E-Scribe : a programmer’s blog

About Me

PBX I'm Paul Bissex. I build web applications using open source software, especially Django. Started my career doing graphic design for newspapers and magazines in the '90s. Then wrote tech commentary and reviews for Wired, Salon, Chicago Tribune, and others you never heard of. Then I built operations software at a photography school. Then I helped big media serve 40 million pages a day. Then I worked on a translation services API doing millions of dollars of business. Now I'm building the core platform of a global startup accelerator. Feel free to email me.


I co-wrote "Python Web Development with Django". It was the first book to cover the long-awaited Django 1.0. Published by Addison-Wesley and still in print!


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Blog Usability Showdown: Me vs. Jakob Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen, who you of course know as "the usability Pope" and "the next best thing to a true time machine," recently published an essay titled "Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes".

I'm going to run down his ten-point list and weigh his "Alertbox" pages against my blog according to each of his criteria. Now, you might say that this isn't fair since Alertbox is a newsletter, not a blog, and that he's been doing it since 1995, long before "blogging" was even a word. I say it's a "web-based publication consisting primarily of periodic articles" in reverse-chronological order and it's time to face the music!

1. No Author Biographies

2. No Author Photo

My short bio and thumbnail photo are visible in the left-hand column on all pages. Nielsen's bio and photo are available, but they are not readily apparent to the visitor who teleports in via a link from Google or a blog, as I did. Point to me, then. I should take off an additional point for the lack of parallelism between the plural "biographies" and the singular "photo," but I want to start this out in a civil and sportsmanlike manner. So then: Bissex 2, Nielsen 0.

3. Nondescript Posting Titles

I like concise titles, perhaps to a fault. Point to Nielsen. Bissex 2, Nielsen 1.

4. Links Don't Say Where They Go

Nielsen is piqued by the "here, here and here" style of linking. He doesn't seem to grasp that not all links are of equal importance. The "here, here and here" links, and others similarly condensed, are often parentheticals; footnotes of a sort, but not the meat of the story. Sometimes they're actually jokes. Don't ask people to explain jokes! It's like Nielsen has never read -- let alone appreciated -- a day's worth of BoingBoing postings. My links always say where they go, in the browser's status bar. If I feel the need for more context than the link's domain name and path provide, of course I make sure that the surrounding text conveys it. Nielsen should be targeting bad practitioners of this link style, not the style itself. For scoring purposes, though, his links aren't any better or worse than mine. We'll call this one a draw. Bissex 2.5, Nielsen 1.5.

5. Classic Hits are Buried

Nielsen wants blog authors to identify and highlight postings of interest. While I believe my blog navigation gives the visitor many interesting alternative paths into the content, Nielsen does have a simple "Read these first" directive. Grudgingly, I concede the point. Bissex 2.5, Nielsen 2.5.

6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation

No calendar here. I never saw the point: "I'd really like to see what Bob had to say on June 12th!" Really? Moving on, in this part of the essay Nielsen says a lot of sensible stuff about categories. I started to feel beaten, then I realized that his site doesn't even have categories; mine does. Point goes to me. Bissex 3.5, Nielsen 2.5

7. Irregular Publishing Frequency

Nielsen writes a long article every week or two with good consistency. I publish shorter items, more often, but sometimes skip a few days. Point to Nielsen. Bissex 3.5, Nielsen 3.5.

8. Mixing Topics

I agree that, all other things being equal, sites with narrower topical focus are more enjoyable for readers and more successful for authors. But Nielsen has a huge blind spot here, perhaps attributable to his low-tech ways: blogs have categories and tags and taxonomies, and users can filter based on those criteria. Every tag on my blog has its own index page and its own RSS feed. All my posts about OSCON have been automatically published to the Planet Oscon aggregator; all my posts about Django have been automatically included in the Django Community page. I'm still not going to blog about my cat, but I can range a little bit knowing that I've given users a way to automatically pick and choose. Nielsen gets half a point for having a narrower niche; I get half a point for having a clue. Bissex 4, Nielsen 4.

9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss

Nothing to hide there. Unless maybe I'm applying for a job at the Nielsen Norman Group. Draw. Bissex 4.5, Nielsen 4.5

10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

I agree: owning your domain name is just good sense. Draw. Bissex 5, Nielsen 5.

It's a tie, then. Well done. Given that I didn't prepare, didn't change my blog to meet the criteria, and only jiggered the scoring a little bit after I lost the first time through, I think that's a pretty good showing. Hopefully there will be a rematch. In the meantime, you can learn more about the estimable Jakob Nielsen and his generally quite good ideas here, here, and here.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005
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1 comment

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Comment from Todd , 6 days later

Isn't it amazing how awful his website is? I mean, he has articles on there that are about web design. I can't even read them because his web design is so bad. For a usability expert, how can he ignore this issue? - Todd

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