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Blog Design An Obstacle To Acceptance

Shel Holtz
Expert Author
Published: 2005-07-13

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One reason all the gushing about how blogs will replace press releases and even PR in general is so silly is that most people still don't pay any attention to them.

A study released Monday by New York-based Catalyst Group Design suggests the design of blogs is a major obstacle to blogs entering the mainstream. The company selected one blog-BusinessWeek's personal finance blog "Well Spent"-because it typifies the elements and look of most blogs. Study participants-selected because they weren't blog readers but were otherwise web-savvy-were taken to the blog and asked to react.

Most didn't know they were looking at a blog at all and were surprised and confused when told they were. Many said they would expect a blog to indicate clearly that it's a blog. (As I look around the PR blogs I read, few use the word "blog" prominently in their titles, subheads, or other identifiers.) The elements that help most of us identify blogs-an author's photo, categories, archives, blogrolls, etc.-didn't register with the test subjects. Some other findings:

* Most participants couldn't figure out how to navigate around the blog and were confused by the different sections (categories, trackbacks, etc.).
* There was no clear understanding about how commenting worked. Would they appear immediately? Require approval? Result in an answer?
* Every single participant agreed that RSS was confusing, and that blogs don't help aid in the understanding of what RSS is, how it works, or why they should use it.
* When starting on a lower-level page, participants were unclear about the purpose of a home page might be or what they would find there.

At the end of the session, participants said they liked the blog and would be inclined to read more, but complained that blogs don't offer enough assistance to newcomers to help them figure out the various elements and how to use them. (Trackbacks were particularly confounding.)

The downloadable PDF version of the 19-page report includes a useful summary of findings that could serve as a roadmap for improving blog interfaces. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt for existing blogs to incorporate some basic how-to's or FAQs for people visiting the blog. I'm already making some notes about some simple additions and enhancements to this blog to simplify the experience for visitors who have not knowingly seen a blog before.

If the report mirrors general perceptions of blogs, though, it'll be a while-at least through the next phase of blog design's evolution-before they are mainstream enough to fulfill the expectations so many starry-eyed bloggers believe they are ready to fulfill right now.

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About the Author:
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

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