Blogging and readability

Oh, goody! A blog post about blogging! I’ll try to make it brief.

This post by Matt Gemmell about designing your blog for its readers is good, and you should go read it if you haven’t already. I do, however, have some nits to pick:

  1. I think he’s confusing current fashion for eternal truth when he says sidebars should be removed. Why is it better to put all your meta-info in a header or footer instead of a sidebar? I agree that info about the blog should be reduced to a minimum—and, like Matt, I’ve been pruning mine over the years—but where it goes is more a matter of taste than reader inconvenience. To me, the advantage of the sidebar is that vertical space is more precious on today’s widescreen displays. Use the vertical space for content and put the peripheral stuff on the periphery—that’s where the adjective comes from. Yes, phone displays are different, but phones know how to focus on a single column, don’t they?
  2. Despite my longstanding complaint that web designers make their body font too small, I think Matt’s decision to increase his body font size is wrong, too. How about just honoring the user’s choice? Yes, most users have no idea they can change the default font size (and Safari 6 made it even harder by removing the Appearance preference pane), but you shouldn’t punish those who do.
  3. He’s overly dogmatic on the matter of line length and line spacing; there are many combinations that are perfectly readable. I do like that he warns against lines that are too short—a lot of sites today have such narrow content columns it’s exhausting to scroll through to the end of the article.
  4. He seems to think that any framing of the content is “cruft.” Again, this is fashion, and while it’s fine to be fashionable, this has nothing to do with readability. A few years from now, Matt will be dissatisfied with the broad expanses of white he has today.
  5. While I’ve had my ups and downs with comments, I still think they’re a net positive for small blogs like mine with a polite and informed readership. I understand why writers with a big audience find comments a pain; why they can’t demonstrate a reciprocal understanding is a mystery to me.

One thing Matt said really hit home:

Consider interaction methods, too: hover doesn’t really work on touch-screens, for example.

The popup-on-hover footnotes I use here seemed really cool when I stole them from Lukas Mathis three years ago, but they’ve worn out their welcome. I still think having footnotes pop up is better than jerking the reader down to the bottom of the post and then back up again, but hover isn’t the way to trigger popups in a world of iPads. That’ll have to change.

Overall, I found Matt’s advice to be sound. I was a little surprised to see his endorsement of Twitter and (especially) Facebook links. These are generally considered douchey among the cool Mac bloggers; I look forward to reading their reactions.