Washington Post Blog Directory Preview

photo by brownpauLast night at the 2007 Washington Post Blogger Summit (aka “Blogging Unplugged”.. where was Eric Clapton and his guitar?), the minds behind Washingtonpost.com and their advertising arm (WPNI) revealed their “skunkworks” project of a “Local Blog Directory”. As of all the sections of the get-together, this one generated the most lively discussion among attendees and the WaPo.com staff.


Once a greeked version of the site with mock layout options was unveiled, the gasps were almost as audible as those who viewed the iPhone in San Francisco earlier int he day (oh, well, not really). A number of folks started nitpicking on the layout and types of content, others poked an prodded on how would the page function. Others questioned what type of support would be given by the WaPo staff in promoting and handling content provided by the blogs (via RSS or some new API [aplication programming interface]). There also were proponents (and opponents) of getting too specific in using geocoding with the stories and the blog listings. Overall, there was very little consensus on the content, but all in attendance believe that this was a good idea, albeit if the implementation had a bit further to go.

In a former life, I was a user-interface (UI) designer, and know that Nielsen and Tog would pull their hair out over how poorly the site would be presented to visitors. Overall, you can’t fault their initial draft wanting to be in the WaPo site template, but given the screen shown (right), useful “bits” of the UI are reduced to almost under 40% of the screen real estate. The beauty of Google (and Yahoo and Lycos in the early days), was how “stripped down” the UI is and how it’s presented and enabler of functionality rather than something “pretty” to look at. Given the layout here, all the “content” of what could be of interest is “below the fold” in newspaper terms (also a former life) and given a 800×600 or even a 1024×768 screen, would almost be invisible to the average visitor.

The staff admitted that their MyWashingtonPost.com site has flagellated due to lack of use and inattention by the staff, however, using such personalized technology may aid in making the “blortal” here a bit more useful. Since the advent of MyWashingtonPost, the use of dynamic tools such as AJAX and “web parts” have allowed sites to offer customized UI to their visitors. Allowing folks to customize their presentation (namely after the initial visit) would help avoid being “stuck” in the standard template, but would allow readers to get to the content they want quicker. Plus, for those with more (say a 23″ monitor at hi-res) or something smaller (say, a smartphone), this change would be essential. A number of sites include features such as this, including a number of tech portals, such as Slashdot and others.

Other concerns included how feeding of news and media (namely photos) would operate within this “blortal” (I figure if I use this term enough in the article…). There was a suggestion of a ‘data dictionary’ of standard tags to use or possibly some type of mapping of those used on the blogs currently to those that would be used by WaPo. Overall, the discussion turned to minutia, delving into a design by committee nearing the end of the session. I had suggested at the “after party” to some of the WaPo.com staff that using their old Real Estate directory page setup (of progressively disclosing more details as you clicked through a geographic region) with filtering at each level that corresponds to self identified categories from the bloggers who list themselves in the directory.

Generally, this is a good step from a media company the size and clout of the Washington Post, and seemingly, given their interest in feedback from the community of the bloggers, they are looking for a ‘best of breed’ directory when they launch (whenever that may be). It’s ambitious, but, it could be, a solution to a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist at this point, which is, the inability of the public to find relevant information on blogs in the DC Metro Area (regardless of content or focus). Advertising, however localized, is probably the major corporate reason for this push since, it’s been reported widely around the country, that the web (and sites such as Craigslist) are eating into a lot of the traditional revenue such as classifieds and smaller ads that newspapers usually rely upon. This is not to say the presentation of this upcoming site feature was disingenuous, but the reasons for even presenting this to the folks gathered was never fully disclosed.

2 Comments so far

  1. Ross M Karchner (unregistered) on January 10th, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

    Yeah, I was surprised how heated the “geotag” exchange got.

    Both sides were wrong, too ;)

    Just because a site *uses* precise coordinates, it’s a fallacy they have to be exposed to others, creating privacy and safety problems.

    But coordinates are also too arcane for the average user. The best idea is probably to let people just self-identify with particular neighborhoods.

    I’m trying to catalog the known knowns and known unknowns of this over here.


  2. Robbie (unregistered) on January 10th, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

    I was a bit tickled at the level of “minutiae” that the conversation got into. Really, all I wanted to know was 1) can I easily find it and 2) can I easily use it.



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