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Does your blog pass the Jakob Nielsen test?


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#1 cre8pc

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Posted 17 October 2005 - 03:49 PM

It's sorta hilarious how much attention today's Alertbox piece from Jakob Nielsen, called Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes is getting.

My usability RSS feeds are overwhelmed with other bloggers' responses and a wild rush to comment or at least fix theirs before somebody else see's the list and notices what they forgot.

I was satisfied that I met nearly all the criteria with mine. The point he makes about blog titles is interesting, because it's true that some make no sense or don't accurately describe what the post is about. The downer is that sometimes a blog title just wants to be a plain title and doesn't want to contain keywords or be clever. There's a bit of pressure here to conform.

Link titles are another. Sometimes "here" is the right anchor text, but I know I try to avoid them because the "scent of information" in link labels is just better usability.

My photo is in mine, many times. heh

There's info about me, in case anyone cares. But more importantly, they may feel comfortable hiring me, so therefore, I prefer to not be a complete mystery.

I disagree with his "pick a publishing schedule". I write when I'm inspired to do so and when I feel I have something useful to say. I can do that because my blog has moved away from simply reporting the news, which it used to do 3 years ago. Now that there's 3000 blogs all reporting the same SEO or usability news, I've moved into the "journal" aspect of blogging. With feed readers, I also see less of a need for a schedule. The feeds are great alerts so you don't need miss anything.

His aversion to mixing topics is debatable. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I've learned that when I mix in something from my life, it personalizes the blog and let's my readers know I'm human. They seem to enjoy that :) . In turn, I love to read more about the blog authors I'm a fan of. They are allowed to go off-topic and many have great stories to tell that have nothing to do with their industry or blog theme.

Anyway, judge the list and your blogs. Checklists are a nice way to guage how you're doing and are good reminders for those things you forgot or never knew to try.

#2 Ron Carnell

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Posted 17 October 2005 - 04:44 PM

There's a bit of pressure here to conform.

Exactly!

Bloggers would do well to remember, however, that all of the pressure is self-induced. This isn't high school and Jakob Nielsen isn't the most popular kid in class, though his propensity to shove everyone into his own mold of right and wrong might often make it seem that way.

I suppose it could be worse.

Imagine, for example, that Nielsen had spent his college years studying art (his site makes it clear he didn't) and ended up trying to tell Picasso and Andy Warhol how horribly unusable their paintings were? He might have single-handedly crushed the life out of cubism. Or, if he wrote a column on music, I suspect we all know there would never have been rock and roll. The coup de grace for me, however, would have been listening in while he tried to tell Papa Hemingway to "avoid cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context." Now, *that* is a dialog I would have paid money to hear. :)

In my opinion, Jakob Nielsen's columns should be marked with the same warning we see on astrology charts: For Entertainment Only.

#3 randfish

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 12:55 AM

Very well said, Ron. As I noted earlier today when you linked to this Kim. With Nielsen's site, it appears the cobbler's children have no shoes.

I do appreciate how there's exactly 10. That's highly convenient. Whenver I post numbers of strategies or ranking factors or things wrong with Google's latest update, I never get those kind of usable numbers... :(

#4 Adrian

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 04:04 AM

Nielsen could be considered a bit of an archetypal blogger, the kind Nick had a bit of a rant about at Threadwatch recently and prompted Kim's post here at http://www.cre8asite...showtopic=28991 I think.

He writes some of these things more for the effect and the controvosy rather than because he think they are actually the best way to think about things.

If Nielsen didn't write things that so many peple could disagree with, would he be anywhere near as well known?

He likes to rile people up, not just tell them things, but give them juicy morsels to pick apart and argue over. Which overall, could be more effective. Better than we think about things and work them out, rather than just believe what some bloke writes and blindly do the same.

#5 RonZ

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 02:20 PM

You're giving Jakob way to much credit. He's just fishing for customers again. Webloggers are a good target for him considering how many there are and there are so many gullible enough to believe Jakob's opinions are worth something. :wink:

#6 cre8pc

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 02:47 PM

I have nothing exciting to add to this, other than Hi Ron Z! It's been awhile :(

#7 bragadocchio

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 09:32 PM

[quote name='Jakob Nielsen]That said' date=' the basic rationale for "about us" translates directly into the need for an "about me" page on a weblog: users want to know who they're dealing with. [/quote']

I looked around on the pages of The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century for an "about us" page, but I didn't see one from Joey deVilla anywhere. Then it struck me. He doesn't need one. The whole blog is about him.

