We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Saturday, January 12. 2008
Some good folks have gotten together to produce a daily, blog-based, non-partisan and non-ideological online newspaper, called The Issue.
They are notable for their "Issue of the Day," analogous to a front-page story in a newsmagazine, which takes a look at the sides of a controversial issue. Today: Smoker's rights.
Give them a look. I am sure that they would welcome Dr. Merc's critique of their site.
Posted by Bird Dog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 12:20 | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)
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[I'm transcribing the italics and embedded links I used in the email to UNIX format for this post]
To: Chief Blogger(s) of 'The Issue'
cc: Maggie's Farm comments section
Maggie's Farm [LINK], one of the most engaging eclectic sites in the blogosphere, linked to your site this morning with high praise. Knowing they had someone in the audience (me) who's been webmastering since the web was one month old and did it professionally for nine years, they suggested I run a critique on it, and this I'm happy to do. I'll break it down into categories.
The only thing I'd put on the Critical List is that you MUST raise the size of your fonts immediately. You're using size 8, the smallest fonts a browser can handle. On a standard 1024-wide monitor, the fonts are simply too small to be easily read. The standard for the industry these days is size 10. If you don't change the fonts, and your site never really seems to catch on, that'll be one of the main reasons.
- Change the font style to Arial. The Times New Roman you're using is still used by news sites, because it has that 'newspaper' feel to it, but tests show that people vastly prefer Arial over Times New Roman.
- Your main page needs to have its width set by percent, not pixels. As it is now, if one shows up using an older 800-wide monitor, most of the nav bar is snipped off. Conversely, if one shows up using a 1280-wide monitor, the whole page is squeezed down to the middle half of the screen. Standard width percentage is 90 to 95%, depending on how wide you want the margins.
- Dump the goofy gray font color and change it to black. I occasionally run into this and think, "Why would anyone purposefully try to make their site harder to read?" You can use gray (or any color) for headers, like the "Search", "Newsletter", etc, in the nav bar, but keep the text, itself, black or a very dark gray.
- Make the links the standard dark blue. People look for some kind of uniformity in a medium like the Web, and acting like one is /avant garde/ by using odd-colored links just confuses people. It certainly doesn't impress them.
- Two of the three claims made by your banner are false. Bloggers are usually not experts, and they're rarely eyewitnesses. They are, however, certainly impassioned. The banner needs a rewrite.
- I don't know what "W.E.H.T." stands for, but get rid of it. Seeing unknown acronyms and such on things like banners gives the reader the impression that it's some kind of 'club', with its own secret sayings and handshakes. Or, put another way, if you don't know what W.E.H.T. means when you arrive, then you're not welcome, buddy! This is WEHT country, baby! "Live WEHT or die!", that's our motto! You especially don't want a 'cultish' feel to the site if you're trying to appeal to both sides of the political fence.
Update: Okay, I saw on the 'About' page that it stands for "What Ever Happened To". There's only one tiny thing wrong with this:
"Whatever" is one word.
And, no, "WHT" is not a common acronym /a la/ "LOL", "WTF", etc. Sorry. If you really have to put the 'Whatever Happened To' link on your banner, just make the fonts smaller and spell it out.
- It's a hellacious project, but your Blogroll page needs (1) updating, (2) more sites, and (3) categorization. Maggie's has a pretty impressive blogroll, as does TigerHawk [LINK]. The reason I say 'hellacious' isn't because of the mere drudgery involved, but because -- if you really want to do it right -- you should spend a few minutes on each site and make sure (1) it's adding something to the narrative, and (2) it's still active. If the readers click on a bunch of dead or inactive links, it's on your shoulders, not the departed bloggers'.
- "Blog Roll" is one word, as is pretty much anything that starts with the word "blog". If you're going to portray your site as some kind of "more than just your average blogger" site; that is, having a 'Best Of" section, then you really need to make sure you've got the lingo down.
- Personally, I don't like article descriptions ending with "...". Fox News started doing that in their latest overhaul, under the assumption (I presume) that it'll entice readers to click on the link, but I view it as amateurish. If you can't encapsulate an article in an enticing way in one sentence, then you need a better headline writer.
The Up Side
- I like the concept of the 'Issue of the Day', as that'll entice people to drop by once a day, just to see what's up. More importantly, the 'related links' below it, showing both sides of the issue, shows a clear independence on your part that everyone but the zealots and ideologues will appreciate.
- I also like the 'Musings' area. There are tons and tons of eclectic sites out there, but one of the things that puts Maggie's a notch above the majority is that they take the word "eclectic" seriously. One day it's philosophy, the next day it's an article on tractors. I'm sure it was just coincidental, but when it comes to melding three personality types, political viewpoints and general values in life, they really nailed it. They have certain commonalities, but in other ways they're really quite different, and the result is a fun, jumbled mess that's a delight to behold. I hope you can attain the same chemistry for your site.
