to hit the wrong one. The quick scan issue is only an issue the first few times. After that you pretty much know what the links say.

#6 BillSlawski

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:08 AM

It is odd though that something can be less usable the first few times and more usable afterwards.

And, I guess the opposite is true too. Some things can be more usable the first few times, and less usable later.

But, as I said, it's nice to see usability improvements to the forums.

anyone see anything else that might work well?

#7 projectphp

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:44 AM

Bill, it is REALLY easy to fix. Depending upon what version you have, all you need to do is edit the language file, ({root folder}/language/and change

$lang['Click_return_forum'] = 'Click %sHere%s to return to the forum';
to

$lang['Click_return_forum'] = '%sreturn to the forum%s';
I changed my board in about 15 minutes. Open all language files, search for "%sHere%s", change the text to "%sXYZ%s" and Bob's you uncle and Fanny's your aunt, its all fixed.

If you like, PM me the files, and I will fix them for you.

#8 BillSlawski

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:57 AM

I appreciate the offer. Thanks. :)

But, it's ILoveJackDaniels' role as tech admin and php wizard around these parts to modify the board, and we don't want to take his fun from him.

He is working with Sophie (Sanity) to do a redesign of the look of the forum, and I suspect that it makes sense to incorporate your suggestion into the new design.

#9 Respree

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 01:10 AM

Good post.

Hmmm. I would have said vertical is easier to read.

Perhaps it depends on 'what' you're reading. If the sentences are longer, of course horizontal is the answer.

However, when the list consists of very short words, to me vertical seems easier on the eyes, as most people tend to scan. Whenever I see short bullet point, to me they are the easiest to read quickly (sort why the left nav is almost always vertical)

* view your message
* return to the forum
* last 24 hours
* since last visit
* unanswered posts

To me "see this," "view this," "click here," is redundant. When you click, the implied action is that you will view, see, discover, etc. so no need to waste words and the put undue strain on visitors' already tired eyes.

Food for thought.

#10 Adrian

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 04:30 AM

Great points, and not just from a usability point of view (though it kind of ovrelaps). One of the accessibility guidelines is about making sure links have some meaning when taken out of context.

Some screen readers can produce lists of the links on a page, if the text for the link is just 'click here', it obviously completely useless to them.

Opera can do somehting similar, though its a bit more intelligent and will either use the link text or the title text of the link tag.

Very good practice though, and good for that targetted anchor text idea in SEO too :)

(This is why I love Holistic design, one idea about one change and you end up improving the site in 3 ways ;))

#11 bwelford

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 06:09 AM

This is a great thread and I strongly agree. I also agree with respree's point on the shortest words possible (KISS). However I think Bill's reason for a horizontal layout is very strong (error-free clicking).

So I suggest:

your message / forum / last 24 hours / new posts / unanswered posts

#12 Adrian

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 06:50 AM

You could use a bit of CSS to help make a vertical list more usable.

Clearly it would be quite good to have it marked up as an unordered list to start with. You can also use things like line-height:150%; to create a bit more space between lines without affecting the size of the text.

Its one of my usual settings these days, more for main bodies of content where I think it can help readability, but could be equally as good in this kind of case to seperate them out a bit.

http://www.camaban.c.../spacedlist.htm is an example of what I mean. Its just a standard bulleted list (you can use a bit of styling to remove the bullets if you want) with each <li> set to have a line height of 200%. That seems to provide a nice bit of a gap between the links vertically. Though still a lot easier to click the wrong link than in the horizontal list.

#13 BillSlawski

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 07:13 AM

Good point, Adrian

I've been tinkering with line height in lists, too.

It does enhance readability of them tremendously.

#14 Black_Knight

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 09:37 AM

Great post, and topic, projectphp. :glasses:

My preference too would be to tinker with the line spacings and keep it vertical. The vertical list is far easier to read, and I've never (yet) hit a wrong one. A slightly increased line spacing might therefore be the most practical way to ensure maximum usability then, rather than mess with the legibility.

#15 BillSlawski

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 09:48 AM

I'm wavering between the two.

I think we're all agree that the "here" as a link is unnecessary. Adjusting the line height for them sounds like a good idea.

Just to explore my idea for a horizontal presentation a little, I'll explain why the idea appealed to me.

