Friday, May 9, 2003

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I'm curious about people's views on website clutter. I'm thinking specifically about weblogs, the vast majority of which have multiple columns, their sidebars filled with gadgets and logos and links. Often, it seems, people design their weblogs to double as their own homepages, and so they include calendars, weather reports, syndicated newsfeeds--all irrelevant to the vast majority of visitors. Why don't people make a separate page for themselves, filled with all their favorite gadgets, and leave the main page for content?

Even those sites that show restraint still tend to litter their front pages with links to other weblogs. I don't see this as a bad thing--it's part of how we network, and how we find new material to read. Hey, my ego is fed by inbound links as much as the next guy's. But I'm curious--how many people think that peer links need to be on the front page, taking screen real estate away from the primary content?

Part of my problem, I suppose, is I'm so hostile towards advertising in general. The modus operandi of advertising is to lurk near content; when people seek out the content, they're exposed to ads. Sidebar links and logos aren't really part of a site's interface--they're advertising. They're not what visitors seek out, but they're exposed to them anyway.

The beauty of the web is that it's primarily "pull", not "push". Readers seek out what they want, when they want it. But every bit of secondary information you cram on a page is being pushed on users who pulled on something else. Is it necessary? Is it healthy?

Of course, many sites offer XML-based syndication, which means you can make your own interface out of other people's content. I think that's wonderful. But a front page still serves an important role: it's what draws and engages new readers who have no reason (yet) to syndicate your site.

I recently ran across a CSS example site that shows how to make a 3-column layout in CSS. They call this layout "The Holy Grail", which boggles my mind. Does this make sense to everybody but me?

ADDENDUM (17:12 PM): I know advertising is not always bad: when it gives you information you're happy to have, everybody wins. And of all the things to advertise, friend-blogs are possibly the least intrusive and most likely to benefit visitors. Mainly, I'm curious how many people think it's worth the screen real estate to put these on the front page. (At first glance, the answer appears to be "everybody".)


  1. > Hey, I resemble that remark.

  2. As a user of LiveJournal (feel free to shudder), I have to say that it's entirely possible to have frequently-useful sidebar links. LiveJournal uses them for the interface to add new entries (as you once did with MonkeySpeak), to view different subsets of the available users and otherwise play with content. I think that's a fine reason to have them.
    With that said, they don't have links to other weblogs (except internally, and those are pretty specific to you) or other really "advertising" content.

  3. When I'm browsing the web for entertainment, if I find a source that I like I love to easily find other similar sources. But then I happily ran a 'blog ad system on my site culled from some of the xml feeds because I liked the feeling of "oh look, there's one I haven't seen yet!"
    After a while, my users complained (especially about one particularly obnoxious animated GIF that was in the rotation) and I pulled it down.
    But as I try to respond to the complaints about floating column widths, people who don't like text to auto-wrap all the way across the screen, I'm thinking a three column system would be nice.
    Or maybe it's to go more dynamic and set up customization for what people want to read.
    (Dang, I feel incoherent, but I've been sucking solder fumes and diddling with hardware all day, and I'm taking a break before I drag this monstrosity over to shipping.)

  4. > But as I try to respond to the complaints about floating column widths,
    > people who don't like text to auto-wrap all the way across the screen,
    > I'm thinking a three column system would be nice.
    I know newspapers follow this multi-column pattern, as do magazines to a lesser extent. I always assumed that was for efficiency-of-eye-travel reasons, and because of how wide newspaper pages are in relation to the text. If a newspaper ran columns all the way across the page, articles would be short, fat, and hard to read.
    But in a browser, multiple columns of text are annoying to juggle (because of scrolling). So do you think the sidebar form factor is trying to achieve the same "feel" of tall, narrow text columns without having multiple columns of actual text? Weird.