me on Nielsen on blog usability

22 October 2005, 3:10 pm

Is it just me, or has Jakob Nielsen’s alertbox column on weblog usability garnered an unprecedented quantity of mainstream discussion/comment? Seems like a lot of people who aren’t usability wonks are talking about it.

You might note that I was shamed into added an author photo (of sorts) to this site, but I disagree strongly on some points:

3. Nondescript Posting Titles

Nielsen states, “Users must be able to grasp the gist of an article by reading its headline,” and praises some remarkably dry and colorless examples. I agree that having searchable keywords in the title has value, but I would also argue that a title which evokes curiosity can be at least as compelling as one which summarizes salient facts. A one-size-fits-all rule is not appropriate — the nature of an effective title is dependent on the nature of the site: news, comment, entertainment?

The Comics Curmudgeon probably wouldn’t benefit from headlines like “Motion Lines Around LuAnn’s Hands Inappropriate to Narrative Tone.”

8. Mixing Topics

Nielsen says, “If you have the urge to speak out on, say, both American foreign policy and the business strategy of Internet telephony, establish two blogs.”

As a counter example, consider the popular and often-praised Boing Boing. It’s a site that (for me) is greater than the sum of its parts — the multiple viewpoints and topics of discussion keep me reading despite a fraction of content that doesn’t interest (or even actively annoys) me.

There’s also a reputation effect. If a writer discusses a given topic cogently and incisively, I’m likely to award that writer credence on other topics as well. And if I like a writer enough (Susan Orlean, say), I’ll read things I would never otherwise read (a profile of a fashion designer, for example).

3 comments on “me on Nielsen on blog usability”

  1. 2fs

    I already commented a bit on this topic over at Flasshe Point - but I definitely agree with the points you make here. Your Comics Curmudgeon site example is a good one: since the point of the site is humor, having dull, boring, simply descriptive captions would be howlingly off-point (unless, of course, that were the joke). Having the captions as, essentially, another joke (to be gotten by reading the entry) is a much more content-appropriate strategy. Similarly with the reputation idea: I know I’ve read things whose topic wouldn’t normally interest me but whose writer does - and every once in a while, I discover I’m interested in a topic. If all I did was read what I already knew I liked (for “read” substitute any other relevant verb), I’d be stuck experiencing the same stuff all the time. Which may, indeed, be what one wants if one is looking for very specific information in a very specific context with a very particular time limit. I think Nielsen is right about quasi-professional blogs - but completely off with personal or entertainment-oriented blogs.

  2. Flasshe

    Yes, the Comics Curmedgeon example is hilarious. It does point out a bit of the looniness of Nielsen’s ideas.

  3. summervillain

    Part of what I’m getting at is that I don’t think whether a blog is “pro” or not (whatever that means) is a very useful yardstick. Ideally, I think any site with an intended audience of more than one should take usability into account.

    (I’m still grappling with the consequences of originally intending the audience for this site to be exactly one.)

    I have enough hubris to disagree with Nielsen from time to time, but I’m not calling his ideas loony by any means. In this case, I think he’s just being overbroad. It took a while, but I think there’s now a consensus that a usable e-commerce site should look and behave somewhat differently than a usable public information site, even though the same underlying principles apply. I think blogs are similar: too numerous and too diverse, in objectives and in content, for one-size-fits-all solutions. The challenge will be in figuring out where the old rules hold true and where new ones are required.

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