54

I have noticed a lot of posts on AU with screenshots of their terminal showing commands and their output. This is seems like a very bad idea to me because:

  1. You can't copy/paste the commands
  2. They won't come up when searching
  3. The post is heavier (in terms of the amount of data) and will take longer to load. This can be a serious problem for people with slow connections.
  4. The post is useless to people using text based browsers or who have disabled the displaying of images
  5. The post is useless for people who have sight problems and are maybe accessing the site using text-to-speech software.

While there are sometimes valid reasons for this (discussing colored output, or terminal emulator transparency or whatever), in most cases it is not useful and causes the problems listed above. In addition, it is harder to do. Copy pasting your terminal text and putting it inside a code block is much simpler and faster.

So, is this policy on AU? Has the community decided that it prefers images over text? If so, where's the meta post so I can vote it down? If it's not an 'official' policy, could we please try not to do this and only post images of our terminals if it is absolutely necessary to make our point?

  • 1
    Re. people who have sight problems and are maybe accessing the site using text-to-speech software, won't most of any SE site be "accessibility" unfriendly? – DK Bose Mar 12 '14 at 17:59
  • 4
    @DKBose not necessarily, no. Text-to-speech software should be able to pick up most of it. I am lucky enough to not need it so I don't know the details but why make it harder than necessary? – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 18:03
  • So will text-to-speech pick up whether an answer is accepted? I don't know. I imagine it won't. The complexity of this site implies very heavy reliance on visual cues. – DK Bose Mar 12 '14 at 18:21
  • 2
    @DKBose I honestly have no idea. All I'm saying is that it might be another reason to avoid unnecessary images. – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 18:24
  • 5
    The accepted answer will be on top ;) , And it should read the vote count, plus it should read the "accept" as if I use a "high contrast" user css theme I see this - i.stack.imgur.com/WPitD.png - so it would be read to you. plus you can disable the tables and everything follows top to bottom – Mateo Mar 12 '14 at 20:58
  • 2
    @DKBose I just saw this post by a blind user on meta.SO which is a good example of why we should avoid images: Alt Text on Several Graphics. – terdon May 22 '14 at 1:26
  • Transparent terminals is another good reason to avoid posting screenshots of your terminal. Users don't always realize what information they are leaking that way. Last week I saw a posting with a screenshot of a transparent terminal in front of a list of usernames and passwords. – kasperd Aug 3 '15 at 15:05
  • You can copy and paste it with Project Naptha ;) – Nonny Moose Jun 23 '18 at 17:12
28

So, is this a policy on AU? Has the community decided that it prefers images over text?

Of course not. Everything you've said is true in most cases. I'm certain there are some cases where a screenshot does make an amount of sense (illustrations to demonstrate a command's coloured output for example) but when we're talking about things that a user might want to actually read, stick with text.

I'm fairly sure we'd arrived at that idea a few years ago. I can't find it but even having a site policy does not translate into everybody following aforementioned site policy.

If you see a post like that, flag, comment vote and edit them until they're showing the right thing.

  • OK, thanks. The post that triggered this question was made by a mod which is why I thought that images might be encouraged. – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 17:20
  • 5
    Flag? Why? When users already have the ability to edit/suggest edits to post why should it be flagged. Flagging should be discouraged in such situations, otherwise, get ready to start handling my daily 100 flag limit from this time onwards ;-) – Aditya Mar 12 '14 at 17:28
  • @Aditya agreed, I just transcribed the images to text in the post that triggered my question. I think Oli's main point is that no, this is not preferred. I have the rep to edit so I did so, I guess he meant flag if you don't have the rep. – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 17:32
  • 1
    @Aditya Depends how bad it is. People flag for epic low quality on other types of post, why not when there's a screenshot? – Oli Mar 12 '14 at 17:33
  • 3
    @Oli One should flag Low quality posts if one cannot think of an edit himself; but flagging to indicate that terminal commands/output is only shown as a screenshot seems wrong to me - one can easily fix that himself. – Aditya Mar 12 '14 at 17:38
  • @terdon: The post you edited looks fine to me with images. The commands to run was provided as text within the post. Only the processing and output of the command is shown as images. It's a thing of preference, but was okay as it was - I could live with it. – Aditya Mar 12 '14 at 17:45
  • 1
    I'd agree. The images were used as illustrations, not instructions. That's fine. – Oli Mar 12 '14 at 17:48
  • 2
    @Aditya the commands were there yes, and it is an excellent answer also. However point 3 still stands and points 4 and 5 are still relevant, why not make the output accessible to everybody? Anyway, that was not an egregious example I agree, it just happened to be the one that triggered the question. For a more clear cut case see Why was my suggested edit rejected? – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 17:48
  • @terdon: I take all your points and even agree with it, but it is something which is a matter of preference and something which shouldn't be imposed as policy in case of illustrations. Regarding that suggested edit you linked - you know my answer - the edit was essential in that situation and using images shouldn't be condoned :) – Aditya Mar 12 '14 at 17:53
  • 1
    @Oli as I said to Aditya, many people still have slow internet connections so I would tend to avoid images unless necessary. In any case, I cheerfully admit that that particular post was borderline and I would not take offense (not that I would otherwise) if my edit is rolled back. – terdon Mar 12 '14 at 17:53
  • 2
    @Aditya He has quite a history of posting terminal screenshots, some seem ok like when he explains the command then shows the results, but others... - askubuntu.com/a/410929/47291 , askubuntu.com/a/429102/47291 , askubuntu.com/a/428040/47291 , askubuntu.com/a/413707/47291 , maybe if we themed code blocks - you could choose a terminal or editor theme? – Mateo Mar 12 '14 at 20:49
  • @Mateo: OMG!! He is pretty bad with screenshots... Nux, please don't do that, you are abusing the ability to upload images... – Aditya Mar 13 '14 at 3:33
8

I agree with Oli, that this behaviour isn't policy nor should it be. In fact it should be discouraged for the very reasons you list.