- The Mission Statement was very well written and very well centered. On one extreme, the line about "two-dimensional" was strong and needed to be said, yet the way the Statement humbly wrapped itself up at the end showed that someone was keeping the whole thing in perfect perspective. If I didn't have to use my 3000X electron microscope to read the tiny gray fonts in the arcane format, I might have /really/ been impressed. :)
Anything "Of The Day" has a strong appeal to people. It's no accident that links guys like Glenn Reynolds and 'goofy links' sites like Fark.com are so popular. I'm certainly interested in Michelle and Ed Morrissey's daily commentary, but a person can only take so many Hillary-bashing articles before it's time to move on. At that point, it's time to head to the links sites like Instapundit, Maggie's, and, hopefully, The Issue.
What you need now is impetus. While the occasional link on a B-List site like Maggie's is nice, you really need to get an A-Lister, like Glenn or Michelle, to link to you. That, in turn, means you must have something to add to the narrative. Glenn linked to this page
of mine a few weeks ago simply because I had followed a story that no one else had. Granted, I did it in a purposefully comical manner (where the author was constantly being 'amazed' as the blame changed hands), but that didn't lessen the actual documentation of the event.
You ought to SEE the spike my site stats show for that day.
In my case, since I'm not one of those "blogger" guys and don't write daily, the site stats dropped off sharply after that. In your case, however, hopefully a number of readers will see that "...Of The Day" and bookmark the sucker. People like that "of the day" stuff. Myself, I'm thinking of tossing out my 910 web pages and opening up a "Celebrity Nude Picture Of The Day" site. :)
As far as writing something that will catch the eye of the A-Listers, I would suggest that whoever wrote your Mission Statement has the ability to do so.
Best regards and best of luck,
You are a prince for taking the time. They want to discuss with you.
They're very welcome. I wouldn't have put the energy into it that I did if I didn't think they had to potential to become part of the narrative. Their 'Best Of' section is a great way to spread links and introduce new sites to people.
I haven't heard anything back via email, so if they want to discuss anything with me, they're not trying very hard. :)
BTW, speaking of website critiques, I'm seeing an "error on page" as your main page is loading (in IE v6), but then it goes away. On this page, I'm seeing a permanent "Done, but with errors on page".
Update: When I hit the 'Preview' button, the error went away.
Also, I noticed someone tweaked your banner and merged the two lines, but the spacing's still a bit off on the last line. There's probably a size-12 blank space after the "for." Size 12 was the original web font size, so when web editors get confused, they tend to revert to form.
Wow. On behalf of The Issue, I can't thank you enough for the generosity in your words, time and advice.
We called a meeting today to discuss all of the advice in this post, and are going to be acting on a lot of it. There is a ton of good advice in here. I'll spare you the bore of reading my reaction to the various points, but we're working on them.
The only thing that I will challenge you on is the idea that bloggers are not experts. Yes, 99% of them are not. 99% of the 70 million bloggers are people spouting off uninformed opinions. But then there are those people who are writing about the things that the have devoted their lives to. Whether is is Mankiw (Bush economic advisor and the author of THE econ 101 text book) blogging about economics, or Seth Godin (marketing guru) blogging about marketing, or Jeff Jarvis writing about the Media, or Glenn Reynolds and Josh Marhshall writing about conservative and liberal politics, or the folks over at The Oil Drum writing about oil, or the CIO of Harvard Medical School blogging about technology in hospitals - these people are all experts in their fields. They know as much as anyone about their subject. So, while the vast majority of bloggers are NOT experts, the blogosphere is filled with them. You just need to know where to look.
Likewise, eye-witnesses shed as much insight as the experts it is the student live-blogging Virginia Tech, or the protester recording the atrocities in Burma when it was no longer safe for journalists, or the cancer patient documenting what it is like to go through the medical system, or the Kenyan shopkeeper who is describing what it feels like to see his country torn apart, or the writer's guild author talking about why he is on strike, or a prisoner talking about the lighter side of prison, or an astronaut blogging from the International Space Station - these are ALL posts that have been on The Issue. You just can't get that anywhere other than on blogs. You only need to know where to look.
And you know well about "The Impassioned." There is little that people admire more in this world than passion. The passionate blogger is the person who gets home at the end of a long day's work and has the choice between watching 24 or reading a book, and instead decides to write about his life passion. I'll save you the long list, but whether this be someone whose life passion is the art of photography or the art of coffee, you don't often see passion like you see on blogs.
We put a lot of thought into the various ways in which blogs add value. At the end of the day, blogs are as diverse as the people that write them, so it's not an easy task to define the million reasons why blogs are worth reading. But, when you boil down the elements of what we look for in blogs, and the things that you can't get anywhere other than blogs, it all comes down to three things: experts, eye-witnesses and the impassioned.
We are on a bit of a crusade to show people just how much amazing stuff is out there on this so-called "blogosphere." The Experts, the Eye-witnesses and the Impassioned. They are all out there, shedding as much insight on the things that influence our lives as places like the NYTimes and WSJ. You just need to know where to look.
It is on this premise that we have founded The Issue. To harness all of this genius and funnel it into a daily newspaper.
By the way, I loved reading your bit on your political slant. It was exactly our mission, only with a whole lot more personality. I had a lot of fun reading it and I couldn't agree with you more.
I would love to pick your brain further, if you are so inclined. The wonderful curator of this site has my contact info.
By the way, I just scrolled up through your comment again. I am blown away by your generosity every time I make the long trek to the top of this page. It is wonderful. Thank You!