Thursday, January 18, 2007
We Come Recommended
I'll have to do this quickly. I just wanted to say thanks to Thom Hogan for including us in "Recommended Web Sites" in his characteristically excellent new "Recommended Products" grid on his website bythom.com. There, okay, done, no more about that now.
Just kidding. Out of curiosity, do you agree or disagree with his one complaint?
And for the record, his website would make my recommended web sites list, too, if I had one. (I especially love his annual predictions, which we didn't get this year—there's an abbreviated "Nikon Only" version for Nikonophiles, though.)
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON
Thom Elaborates: My complaint is more nuanced than the short version posted on my Recommended Products page. I have no doubt that some will subscribe to the "more is better" notion of content for a Web site that they find central to their interests. But TOP is probably slightly tangential to the majority of the audience stopping by (and this is likely very true of someone who finds my site central), and thus the rapidity with which things fall off (or the fact that the page requires a lot of scrolling sometimes) can be problematic to them. Whether you agree with my complaint or not is most likely going to depend upon how often you visit the site. At present, it doesn't support once-a-week visitors well. And for those of us with large RSS lists, the volume of posts also tends to be too high, I think.
The issue for Mike is a tough one. Growing organisms are generally healthy ones, and contracting ones are usually unhealthy. Right now Mike is trying to keep TOP in the growing category, and that's where my complaint starts to become relevant: the number of folk that will read everything is likely very finite (and those tend to be the first responders, so that group may be near maximum size). The groups that are tangentially interested but don't want to wade through 10 articles a day are larger and more necessary to the long-term health of the site, I think. It's akin to what happens with magazine subscriptions, actually. You have the core who you can count on, and you have a group that you have to constantly attract and replenish. My complaint is applicable mostly to that last group.
One way of dealing with the issue is to "gather" the most recent major articles into a sidebar that always appears. Likewise the "print of the week." Leave off the stuff like the post that provoked this comment ;~) and the other "comments in passing" so that someone who's a casual browser hitting the site doesn't reject it because they see "too much filler." (A lot of stuff in quotes there--I'm not saying there's filler, per se, I'm trying to come with a way of describing the various pieces of material that appears.) By doing that, the less-than-daily site visitor will still see the last dozen or so "serious" articles that they might be interested in without having to wade through every last little post. Likewise, the prints that are still available would continue to be visible.
And Mike and Player are right in their assessment: when I criticism something, I try to make it a constructive criticism. I'm a perfectionist at heart (and not one in reality). You don't see me saying "that sucks" or some similar contentless criticism. I try to be precise in what I think can be improved. Sometimes, as in a one paragraph assessment in my Recommended Products, I also have to be concise. Hopefully this comment helped make my comment more clear.
Mike Responds: This (and the rest of the comments, for which thanks to the commenters) is of course very interesting to me. I really did "back into" becoming a blogger; I had been preparing a website (it never did get launched) that centralized and collated my photography activites, and there was literally one extra button that I didn't know what to do with. Oren Grad had suggested that I try a photo blog. I began TOP simply to have something to link to that last, unused button. I was as surprised as anyone when it took off.
Since talking to David Hobby at Strobist and now hearing from Thom, I've really just begun to toy with the notion of making it into a "real" website—that is, leaving the free Blogger UI behind, hiring a web designer to build a site to my specifications, using multiple pages, and so on.
Thus it becomes a design problem, which Thom alludes to. The questions of "What can the site be? To whom? How will they use it? What will encourage further growth and expand the site's appeal past its current core audience?"—all are really aspects of: what do we want to provide and how would it be arranged for optimal access? That stuff is fun to think about—the design aspect, I mean. I like design, even though I'm not the best designer. I like sketching house plans, for instance. So lately I find myself blocking out home pages, inventing ways to accommodate different kinds of content.
The question the whole "site design" thing begs is, of course, do I really want it to be any different? Could I handle it?
I'm actually already very concerned about posting too much and letting posts go on for too long, and I've been worried about it for some time now. I know people just don't have enough time to read and ponder over every thought that happens to come into my brain. Oddly enough, sometimes it has meant that I don't have enough room on TOP for my own posts. If I've got two or three great things written by other people all going up at once, I don't want to dilute them by posting some rambling little mini-essay of my own. So I end up wanting to write a blog post but not really having a place to do it—like I say, odd problem for a blogger to have, isn't it? Nice problem too, though.
The fact is, I could put up twice as much content if I wanted. There are plenty of interesting things out there. So it seems like I should do something.
I'll keep thinking about it. And I'll let you know.