Blogs and Usability — a Rant
I've just spent time at a blog that was, like many, entirely frustrating. This is just a matter of usability — lack thereof.
This has a lot to do with visuals; I don't mean nice header images; after all, many blogs fall into the more personal than commercial sphere. I mean:
Try to explain to a newbie what a blog is. Have fun. ;) But the truth is that you shouldn't have to do it. Go to the home page of the New York Times — loads of content and, while you might get a bit lost in there, still it's clear what it is and what the hierarchical layout of the site might be. Yes, the fact that it's an online version of a newspaper helps, but it also helps that they've loaded the site with visual clues.
The point is that a blog is a website, and should be as unconfusing and self-explanatory as we hope all websites are. On the blog in question, I ended up going in circles until I found something of a sitemap … with links organized and labeled by date only. What's up with that? What is the blog author trying to communicate? Might there a hint somewhere that I should read, say, the stellar post that was April 2003 as opposed to a post of any other date? Yet, while such labels are only slightly better than having no labels at all, this setup is still far better than a blog having only <earlier> <later> links at the end of every page. Earlier? How much earlier? Where am I now? How big is the blog? Are there, like, topical indexes? How can I tell?
My other favorite is the blog for which the layout of every page is identical: the title and post content begin every page. No quick way, without close inspection, to tell whether you're on the home page, a permalink page, a category. The corollary is category pages on which are posted all posts for that category in their entirety. Not a bad idea if there are three; a horrid idea if there are dozens.
Nope, a blog is a website. That means, at a minimum:
- Visual Organization: some system of visual organization and clues that allow people to get an idea of what's available and where
- Indexes: category and month pages that are indexes (yes, like mini- Tables of Contents)
- Author Information/Contact: some small indication of who's writing the blog and how to contact him/her
- Overall: a site map
- Color Scheme: some kind of visual logic that tells you at a glance what text is the title, content, etc. — whether by size, color, both, whatever. No fair making the titles the same size as the text … but slightly lighter. We're supposed to scan for those?
My opinion, anyway. :)
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