7 Useless Web Traditions That Should Be Broken

7 Useless Web Traditions That Should Be Broken

How much time do we waste switching between and checking our StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Quechup, Del.icio.us, etc. accounts? The sheer amount of these accounts, the chopping and changing required, ensures that most of us will drop a few of these services and stick only to the ones we feel are essential: simply for the sake of our sanity.

#1 — Web 2.0 must come in separate boxes

It doesn’t have to be that way. Just as online start page services like iGoogle can pipe new emails and updated feeds to a personalized page, why couldn’t each Web 2.0 service create a personalized update stream to be aggregated at a single control panel?

From there, we could view new Twitters, pages friends have Stumbled, new comments at Facebook, and so on, all in one place. Clicking on Twitter updates would log you in and take you to your Twitter page, for example. Clicking on updates from other services would result in the same.

I’d like to see a user interface for Web 2.0.

#2 — Feeds are not for sharing

I’d like a feed reader which allows you to add friends. When they accept your friend request, you have the ability to choose to send individual feed items to your entire friend network or to specific friends. These would pool in your feed reader inbox — a folder dedicated to items sent by people you know. You could read the entire folder, clear it if you only want to read your usual feeds, or read only items sent by specific friends.

#3 — Commenting is for blogs

I have seen some incredibly rich debates take place in the comment threads of newspaper website blogs. What often strikes me is how similar these blogs are to ordinary news items — after all, they’re written by journalists, often the same journalists writing ‘proper’ articles, and sometimes on the same topics.

Why not open all articles up to commenters? Employ someone to manage the community aspect of the site and I can guarantee you traffic and earnings will increase as people return again and again to follow the debate.

#4 — People should never be expected to read on the web

I agree with the school of thought that maintains web content should be easy to read, but I think there’s a tendency to assume nobody will ever do anything more than scan online text.

It’s an idea held over from the early days of the internet, when low-res CRT screens blared out information in the most unreadable format imaginable. Since that time screens have become ever more advanced, but our approach to reading from the screen remains relatively unchanged.

If we’re always trying to boil our ideas down into bite-size chunks, how can we ever say anything of meaning?

The evidence, in fact, seems to suggest that people do want rich ideas and meaningful discussion, because this tradition of bite-sized info has created such a shortage of it.

Look at the success of The Huffington Post — more a newspaper than a blog. Or Coding Horror, which boasts upwards of 60k subscribers and blog posts generally over a thousand words. Or A List Apart, which ranks #38 in the Technorati Top 100, its articles as long as 2,000 words.

If traditional logic is followed then readers are merely scanning this content. Yet how many posts have you linked to that you only scanned? How many feeds do you track which you never read? I can only speak for myself, but the answer is none. If people weren’t reading — reading every single word most of the time, I’d imagine — then none of those blogs would be as popular as they are.

#5 — Whitespace is wasted space

“The term whitespace refers to the empty space that is kept around grouped items to visually separate them. It is important to maintain some percentage of whitespace in the design of a user interface because the whitespace can guide the eye and help users understand groupings of information.” [Source]

The single most common web design flaw I see is a distinct aversion to whitespace — as if it were the un-colored portion of a child’s color-in, just waiting to be filled by jagged and jarring pencil and crayon. Whitespace is usually filled by the web equivalent: redundant navigational tools, bells and whistles of little use, distracting and bloated widgets… the list goes on.

Clear space around essential items is incredibly important for readability and usability. The more you have, the better. The tradition, though, is to think of whitespace as nothing, as a space waiting to be filled. In truth, it’s actually a valuable part of your site, and few non-essential page elements are worth its loss.

#6 — Syndication is for blogs

There are few websites, and I’m addressing online newspapers most of all, that wouldn’t benefit from offering a system of feeds for their site. I think websites are still stuck in the mindset that offering full feeds lowers advertising revenue. Bloggers have since learned that this is not the case.

I hope that it will increasingly become the standard that each website or blog should have a feed system in place, whether it be Nike.com or the online counterpart to your newspaper of choice.

Blogs ensure page views are sustained because feed readers still need to visit the page in order to comment. Not every website allows commenting. To sustain page views these sites would most likely have to offer partial feeds, or craft a specialized feed dedicated to alerting interested parties to what is happening at the website, while leaving the bulk of the content on the site.

#7 — Big companies don’t do blogs

Blogging isn’t a science. If you have the money to hire a network of professional writers, a designer, and someone with a bit of blog promotion know-how, chances are you’ll create something very popular. Most of the time, the only thing standing in the way is a lack of money. Big companies don’t have to overcome this obstacle.

To draw on a previous example, Nike could hire two or three (or more) sports writers or bloggers, pay for a fantastic design, and start something which would have a decent chance of becoming the most highly trafficked soccer blog in the world. Instead of displaying third party advertisements Nike could simply use the entire blog to make Nike synonymous with soccer.

The monthly costs probably wouldn’t exceed that of a thirty-second prime-time TV slot. It’s not hard to see how other companies could repeat the model.


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