I'm thinking of the layout of objects on computer games. When you've seen the interface a number of times, you just click in a certain area to get something to happen. You're really no longer reading the label.

After the first few numbers of posts, if someone starts using those links, it might be more a matter of clicking a certain area than reading the whole list. Just like in a computer game.

A horizontal layout would facilitate that.

#16 AppleCider

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Posted 19 February 2004 - 12:29 PM

I don't think horizontal vs. vertical makes a huge difference as far as usability, as long as you're consistent. Users are pretty good at adjusting to various layouts, just as they can adjust to gaming interfaces, car dash controls, etc.

I remember back in the day when Jakob Nielson insisted that all links had to be the default blue, and underlined, because users were "used to that." Guess what? Users quickly adapted to the idea that a link could be different colors, bold or not, underlined or not, graphic or non-graphic, so long as they were clearly differentiated.

I see there's another topic in this forum about getting "too usable." Although usability is definitely important (and I've studied the issues) we can obsess about it, too. Consistency in design is the key. Users get confused when you're all over the place with the design, like a site I know that through CSS makes different links different colors and backgrounds according to the type of link (inside, outside, even informational, fun, etc.) Now that's confusing! :roll:

#17 Respree

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Posted 19 February 2004 - 08:33 PM

This study may be of interest, which suggests that vertical is easier/faster.

See Section 1.2:

http://www.otal.umd....troduction.html
"First, it was discovered that scanning a horizontal list of links is significantly slower than scanning vertically arranged links. "

#18 BillSlawski

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Posted 19 February 2004 - 09:49 PM

Nice study. Good find.

Though I do have to say that after the first few thousand posts, you really don't have to read links after a post anymore. Scannability is immaterial. :)

That could be true after the first twenty or so. I'm no longer clicking on words, I'm clicking on a location.

The experience for the return visitor is different than for the first time viewer.

#19 AppleCider

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Posted 20 February 2004 - 03:23 PM

Though I do have to say that after the first few thousand posts, you really don't have to read links after a post anymore. Scannability is immaterial


Again, going back to consistency. You start moving those links around, you get some angry and confused users sending you nasty email!

#20 BillSlawski

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Posted 21 February 2004 - 08:25 AM

Hi Apple Cider,

Welcome to the forums. :wave:

you get some angry and confused users sending you nasty email!


I've never been a huge fan of consistency. I think that it's over rated. Mixing design elements up over a series of pages might have the benefit of helping people to avoid banner blindness.

Pages should be easy to read, and easy to scan. Links should be as long as they need to be so that they are fairly easy to figure out when it comes to determining out what might be on the other side.

If it results in angry mail and phone calls, that's fine. :lol:

As long as they're writing or calling, that's an excellent start.

Here, we're talking about moving links around in the forum. This started with an excellent post from projectphp about making the forum more accessible, more usable, and more friendly to visitors. Using better anchor text than "click here" also has some nice SEO implications. All around it's an intelligent approach.

The "click here" links were part of the off-the-shelf phpbb software. It has wonderful functionality, but could use a little tidying up, like in the lableing of links.

We are working on a redesign of the forums, and this is definitely one aspect that will be changed.

As for horizontal or vertical, I'm not sure which we will choose, but I'm guessing that the tide of opinion is favoring the vertical stacking of those links (at least here).

I do agree that inconsistency can be confusing. There's another recent thread around here which points to an article from Mark Hurst where he talks about "intelligent inconsistency." I guess if we're going to be inconsistent, we had better be intelligent about it. :D

#21 invader

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Posted 21 February 2004 - 02:24 PM

Another thing i'd like to suggest is the "View posts since your last visit" , the new posts option doesn't seem to work here, and since we're using cookies anyway (i think), there's no harm adding this feature on, which can be actually very very useful.

#22 Black_Knight

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Posted 21 February 2004 - 04:43 PM

We have that feature, but it is literal: Posts since your last visit to cre8asite are highlighted with coloured icons. If your session times out (takes a fairly long time of inactivity), or you close the page, that ends that visit, and the next time you return/refresh, it is posts made since that visit that will be highlighted, not any posts that were highlighted during the prior visit but that you didn't read.

So, if you have to cut short a visit, you generally have to use the 'posts during last 24 hours' list instead.

