The two things I focus on during redesigns (the home page isn’t one of them)

Ann Friedman has a smart piece at Columbia Journalism Review that examines the role of the home page.

Friedman’s conclusion:

It’s [the home page] gone from something like a newspaper’s A1—a glimpse of and portal to the day’s top content—and become more like a magazine cover, providing a tease and a hint at the editorial project, but not a direct path to stories themselves … For a majority of readers, who come in through the side door and then pare back the URL or click on the publication’s logo, the modern homepage conveys what this news outlet is all about, but little else. It’s still valuable. It’s just not as important to the business model or editorial project. And the sooner editors come to grips with that, the better.

This shift started with SEO. It didn’t take long for savvy Internet types to realize Google was sending traffic to specific pages, not necessarily the home page. Social tools amplified this trend. No one tweets a link to your front door.

This is why I limit my focus to two things anytime a redesign is discussed:

1. The design and utility of the article page — I assume most visitors will interact with the site at this level, so the article page better look and work well. It must be clean, fast and intuitive.

2. The formatting of the body area — People come to a site to read or see something that sits in the body segment of the page. That “something” better look good. That means p tags and subheads and line height deserve attention. Videos should be large enough to look right but not so large they get cut off. Pictures should have adequate spacing. All of these details matter because this is the stuff people are looking for and at. And if you send your content out through a full RSS feed, body copy is the only thing people see.

Related thought No. 1: This is my nightmare.

Related thought No. 2: Always use a text editor. Always.

Smart App Banners in iOS, be gone

Apple introduced Smart App Banners so people using Safari in iOS can be informed / reminded / annoyed about an associated app produced by the host site or organization.

For example, you’ll see this thing if you land on a Wall Street Journal story:

Smart App Banner Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting the first time, tiresome the second, and anger-inducing the third.

And it doesn’t go away. Reload the page and it stays. Visit a different story on the same site, it’s still there.

If you visit a certain site regularly — as I do with ESPN — you’ll really hate these things.

Worse still, there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to disable Smart App Banners if you’re unwilling to Jailbreak your system.

These things are problematic for developers as well. Dion Almaer wrote up six simple functions that are missing from the current system. Most of his suggestions are of the be-nice-to-people variety:

I would like to declare “I don’t want to bug the users, so only show the message once a month”

That’s reasonable, and it’s a shame it has to be addressed at all.

Medium and the evolution of blogging

I’m a fan of blogging. I like the process. I like the idea of posting something regularly. I like how RSS and social components allow the information published through a blogging platform to spread through the Internet’s nooks and crannies.

But I’m also kinda bored of reverse-chronology layouts and the headline-body-comment structure. Those methods are fine, and they deserve to stick around, but can’t we do something different already?

I’m not talking about something dramatically different. What I want is to see blogging’s evolutionary step — what will this form look like in 10 years?

That’s why I’m intrigued by Medium. The category pages — dubbed “collections” — are organized differently (example):

Screenshot of Medium's 100 word stories collection

It’s tablet-friendly, that’s for sure.

It’s also not defined by time.

If you’re a news site, time matters. You want the latest up front because “the latest” is what you’re all about. But how many of us run news sites? Hell, how many of us want to run news sites?

I have to imagine many people out there are focused on a topic or an idea. That thing may be tied to time, but time is not necessarily the defining characteristic.

Medium, like Flipboard and Gawker, is about showcasing “the big thing.” I like that.

Medium is also trying to break away from the post-comment hierarchy. Dave Winer picked up on this:

Users can create new buckets or collections and call them anything they want. A bucket is analogous to a blog post. Then other people can post to it. That’s like a comment. But it doesn’t look like a comment. It’s got a place for a big image at the top. It looks much prettier than a comment, and much bigger. Looks are important here.

That’s really interesting. What if we made the post and the comment equally important? What would that look like?

I don’t think Medium’s current form represents this vision, but the idea is intriguing.

And even if Medium doesn’t usher in the evolution I’m looking for, the fact that people are talking and experimenting in this space suggests good things will happen.

(I acknowledge and embrace the hypocrisy of complaining about traditional blog structures in a traditional blog post.)

Notable things: Self-published authors don’t make much money, Jakob Nielsen on Windows 8, venting on Facebook … again

Shocker. The laws of popularity also apply to self-published authors. From The Guardian:

… a survey of 1,007 self-published writers … found that while a small percentage of authors were bringing in sums of $100,000-plus in 2011, average earnings were just $10,000 a year. This amount, however, is significantly skewed by the top earners, with less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.

I imagine many of those self-published authors are thrilled to make a single dollar, let alone 500 of them.

This doesn’t map directly, but it still applies: I ran my own sites for years and I didn’t make much money off of them. They brought in enough to cover costs, but that was good enough. The point was to create something from scratch and set it loose, and the fact that it made actual cash dollars was a lovely bonus.

When you’re talking about a do-it-yourself realm — and I consider self-published authors to be in the bullseye of DIY — the definition of “success” must expand beyond financial reward.

Jakob Nielsen on the Windows 8 interface:

… the main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed “Microsoft Window.”

This same piece also puts a name to a problem I often encounter: “swipe ambiguity.”

I once watched an Apple Store employee work wonders on an iPad. His fingers flicked and swiped and swooped and twirled as though he was conjuring some sort of IT demon. Now, I’m pretty good with an iPad, but I have yet to match that level of competence. I want to get better, but I’m also annoyed that I have to get better at something that’s supposed to be obvious.

This is why Facebook’s Timeline is equally brilliant and horrible.

(Via Reddit)