18 October 2005

Jakob Nielsen, Blogs, and My Own Take

Posted under: at 17:17

Jakob Nielsen –the well known usability expert– has written an article about blog usability. While I happen to agree with him on most of his points, I found there are several that I can’t fully agree with.

In his article, he listed ten design mistakes that –in his opinion– happen frequently in blogosphere. The first is No Author Biographies

It’s a simple matter of trust. Anonymous writings have less credence than something that’s signed. And, unless a person’s extraordinarily famous, it’s not enough to simply say that Joe Blogger writes the content. Readers want to know more about Joe. Does he have any credentials or experience in the field he’s commenting on?

Well, in my experience it is not quite like that. In blogosphere, people tend to judge a blog posting from the quality of the writing itself, not from who wrote that and what his/her assumed credibility. It is a bit backward from what happening in ‘the real world’, but here we judge a blog author from his/her writings, not the other way around. As an owner of a personal blog, I wrote a highly diverse set of topics. However, people seem to be more interested in topics that probably will never be considered as my area of expertise. Just take a look on my statistics.

Anonymity also has its place on blogs. The most famous example is the Mini Microsoft. We simply can’t ignore the anonymous writer’s comments about his employer, Microsoft. In fact, it is what makes the blog interesting. Again, his insightful comments about Microsoft is what makes all of his credential, not the other way around.

His second gripe: No Author Photo!

A huge percentage of the human brain is dedicated to remembering and recognizing faces. For many, faces work better than names. I learned this lesson myself in 1987 when I included my photo in a HyperCard stack I authored that was widely disseminated on Mac-oriented BBSs. Over the next two years, countless people came up to me and said, “I liked your stack,” having recognized me from the photo.

I don’t fully disagree with that. But not having photos doesn’t seem to affect a lot of blogs, including mine. My blog has only this picture of Tux in Kill Bill pose. But the fact that it is not my own photo doesn’t stop that it has become trademark of me and my blog. People has been using it to identify me elsewhere. Not that I intended it to be that way though, I simply didn’t have a good photo of myself handy when I created myself a Gravatar account.

I might reconsider though, I’d really like to avoid the embarassing incident where a bad picture of me popping up on other sites :).

His seventh: Irregular Publishing Frequency.

For most weblogs, daily updates are probably best, but weekly or even monthly updates might work as well, depending on your topic. In either case, pick a publication schedule and stick to it.

It makes sense. But I don’t think casual people writing blogs should be forced to regularly post more than he/she is comfortable with, or the quality of his/her writings will suffer. In my opinion this is where RSS comes into play. It avoids visitors to manually poll a blog (or worse, several blogs) for new content. RSS enables visitors to be notified when there is new content. And this also makes it unnecessary for amateur blog author to post once a day to avoid losing repeat visitors.

Of course, we are still very far from widespread use of RSS and other syndication, so that point still applies if you are doing a professional blog, for now.

His eighth: Mixing Topics

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).

A very good point, but also contrary to his seventh point: “Irregular Publishing Frequency”. If you split your blog into several specialized blogs, then it certainly will affect your perceived frequency of posting. In my opinion, a topic is only worth to be splitted into specialized blog only when it takes a significant part of your blog. If not, it’d only be a waste of effort of maintaining two or more rarely updated blogs.

And why don’t just use categorization like he suggested in his sixth point?

Do use categorization, but avoid the common mistake of tagging a posting with almost all of your categories. Be selective. Decide on a few places where a posting most belongs.

With current blog software, visitors will be able to browse postings related to a specific category, and even subscribe to category specific RSS feeds.

His tenth and final point: Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

Having a weblog address ending in blogspot.com, typepad.com, etc. will soon be the equivalent of having an @aol.com email address or a Geocities website: the mark of a naïve beginner who shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Letting somebody else own your name means that they own your destiny on the Internet. They can degrade the service quality as much as they want. They can increase the price as much as they want. They can add atop your content as many pop-ups, blinking banners, or other user-repelling advertising techniques as they want. They can promote your competitor’s offers on your pages. Yes, you can walk, but at the cost of your loyal readers, links you’ve attracted from other sites, and your search engine ranking.

I agree with this. That’s why I’m using my own domain name for my blog and email since the very beginning. I also noticed several top blogs in my Indonesian Top 100 list are abandoned and their owners have moved into their own domain or other services. That can be considered as wasteful, because significant resources has been put into making those blogs popular.

However, I also concede that the availability of free blog services like Blogger and Blogsome is also one of the most important factors that encourages rapid growth of blogosphere we enjoy today. And to say that having weblog address ending in blogspot.com or typepad.com means that “you are naïve beginner who shouldn’t be taken too seriously” is a very bold statement. In fact, a significant part of my blogroll consists of blogs whose addresses end with blogspot.com, and I can’t even consider them not to be taken too seriously.

To Jakob Nielsen, welcome to blogosphere!

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