Blog Sidebars, Access to Content, New Media

by | May 13, 2010


This is a blog post about blog posts, but it’s about a lot more than that, too.

Blogs are known as brawny content management systems. Categories create distinct collections of content based on similar subject areas. Category pages can be created dynamically. For instance, just clicking on one of the Topics in the right sidebar of this blog will create a page with a unique url, complete with links to all the content in that category stored in the blog’s database.

But we also have tags, which unite pieces of content through the keywords that apply to those pieces. The tags on this blog seem to have become invisible in my blog re-design, but they will be coming back. Tags collect content into aggregates based on keywords and the concepts they represent. It’s another dimension through which you can look at the material on any blog that uses tagging.

Blogs Also Define Their Own Weaknesses


The problem is, blogs often fail as content accessing systems. One of the things that makes a blog a blog is the “newest-on-top” way of stacking posts. As each new post appears, all the other posts are pushed down, farther and farther into the dark reaches of something called the “Archives.”

If you need something stored in the far reaches of those archives, only Saint Google can help you.

Our Own Content Management

Search boxes aren’t much help either. Most blogs are set up to show a “teaser” as part of the blog post, and only a few at a time. It’s an awkward interface if what you’re looking for is quick access to specific information.

Visiting blogs I’ve noticed some content-rich sites with directories front and center. As a user, it’s pretty user-friendly. Access to relevant content without resorting to the search box.

That’s why I have a new list of topics in my sidebar, courtesy of the Matt Chevy re-design. It’s called Start Here, over on the left.

My idea here is to build a core of resources immediately available to people searching for specific information. Looking at it from the point of view of someone near the beginning of this journey, I tried to think about the decisions self-publishers face when starting out. That seems to be where a lot of the confusion is.

As a self-publisher travels farther, they need other information about planning, about print choices, about specific activities or tasks they may be called on to take care of.

It’s getting to that information that’s behind this Start Here gizmo.

Mini-Aggregates of Useful Data

Obviously, the blog is still under reconstruction, I just misplaced the black and yellow tape, or sections would be taped off. But it can be fun to poke your head through the hole in the fence around the construction site and get a look at the nuts and bolts as the new edifice takes shape.

Most of the Start Here topics are almost empty. One that’s about half finished is Making Print Choices. Check it out.

My idea is to create pages that are almost mini-tutorials on each particular decision area, with links to the best, most educational articles for specifics on different topics.

I’m pretty excited about getting the blog set up so it’s easier and faster for visitors to use. And here’s why:

I think the explosion of interest we’ve seen over the last couple of years for self-publishing is only the beginning.

In fact, I believe we’re moving into a new era of participative media. In this era we’ll see the gradual merging of the interactive elements of Web 2.0 with increasingly digitized, democratized and demographically-identified media.

The expanding sphere that is social media will continue to grow. Blogs are a basic building block in the edifice that is rising around us. There are many places in the blogosphere that are still like the Wild West, where claims can be staked on territory never before touched by man.

We know it’s happening. We know we’re part of it. The better I make this little corner, the easier to use, the more delightful and rewarding to visit, the more people may come to love books in whatever form they take, elegant typography, clear and authentic writing, and I think the world might be a little better for that.

What do you think of my plan?

Takeaway: Staking out a territory online is no longer enough: It’s up to us to make our efforts accessible to the people for whom they are intended.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

6 Comments

  1. Joel Friedlander

    Vincent, that’s great! Good idea, and I like the way you’re dividing the project up, “chunking” your content.

    Just let me know when you’re ready, I’ll be here.

    Reply
  2. Vincent Nguyen

    :-)
    Great minds think alike Joel
    Yes I am putting together a Volume 1 Ebook next month for free.
    The idea is to build up a fan base and readership by giving away free Ebooks. I will then launch the “full” book after my 3rd Ebook is released.
    I will be needing your services in the near future once my funds are saved up Joel.

    Reply
  3. betty ming liu

    It’s so true, Joel — we’ve gotta make blogs easier to navigate. I’m reading a book right now that says it’s helpful to think of blog components in book-y terms because that’s still a major reference point for how people ready anything. To translate that in blog terms, eg: use topics/categories like book chapters (for major subject areas). Tags, meanwhile, are like the index that appears at the end of a book (the place for locating detailed, specific info).

    Btw, the book I got this from is called “Teach Yourself Visually: WordPress” by Janet Majure (Wiley Publishing, 2010). It’s from a (mostly) tech how-to book series that relies on photos and drawings. Very accessible!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the recommendation, Betty, that book looks pretty useful. Funny, although I write about books every day, it never occurred to me to look for a book about blogging or about WordPress (the platform this blog runs on). I stayed totally to online resources, but now I’m going to check out the bookstore, see what I can find!

      Reply
  4. Vincent Nguyen

    It definitely feels like there is a movement or paradigm shift on “self publishing” and I think it is great.
    More power to the authors with lots more options.

    Although I am using Weebly.com for my blog, it has tools that allows me to give my site a more organic feel instead of:

    “The problem is, blogs often fail as content accessing systems. One of the things that makes a blog a blog is the “newest-on-top” way of stacking posts.”
    “Search boxes aren’t much help either.”

    I totally agree Joel, we need to give the visitor a more comfortable feel for the site and decrease the awkwardness of some features.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Vincent. I’m not familiar with Weebly.com but your blog looks lovely, great stories. You should think about gathering them together into a book.

      Reply

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