October 18, 2005
Jakob Neilsen may not be today's hip and trendy Web 2.0 fixture, but he's still dispensing solid advice. Check out his Top Ten Blog Design Mistakes:
- No Author Biographies
- No Author Photo
- Nondescript Posting Titles
- Links Don't Say Where They Go
- Classic Hits are Buried
- The Calendar is the Only Navigation
- Irregular Publishing Frequency
- Mixing Topics
- Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
- Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service
It's a great set of guidelines that I completely agree with. However, it is missing one humongous mistake: disabling comments. You don't have a blog until you allow public, two way communication between the author and the reader. And when I say communication, I mean it: the author has to actually read and even (gasp!) respond to the comments. Otherwise you're just publishing content, like every other newspaper since the printing press was invented. Meh.
Unfortunately, I'm guilty of a few of these mistakes, notably #2 and #5. And technically this post violates #3 as well, but I coudn't resist:
If you publish on many different topics, you're less likely to attract a loyal audience of high-value users. Busy people might visit a blog to read an entry about a topic that interests them. They're unlikely to return, however, if their target topic appears only sporadically among a massive range of postings on other topics. The only people who read everything are those with too much time on their hands (a low-value demographic).
I certainly regretted not having my picture on my blog when I went to PDC 2005 and belatedly realized it was virtually impossible for me to meet any other bloggers. I only recognized people who were already famous (eg, Don Box) or had pictures on their blogs (eg, Sara Ford). I know, duh.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I have a picture of Jeff sniffing a flower from the past. I just may have to link to that from a comment. It was hilarious! Should I go as far to say that Jeff is a man-hunk and I want his man-babies? :P
All joking aside...I don't think a photo of the author is necessary. It's like those Wrox books with folks' mugs slapped on the front. I could care less...and most of the time it deters me from buying the book.
re: disabling comments
after the positive feedback to my previous comment I am encouraged to point out more related writing :)
Quite a coincidence in timing..
Er, wow. This is what I mean by blogs being about two-way communication!
Jon Udell's post is in reference to this post ..
.. which states with far more eloquence than I ever could exactly why comments are so essential to blogging.
The sad truth is that people will pay more attention to you if you are good looking. If you are blessed with a decent appearance, then put your picture on your blog. If not, leave your picture in your parents' photo album.
This is one of my favourate blogs.
Clean, simple design and interseting topics.
It's like those Wrox books with folks' mugs slapped on the front
I agree. I'm saying put the picture inside the book somewhere. But definitely not on the front.
Don't most traditional hardcover books have a bio of the author and his/her picture on the back cover?
In addition to allowing comments, one thing that I think also needs to be stated is your blog template should indicate how many comments have been posted so far. For example, this "blog" annoys the heck out of me...
EDS' Next Big Thing Blog :
I find it amazing that a big name IT company is so clueless about how to implement a blog. I want to know at a glance when people have been commenting on a post. Of course I work with EDS contractors and I'm not too impressed with the way they implement a lot of things.
I've got to agree with Peter - this is one of my favourite blogs by far. Interesting topics, well written posts, links to lots of other good sites, and a crisp clean design. I read it every day.
Speaking of usability, could you please modify your comments link so that it opens in a normal window, rather than a popup with no menu and no way to resize the window? Every time I click a link from your comments page, I have a hard time getting back here (lots of right-clicking), and long comments are really hard to read in this tiny box.
A lot of "big-name" bloggers don't allow comments, because of the volume. One who does is Eschaton (http://atrios.blogspot.com), and he regularly gets 500 comments on a post! And, he regularly makes a dozen posts a day. Yow.
(oops, continued) I actually think many of these "mistakes" can be debated, just like lots of things Jakob writes. The one true sin is the calendar-based navigation. I can't imagine why anyone ever thought this was good.
On my blog, I tried to make sure at the bottom of every page there were links to take you to other places on the site. On the chronological pages, the links continue on back (or forward) in time. On the single-posting pages, the link goes back to the main blog page.
I'm astonished that Blogger (for example) still offers no options for more interesting navigation. At least they don't provide an actual calendar.
I think #2 (no author photo) is extremely suspect. Who cares what you look like? What somebody looks like doesn't change the validity of what they're saying. For all I know Jeff Atwood really DOES look like the "coding horror" face.
