Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blogs and usability

I came across this on Joy Moll's Wandering of a Student Librarian where she comments on Jakob Nielsen's "Weblog Usability The Top Ten Design Mistakes." Mr. Nielsen argues that usability becomes important when you are trying to reach new readers; however, it is not as important for blogs that are more of a diary/personal log/family document item. I had an issue with the first suggestion of having an about page and identifying the author by name and a photograph. In principle, this seems like a good and professional idea, but after seeing some of the debate on the web about whether to be named or not on a blog, I cannot say with confidence that this is for everyone. A lot of readers simply have to read Ivan Tribble's column to know that identifying yourself on a blog is more than a mere usability issue. Mr. Nielsen says that it is a matter of trust and that anonymous blogs get less credence. This I think is a "maybe" issue. Maybe I trust them, maybe I don't. It would depend on what they write about and how they write it. Readers may want to know more, but it does not mean that the author has to give it to them. In my personal experience, I have made the choice to identify myself on my blog and to give enough information so people know what it is I do and what credentials I have. However, this is my professional blog, the blog I use for librarianship related issues; I see it as part of my work and professional development. It is also personal in the sense it is not affiliated in any way to my place of work. In my second blog, the personal one, I have also chosen to identify myself, but that has more to do with my philosophy that I am willing to stand by what I write. These are choices I made, and there is the point: blogging is about choices. I can see various cases where anonimity in blogging may be desirable, so I don't think just because a blog is anonymous it makes it a lesser blog. On the contrary, many fine blogs are anonymous. Other thoughts on Mr. Nielsen's article:

  • On photos: I am not one of those who likes to have their photo taken. Not to mention I am not photogenic. No, I am not a troll. I think at this point, I would rather be judged by what I write and do than by what I look like. If a reader needs to have my photo to feel they can trust me, maybe they need to be reading a different blog. Does this mean I won't ever put a photo of myself up? No, but I would not hold my breath if I were you. I think this is a privacy choice.
  • Titles for posts: That is one I struggle with. I do try to make my titles as useful and informative as possible. In that area, I think I do pretty well.
  • On links: I have to agree with Nielsen there. There is nothing that I find more rude or irritating than the person who puts "here" and "here" for links. Tell me what the link is or at least give a hint in the text of what I will see. If not, I am one to just skip since I don't like just taking a chance on some unlabeled link. As for linking to other people, I don't always do the top level. I will always link to where I got something. In other words, like in this post, I have a link to Joy's post. I don't always put the extra top level link. I often figure if people want to see the rest, they are smart enough to find the main page link on a blog to get to the top. Again, this may be something I need to rethink or try to be consistent about.
  • Irregular publishing: I happen to think that a blog should be updated with some regularity. I don't expect daily personally, but at least once or twice a week. For the curious, Gypsy Librarian is on a 3 posts a week schedule; Itinerant Librarian is on one post a week. That is the busy semester schedule. If I find something extra to post, that is a bonus. Again, however, that is my choice to make. At any rate, P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula points out in his own critique of Nielsen: "That's what RSS is for, to pick up articles as they are published." Pharyngula's response is well worth a look.
  • Mixing topics: Hey, I am not a specialist when it comes to blogging. Nielsen suggests that narrow focusing will make for more influence. I guess in that case, I am not influencing very much since I do some mixing. Readers can see my interests in the "about" section and on the little note on top of my blogs. I can guarantee this blog is mostly for librarian-related items. My other blog? Pretty much anything is fair game, which is what I made it for. Besides, fame and glory are not what I was looking for. I leave that to the big folks of wider readership.
  • The one about writing to a future boss. I agree with the part of making a good impression, but I think it is a matter of personal pride. If a potential employer in the future sees this, I hope they get a positive impression of what I do and who I am. I hope employers are not as petty as Ivan Tribble (see above). Then again, if I come across an Ivan Tribble clone, I know I don't want to be working for them. I have opinions, thoughts, and ideas, and I am happy to express them. If some potential employer can't handle it, I am sure someone else will welcome me.
  • Domain name? Not on my budget, but maybe someday. As for categories, not on Blogger. Again, when I really feel a need, it will be the time to move on.
The article is well worth reading; it has a couple of good ideas. However, it does come across as awfully prescriptive. Nielsen also links to other articles on general website usability which are of interest as well.

