A Weblog Entry About Weblog Entries

I’ve been thinking lately about weblog format standards, and what readers come to expect. This quote from Jason Kottke regarding a change in the way he handles his “remaindered links” sums up my frustration with current trends:

Not having to … feel like I need to write something of substance to justify a post with a title and it’s own archive page (as with my main posts…it’s kind of amazing how post titles and individual archives have made blog posts seem more like magazine or newspaper articles than, well, blog posts)

Exactly. Inititally, weblogs were short spurts of links and context, sometimes with a date heading, but usually never with a proper title. Titles have since grown in popularity (and also used here on SimpleBits), but I agree with Jason, in that it’s turned weblogs into more of article-based, newspaper-like format. It’s not neccessarily a bad thing, but personally, I’ve been finding it limiting in the amount of content I can feasibly post here.

Often, I have a quick thought or something I want to point out that eventally gets tossed to the backburner, and then never posted. There’s pressure to craft a title and turn this quick bit into a proper “article”. This takes time. Time, I (and plenty of you out there) don’t have much of these days. It would also push a potentially more important article, further down the page. Separate mini link lists help with offering two simultaneous streams — but they have their own limiting characteristics as well (description length, etc.).

Feeds require a title and description, and have certainly steered us into this convention. The increase in feeds has also affected our reading habits — do people prefer reading long articles, short bursts of links and commentary, or both? Do weblogs that post shorter, more frequent entries annoy feed reading folks that just come to expect the occassional completely-well-thought-out-article-that contains-the-next-best-thing?

Personally, I enjoy weblogs that combine both (Kottke is a nice example) and maybe I’ll gravitate toward that model eventually — folding back in the original concept of what a weblog once was. It could be liberating for me, and hopefully not annoying for you.

38 Comments

  1. michael says:

    I don’t think it’d be annoying. Your QuickBits help me find things I might never find. However, your point about descriptions in these kinds of links is demonstrated on your own site. I don’t know if it’s just Firefox but the titles of your links are generally too long to view in a tool tip. They get cut off rather rudely by an ellipsis.

  2. Jeremy Boles says:

    I know the feeling. My blog has definitely been neglected lately because I don’t feel that I have enough content to make a post.

  3. Tom says:

    I have some bits that I don’t really want to write a whole page about but I feel I should post. They are all still sitting as drafts, perhaps I’ll just publish them as one long post.

  4. gpshewan says:

    “There’s pressure to craft a title …”
    See that’s what I don’t get. Pressure from where? If somebody contacts you saying ‘Jeez that last post had a rubbish title try better niext time’ then why not just tell them to unsubscribe if they don’t like it?

  5. Marco says:

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there’s such an enormous amount of blogs these days combined with a desire to have a blog that stands out compared to the majority in terms of posting quality. At least for me this feeling sometimes gets to me. I’ve got a separate section for links with just a couple of lines I write about which helps a bit but still I often find myself not posting something because I feel it’s ‘not good enough’. Kinda sad really when you think about it… ;)

  6. It’s much more about being interesting then being good. I’ll read interesting books for as long as they go and the same goes for blog posts.
    I feel like the article format has come about as every one argues about what counts as “quality content”. Bloggers have had it drilled in to their head that popularity and traffic is a direct correlation of the quality of content and this is the blog peer pressure yoke that has come to rest on all bloggers. Quality means looking professional and professional means having a title and well formed thoughts (or so my past teachers have lead me to believe).

  7. Eddie Sowden says:

    “… what readers come to expect.” Well why give them what they expect? Why dont you do something different. Break away from what everyone expects.

  8. Roy says:

    I really enjoy the way http://notes.torrez.org/ handles the snippets and mixes in the text, although it does require a bit of work from the author to aggregate the links and post them all at once…

  9. I’m with Tom. I’ve got half a dozen quick thoughts here and there that are saved as drafts waiting in limbo for a time when I have the time to come back and make “proper” articles of them. If it’s any consolation Dan, I come here for insightful information regardless of article length.

  10. Jack says:

    I think the pressure also comes from the design of the site. With each redesign you’re confident that your site looks more professional and “newsworthy” than ever before and you tend to hold your content to a higher standard.
    I’ve found an amazing amount of freedom in signing up for a bad looking blog (on MSN Spaces) and just posting tiny paragraphs of bad writing.
    In regard to SimpleBits, I’d prefer frequency over word count any day.

  11. Alex B. says:

    Excellent Dan. I couldn’t have written my thoughts down better myself.
    I often find myself not posting those “small (but post-worthy and interesting) things”, simply because I don’t think I have enough content relevant to the topic. After I’ve resolved that issue, then there’s that dreaded title to come up with!

  12. Alex B. says:

    “… I’d prefer frequency over word count any day.”
    Amen.

  13. John Engler says:

    I recently started using “asides” as a way to start putting more “fun stuff” and just plain old links into my blog. See inluminent.com for an example.

