Jakob Nielsen of usability fame recently posted his comments on weblog usability.
Disclosure: I subscribe to his Alertbox newsletter. I used to diligently read what he put out. Then I started reading a bit more widely and found that much of the design community and some of the usability community think he is wrong and/or a pompous ass. [Do a little research and you can find a lot of (justified) negative comments about J. Nielsen. The previous link is good place to start from.]
I have long since stopped reading much of what he writes, thus, although the "Weblog Usability" article was sitting in my inbox, I had not yet read it before I started seeing it crop up all over the biblioblogosphere. [Now there's a word to scare off the non-locals!]
Before I get started, I’d like to direct you to the two best posts I have seen so far. Joy Weese Moll at Wanderings of a Student Librarian posts "State your full name." I like Joy’s style and what she writes on Nielsen works for her and will well support her reasons for blogging. I do not necessarily agree with her though—for my purposes and possibly others.
Angel, The Gypsy Librarian, has an excellent response to Nielsen, entitled "Blogs and usability." It is kind of fitting that he heard about the Nielsen article from Joy. He also links to Pharyngula’s response, which is pretty good on most points. I suggest you read all three of these.
Nielsen’s first mistake is his unspoken assumption that all blogs except those that "are really just private diaries" are actively trying to "reach new readers who aren’t your mother." Underlying this assumption though is a far more insidious one; that we are all just selling a product, a corporate identity. Along with that assumption is one of extreme danger to human beings; that we must separate the personal from the public, "corporate" identity.
I understand that this is the way our Western society is currently structured. The recent Tribble episode in academic blogging is just one example. But this is insane. Fragmentation is a highly dangerous force in our society. The extreme of this is the Nazi camp guard.
Another form of discontinuity, the split between the private and the public, seems to have played the paramount role in totalitarian crimes. Expanding the notion of the enemy to include not only the enemy soldiers but also the regime’s internal opposition, its adversaries at home, totalitarianism generalizes the state of war and with it the schism characteristic of the warrior psyche. As John Glenn Grey notes, "Men who in private life are scrupulous about conventional justice and right are able to destroy the lives and happiness of others in war without compunction" (172). This separation of public and private could be found in nearly all the guards: they behaved with the utmost brutality toward the inmates while continuing to lead private lives filled with love and concern (Todorov, 144, emphasis mine).
Basically, for those with cause for self-reproach, it matters little if it is the public or the private sphere where the harm was done. What counts is that there are two spheres and that one of them—the one they take to define their essential being—can, from their point of view above all, make up for the other (149).
The splintering apart of the world—with its corollary of professionalism and the psychological fragmentation that results—is especially characteristic of totalitarian countries; what was originally a feature of industrial production becomes the model for the functioning of society as a whole (151).
If you think the Nazi prison guard is an extreme example then try these books for insight into the issue:
Stivers, Richard. Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society.
Stivers, Richard. Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational.
Baumgartner, M.P. The Moral Order of a Suburb.
Jackall, Robert. Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps.
Go, read, learn.
I was almost destroyed by following this path. I am still trying to recover from it, and many days I am not convinced that I will succeed due to the extreme opposite pressure my society exerts on me, and everyone else. [See my "Librarianship as Penance?" post for more info on my personal battles.]
I will not succumb to this path again. I am one person; not multiple persons. My life must remain coherent and integrated. This is not to imply that everyone who only blogs about professional library issues is highly fragmented, just that I do not choose it as a path for me.
One answer would be a 2nd blog, but it will be found by future bosses (#9) anyway…so why separate my life? I may well have more to say on this, but one should start at the beginning. Snark warning.
Nielsen states that the 3rd benefit of blogs is that they are part of an ecosystem. "Whatever good postings exist are promoted through links from other sites. More readers/writers see this good stuff, and the very best then get linked to even more." Huh? I call bullshit! Nielsen seems to be as confused as much of the rest of my society and clearly equates popular with good/best. Certainly some of the good writing on the web follows this pattern, but I’d be willing to bet that there is far more, and better, writing that rarely gets seen or linked to. And most of what I see highly linked, especially outside of the biblioblogosphere, is pure crap. And most of it is not writing but links to some other media or possibly to short writings of little substance.
1. No Author Biographies.
See Angel and Pharyngula on this. I do have one, and it is as crappy as most. Nielsen claims that it is a "simple matter of trust," because, oh yes, I believe every word I read. Credentials are claimed by displaying them in action, not by listing them on an About Me page.
