Forrester report misses the point

Forrester Research, a US based market research firm, last week published a short report entitled 'Blog Design is Broken'. In the 14 page report, its author Kerry Bodine makes a number of observations based on conventioal web site usability practices such as the placement of navigational toolbars on the left hand column. She goes on to suggest that Corporate bloggers should adhere more closeley to these design conventions otherwise she reasons that they will potentially miss out on using blogs as part of their marketing mix.

But Ms Bodine and her colleagues completely miss the point.

While it is true to say that over time a number of usability-based web design criteria have become established across most web sites, e.g. horizontal subject tabs as developed by Amazon across its sites - blogging is a completely different type of phenomenon and many blogs largely ignore these design conventions since they are content driven rather than design led.

Unlike a conventional web site owned by a firm for the purposes of promoting its business interests, blogs are about user generated content in most cases, without any underlying commercial pressure. Similarly, Forrester like old style media companies, has to sell its research to its Corporate customer base and so commissions its analysts to write about subjects that are most likely to sell or be of interest to their Corporate subscribers.

McDonalds, the fast food (sic) chain is cited in the report as a firm who's senior executives are using personal blogs to promote its business. In the example, McDonalds is referencing a press article to highlight its own environmental record on waste. But surely, this is no difference than issuing a Corporate press release.

Unlike most Corporate communications, blogs are written spontaneously and not to a pre-determined editorial agenda. Consequently, bloggers may alternate between writing about a subject area in which they have first hand knowledge or experience and the next posting might be totally unrelated on a more personal topic for which they are no better informed than anyone else. This is partly what makes blogs differ from conventional journalism.

If a firm follows Forresters advice and designs their blog pages using conventional usability rules to look like the rest of their web site it will detract from the rawness of the contributions and may no longer be perceived as being user generated content by the readers but simply the firm posting a message and inviting feedback. In many ways, no different from the letters to the editor that have appeared in newspapers for more than a century.

Comments:

Certainly using a content-first layout is the only sensible way to do web design for weblogs. However, I think navigation is still important, yet the quality is generally very poor.

Take this weblog for instance. I find this entry interesting. Are there other entries that I may be interested in? Is it worth adding to my (extensive) list of feeds? No idea. There isn't even a list of recent entry subjects. If I go to the root page, I can scroll through full recent entries, but not concisely and after some searching I found two links to it which are obscure and poorly labeled.

Posted by Tom Hawtin on October 09, 2006 at 10:35 AM GMT #

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