Last week we pushed a major change to the Campfire transcript browser. The change was made for a variety of reasons – some of which I’ll detail below – but mostly in response to the flaws in our original “wouldn’t it be cool if…” design. We confused enthusiasm with priority.

Here’s what the transcript browser looked like before last week’s change.

I’ll take you through the original idea behind the design and then the reality of experience with a year under our belts.

1. We thought it would be great if you could click a room name to filter the transcripts by room so we built that functionality into the first column. Reality: Most people just use one or two rooms for everything. We kept filtering in the new design, but we de-emphasized it since it’s not that important.

2. We thought it would be really useful to be able to not only filter by room, but also filter by person. Just show me the chats that Jamis Buck was involved with. Reality: Theoretically useful, but rarely used. The overhead to build this list and deal with per-person filtering was not worth the cost – not by a longshot.

3. We thought that listing every single day since you signed up would be a useful way to get at past transcripts. Reality: The most common scenario is wanting to jump back to a recent chat that happened sometime in the past few weeks. Remembering which day something happened from 8 months ago is less likely than just searching for some keywords.

4. We thought a single narrow column to display transcripts, people in those chats, and files uploaded on those days would be enough space. Reality: A single active room could take up 10” of vertical space or more. A tall, narrow column is not the ideal layout for browsing through past chats.

5. We thought the old transcript browser would be fast. Reality: The old transcript browser was embarrassingly slow. The design demanded it pull too much complex data too often. It was fine for your first two weeks of using Campfire, but the slowdown was exponential the more you used it. Not good.

We realized that the transcripts were the most important things on the screen – not the navigation to get to them. Just give me the transcripts!

So we redesigned it keeping “it’s the transcripts, stupid” in mind.

Here’s what we did.

1. We went for a more blog-like format. The day of the chat is like the title of a post – big, bold, linked up. We also made sure the name of the day was as prominent as the date. “Wednesday” is easier to relate to than “The 14th.”

2. Each transcript gets the full width – you can now see four or five or six transcripts in the space that the old layout would use for one.

3. We ran the files in a 4 column grid to save space. We still have some work to do when really long file names wrap, but it was a great first step.

4. We made “Delete transcript” explicit instead of using a small trash can icon. “How do I delete a transcript?” was a popular support request.

5. We moved the room filter to a pulldown on the right side of the screen. It’s useful if you have a lot of rooms, but otherwise it’s out of your way. And if you only have one room you don’t see it at all.

6. We added pagination. We show 14 days of transcripts per screen.

7. And finally, and by far the most important thing we did, we made search nearly 100x faster. Search was another weak spot of Campfire. Really active accounts would have to wait 10+ seconds for a single result. Now it happens in less than a second. We’ll be carrying this technology over into our other products this year as well. We finally have a fast search solution that we’re happy with.

Yes, the new design isn’t as visually pleasing as the old design, but it’s significantly faster, more useful, makes much better use of screen space, and gets the job done better. The more you get used to the new layout the more you appreciate why it looks and works the way it does.