Blogging and readability

Oh, goody! A blog post about blogging! I’ll try to make it brief.

This post by Matt Gemmell about designing your blog for its readers is good, and you should go read it if you haven’t already. I do, however, have some nits to pick:

  1. I think he’s confusing current fashion for eternal truth when he says sidebars should be removed. Why is it better to put all your meta-info in a header or footer instead of a sidebar? I agree that info about the blog should be reduced to a minimum—and, like Matt, I’ve been pruning mine over the years—but where it goes is more a matter of taste than reader inconvenience. To me, the advantage of the sidebar is that vertical space is more precious on today’s widescreen displays. Use the vertical space for content and put the peripheral stuff on the periphery—that’s where the adjective comes from. Yes, phone displays are different, but phones know how to focus on a single column, don’t they?
  2. Despite my longstanding complaint that web designers make their body font too small, I think Matt’s decision to increase his body font size is wrong, too. How about just honoring the user’s choice? Yes, most users have no idea they can change the default font size (and Safari 6 made it even harder by removing the Appearance preference pane), but you shouldn’t punish those who do.
  3. He’s overly dogmatic on the matter of line length and line spacing; there are many combinations that are perfectly readable. I do like that he warns against lines that are too short—a lot of sites today have such narrow content columns it’s exhausting to scroll through to the end of the article.
  4. He seems to think that any framing of the content is “cruft.” Again, this is fashion, and while it’s fine to be fashionable, this has nothing to do with readability. A few years from now, Matt will be dissatisfied with the broad expanses of white he has today.
  5. While I’ve had my ups and downs with comments, I still think they’re a net positive for small blogs like mine with a polite and informed readership. I understand why writers with a big audience find comments a pain; why they can’t demonstrate a reciprocal understanding is a mystery to me.

One thing Matt said really hit home:

Consider interaction methods, too: hover doesn’t really work on touch-screens, for example.

The popup-on-hover footnotes I use here seemed really cool when I stole them from Lukas Mathis three years ago, but they’ve worn out their welcome. I still think having footnotes pop up is better than jerking the reader down to the bottom of the post and then back up again, but hover isn’t the way to trigger popups in a world of iPads. That’ll have to change.

Overall, I found Matt’s advice to be sound. I was a little surprised to see his endorsement of Twitter and (especially) Facebook links. These are generally considered douchey among the cool Mac bloggers; I look forward to reading their reactions.


5 Responses to “Blogging and readability”

  1. Alan says:

    Regarding your footnotes, I find they almost work on the iPad: they are shown in place when I tap them. I however don’t know how to dismiss them except by tapping them again, which send me to the bottom of the page, then return using the curly arrow.

  2. Uwe Honekamp says:

    If blogging about blogging isn’t enough meta, how about commenting about comments ;-).

    I fully agree to the opinion that small blogs (and maybe the good Doctor is a bit too humble at this point) can make good use of comments because the amount of misuse is usually negligible compared to the valid feedback.

    The big sites don’t need comments, they get their share on Hacker News anyway …

  3. Lukas Mathis says:

    The popup-on-hover footnotes I use here seemed really cool when I stole them from Lukas Mathis three years ago, but they’ve worn out their welcome. I still think having footnotes pop up is better than jerking the reader down to the bottom of the post and then back up again, but hover isn’t the way to trigger popups in a world of iPads. That’ll have to change.

    The popups should work on iOS. They should appear when the superscripted number is tapped, and should go away when the popup is tapped.

    I’ve just checked, and they seem to work fine on my own site. But there does seem to be an issue with tap-to-remove on this site.

    Another problems is that I currently only account for iOS devices. The popups don’t yet work properly on other touch devices. This is in part because I can’t just test whether a browser supports touch; that would have the side effect of including devices like a Windows 8 laptop with a touch screen, where you (usually) would prefer to show the popups on hover.

    Perhaps I’ll have to change how the popups work for all devices, rather than just touch devices, and get rid of the hover event handler altogether.

  4. Dr. Drang says:

    Lukas,
    I can’t remember exactly what I did or why I did it, but there are some deliberate coding differences between your popup footnote system and mine. As I said in the post, it seemed like a good idea at the time…

    Since I like to put links in my footnotes, a system in which tapping anywhere in the popup closes it isn’t an option for me. I think I’m going to go with a system like the popups I have in the sidebar.

  5. Lukas Mathis says:

    I don’t think having links inside footnotes precludes them from working the way they do on my site. Tapping on a link should both close the popup and open the link. You should also still be able to long-tap on a link to open it in a new window.

    But I’ll probably rewrite the popups so that tapping anywhere outside of the popup closes it. This is how Android’s popups work, and I think it makes intuitive sense.