  14. Greg says:

    My comment has no title but you’re still reading it. If I say something interesting or point you to a useful resource will you still find it helpful? Yes, titles do help people process more posts and filter out things they are not interested in so if you go the extra step and add titles it may help. That said it’s your blog, do with it what you will, but don’t censor your own ideas.

  15. Grant says:

    I agree generally that having to think up a title for some things can be annoying. I often end up with “…” as a title as a shorthand for “this is a short note”.
    I find that I’m using del.icio.us a lot more for the “quick post a link and run” style post that QuickBits is aiming for – but of course that’s another system and hard to integrate into the main blog-flow.
    Being able to aggregate a tag feed from del.icio.us into a weblog’s main flow would be cool thing I think – hopefully someone will find the time to make one…

  16. I’m torn. I run my ship in very Kottke-esque fashion, with shorter, title-less link posts as well as longer article-tpye posts. I churn out a lot of content everyday, but I often wonder if this annoys/alienates feed readers and also limits the amount of commenting activity, too.
    It certainly has tunred into much more of a constantly tweaking/evolving work in progress than I ever imagined when i first started writing and designing.

  17. J. says:

    On my site all members have both a journal (looks like this site with headlines and proper paragraphs. Categorized by shortdate) and a diary (based on small notes which is categorized by longdate, more like a proper diary). Works quite well I think.

  18. David Eads says:

    This is a case where there’s no there there. Where exactly is the pressure coming from to put well-formed thoughts on the web? Hundreds of thousands of people writing on blogger and elsewhere have no problem with that sort of silly chatter. If they’ve said something useful about something I’m interested in, I’ll probably run across it as a link or in a search.
    If I visit a blog regularly, it is because the material on that site is high quality and usually of either professional or intellectual interest, no matter the frequency or length of the posts. The extent to which any blogger hesitates or rushes to post is a matter of following their own muse and trusting their own judgement.
    In any case, the move towards “high-end” blogs being oriented more towards longer-form essays strikes me as a positive development. I read online–like I read the newspaper and even read fiction–to learn about and find new things out about the world. I want insight and information that I normally wouldn’t have access to. If those writers whose work I read are trying to streamline and carefully craft their work, all the better.

  19. I also agree with the idea of having a separate section for links. (or QuickBits as they’re labelled here). In regards to posting, I feel that as long as the entries are well thought out, and based on some sort of idea or finding that has interested the poster, their readers will appreciate them sharing their findings. It’s not really about impressing every reader that views your blog, it’s about sharing the information you have found helpful to anyone who may benefit from it.
    Just my take though.

  20. I don’t think it’s a real issue. So what that your post is getting a separate page and needs to have a title? You can do whatever you want with that title. Nobody forces you to limit yourself but you. Why aren’t you afraid of being spidered by search engines and being cashed? What about people who may save or (oh no!) print your post on a separate sheet of paper and pin it to the wall? With huge font size for heading!
    Just be free. Free of society and yourself and then you wouldn’t’ find particular software or technology so limiting.

  21. Ed says:

    FWIW, I think the format here at Simplebits is nearly ideal. I check the site daily, sometimes reading the entire blog post, sometimes reading only the short summary. However, I nearly always explore the links, which are often updated even on days without a full blog post. I certainly appreciate all the fresh content and I learn something new constantly.
    That being said, I appreciate Dan’s openly questioning whether there’s a better way. That’s what we’re all about, right? Finding the best solution, best practice, best design to communicate?

  22. In my opinion, your blog style really depends on your target audience and what *you* want to do. It’s your blog and if someone is interested, great.
    I too prefer shorter posts and more frequent. I *don’t* like the single daily post with a list of links at all. I also prefer titles because it helps me to decide if it’s something I’m interested in reading. In fact, I find it annoying when there aren’t any titles.
    Oh and this is interesting, my generation of bloggers (younger) really hasn’t ever seen a blog that didn’t have titles. So again, you have to consider your audience.

  23. mike Burnard says:

    I tend to prefer a site that combines both the well thought-out articles and the short links with a touch of commentary. However, I receive most of my updates from feeds, so prefer sites such as yours and airbag that separate the articles from the snippets into different feeds. Makes sorting it out easier.

  24. Add my voice to the folks that say “pressure from where?” It’s your site, do what you want.
    That said, I find titles useful when making my rounds. I can whip through the 25-30 sites I read regularly very fast just from the titles. Titles serve as a kind of marker that indicates what’s new since the last time I looked.
    Maybe it’s just the way my brain works, but titles stick out better than dates (with or wtihout time) alone. This is especially true for sites that add new content more than once per day.