When I come across dialogue text or terminal or file listings posted as an image¹ I usually post this blurb below it:

Could you please post text files, dialogue messages, and program output listings as text, not as images? To achieve the latter two you can either 1) select, copy & paste the dialogue text or terminal content or 2) save the program output to a file and use that. Excessively long listings (the editor will tell you when it's too long) should be uploaded to a pastie service and linked to in the question. Thanks.

Occasionally I come across authors who dispute the merit of text over images (variations of “But it's easier for me to take a photo of the screen with my phone”, “This is my question and you can't tell me what to do!”) which I try to defuse with an argument why it's in their and everybody's interest to use text:

Images of text have multiple drawbacks over actual text: 1) you can’t copy and paste it easily making it harder for readers to look up error messages and provide support, 2) it’s not searchable or indexable by search engines, 3) it’s inaccessible to the visually impaired, 4) it’s inaccessible without a graphical user interface. Aside from special situations where text colour or formatting need to be preserved or when it’s difficult or impossible to copy and paste the source text there is no reason at all to use images of text instead of text. Even in those cases you can often provide both.


¹ except boot screen stuff – that's a bit difficult to capture otherwise.

  • The one issue I see in that blurb is that it seems to represent the "100 lines" thing as established site policy rather than just a suggestion. And I'm not sure putting pastes as short as 100 lines off-site is even a good suggestion. Posts on our site are styled in a way that limits the display height of a code block (after a rather modest height, it gets a vertical scrollbar rather than growing taller), and making any important information accessible only through an off-site link runs the risk of creating what might be called a "link-only question". – Eliah Kagan Feb 1 '17 at 0:47
  • @EliahKagan: Good point. I'll work on that part. What about replacing the last sentence with something like "Excessively long listings (the editor will tell you when it's too long) should be uploaded…"? – David Foerster Feb 1 '17 at 10:18
  • My 2 cents... I don't think that it's very user-friendly for a newbie to come to AU to ask a question, and get told "you're doing it wrong". A few people have made a career out of telling this to new users to the site... and I strongly suspect that we alienate users, more than educate users. – heynnema Feb 2 '17 at 1:33
  • 1
    @heynnema: I don't use it for everything and I can't speak for others but often I will skip questions that require me to transcribe images before I can even look up the error message somewhere because I can't be bothered. That's not helpful either. – David Foerster Feb 2 '17 at 1:37
  • Skipping a question because it has an image is certainly a valid choice. And if enough people skip the question, the OP will never get an answer... and that may be OK too... but telling newbies that "they're doing it wrong" just rubs the wrong way. Think about this if YOU were that new user and got that feedback. – heynnema Feb 2 '17 at 1:46
  • 4
    @heynnema: The suggested text doesn't tell anybody that they did something wrong. It shows the reader how to do something better. – David Foerster Feb 2 '17 at 1:48
  • It's not just your text that I'm referring to. I've seen others give a similar message to new users to the site... different verbiage... same message... "you're doing it wrong... here's how to do it the right way". That's my 2 cents worth. – heynnema Feb 2 '17 at 1:51
  • 5
    @heynnema I'm not sure I understand your position. Are you saying that when we see a new user doing something wrong, we should not try to help them learn the rules of the site and how to ask in such a way as to maximize their chances of getting an answer, but should instead ignore them for fear of hurting their feelings? I know that when I was a new user, I was very grateful to the experienced users who took the time to help me out and explain the rules. – terdon Feb 2 '17 at 8:27
  • @heynnema may I suggest you write your own answer, so we can vote on it? – guntbert Feb 2 '17 at 11:00
  • @terdon no, I don't think we should ignore new users "doing something wrong". And maybe that's part of my point. How do new users know they're "doing something wrong" if they haven't been educated first? I checked the Help menu, and I don't see a topic like "How to properly edit your question". If there was such a top level topic, then experienced users could standardize how to tell users to do it right by pointing at that link. Hello new user. Welcome to AU. Please review 'How to best edit your question to maximize the answers that you get' by viewing this help page at http://.... – heynnema Feb 2 '17 at 14:42
  • 1
    @heynnema I and others leave this sort of comment precisely because it isn't documented. There is no way a new user could know that we'd rather they don't post images of text, so leaving them a comment explaining this seems like the decent thing to do. This is the link that explains this and this is what we use to help out new users. So it looks like we're already doing what you suggest. Maybe you should open a new discussion on this because I honestly don't get your point. – terdon Feb 2 '17 at 14:46
  • @terdon what did you think about my standardized comment example? – heynnema Feb 2 '17 at 14:53
  • 1
    @heynnema: If you want to suggest the addition of documentation to help section you should open a new question here on Meta. – David Foerster Feb 2 '17 at 15:28
  • @heynnema just to get the picture: do you have an example of an unfriendly instruction or request to edit? I believe we are gentle in general, if not always. Definitely the way David suggests is. Often people also respond quite well on it. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 2 '17 at 16:57
  • @heynnema I find it very similar to my own comment which you seem to find is too aggressive. Seriously, please open a new meta discussion for this. That way you have the chance to explain your point clearly and we don't spam poor David with the comments here. – terdon Feb 2 '17 at 17:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .