Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Is My Blog Unusable? (Just About.)

I take Web usability issues to heart. I live at the end of an old phone line on a ridge with no broadband options in my immediate future. I've worked with several people with disabilities, and if I live long enough, I expect that I'll develop a few myself. That's why, when Jakob Nielsen points out a usability issue, I try to follow his recommendations. Imagine my dismay when I discovered my weblog flaunts at least four (and as many as eight) of his Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes. I've been fretting about these for a couple of months, but with limited remediation.

His first two mistakes are the ones giving me the most trouble.

1. No Author Biographies

....It's a simple matter of trust. Anonymous writings have less credence than something that's signed. And, unless a person's extraordinarily famous, it's not enough to simply say that Joe Blogger writes the content. Readers want to know more about Joe. Does he have any credentials or experience in the field he's commenting on? (Even if you don't have formal credentials, readers will trust you more if you're honest about that fact, set forth your informal experience, and explain the reason for your enthusiasm.)

2. No Author Photo

Even weblogs that provide author bios often omit the author photo. A photo is important for two reasons:

  • It offers a more personable impression of the author. You enhance your credibility by the simple fact that you're not trying to hide. Also, users relate more easily to somebody they've seen.
  • It connects the virtual and physical worlds. People who've met you before will recognize your photo, and people who've read your site will recognize you when you meet in person (say, at a conference -- or the company cafeteria if you're an intranet blogger).

It seems very reasonable when he puts it like that. His own "Author Bio" is a professional resume, with a photographic studio portrait. I have a professional resume on my Web page, too. Turning it into text wouldn't be hard. However, I have yet to blog about bioinformatics, or the phylogeny of the Reduviidae. (Something to look forward to, folks!) Explaining my credentials for blogging about knitting, quilting, Appalachian identity or Pocahontas County lore is a project I don't know how to approach. I've taken a run at it already with profiles (and portraits) of my cats Conrad and Princess, but I can't seem to fit myself into narrative form.

I notice that many bloggers respond to this need with creative writing prompts like "100 Things About Me." I confess I'm not usually up for reading more than the first 10 things about them. Fred First, of Fragments from Floyd presents a similar exercise for Where I'm From, more poetic than Jakob Nielsen's format, but not necessarily what the reader needs to know in order to trust me. Being a linear thinker (I know, it's unwomanly. Story of my life. No girls in the computer center, Missy.), I've been working on a list of lists, in the hope that it'll turn into an outline I can flesh out later. Then, it's on to my photo collection, to pick out something from this century that actually looks like me, but which I still like. How many impossible tasks do I have to complete here, Jakob?


Dave said...

I don't agree with either of his points. I'm sorry that so many people are so focused on personality, but they need to get over it. It's my blog, and I refuse to pander to that mentality. As soon as one starts writing to fulfill other people's expectations, I think, the joy goes out of it. And while I will click on links to author bios, I find it very distracting to have an author's picture right at the top of a blog's sidebar, for some reason.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I see Neilsen's point--if I get interested in what someone has to say, I immediately wonder "where they're coming from," how reliable their information is, how they came by their knowledge and opinions. Can I expect this knitting tip will work, or did she just start knitting last week? I usually look at the author bio, and I'm a little disappointed if there's nothing there. I'm with you, however. I don't want the author photo and bio hanging out there on the front page. By the way, I like your porkypine.