Bloggers 1, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0


[quote]Also, if you run a professional weblog and expect to be quoted in the press, you should follow the recommendations for using the Web for PR and include a selection of high-resolution photos that photo editors can download.[/quote]

I searched high and low for a picture of Matt Haughey on the pages of PVRblog, but I couldn't find one anywhere. Matt's not only mentioned in the news on a regular basis, but a search of Google News for PVRblog lists his site 11 times. Then there's the quotes from him in Newsweek, The Associated Press, and more, and also a link from CNET as one of their Top 100 Blogs

Bloggers 2, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]Descriptive headlines are especially important for representing your weblog in search engines, newsfeeds (RSS), and other external environments. In those contexts, users often see only the headline and use it to determine whether to click into the full posting. [/quote]

I'd like to know What's in Rebecca's Pocket, but you sort of have to actually read the posts, because one of the web's finest bloggers doesn't use titles for her posts. And she hasn't used titles since 1999 on her blog. And people read those posts, even without the titles.

Bloggers 3, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]Remember one of the basics of the Web: Life is too short to click on an unknown. Tell people where they're going and what they'll find at the other end of the link. [/quote]

That pesky Instapundit often leaves us up in the air as to where a link goes. Is he still getting more daily readers than the New York Times? I did find an ad for the New York Times on his blog. Maybe they are hoping that they can sponge some of his readership off of him.

Bloggers 4, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]Hopefully, you'll write some pieces with lasting value for readers outside your fan base. Don't relegate such classics to the archives, where people can only find something if they know you posted it, say, in May 2003. [/quote]

Those pesky folks at boingboing.net have all of their greatest hits hidden away. Except for the link to the page they have where you can download their first full five years all in one file - all 17,000 of them. There's lots of buried treasure in there, and its worth digging through.

Bloggers 5, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0


[quote]Do use categorization, but avoid the common mistake of tagging a posting with almost all of your categories.[/quote]

Some advice that it wouldn't hurt Dr. Nielsen to use on his own site. Someone should tell Doc Searls that the stream of consciousness type posts he provides need categories. But, I'm not sure that any of his posts would fit into categories, because his daily posts seem to wander around without a theme, without any consistency, and seem to defy categorization.

Bloggers 6, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]In either case, pick a publication schedule and stick to it. If you usually post daily but sometimes let months go by without new content, you'll lose many of your loyal -- and thus most valuable -- readers. [/quote]

I'm almost willing to give into this one, until I think of places like Adam Bosworth's Blog, which can go a month or two without a post, and then provide us with something meaningful, and worth visiting. There are a lot of blogs that don't update consistently, and I wish many of them would. But, I love it when people write when they have something to say, and not because they have to make a post.

Bloggers 7, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]The more focused your content, the more focused your readers. That, again, makes you more influential within your niche. Specialized sites rule the Web, so aim tightly. [/quote]

Yep. That's why a site like Metafilter will just not make it, regardless of 26,000 members, and many more readers. Cause filtering the best of the web is a mighty diffused focus.

Bloggers 8, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]Whenever you post anything to the Internet -- whether on a weblog, in a discussion group, or even in an email -- think about how it will look to a hiring manager in ten years.[/quote]

Good advice. True with forums, too. My blogging and forum posts led to my present job. I imagine that Simon Willison and Tom Coates new jobs working on social software for Yahoo! was probably helped by their blogs, too.

Bloggers 9, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0

[quote]Having a weblog address ending in blogspot.com, typepad.com, etc. will soon be the equivalent of having an @aol.com email address or a Geocities website: the mark of a nave beginner who shouldn't be taken too seriously.[/quote]

Denise Howell coined the phrase "Blawgs" for legal blogs, and is one of the most popular and influential of that genre on her blogspot-based Bag and Baggage. Eschaton is another one of those blogspot blogs, and its read by tens of thousands a day. Seth Godin sports that typepad blog. I don't think any of those folks would be mistaken for a nave beginner anytime soon.

Bloggers 10, Dr. Jakob Nielsen 0.


There's this great quote at the top of Rebecca Blood's blog right now that reads like this:

[quote]Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. General George S. Patton[/quote]


I'd be a little more prone to listen to Dr. Nielsen's advice if he would bother to learn how to blog. Now, if Jared Spool had something to say about blogs, I might be more willing to listen.

#8 Adrian

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 03:40 AM

It's a bit ironic that a lot of the advice there is about playing the numbers game, aiming for the big juicy easy part of the market, it would be like launching something in just London in the UK because so many people live there, and ignoring the rest of the country.
Yet then advising to aim for very niche markets, heh.

Part of the problem with niche markets is that they can be pretty quirky, and you've highlighted serveral exceptions to the rule there Bill.

Hugh at GapingVoid has come up what this term of Global Microbrands, which to me seems to be another term for niche with a marketing/business twist. And he's proving the idea can be successful.

Nielsen's advice can be alright as long as you don't believe it in blind faith, some of the points are good generally, but there are exceptions, and you're never going to have a 'purple cow' if you don't try and be an exception to the rule :)

#9 bragadocchio

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 07:00 AM

I'm not sure if they are exceptions to the rules though, Adrian. Much of that advice has nothing to do with usability or with design, and yet the article is titled "Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes".

