The structure of blogs

I recently read a few interesting articles about the way blogs are structured, all via Weblog Tools Collection. The articles made me think a bit about the conventional layout of a blog. Is it always best to have posts displayed in reverse chronological order?

The suggestion made by some is that it is a bit pointless just to have a list of all the recent posts when you might have hundreds of good posts that are buried in the archives forever.

For instance, Chris Pearson says that most visitors come from feed readers like Newsgator and Bloglines — sites that already show your most recent posts. So when they land on your blog they basically see exactly the same thing again. What is the point in that?

I think there are a few holes in this theory though. Firstly, I’m not sure that most of this blog’s readers are coming from feed readers. Also, even when they are coming from feed readers, there is no guarantee that they were reading your blog’s feed. It could well have been a link on another blog’s feed.

Even if they were reading your blog’s feed, the most likely reason why they would have decided to visit your blog would be because they want to comment on one of your recent posts.

That’s leaving aside the fact that people will just expect to see your most recent posts when they visit your blog simply because that’s how almost all blogs work. One of the major factors that distinguishes blogs from other types of website is the fact that the most recent posts usually appear first. That is simply how blogs work. If the content was presented in any other way it would probably cease to be a blog. But let us leave petty definitional squabbles to the side, because that’s not the point.

So, what are the other ways of presenting your blog? Technosailor offers visitors three different blog “views”. One — ‘The Current’ — is the standard style that we’re all used to, with the latest posts appearing at the top. But the other two are much more interesting.

One of the new views — ‘The Conversation’ — raises a post to the top of the front page when somebody comments on it. This is a bit like a message board, albeit one where only one person has the ability to start a thread. I have to admit that I really like this idea. Too often I feel like new comments on old posts go unnoticed. I even tend not to reply to comments on old posts because I think that nobody will read them. ‘The Conversation’ view would change this.

The only problem is that sometimes the more comments a post gets, the lower the quality of comments becomes. Take, for instance, two of the three most-commented on posts on this blog: Who needs shopping channels? and The death of Robin Cook.

Technosailor’s third view is ‘The Best’ which, rather predicatbly, is a list of posts which the author considers to be his best. I used to have a list of what I considered to be my best posts. The problem was that it took a lot of effort to maintain. Often I would have to read posts from several months ago that I couldn’t even remember writing. Then, whenever I took a look at my so-called ‘best of’ list I thought that all of the posts were rubbish and didn’t necessarily warrant the extra attention.

An alternative method of creating a ‘best of’ would be to have a Reddit / Digg style system where readers would vote for the best posts. But how many people would go out of their way to rate blog posts like that? It is one thing to do it on a social site like Digg, but it’s quite another to rate blog posts in this manner.

You could also opt for some kind of automated system. I use a plugin, Popularity Contest, that assigns popularity values to posts based on things like number of page views, comments and so on. But a computer can never judge the quality of a post like a human can. This method can also fall victim to Google. This post is the third ‘most popular’ on this blog — not because my post about Russell Brand was brilliant, but because a commenter happened to mention a certain mucky video.

I know most of this sort of advice is aimed at ‘pro bloggers’ and so on. But as you might have guessed with all this beard-stroking, I am considering implementing some of these ideas. I think the main question is, “Who do I want to reward the most? Regular readers who will be looking for my most recent posts? Or new visitors who will want to see the best posts?”

The solution I am currently edging towards is to keep the reverse chronological structure — mostly because that is what almost everybody will expect, and doing anything else is just being obscure for the sake of it in my opinion. There is already a list of recent comments (at the top of the front page), and I do have a ‘best of‘ page. But I could still ramp up the sidebar content, hopefully bringing more attention to new comments and old favourites.

Not too long ago I ditched the idea of the sidebar altogether because I thought it created too much clutter in the form of blogrolls and the like. But I’ve already put a linklog back in there. And perhaps carefully selecting what goes in the sidebar could encourage visitors to get the most out of a blog.

So, do any of you have any thoughts? What are you looking for when you visit this blog? Should I put more content in the sidebar. If so, what should it be?

Update: While we’re at it, does anybody have any other thoughts on the design? Is less more? My brother is currently interrogating me about the fact that all the content is on the left (presumably as opposed to the centre). I’m thinking of designing it for monitors that are at least 1024 pixels wide, because few visitors have monitors smaller than that now. What do you think?

4 comments

  1. A “recent comments” thing avoids new comments being lost, and a “best of” category can maintain a list of good stuff (which you wouldn’t necessarily want on the front page, especially as news stuff goes out of date quickly).

    Bear in mind that just because a visitor’s screen res is 1024×768 doesn’t mean they have their browser maximised.

  2. I rarely maximize my webpages to full screen, so I woudn’t get the full 1024×768 effect and layout (at it’s best). I still use 800 x 600 for my design, but who knows if that’s best.

    I think interaction between your weblog and readers is good. But I wouldn’t have that as your weblog’s selling point since you usually can’t include that in an RSS feed, so it wouldn’t make sense for your subscribers.

  3. If I may be bold for a moment (and believe me, I’m not really in the position to do so!), I hate sites that are not centered. Primarily, ITV’s F1 site! I cannot stand sitting square-on to my laptop and then have to look towards the left to read the content – but as your content tends to be very good, I make the exception ;). I also lean towards the ‘less is better’ idea, but after a couple of months of adding new stuff to my site, I have to take an axe to it usually muttering “What was I thinking?” as I do. I like the expandable header thing you have – it is a neat way of hiding stuff until you actually want it.
    And (finally) to answer your question: I come here for good well-written content that often interests me and occasionally educates me. Plain and simple. 🙂

  4. Jeremy: Well, there is an RSS feed for comments

    Oliver: Thank you very much for those comments! I was thinking of ditching the expandable header, but I’ll probably keep it now. 😀 I do like it.

    Just to let you know, I’m probably going to have a stab at a redesign tonight (if I get the time), so I’ll take everybody’s comments on board. But here is my thinking at the moment (bearing in mind that I haven’t even started it yet, and it will almost certainly change): a more minimalist feel, but with more content (in the sidebar and so on — I added two things last night already). And I’ll have it centered again aswell. 😉