However, many blogs don't attract comments in their hundreds. For me, disabling comments would feel like saying to blog readers that I'm not interested in what they think about my blog post (and I am). You might write for yourself as you compose posts, but when you publish your post you want others to read it. Are there blog authors who can honestly say they aren't interested in the views of their readers about what they've written?
I would rather a conversation take place on my blog than telling users to take the discussion elsewhere. (You can't really discuss things in a 140 character tweet).
Related to this discussion is another viewpoint about getting rid of social media buttons
Matt comes very close to one of my beliefs about writing... Creative writing is a way to give yourself an opportunity to think through an topic or story and give the rest of us an insight into how your mind works. That's the kind of writing I love -- the kind where I can see the gears moving to a certain degree and I know the author is honestly putting an effort into analyzing a subject or putting something difficult into words.
As an example, I think this is why the recent "Hyperbole and a Half" (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-par...) about Allie's experiences with depression is so valuable and compelling.
And it's why I find listicles and articles that purport to be delivering glorious nuggets of truth from the top of Mount Bullshit to be boring, frustrating, and obnoxious. (If you look at my comment history, you'll probably find a fair amount of bitching about articles that are nothing but (often wrong or over-simplified) conclusions with no evident thought process behind them.)
I think it's actually something that's hard to fake. Like Matt says, your personality and opinions are integral. And it almost forces you to start writing about something you're not so sure about, which can seem uncomfortable. Because you might come to wrong conclusions. But if you write to edify yourself and to give yourself the chance to meditate and process the world around you, then suddenly sheer audience count will matter much less and (if you're a good thinker) you might find yourself writing much more compelling pieces, anyway, since, like I said, I think people appreciate being able to see the mental processes of another person at work.
So. I've diverged a bit from Matt's initial point, but his words made me think of this so I thought I'd share...
(Before someone else says it: No, I'm not talking about technical or instructional writing. That's different.)
"Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right -- as right as you can, anyway -- it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. If you're very lucky, more will want to do the former than the latter."
 Stephen King, "On Writing" (chapter 20)
People generally don't put as much work into their comments as you did into your blog post, so the comment section is a tangible dive in written quality. And they tend to be quite "fire and forget", because although somebody might disagree with something in the five seconds after reading a post, they are unlikely to remember that disagreement two days later and return to see if anyone responded.
Personally, if somebody felt strongly enough about something I wrote to want to say something to me something about it, I'd prefer an email anyway.
It's definitely true that a lot of people don't put much energy into their comments, but when they do those comments can be very valuable. For example, I wrote a post about why physicians assistant or nursing school is a smarter choice for most people than med school (http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/why-you-should-beco...), and some of the comments are really good. Do I delete the dumbest? Yes. But the occasional really good comment outweighs the many really bad ones, at least in my experience.
1. Comments are still necessary. Tweeting a link and a short comment doesn't cut it; not everyone has a blog (or wants to make a public post to a different audience about another blogger's post) just to respond - to assume people will blog about you is sheer arrogance. Maybe Matt doesn't care what others think, or want a discussion and discourse, but I certainly do.
2. Opening links in new windows or tabs is OK if your blog has a very non-technical audience. Most people don't know the keyboard shortcuts for opening in a new tab, and even though they can right click... don't. It's always fun to see people's enthusiasm when I show them the shortcuts, and to watch them start opening links in multiple tabs!
Have you tested that, or is it an assumption... because every time I have tested this I have found the opposite ;-)
(i.e. that opening stuff in new tabs automatically will confuse more than it helps, and folk have trouble returning to the original post often leaving it unread - especially for non-technical folk).
and see in the "comments" section the comments from HN, reddit, G+, and elsewhere.
From what I remember when I started looking into something like this a few years ago, from a technical perspective, SIOC and FOAF give us some of the building blocks to do something like that. But it'll probably never catch on just due to the economics...
At least if you blog on Blogger, they have integrated G+ discussions now, which turns out to be kinda nifty.
I don't really agree with this one. From my perspective as a reader, I prefer when links have target="_blank" set, because it means if I forget to (or couldn't be arsed to) ctrl+click or right-click -> open link in new tab, I still don't lose my place on the current page, and can go poke around at the linked content at my leisure.
Maybe I'm weird (OK, obviously I'm weird in some regards) but I prefer to open links as I go, but read the main text-stream first, then go back and read linked articles, posts, citations, etc. If they are conveniently opened in a pile of tabs, it makes my life easier.
Curious how the rest of the HN readership feels about this...
Obviously @mindcrime find's it useful ;-) However whenever I have done user testing of links opening in new windows it has never helped. At best there's no difference. Very commonly it confuses and does the opposite of what the site designer wanted (that people find it easy to get back to their site).