For instance, I don't know too many bloggers who would have a page of high resolutions photos like this one:

http://www.useit.com/jakob/photos/

I can't think of one, even amongst the most narcissistic of bloggers.

What may rub me the wrong way here is that he labels these "design mistakes" when they aren't. The biweekly alertbox articles he issues aren't blog posts, but his advice more closely matches what someone might do if they were to try to design a site like his (except for his lack of categories.). :)

#10 Adrian

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 07:18 AM

Yes, that particular one is where he's just off the mark I think!
And there he doesn't see the difference between blogging and professional journalism....

But many bloggers have a kind of "about us" page, and I like it when they do. It may be different from a company web sites about us page, but it's nice to find out who you're reading when you stumble across a new blog.

Headlines can be important. I track so many feeds I tend to read the headline and make a snap decision whether I want to read more of it or not. If there's no headline, or if it's badly worded, I may be less inclined to read it. That was something TW Nick rants about a bit too :)

A proper domain does look more proffesional than a sub-domain of typepad or blogger or similar, whether they will get the same reputations as geocities type sites I don't know. I think they are tools that have been put together a lot better than that, so don't think they will end up in the same league.

In all those cases you can do very well even if you don't do them, as you've proven Bill. But if you were setting up a new blog and were keen on trying to get a good readership, I'm sure there would be many people other than Nielsen suggesting you have your own domain, have a bit of an about us/me page and write good headlines. You don't need to, but if you're trying to go for high percentage shots, they are likely the things you'd want to think about.

#11 bragadocchio

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 08:28 AM

Agreed, Adrian.

I don't know that those are design mistakes though. Helpful suggestions, yes. Far from mistakes though.

#12 Adrian

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 08:56 AM

Indeed, but then, I would imagine some of the more memorable Neilsen columns (no pun intended :)) are the 'Biggest design mistakes' stories.

That's more discussion baiting than anything I think ;)

#13 Ron Carnell

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 11:24 AM

That's more discussion baiting than anything I think

There's no doubt that's true, Adrian, but that's the whole problem, not a viable excuse.

When one wants advice on something, there are generally two options most of us follow. We can observe and test, which usually costs substantial time or money, or we can go to someone we've learned to trust. At one time, I think Nielsen fell into that second option and, honestly, I still think some of his advice is very credible. The trouble, of course, is that he's gotten so involved in the self-promotion, discussion-baiting mode in recent years that he can no longer BE trusted.

When his advice is obviously good, there's no problem.

When is advice is obviously bad, there is again no real problem.

When you're really not sure if the advice is good or bad, however, it becomes a big problem -- 'cause you really can't know if the advice is meant to help you or to help HIM.

#14 bwelford

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 12:25 PM

Your post, Ron, triggered the following line of thinking for me. I think that the real gold in any situation is to be sure you're asking the right questions. If you ask the right questions, then often it's only a matter of time before you'll find the right answers.

Perhaps if you use dear Jakob only as a source of the 'right questions', it may work out better. So don't take his word as the Gospel: rather take any of his statements, and turn it into question form with a question mark at the end. In that light, he may be a useful aid on your way to perfection.

Asking questions is the Socratic tradition, I believe. However poor old Socrates so infuriated people with his questions that eventually he was encouraged to pop off with a goblet of hemlock. Ah well, perhaps there's no easy road for Mr. Nielsen. :)

#15 bragadocchio

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 12:21 AM

The socratic method is interesting, Barry. Three years of lawschool exposed me to the practice. Unfortunately, none of my professors was Socrates.

The socratic method is intended to be a method of teaching by guiding with leading questions. In law school, it more often seems to be a way to torture students using questions, without a tremendous amount of guidance. :)

As a counterpoint to this article we are discussing, I'm going to introduce another one:

Ten Tips For A Better Weblog

Funny, they cover much of the same ground as Dr. Nielsen's. Yet, they do it in a manner that I don't find as offensive by far.

#16 Adrian

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 03:00 AM

It's not what you say but the way that you say it :)

#17 bwelford

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 06:58 AM

Right on, Adrian. That rebecca's pocket weblog post that you referenced, Bill, is excellent. They're called tips, i.e. just suggestions that you can use as you wish. Not the Top Ten Design Mistakes that you will be severely punished for. :(

I particularly liked rebecca's suggestions that you should write only about what you love and you should establish your humanity and your credibility. I imagine Jakob loves what he writes about but he could work harder on the other two points.

#18 RonZ

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 01:48 PM

One of the many mistakes Nielsen makes is that he fails to identify the audience and intent. It's a mistake that shows he himself is only writing for people ignorant or new to usability, because only they would not know that usability is meaningless without specifying both an audience and intent.

From this perspective, many of the best criticisms of Nielsen's article point out that the intent of weblogs vary widely, many having intents that negate his "mistakes" altogether.



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