It might however be possible to provide a function (as an option on the profile) to overide the default behaviour and keep all 'last read' pointers so that they are only reset by either reading, or by clicking the 'reset last read pointers' links. I'll leave that one to ILoveJackDaniels, Grumpus and Mick to think about.

#23 invader

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Posted 21 February 2004 - 06:30 PM

Ammon

That looks a little complicated or not noticeable to new users, i think.
Maybe our tech team could make it more obvious, simpler, easier, more ermm...what do we call it ? Yeah, from the usability point of view ;)

#24 Black_Knight

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Posted 21 February 2004 - 08:21 PM

I think it is simply very literal, in being posts made during the period since your last visit to Cre8asite. The usability aspect is true though, for some reason many people do seem to expect the 'posts since last visit' to actually be 'posts I haven't read yet' instead. Whether that expectation is justified or not, it is still an obvious demand for some of our users.

The profile setting to instead have highlighting of 'posts made since I last visited each thread' option seems the best compromise... But that presents technical difficulties. I mean, can you imagine the number and size of cookies we'd have to set to track details of every thread you have read and what was the last post there when you read them?

Perhaps instead, for the special option, we'd simply add an onClose event to popup a reminder that you're about to end a session, and thus when you return, the posts since last visit will be reset, since the visit you're just finishing (stored by time/date) will be the 'last visit' referred to. Not so much a fix as making the clarification and logic more obvious to people.

#25 kajax101

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 07:22 PM

A bit late in the game here, but I would have to say vertical is best, with a bit extra line space. If you use icons, this can improve things too i think, but vertical text is fine, scaning down (and up) is actually less effort as u don't actually have to move as much as with scrolling horizontally, even for text blocks.

It's actually more suitable to keep each line to
6-8 words, like with this, this is because you don't
have to move your eyes as much, lazy i know! lol.

But going back to the 'click here' issue,. I read that according to Jacob Nielson, a shopping cart isn't the best metaphor for shopping online, as you can actually buy 0 of a product online ( you'd select 'zero' of an item to delete it essentially) but not in real life, however due to pervasive use, it became a 'norm' for internet shoppers.

What about 'click here'? People are so used to it, it makes it clear that it is a link. I personally hate it, but in some cases it might be useful, it seems to prompts people to 'get ready to click a link'.

I personally agree that it should be cut and effective. Although it's not about what we think, more about what is easier for users to use.....so have we left it too long to cut out the 'click here' links???

Also, i sometimes find it anoying in articles where every paragraph has some text linked to other articles, related links in an article can be a beautiful thing but for quite a few cases I'd prefer to have a list of related articles at the end to be honest...so I know that i'd digested this piece of information fully, and can now go on to digest related information.

#26 wanderer

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Posted 23 March 2004 - 08:46 PM

Also, i sometimes find it anoying in articles where every paragraph has some text linked to other articles, related links in an article can be a beautiful thing ...


Ah yes, the inline link beckons, it tempts, it draws you away to ever more links until you forget where you were in the first place and find you've spent minutes, no hours exploring instead of doing what you were supposed to be doing. But still, the path is fascinating until .... oops clicked the close button instead of the back button. Now you have to start all over because somewhere on that path of links was one you were going to backtrack and explore, but now you can't remember what it was. :?

#27 projectphp

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Posted 15 March 2005 - 09:02 AM

* bump * Ok, one year later, and we need to do something on this methinks :)

#28 AbleReach

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Posted 25 March 2005 - 03:11 PM

LOL re bump

OK, I vote for an Internet with...
--consistent navigation. ;-)
--no "click here" cause you still have to read the info to know why you'd want to click it. Rows of nearly exact text (for example "click here") are easier to confuse. Make brief underlines the province of links and the visitor will understand.
--no icons that require "click here" and other labels, please. Text first, icons as an embellishment.

--for here, there's lots of room in the post-post page, and it's redirected to the post anyway, so go with the quicker scan - short, vertical, left-justified, bulleted links with a little wider line spacing.

--in general, I am not a fan of same-page links UNLESS they're what gets you from some index or table of content type links at the top to the exact topic further down the page, AND just about every time you do that you give a "go to top" link. No wandering around from place to place within a page.

And always design for easy newbie access and oldie convenience.
Newbies really need self-explanatory predictability to feel comfortable enough to want to get to know a site.
Oldies will like being able to conveniently get what they already know is there.