Joy in her post mentions the need to write full names. As you can see, I don't do that after the first reference to someone in a post. I am not too convinced over doing that. I assume using the full name the first time is ok, and then using first name or last name is fine? Ego feeds are something I don't particularly give a hoot about, and I guess that those who do it get their "jollies" from seeing their names on big blogs anyhow, so if I am not consistent on it I don't think it is a biggie. The one thing I always do is write out the name of someone's blog. So, on opening, I put full name and the blog name. You have to give credit when it is due. One thing may be for blogs where there is no author name or part of a name. Does that matter to the ego feeding people? I just put my first name on mine because I want people to know me that way, but my full name is no secret. Just go to my library's website (it's on the links) and get the staff list. I think overall the idea of the guidelines is to provide some consistency, but I am not sure how much you can actually prescribe on a medium as blogging. And who is to say the blogosphere cannot be like high school? If anything, some areas of the blogosphere are very much like a high school clique. Not librarians. These folks are usually a pretty welcoming and open bunch. But I have observed that they do use first names quite a bit on their posts. I mean, you know who Jessamyn (Charity West, of, Joy (Moll, of Wanderings of a Student Librarian), and Meredith (Farkas, of Information Wants to be Free) are if you are a regular navigator in the biblioblogosphere (these three individuals are just examples; there are many others I could have named). The biblioblogosphere knows who they are by now, so you see other bloggers linking often by just making their name the link. Does it mean it is like high school? I don't think so. Those folks are excellent writers for one. I have to agree with Joy that there is "casual, breezy aspect of the librarian's corner of the blogosphere." I know I like that.

On a final thought, Sharon Howard of Early Modern Notes, has a response as well to the Nielsen piece. I found her through Pharyngula's blog. She has a very nice statement, which I find expresses what I think well, I would like to quote to end my piece:

"Good bloggers do what feels right for them rather than following Commandments laid down by authority figures. They develop a distinctive style and voice. They write about what interests them. (They don’t expect every reader to find every post equally riveting.) And they have fun."


walt said...

Excellent commentary; says what I might have said a whole lot better than I would have said it. (So I won't.)

Joy said...

>I assume using the full name the
>first time is ok, and then using
>first name or last name is fine?

I think that's what I'm going to do. That seems like a good way to clue people in who might not be that familiar with the biblioblogosphere, and yet still keep it sounding friendly.


Mark said...

Good job. I may not bother to post on Nielsen now. Or if I do, I'll be able to keep it much shorter and just point to your post here.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Thank you Walt, Joy, and Mark for stopping by. It always brightens my day a little more when people stop by. Mark, it seems a few others will pick up on Nielsen's post. The Redhaired Librarian ( is the latest I have found. I am kind of wondering if some of the responses over time will be people who agree or people who, like me, thought it was ok but too prescriptive. Best.

michelle said...

So true about about bloggers doing what's right for them and having fun. If every post isn't relevant to you, skip it! Blogs are meant to be a personal yet public means of communication, not the Wall Street Journal, for heaven's sake. If we bloggers transmit a little relevant information along the way and enjoy the excerise of writing, then we've done a good thing.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Thank you for stopping by. I have to agree. It would not be fun for me if I had to see my blog as the WSJ, fine publication as that is. I am sure some bloggers would see their exercise as a duty or service, like those who keep blogs for service awareness, but I suppose they are also doing what works for them, what they want. I think that is what I find interesting in the blogs I have in my feed reader and the ones I have yet to discover: the diversity of ideas and people. Each person brings a bit of themselves to the medium.