Though the redesign of this site isn’t quite complete (the About and Links subsections need to be overhauled yet, one day) I’m already starting to think about version Six.5. There are a few basic motivations behind this. First is my newfound, gung-ho attitude about CSS; I want to rebuild this site using nothing but XHTML and CSS, as valid as I can get it. More than that, I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging and about designing blogs and blog content.The challenge is to develop a distinctive voice amidst the legions of new weblogs being launched daily. Or, phrased as a question: what are the rules that I use to govern my blog and the posts I make to it? The following is a rough and unordered list (not quite eight).
- Don’t over-write.
There’s no statistical evidence I can offer to back this up, but I’d be willing to bet that the average length of a blog entry in April 2003 is at least 35% longer than in April 2000. Posts should be succinct and easily consumed in between tasks while a reader is surfing at the office.
- You can never be too thin.
Wide columns of text are difficult to read because the eye cannot easily process so many characters in a continuous string. In my opinion, some of the most readable sites feature notoriously thin reading columns, including the old Suck.com. Whether the design of a Web page is fixed or fluid, readers need margins to frame the text.
- You can be too tall.
I’ve really grown to dislike the excessive page length of most blogs, which are invariably a result of displaying too many (often over-written) posts up front on the first page. The home page of a blog should be short and sweet, with older posts readily available via easily accessed archive links. Absenter.org is a somewhat excessive but elegant example.
- Give them something to look at.
The Web handily defeated the late 20th Century notion that no one reads anymore, but pictures still help. If nothing else, an image embedded into a post is a lightning-fast visual cue that the content on a blog has been refreshed. Images on Subtraction.com function more or less as icons for each post, though I do use some in a supporting, figurative fashion. I readily admit that this only barely taps the potential of imagery in blogs. There is no reason that custom photography and illustrations shouldn’t be conscripted to complement the ideas contained within a blog post. That opens up a whole new world.
- Steal from old media.
The medium is young and maturing, breaking all kinds of rules and birthing all kinds of innovations. Still, there’s no reason not to borrow or steal conventions from the old world of published writing. Pull-quotes, subheads, captions, illustrations are all rarely seen but well within bounds.
Some might argue that what I’m outlining here is a set of guidelines for developing magazine content, not blog content, which could be true. I don’t pretend that these rules should be applied to every blog, by any means. In many ways, they run counter to the immediacy of the weblog medium, at least as it’s understood currently. However, there’s nothing here that’s in conflict with the fundamental idea of personal publishing. And that’s really what I’m after, I think a viable platform for publishing the content that interests me. It satisfies the graphic designer in me not only to publish whatever content I like, but to be able to shape content and character of these posts just the way I like it, which is the breakthrough that’s really at the heart of every weblog.