For example I've see the following happen on ecommerce sites on multiple occasions:
* On site we're testing, tasked to buy a Foo
* Find some external link that opens in a new window
* User views the link, hit's back button - back button fails (it's a new window)
* They then just Google for "Buying Foo" of similar
* Pick a new site - probably amazon or some other familiar name
* Continue with the purchase elsewhere
People understand how to return to your site when they visit another. You hit the back button. Break that behaviour and you make it harder not easier for most people. Especially in mobile & tablet browsers where tabs are often much less visually obvious.
If I want it to open in a new window I'll shift+click and if I want a new tab I'll ctrl+click or middle mouse click.
A. making the user right-click and select from a context-menu
B. making the user remember (or not) to ctrl+click / middle-click
C. putting the infamous Here Is A Link (open in new tab) parenthetical thing next to the link.
oh btw, if I prefer a new window, I can always right click and say "Open in new tab" etc.
I decided even to dispatch with the header bar, putting navigation at the bottom of the main page; presumably, people will only care to see more of my writing if they've read the article. Not as good for people revisiting the page, but they can likely remember http://jmoiron.net/blog or bookmark it in order to get to the search.
My fonts are slightly smaller and slightly less contrast, and after looking at Gemmell's blog I wonder if I should change that decision. I wanted to have emphasized elements of the text easily distinguishable from the body while not distracting.
Also, I agree with Gemmell's "The basic tenets of hypertext should be left alone". One of these basic tenets, to me, are the semantic meanings of Blue, Purple, and Red text for normal, :visited, and :active hyperlinks. If you want to chose a link color, do not invert or violate these classical meanings.
Yea. I feel the same way, though strangely a lot of this is recent and I didn't have the same opinion a few years ago. A portfolio site I made just 3 years ago looks quite immature now. I just put this together with a little static generator a few weeks ago and it's the first time I've posted it anywhere:
I do disagree with the post on links. I don't see why underline is necessary and personally I don't like the look. Also, I don't find :visited that useful when reading articles; having it on something like Google is another matter.
I did think about an option to toggle off the highlighting of links completely to reduce distraction.
For what it's worth, on my design I've made the compromise of underlining them on hover.
What are good options for presenting significantly longer works? For example, a 30-page paper, or a 100-page book?
Is it best for readability / usability to break things out into short blog posts? Or ditch the blog format altogether and just upload some HTML files that use a totally different style? Or something else?
For tablets PDFs can work really well. If you want to be read straight through or be an offline reference (printed or tablet) that might be better but not if you're going for random access.
Man pages are a nice model too.
Edit: typo I'll attribute to autocorrect
Manual (not automated) pagination is also an option for letting people know when to breathe.
Otherwise, it's also going to be really hard for people to link to more specific parts of it.
LaTeX and its packages/templates have man-years of development invested into readability. All the scientific papers are produced with TeX/LaTeX. The program and packages for it solve numerous problems like proper spacing, citations, bibliography, dealing with orphan paragraphs etc. etc.
Still true? Or are users okay with PDFs now? When browsing the web on my iPad, PDFs seem quite acceptable.
org mode is another option for that too if you prefer their markup or like outliners (and use Emacs)
Column layout with horizontal scrolling is somewhat unintuitive for newcomers, but It's really much more readable. And, after you actually get used to it, horizontal scrolling is so much better than reading through a PDF article with multiple-column layout.
I was actually trying to make use of the column layout to layout text, but it seems that the column layout is aimed to replace div layouts, not really at formatting text. I cannot set a column limit height, which makes it totally useless to format text. I wished I could have "pagination" (ie: break the column height to the browser height), so that pressing page-down would bring me to the next screen-full of two-column text. THAT would be good.
But having two-column reflow of text is totally useless for text. I don't want to go up/down the text like I have to do with PDFs.
The very first thing I did when your URL loaded was to increase the browser text size. A good rule of thumb when it comes to typography on the web these days is to be very cautious about setting a font-size smaller than the usual 16px browser default.
If the content is very short (like comments on HN) then I don't mind the long lines though.
And small fonts are definitely a problem, I have set my browser's minimum font size to make HN more readable :)
* I love the font size and content column width. More line height than 140% might be good, but I then again have extreme preferences for line height (160%).
* Consider not paginating the posts, or picking a higher limit. You currently have 1 more than you show on the first page, so why not show it on page 1?
* The big image on the search page is funny, but takes a very long time to load. Removing it or moving it to a CDN will make loading that page faster.
* text-align: justify is your friend! Thin columns look weird with right-aligned text.
Admittedly, my site is not a blog but long-form content, which makes me wonder how well my results might generalize.
* Was that test just on new users - or subscribers in general? If the latter you're going to self-select for folk who are interested enough in your stuff to read regardless, which will skew the results somewhat.