That's my stack-o-opinions for the moment, but I sure can't say it in php. ;-)

Elizabeth

#29 shalam

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Posted 01 April 2005 - 06:51 AM

And who have seen this one?
:shock: :shock: :shock:

#30 Tangaroa

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Posted 01 April 2005 - 07:19 AM

Shalam let me welcome you to the forums

I have seen your site...too many times by now. You have put up your site for review in the Design Eye for the Ecommerce Guy section. I suggest you wait for some one to review your site and give you some comments.
There is no use in posting your site in every section of the forums...just be patient and you will be served :wink:

Rgds

T.

#31 Scratch

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Posted 04 April 2005 - 08:34 AM

Hoorah from me too. Implements best practice for hyperlinks.

I think it's possible to make further gains on:
view your message

return to the forum

see posts from the last 24 hours.

see posts since your last visit.

see unanswered posts
Like...
View message

Back to forum

------------------------

Posts from last 24 hours

New posts

Unanswered posts
This delivers several further advantages.

Capital letters are useful visual markers that indicate "the beginning of something", which aids scanning.

Making sure that each item starts with a different (capital) letter aids speedy recognition for familiar users.

Removing the verb is not vital, but helps make items shorter, snappier, and so easier to scan and recognise (because they don't all start with 'see').

"Back to" is that little bit more conventional and quicker to decode than "Return to".

Dividing the links into 2 blocks is logical. The first 2 are dependent on the context (i.e. the forum you're in and the fact that you've just submitted a post). The second block of three is generic.

#32 projectphp

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Posted 04 April 2005 - 08:43 AM

Nice comments!!!

Hopefully, that will all be fixed soon anyway :)

#33 projectphp

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 10:07 PM

OK, I (finally) changed (some) of these :)

Feel free to critique, cause I, for one, don't really like the "Click Here" stuff, but am open to see if others are happy with it :)

Woohoo! Got 'em all!

#34 bwelford

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 04:25 AM

I think it looks good, projectphp. However for me if it could hang around say 2 - 4 seconds more before redirecting I could better choose a different direction than the automatic redirect. Thanks for this good start.

<later edit> Now that time it seemed OK. So what is the current delay?

#35 BillSlawski

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 06:54 AM

It looks good.

It is quick like Barry notes. But definitely an improvement. Thanks.

#36 AbleReach

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 01:58 PM

Not that I'm trying to throw a wrench in the works, buuuttt....

This navigation bar appears on the home page:
Date | New Posts | Your Posts | Your Watched Posts | Last 72 Hours | Unanswered Posts

All but [u]View Message already appear in the navigation bar. After posting you're automatically sent to your message anyway.

Why not just keep the nav bar on all pages? Can the regular header stuff from "Home" be at the top of the after-post page, same look, same place, your message to appear as soon as it loads?

What do your stats say? Do a sizeable number click on the after-post page? Curious - do many like me scroll to the top of the page and click on the Cre8asite logo to go "Home" and use the nav bar?

Elizabeth

#37 bwelford

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 04:16 PM

Excellent suggestion, Elizabeth. One click should most often be all that it takes.

BTW I now notice right clicking when in the Quick Reply box gives you all sorts of fun functions. Was that there before? If not or if so, thanks to whoever did it. :)

#38 projectphp

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 06:18 PM

Why not just keep the nav bar on all pages?

I always wondered that myself! something to look into and consider at the very least!

Do a sizeable number click on the after-post page?

To be honest, I haven't seen stats, but I know those pages after posting are required to stop duplicate posting, and IMO it is good to have a few options at that point, especially as it is a must have page anyway...

#39 AbleReach

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Posted 16 August 2005 - 01:36 AM

those pages after posting are required to stop duplicate posting, and IMO it is good to have a few options at that point, especially as it is a must have page anyway...

Yes. Having a [u]View Message to click would keep people from going for "refresh."

The nav bar could be consistently present, taking care of commonly expected clickables.

The after-posting page would then have a broad-ish space with only one destination, the perfect use of a linked table cell. (semi snarky lol re another old forum issue)

That's it. I've crossed over. I look forward to discussing these little ins and outs, posting about them with a smile on my face.

Elizabeth



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