November 28, 2006
Best and Worst of Blog Design, 2006
Forrester Research has completed a small study into blog design. The Executive Summary reads like this:
Forrester evaluated the customer experience of 16 blogs written by executives of large U.S. companies, corporate product and branding teams, newspaper journalists, and today's most popular professional bloggers. While product/brand teams fared best, not one blog passed our usability tests, and even the best blogs we looked at had major flaws. To encourage new users to become regular readers, blog owners should leverage existing web design best practices that make content and functionality easy to find and consume and follow emerging blog guidelines that help users feel more comfortable participating in online conversations.The only political blog in their study is DailyKos.
The entire study is here, for those who'd like to download it and read it [I don't think I'm infringing on any copyright laws by hosting it, but if so, I'll remove if necessary.] [UPDATE: I've removed the report temporarily due to concern that posting it may violate Forrester's licensing agreements.]
Well, one best practice mentioned is to have a comment policy, so that novice users can know how to comment, how the info is used, etc. That's something I should do, I suppose.
Another of their beefs is that bloggers frequently use blog-specific terminology. I think I do an ok job on that one. The only such terms I use regularly are the "hat-tip", which means basically to give a quick nod to another blogger who drew your attention to something.
Another of their criticisms is that content is only organized chronologically. Well, I have a search function in the sidebar, and a list of tags that let people find content on the topic of their choice. It's true though that the primary organizing feature is date. I think this has more to do with the limitations of blogging software than anything else. If I wanted to organize things in a different fashion, I would have no idea how to do so. Perhaps this is a good critique for corporate blogs, who presumably have programmers or the budgets to hire them, but for little ole Chester, not so much.
This brings me to what is a tangential insight in the study, but was most interesting to me: it notes that only 7% of internet users read a blog more than once a week. Now that is something!
One of the big problems with blogging is the "echo-chamber" phenomenon. It's not only hard to describe, but it's very hard to quantify. Well, let me be precise: it's only a problem if you care about who is reading your work.
I've characterized my own desire to blog as being one of an intense desire to know what is happening in the war and to understand it. But I'd be more than a little dishonest with myself if I didn't admit that part of that is knowing that my musings have an impact on other people. I don't get super worked up about traffic statistics and whatnot, but it is nice to know that someone out there is reading and perhaps gaining some value from my work.
The idea that only 7% of internet users read blogs more than once a week cements in my mind what I think is one of the problems: bloggers (at least the crowd I run in) have a tendency to think that their topics are life and death matters of import to the country. But when you think about it, if only a very small number of people are reading, or caring, then your topic is really of no more influence than that of, say, home-schooling, or baseball-card collecting, or amateur poetry. In other words, you're just another community, an internet tribe, whose passion happens to be national security.
The flip side of the coin is to ask: well, who are those 7% of readers? Maybe they are decisionmakers or key influencers. Maybe even though not that many people read, their impact is greater than their numbers would indicate.
It's a valid argument and goes to show once again how hard it is to quantify the echo chamber.
Take this blog, for example. According to Alexa's web-tracking services, The Adventures of Chester is the 995,365th most read website on the internet. Alexa indicates that this is the ranking for the last 3 months. In the last week, though, this blog has been the 334,702nd most read website. That's quite a shift. Also, about 5 out of every 1 million internet users on the planet have visited here. But what does that mean?
Maybe it helps to look at a few others. Instapundit is number 9,236 over the last three months, and about 200 out of every million users have visited his site. TCSDaily, where I write a column is # 35,672. The Drudge Report is # 404. Google is number 3.
The idea of the long tail is that there are little content niches that may have a small following, but it's a following nonetheless. Even if only a handful of people listen to a certain band or buy a certain book, costs are such that the artist or author can still make a profit from that handful.
But perhaps the blogosphere is differently constructed. I'm quite certain I'm way down on the long end of the long tail when it comes to the internet. Yet occasionally traffic spikes, and something I've written receives credence for a much larger audience. Perhaps the trick is not to track the blogs, which are progenitors of memes, but to track the memes themselves. Some companies, like Technorati, attempt this, but I think they have a long way to go. There's a big difference between noting what people are talking about and tracking the development and mutations of a meme over its lifecycle.
Hugh Hewitt has used the term "mindshare" to describe what it is that content providers are competing for. Perhaps that has some merit, but in order to quantify it, one would have to know the size of the total. I don't think anyone does.
Well, I'll leave you with all of that and get back to regular stuff. Make of this post what you will.
Posted by Chester at November 28, 2006 10:44 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
From the excerpt above:
"To encourage new users to become regular readers, blog owners should leverage existing web design best practices..."
Good writing and original thinking also help, and are why I find myself checking your blog nearly every day.
Information architecture matters, but the blogospere also provides a place for bloggers to hone (or showcase) their writing skills and defend their ideas. Some have gotten noticed for their talent and linked to or invited to post at sites with significantly broader audiences, as you have at TCS and OpinionJournal. That kind of recognition is as telling (and useful, to a point) a measurement as statistics.
I may just be another one of the "tribe" that follows national security issues, but your work is among the best I have found so far.
Posted by: gearhead at November 29, 2006 2:11 AM
You are very kind. Thanks very much!
Posted by: Chester at November 29, 2006 6:06 AM
Great post. You communicated my sentiments exactly, and put a good deal of detail and thought into this post. I blog for the same reasons, and while I don't pay attention to statistics (I can't, I am tiny, with only about 20,000 visits), still, it is interesting to know who is reading. For instance, I read your blog, but I am not important. But ... instead of using site meter to do statistics (which I have installed on my site), I use Google Analytics. This way, I can tell which pages people see, how long they stay, what city they are in, and what network domain they are using. So, it means something to me that even if I only get 150 visits in a day, if 20 of them come from usmc.mil, army.mil, navy.mil, af.mil, osd.mil, pentagon.mil, or centcom.mil network domains, then perhaps, just perhaps, I have made a difference. And it also means something to me that these are repeat visitors. I am willing to bet that if you install Google Analytics, you will find that what is important is that the RIGHT people are reading your blog.
Thanks again, and keep up the great work.
Posted by: Herschel Smith at November 29, 2006 10:45 AM
My comments above were rather stupid. I didn't mean to imply that there is a "right" reader as opposed to a "wrong" reader. All readers who are kind to you and interested in your thoughts are the right kind of people to work for. I merely meant to say that it is too much work to do a good job with blogging unless you believe that in some tiny little way you are going to actually effect something that someone thinks who is in a position to make a difference. But even here ... every citizen makes a difference with the vote. So every reader is the right kind of reader. And I am thankful for all of mine, just as I am sure you are, Josh, for your readers.
Posted by: Herschel Smith at November 29, 2006 2:41 PM
Posted by: jonny at December 1, 2006 9:21 PM
Posted by: jonny at December 1, 2006 9:21 PM