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Top 10 Blog Usability Mistakes?

Okay, I should really just let this one go, but I haven't posted in a couple of days. Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox is about "weblog usability," and in the grand tradition of his Top 10 Mistakes feature, he's offered us the top ten design mistakes from weblogs. They are...

  1. No Author Biographies
  2. No Author Photo
  3. Nondescript Posting Titles
  4. Links Don't Say Where They Go
  5. Classic Hits are Buried
  6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation
  7. Irregular Publishing Frequency
  8. Mixing Topics
  9. Forgetting that You Write for Your Future Boss
  10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

Oh, the temptation. Let me start by saying that this list tells me little beyond the fact that Nielsen is incredibly out of touch. The only bit of fairness I'm willing to offer here is that he does exempt "just private diaries intended only for a handful of family members and close friends." Still, though.

Here's the quick rundown of my objections:
1 & 2. See voluminous discussions re pseudonymous blogging
3. This assumes a scan-dump model of reading that simply isn't widely applicable to the blogosphere, even if it is sometimes a useful piece of advice.
4. Ditto. Weblogs are not encyclopedia articles.
5. I actually agree with this one, although I don't practice it myself and don't find it to be a usability issue.
6. Almost every single weblog EVER that I've read doesn't actually rely solely on calendar navigation.
7. This is downright stupid. The point of RSS is that you can read updates without being "able to anticipate when and how often updates will occur."
8. Mixing topics? Umm, read weblogs much?
9. Tribblicious.
10. This is also pretty ridiculous. Design a la Geocities is not the same thing as owning a Typepad or Blogger account.

The chief objection that I have with almost every one of these "mistakes" is that they misunderstand weblogs almost completely. Nielsen begins his article by suggesting that weblogs are simply a subset of websites and are thus subject to the same sorts of usability principles that Nielsen is famous for applying to the web in general.

The model for trust in the blogosphere, though, is not the same as it is for corporate sites, and there are places where Nielsen clearly confuses the two. And as a result, the cynicism of some of this advice is jarring. The notion that publishing frequency, for example, is simply a usability issue (and one to be solved by "picking a publication schedule"?) is almost laughable. The absence of any attention to context or nuance, or indeed the discussions in the blogosphere about many of these same issues, makes this column embarrassingly bad.


Yeah, also #8, Mixing Topics, shows Nielsen's ignorance of category-specific RSS feeds.

What's interesting to me about that one is that, in a lot of contexts, it's the very willingness to mix topics (personal & professional, e.g.) that earns credibility and trust.

"8. Mixing topics? Umm, read weblogs much?"

Heh heh.

I think all blog posts should be titled like academic journal articles:

"And the Owl Ran Away with the Spoon: Narrative, Images, and the Funny Thing My Cat Did"

"Re/Visioning My Keys: Where the Hell Are They?"

"Of Mice and Mez: Multi-Media Writing, Invent-L, and My Response to a Listserv Post from Yesterday"

For Nielsen, the web is a giant brochure. He just doesn't understand that it can have non-commercial uses. Here's my favorite quote from Designing Web Usability:

Usability rules the Web. Simply stated, if the customer can’t find a product, then he or she will not buy it. [. . .] While I acknowledge that there is a need for art, fun, and a general good time on the Web, I believe that the main goal of most web projects should be to make it easy for customers to perform useful tasks. (9, 11)

That pretty much sums up why his work is often irrelevant.