CRAN website a little bit too old fashioned


#1

I taught an undergraduate investment class with R last year, and the students really liked it. Unlike Python, R is 1-based indexing, which makes students without any CS background more comfortable.

To my experience, 0-based indexing and for loops will drive out 90% my students from my class. I never teach for loops, and keep all tasks within data.frames and the Tidyverse ecosystem. Also, the installation of packages is much easier in R. I personally think that all social science departments should teach some R to students.

However, I did find one thing that deserves some attention. When students look at the RStudio website, they find that all these kinds of things like Shiny, Rmarkdown, Tidyverse, look very colorful and modern. When they go to CRAN to download R, the website looks like something that belongs to 1980s.

This strong contrast is noticeable. From a marketing perspective, first impression is very important. When a student goes to CRAN first, he or she might think, gee, I am not gonna use this old stuff. If he or she goes to RStudio first, there might a be a different result.

I am totally OK with the concise website design of CRAN. However, nowadays students are used to more colorful things. I was wondering if it is possible to make the CRAN website look a little bit more colorful and modern. Actually, I do not think there are any other websites of programming language that look so old fashioned. If you look at the website of ada programming language, it is also very new.


#2

I wholeheartedly agree and think that some work on the CRAN website would also improve usability a lot. I'm not sure that folks here are able to do much about it, but I'd love to know if there are any discussions elsewhere about sprucing up the CRAN site.


#3

Is this something you perceive from students, or is it something they actually raise? My experience has been the opposite: whenever I tell students to download R and RStudio, about 10 times as many have difficulty with the RStudio website than R.

FWIW I much prefer the CRAN design over typical websites' -- indeed RStudio's website is one of the better-designed websites. CRAN is faster, easier to read, and easier to navigate. Fashion is hard to follow; and fashionable designs will age terribly.


#4

As a friendly counter-point, the problem with modernizing design is that you constantly have to modernize it. CTAN was modernized at some point in the not terribly distant past and it already looks incredibly dated.

And I'm generally all for user-friendliness, but R users are code-writers. They'll need to be resourceful, they'll need to dig through opaque documentation pages and circuitous Stack Overflow threads now and again to find the answers they seek, and at one point or another, they can either choose to be put off by the look and feel of these interactions, or they can learn to look past the surface level to get to the content they need. Probably better for them to learn this from the get-go and accept it as part of the experience.

I guess that, when it comes to updating the look and feel of CRAN, I'm not convinced the juice is worth the squeeze.


#5

I'd be fine with the Web 1.0 look of CRAN if they would just lose the frames! But everybody might not grab links to CRAN sub-pages as often as I do :slight_smile: The main R-Project site has actually modernized a bit, and looks somewhat friendlier, if very simple: https://www.r-project.org

More seriously, though, another consideration is that CRAN gets mirrored all over the world, and the size of the packages themselves already makes that a non-trivial task. The old-school look does have the benefit of being incredibly lightweight.

I also think that the information hierarchy on some of the sub-pages (especially the ones new users hit most, such as the download page) could stand to be revised and made clearer. But I think that could be done independent of any changes to style.

Anyway, we can discuss this as much as we like, but any serious proposal for changes would need to go to the CRAN team and the R Foundation. (Since this may not be known to all readers: "CRAN is maintained by the efforts of volunteers (the “CRAN team”) and the resources of the R Foundation and the employers of those volunteers (WU Wien, TU Dortmund, U Oxford, AT&T Research)" — from the CRAN Repository Policy).


#6

Nice example! And especially so considering the whole point of LaTeX is to produce neat, attractive documents. (Technically they're not web documents but still...)

I actually think the LaTeX project's website is quite nice though: https://www.latex-project.org/ . But this highlights another issue concerning its marketing. For me, R and LaTeX face a similar marketing problem: the components like R, RStudio, and R packages are spread out over multiple websites and groups so they lack 'branding' and a 'one-stop-shop'. This approach has big advantages, but it makes it hard for individuals to get started, let alone governments or businesses.