I wish I didn't find Nielsen so annoyingly preachy. Here's a thought: you can do _whatever you want_ on your blog. No Bio? Maybe I DO want to know who this person is who's writing interesting stuff. (Who the hell is Jakob Nielsen? Perhaps I should read his bio.) And what does "mixing topics" actually mean? I am bound (contractually?) to blog about one theme only? Screw that. Grrr.
So let's see how Mr. World's Ugliest Web Site does it ... oops, Jakob Nielsen, Scourge of Blog Mistakes, apparently HAS NO BLOG. Well, THAT certainly gives him a lot of credibility, innit?
I actually dislike seeing a photo of the author. It usually looks either too posed or too casual and almost always feels like someone is trying to sell me something in that creepy "Peter Norton" way. I usually block the image in Firefox because I don't want some weird person staring at me while I read. As a side note I also never read author bio's. I've known too many people that had tons of experience or came from an Ivy league college that were complete idiots and vice versa so a bio to me is wasted bandwidth.
I do see the marketing/networking benefit for those on the conference circuit but I feel the picture should be hidden some place on the site or borrow a page from Scobble and post some images up on flickr.com of something interesting besides "dude staring at camera". People look more natural and usually present much better in a "relaxed" setting.
It's the content and writing style that draw me to a blog, hence why I'm here :)
No way I'm adding a photo to my blog. No one visits it now, but with a photo they'd never come back!
You mean the picture on your blog isn't you? That would explain why I couldn't find you at PDC.
For all I know Jeff Atwood really DOES look like the "coding horror" face.
You mean the picture on your blog isn't you?
Who cares what you look like? What somebody looks like doesn't change the validity of what they're saying.
Like comments, part of having a community is potentially meeting people. And an author photo helps for later meeting people face-to-face.
I do agree that the photo doesn't necessarily need to be on the front page.
A lot of "big-name" bloggers don't allow comments, because of the volume.
That eschaton site is amazing. 200+ comments per post? What the heck!? I've NEVER seen that kind of comment size on any technical blog. Must be a politico thing. Tempers run hot and all that.
However, I agree that If you're writing a New York Times op-ed piece, it's probably not practical to allow comments. That's what discussion boards are for. But the popularity tax only applies to a tiny minority of people; if Robert Scoble can allow comments, so can a lot of other bloggers!
And what does "mixing topics" actually mean? I am bound (contractually?) to blog about one theme only?
Here's a real example.. as much as I like Sara Ford's blog, she has co-opted it over the last month to blog extensively about her hurricane Katrina rebuilding experiences. This is clearly an important topic, and it's her blog, so she can do whatever she wants.
But it's kind of disconcerting for the reader, since up until that point it was a blog about Visual Studio stuff.
I think Jakob's general advice to have multiple blogs for different topic themes is the right way to go.
That's one of the benefits to having a memorable domain name. No one knows who the hell Scott Koon is, but when I put "lazycoder.com" on my nametag, everyone knows and loves me. ..errrr... Ok, well they recognize the domain. ("Hey, don't you leave stupid comments with grammer errors on my blog all the time?"). Not having a picture saves a lot of the, "You're taller than I thought you'd be" comments.
Jeff, I don't know if you'll get this comment, since it's now 2009. But I stumbled across this post in Google search. The issue of not having comments is getting larger, rather than smaller. Because comments are essentially interactivity.
As newspapers and other high volume sites attempt to engage the reader I see many have put up forums, or comments, but with very tight restrictions. To the extent they limit collaboration, debate and two sided conversation, they will fail.
Journalism itself is a dying industry, at least partly because they do not allow interactivity. Think about the foundational importance of that statement. Likewise, I believe education is in foundational trouble partly because while a teacher preaching was never a good idea, passively regurgitating by rote is now beyond boring for kids accustomed to interacting on computers. And that is the way it should be!
I agree with Joseph that an author photo isn't important. In fact for some people it may be detrimental to the success of their blog, as you'll get a lot of kids mocking their physical appearance rather than the content of their posts. Let's face it, most technical blogs are probably written by guys that look like this:
But seriously, I have a question to pose for you Jeff. What would you define as the parameters for a "successful" blog? A lot of comments? Google PageRank? Might be a good topic for "blogging about blogging".