  25. Thanks for the thoughts so far. When I mentioned “pressure” in coming up with a title, I meant purely pressure from myself. In reality, figuring out a title for each post isn’t horrible, but when smaller, less formal entries are mixed in with longer articles, giving both a title seems to give equal importance to both. Longer articles are pushed down the page yet both look like proper articles. That’s where mini link lists (like QuickBits) come in, keeping articles at the forefront while shorter bursts can still flow in.
    So, I don’t feel worried about the content I’m broadcasting, but rather finding the optimal way of presenting it. Perhaps the way it is, is good for now. It’s fun to think about this stuff.

  26. jake says:

    I notice that too on my site. I abhor the backburner. Sometimes if I’m lucky I throw together a post with a bunch of smaller items in a nice little unordered list. Brian sent me a message about Kottke’s links and suggesting we try and figure something out. Good luck coming up with a solution.

  27. Oliver Zheng says:

    Blog entries should have titles when needed. Otherwise they can be tagged and tossed around. That way as long as there is a way to navigate to the appropriete content, it’s a job well done.

  28. Ian Brown says:

    When I’m writing in any blog, or even writing an update for a different site I own, if I’ve got to make a smaller, lesser post within the main article or blog entry, I just add it as the name of the title and the name of what I’m going to say. I don’t feel pressure to keep blogs formal, as they’re not meant to be.
    On my own site, if I’m being casual, I’m casual about it. That’s why it’s my “Thoughts” instead of articles or blog. Makes it easier to become informal without feeling guilty.

  29. Clark says:

    You put to words what I have been dealing with but not really giving much thought. Often times all I want to publish is a link to an article but I end up using the article title as the title of my post and a quote to give it depth. I do this because my template “demands” it. How to deal with the fact that maybe twice a week I have time for a longer bit of writing but I have time to share interesting linkage everyday?

  30. Brian says:

    Sometimes I envy the userland-esque style of blogging, since it’s so easy to add just a quick post that ends up becoming a part of the greater stream of posts for that day. Of course that suffers from the opposite problem, that you can’t have a feature post with a big nice title and whatnot.
    Maybe it would be nice to have a tag you can put on your post that says whether it’s big or little. Each getting a different style treatment.

  31. Gordon says:

    I’ve had my head buried in a re-design for my site, missed this and Jasons post and I’m surprised that this shift seems to be happening to a lot of people.
    Currently my “miniblog” is in a thin middle column – the re-design will place it on a wider column to allow me room to “blog” a bit more. The main column will hold longer “posts” that are more considered.

  32. I was stuck with the same dilemma at one point. I like my “main” entries to have some substance to them, but I sometimes want to make a quick point about something. Hence I hatched something I call the “Soundbyte”, which is just what it sounds like. It’s nicely done with a useful MT plugin called Multiblog that will automatically rebuild my main index template with the new content when I update the soundbyte, which is in a blog of its own. Sadly, I don’t even use the silly thing all that much.

  33. Aegir says:

    If your CMS needs a title, why not use the date and time? I think if a title doesn’t come naturally to something, just use some of the inherent metadata for it.

  34. r c Silva says:

    Without wanting to sound a bit harsh or anything like that, let me out it this way.
    Aren’t we complicating the problem in 1st place??
    As I recall blogs were intended to be LOGS of life,activities,whatever.
    But some ppl had the need to make it a newspaper and down it wen’t.
    KISS is an old concept but i believe it still applies to technology.
    just my 2€.
    Cheers all.

  35. John says:

    I often find myself not posting those “small (but post-worthy and interesting) things”, simply because I don’t think I have enough content relevant to the topic. After I’ve resolved that issue, then there’s that dreaded title to come up with!

  36. stephen says:

    It may also be a case of choosing words wisely, constructing meaningful sentences, and avoiding the “I believe, I feel, I hate, etc” statements.
    Finally, we are trying to emulate that which we are trying to be – journalists. And in a world where journalism has taken over the internet – it’s proving much harder for any one of us to be the next best thing.
    (Interestingly, it increases the chances of two or more bloggers writing EXACTLY the same thing about an event.)

  37. Ben Barren says:

    The supposed promise of Web 2.0 is “Open API” etc integration between different applications/services which will become ‘web based’ and part of the great ‘Semantic Web’ – Just as headlines in blog posts and the editing plus writing needed to just blog a link becomes too much, it also needs to be easier to take the link (eg from the RSS reader you view it from / or the site – which is harder to control) and automagically blog from my RSS reader. Why do no RSS readers do this ?
    Like when I use flickr and ‘blog this’ straight to blogger. This feature should be every on the Net ! esp in RSS readers, and major publishers.
    Also, Dan – I sent you an email from simplebits.com form, as well as through linkedin network, where Im friends with richard mcmanus who knows a friend of yours. We have some very 2.0 design needs for feedtagger.com – Thanks
    Ben Barren
    http://benbarren.blogspot.com
    http://www.feedtagger.com
    RSS’ing down under

  38. Webgreenhorn says:

    Hmm… I just started blogging, but I kinda like titles. They’re sort of eyecatchers and teasers to posts. Ok, I admit: a title serves rather marketing purposes than adding real content…