11/07/2005

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. :)

2 Comments to "Blogs and Usability — a Rant"

  1. Phil says:

    I couldn't agree with you more. Since blogging is the new pastime on the internet it seems like everyone is starting their own blog (me included).

    It is so frustrating when you see a blog that is just laid out wrong or you can't find what you are looking for without scrolling through a page of 10 different posts before you get to the one you are looking for.

    I have to say I love the way you have made WordPress work here at your blog. I am a big fan of the category system as well as the category page that lists the post titles on a page listed by category.

    Keep up the great work here as I always check in to see what you are up to next. Consider me a secret admirer that hopes to have a successfull blog myself one day.

    Phil

  2. DianeV says:

    Wow. Now you've made me blush.

    And I'm sure you'll have a great blog. Let me know about it, alright? :)

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