2. No Author Photo.
Again, see the above 2 posts. I don’t have one only because I do not have a current picture of me that I even begin to like. Part of Nielsen’s point here again is credibility, and again, I really do believe all those naked photos of Angelina Jolie on the net are real too.
Now as for his 2nd point here, it can be a good one. He claims that it allows people who read you to recognize you and then introduce themselves at conferences and so forth. It also might allow for some serious stalking.
3. Nondescript Post Titles
While there is something to be said for this for many people and purposes, Mr. Nielsen, you’ll pull my punny and only makes sense in context titles from my cold dead index (typing) fingers.
"[Y]ou should treat [your post title] as a writing project in its own right." Amen, Brother Jakob. But we aren’t all, nor trying to be, headline writers, nor do we want to only be about providing information. What, Mr. Nielsen, is the point of literature in your world? [Not to claim that I'm writing anything approaching literature here.] I am also trying to be entertaining in the limited way that my personality allows, and to exercise my linguistic capabilities. Search engines should find my ideas by finding my content, not my titles. Does everyone else but me judge a book by its title?
4. Links Don’t Say Where They Go
Reasonably good advice here. Now, I’ll admit that I sometimes use nondescript link titles, if they are taken completely out of context. But I usually get it right because they are embedded in the context of the sentence/surrounding structure in which they reside.
Use of first names as insider shorthand is another issue for Nielsen. Angel has some great commentary on this and I usually operate as he does on this. [And since I am too lazy to follow the clues Angel provided I only know his first name, which could be an alias as far as I know, so that is what I use.]
I, too, could give a damn about ego feeds. If you only want to be mentioned here to stoke your own ego then please let me know so I can quit referencing you at all. I could care less about your ego; I only care about what we can learn from each other. Even if you were my best friend, while I might care about your ego, stroking it would not be my priority. Get over yourself.
5. Classic Hits are Buried
Well, since by your definition, Jakob, I am only writing for my mother, does it matter? "Fan base?" Whatever, dude. I don’t want fans; I want conversation.
There is some good advice here. It just could have been said far more positively. I do appreciate it, sometimes, when I hit a new blog and have read something of interest to find links to what the author considers their best work. Of course, it may not be what interests me; I may prefer what they consider their "toss offs." I have been thinking about doing just what he suggests, but, damn, I’d sure rephrase the why of it.
6. Categorization (not the actual bullet title)
"Be selective?" I’m categorizing for myself, Jakob, not for others.
7. Irregular Post Frequency
"Pick a schedule." Oh yes, this is a job for everyone. RSS. Ever heard of it Jakob?
"[Y]ou shouldn’t post when you have nothing to say." OK. "Polluting cyberspace with excess information is a sin. (Emphasis mine)" Excuse me!
In the interest of propiety I won’t say what I want. But I will say that that comment alone makes you a jackass. Complete. And. Utter. Jackass. By the way, you completely lost me when you tried to bring out some Christian mythological view of human nature and relate it to information on the web. Because on this view every junk mailer and AOL with them damn CDs are sinners. But damn, that can’t be right under the Protestant work ethic and Christian corporate commercialism. Start talking to me about sin while participating in our current consumer society and you get dismissed real quick.
8. Mixing Topics
See my above comments on fragmentation. "The more focused your content, the more focused your readers." Who the heck said I was after focused readers? I want people of broad interests to read and talk back to me.
See also Angel on this. And don’t worry brother, you are influencing me.
9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
I’m going to bite my tongue on this, hmm the taste of blood, and let Pharyngula say it for me:
This is his worst suggestion of them all: muzzle yourself now in preparation for your future corporate overlords. Screw that, bozo.
10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service
See Pharyngula on this.
So my typepad domain name screams "naïve beginner who shouldn’t be taken seriously?" Well then, all I got to say is professional website that consists of black text on white background with a splash of two shades of yellow.
"Get your personal domain name and own your own future." I guess one could interpret this…, nah. Unless someone steals my identity I do own my own future Nielsen. Having my own domain name has nothing to do with that, unless we’re back to your original crappy assumption that all blogging is to establish and sell one’s "corporate" identity.
If this was an undergraduate paper on weblog usability you, Jakob Nielsen, would get a C- at best. And in relation to the other students papers you might well do worse.
So take what you want from Nielsen. He actually has some good points, if taken for the right reasons. If these are your reasons then fine. If they are not, and there is no inherent reason as to why they should be, then feel free to break most every one of them. This action will not make you a sinner despite what Pastor Nielsen would like you to believe.