* Also - judging by the blog topic - you've got a pretty technical audience. One of the few groups that do have the knowledge to use tools and preferences to get around the problem. I'd be leary of generalising that to other markets.
* You're a/b testing on max-width setting - not line length. So a bunch of your users in both groups are going to get exactly the same experience if they're on smaller displays. This will make the improvement on larger displays seem less significant.
* Tests like this can be really skewed if you have audiences that shift device over time (e.g. getting popular link tweeted and retweeted can push sometimes push up the mobile portion of a site enough so that certain display types work better/worse.)
* The line length is something that has interactions with other typographic features like line spacing and font size. Optimising on one alone can lead to poor results.
I'm not saying that you're wrong - but those are things that occurred ;-)
In general what the research done by others indicates is that users prefer shorter physical line lengths, but read faster on some longer line lengths (within limits obviously - backup http://www.usability.gov/articles/newsletter/pubs/082006news...)
I don't have 'subscribers' or 'new users'. Just people visiting the site. (I suppose there's people visiting from the RSS feed, but they're well under 1% of page views.)
> you've got a pretty technical audience...I'd be leary of generalising that to other markets.
OP's blog seems rather technical.
> This will make the improvement on larger displays seem less significant.
True, but this still wouldn't explain why the smaller max-widths - the max-widths that would hit the most viewers - would not win.
> * Tests like this can be really skewed if you have audiences that shift device over time
Certainly, but the 2 tests were separated by something like a year. Is it really likely the audience changed in both a/b tests in the same way?
> * The line length is something that has interactions with other typographic features like line spacing and font size. Optimising on one alone can lead to poor results.
Sure, but in the absence of any specific reason to suspect an interaction...
* Wow... that type is small (zoom to 125% - something that I know that the vast majority of users do not know how to do)
* Wow... those lines are still too long for an easy read (zoom to 200% - which gets line length sane for me, but the font size is now huge and killing lots of my vertical real estate)
* God damn that fixed header is annoying and cutting into my already limited vertical real estate as I scroll
* Hit close or the readability button.
However, I do have an bigger footer, because after reading an article the reader should have various options like reading more of my articles, comment via email, flattr me, etc.
I also want a date on every article.
The titles on your overview page are hard to scan, because of the dates in front of them. I put the dates after the titles and dimmed them down.
I'm aware that many people hate light-on-dark, and I'm trying to find a solution that makes both me and such users happy.
Also, try resizing it or viewing on a phone.
But I kinda feel that this goes a tad over on the minimalistic side, which isn't too bad, but I wouldn't like if applied in dogmatic way to all sites.
I don't know if the “most popular posts” lists are the most optimal for content discovery, but having none seems a bit harsh. No, I'm probably not looking for blog posts on specific date, but I often look couple previous or next posts and the latest if they happen to relate to same subject, or if there is more interesting content to be had.
Comments, I'm torn over them. I feel like it's an lost battle to have discussions coherently in one place, but still many times I've found comments on top ranking posts about problems I've had to be invaluable, with corrections, alternative suggestions and updates to later versions of software. Also doesn't mesh well with statically generated sites unless something like disqus is used, which I generally don't like that much..
Social media buttons I value just about as much as I value any random ads on pages. Even if I share page I do it by copying the address anyway — but I guess it's a bit different on more mainstream oriented sites where the median user might find address bars exotic and intimidating.
Also I would be interest on thoughts on how images relate to this. Should they also be constrained within the text column bounds, should they be lightboxed or link directly to the original picture? I find myself a little conflicted on good use. This author seems to like linking to non-working flickr pages.
Hmm, I sound perhaps a little negative, but my overall impression was still on the positive side.
edit: There is a similar problem on several of the namedropped sites too, http://www.marco.org/ http://shawnblanc.net/ and http://www.loopinsight.com/ all have a weird mixture of title formatting of the posts. Sometimes it is big, sometimes small, I have trouble seeing where are post starts or ends and what are just smaller headings within one.
Now I'm happy with just single columns...much less work to maintain, much more readable for users, and more time to think about the actual words rather than CSS.
Moving to Markdown helped expedite my preference for simplicity, too.
As our viewing surfaces only get more diverse, I hope single columns are a long lasting trend
The one thing I disagree with is comments. Comments are hard to get right, but they're not replaceable by social media alone.
In addition it has an Android app which is done very well. About 80% of the posts that I see here on HN, I simply safe for later and read at home in the garden with this app.
Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense of quotes, images, supporting items - that are called left, right, or full width.
Using your site as an example and lets pretend its 12 columns with 3 empty, 6 for the blog, 3 empty. That space could be well served with links, resources, images, quotes that serve to enhance the writing. These resources could stretch into the 6 for the blog or remain isolated in their sidebars.