With several heavily loaded questions here on meta and the StackExchange meta, -

MathOverflow updated site theme is ready for testing!

Responsive Design Themes - What can sites customize and how can they get changes implemented?

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Left nav, responsive design, & themes

Rollout of new network site themes

and several others - I became totally confused. Despite seemingly more-than-exhaustive information provided, I could not find any definite answer to the question

Which of the design changes are unavoidable and why?

If there is somewhere a list of such changes, could somebody please give me a link?

Let me add one more thing. There is a frightening tendency of turning metas upside down. Literally all of the linked questions and many others to be found on both metas are not questions at all. They are actually answers to questions nobody asked. And they are followed, instead of answers, by several angry questions.

It is understandable but somehow unpleasantly symptomatic.

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    $\begingroup$ Symptomatic of what? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson This is probably stylistically incorrect, but the very fact that it is a symptom of something is unpleasant for me. Concerning your question - well, it is a symptom of turning things upside down I guess... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ You're thinking about it wrong. You're talking as though SE tweaked a bunch of things and you want them to tweak them back. But that's not what happened. What happened is that SE threw out all the old code running the website and replaced it with something brand new. It's impossible to tweak a thing here or there back to the way it was. However, SE is providing customization options within the new theme (headers, backgrounds, tag colors etc). I would like to see a complete list of what options are available. And if something is not available, we can ask them to re-implement it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @TimCampion Thank you! You see amount of my confusion - I could not figure that out even. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ Still, I don't understand all of this well enough to be sure I can find a correct reformulation. In any case, there are changes that are technically inevitable, changes that can be reverted and changes that can be reverted but are preferred to be kept the way they are now, right? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ Probably the better way to think of it is that nothing can be reverted, but there are some further changes that can be made. Some of the further changes available to us could simulate or approximate elements of the old way the site was (or conversely they could make it even more different). And some options not currently available to us could be implemented if we ask and it seems reasonable to the folks at SE. But it seems if we want something not currently implemented we'll have to "make our case", they're not going to implement it casually. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ OK but do you know what are the restrictions to that? And which of them are of technical nature (just impossible to do), which are of stylistic nature (uniformity) and which because of the things like accessibility or responsive design - possible but will create inconveniences for some users? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ From the pushback we're getting to this suggestion my impression is the thing they're most wary of is the incremental added complexity to their codebase which comes with each change, plus the cost of devoting resources to these things when they've got lots of more substantive projects they really want to work on. But I'm sure the relative importance of different considerations would vary from suggestion to suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ I see... well, this is, I think, one possible answer, if tentative. It will be probably very easy to provide a substantial explanation of why do we need this or that feature. But I guess it would be more difficult to reach consensus of the whole MO community for that. Is it known whether they require that? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure, and still learning things too. From this message from Catija, it sounds like the process is more "we discuss things to give them an idea of what we want, then their design team will come up with something using that as a guide". From Catija's latest comments here, it sounds like they really want a certain degree of uniformity to the sites, so our options are going to be kind of limited. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 2:02

1 Answer 1


No design changes are mandatory, no matter what the SE people say. If we write some Javascript code ourselves, we can make arbitrary customizations to the UI.

The MO foundation has an agreement with Stack Exchange that allows us to inject arbitrary javascript in the page, as long as "it does not compromise the technical integrity of the network".

Stack Exchange acknowledges that moderators may wish to make reasonable adjustments to the operation of MathOvertlow 2.0 by means of extra clientside JavaScript. Thus, moderators shall be permitted to submit additional JavaScript to Stack Exchange which, if it does not compromise the technical integrity of the network, will be inserted into the footer, allowing some reasonable modification of the site that is specific to MathOverflow 2.0. MathOverflow and you acknowledge and agree that the Stack Exchange 2.0 HTML is changing all the time, and accordingly, such JavaScript will need to be actively maintained by the moderators or it may stop working. It is understood that this script maintenance will he the sole responsibility of MathOverflow (including moderators) and not of Stack Exchange.

So if we don't like the new theme and Stack Exchange does not wish to invest any resources to make it better (as it is now, if I understand correctly), then we can roll out basically any arbitrary change for MO.

  • $\begingroup$ Well that's precisely what I (and, I am sure, many others) wanted to hear, and I very much want to accept this one. But do you know for sure your conclusion is technically correct? I mean, do we have rigorous definitions for things like "reasonable adjustments" or "compromise the technical integrity"? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @მამუკაჯიბლაძე I am not a lawyer, so I cannot offer any guarantee, but I'd take "not compromise the technical integrity" to mean "don't break stuff in the network". And I find it difficult to argue that restoring a color scheme to the way it has been for years is an unreasonable change. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I don't think tweaking web design is a reasonable adjustment. We put this clause in for substantive features, such as the trial of the citation tool, which was later adopted and fully supported by SE. Injecting javascript which modified the layout of the page, or the behaviour of user interface elements, seems like a massive maintenance task, and I don't foresee MO being able to do this. Would we hire a programmer? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottMorrison I think you are overestimating the difficulty of this task. Denis Nardin has basically already posted a complete CSS solution that sets the color scheme the way we wanted, and adding a CSS via Javascript is not complicated. Make it open source so that people can adjust it in case bugs or other needs arise (for instance, mobile, browser compatibility issues...), and I think we're good. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottMorrison If I may, I will just ask whether it would be more suitable to post the proposal with the solution using adding the code on MathOverflow's side (and asking Stack Exchange to include it based on the agreement cited here) would be better as a separate question. (I am suggesting this simply because this would make both the proposal and the discussion about this more visible than here. And it is probably easier to discuss technical details and potential problems in answer rather than in comments. ... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ ... Although I can see that waiting a bit first before posting a separate question about this might also be reasonable option - at this time of the year, not many users will joint the discussion on meta. Not to mention that number of questions related to the new design is already relatively large.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottMorrison By the way, I just noticed that Tobias Diez basically already wrote the Javascript code needed for this. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ This agreement was designed to apply to things like MathJax an the citation tool, not the CSS of the site. With unified theming, we can make quick changes to the layout for new features, etc, that may have the side effect of breaking the scripting frequently. In addition - and more importantly - there are security concerns around hosting custom CSS on another domain that make doing so far outside the scope of this agreement. We'll work with y'all early next year to address the usability concerns but this agreement isn't applicable here. $\endgroup$
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Catija Have you seen Tobias Diez's userscript, which I linked above? It does not require any external files apart from the Javascript source code, so your concern about externally hosted files does not apply. Also, I think the agreement addresses explicitly maintaining the code (and does not contain any restriction that excludes CSS tweaks). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ I think we're far from wanting to invoke that part of the agreement at this point. It's clear that SE does want to help here, and that the suggested changes (bring the color schemes back closer to the old design, perhaps introduce a faint background) seem within scope of what SE is happy to customise. Let's focus now on getting a clearly specified request for theming changes, and hope that SE can implement it soon in the new year. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ That said, if SE wasn't willing to make reasonable theming changes (we're in an alternate universe hypothetical here, just to be clear), then I think the agreement pretty clearly encompasses us asking for a JavaScript footer that implements some CSS changes. There are no security implications because it wouldn't be 3rd party hosted -- SE would host it, just as they did for our former custom JavaScript footer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottMorrison Let's focus now on getting a clearly specified request for theming changes Any updates on this issue from the moderators' side? In the past month several users have suggested design changes here on Meta; and these suggestions have received a number of upvotes. Are you still waiting for user input? What sort of input specifically? Have moderators taken a decision and formulated a request for theming changes to be submitted to the SE team? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 23:11

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