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Suggestions for the Blog

By Bob Stepno

First things first: The menus work! Kudos to all involved. I appreciate
being able to get at the messages from a variety of directions, and
would appreciate it even more if there were more messages. I read the
comments on Halberstam, for instance, then segued from Bill Mitchell's
comment to Neil Shea's entry on Barry Siegel in the Crime & Justice
topic, which I might have ignored otherwise. I like that kind of
serendipity and non-linearity, the "linkage by association" that
hypertext makes possible -- given time and human attention. That's one
"online narrative" technique worth attention: Selective link-making.

Here are some ideas for category-menu enhancements. I have no idea how
difficult they are to do in TypePad or Moveable Type, which I take it
is the engine underneath all of this. They're just "what if"
suggestions, not "bug reports":

1. Indicate on the menu when a category is empty. Better yet, indicate
how many messages are in that category. Readers are probably going to
go away after clicking on more than one menu item and getting "Return
to Search. There are no more items for this category. "

2. Tell people how to create a new message in those empty categories
instead of providing only the option to "return to search" --
especially since picking something from a main menu isn't really a

3. While you're at it, try to avoid using the word "Return" for
navigation on Web pages -- for all you know, the reader got there via
Google or some other route that does not involve your "Return to..."

4. Since this is a development system, with more planned for next year,
you might add some system for suggesting new categories, synonyms and
cross-references. For example, I don't see "tips," "backgrounding,"
"research," "interviewing," "public journalism," "civic life," "the
audience" or (ironically, given the empty "comment" fields on the
postings) "interactivity." (Any category system is subject to
quibbling: Is "Online Narrative," a "process" or "technique"? With the
word "narrative" in the description, I'd call it technique. With the
word "publishing," I'd call it process.)

5. Why do we need two steps -- select a menu item, then click "Go."
Shouldn't we be able to go there just by selecting the item?

6. If we have to have a "Go" button and a "top" title for each menu
(SUBJECTS & BEATS," "ETHICS," etc.), create a category page for each
group so that clicking the "Go" next to "ETHICS" really does go

7. One other cross-categorization that seems obvious would be
chronology: I wasn't able to get to the Saturday sessions, so I'd like
to scan summaries or comments on sessions I missed. Or, I did go to the
Friday and Sunday sessions and feel like seeing what others had to say
about them. The narrative/search.html page "Sessions" section helps,
but could use some indentations to separate the days.

8. Filter out "smart quotes" and curly apostrophes from the postings.
They will come through as gibberish on some browsers. (I noticed them
using a Eudora browser on my Treo, for instance.)

To see another experiment in adding categories to a site with tons of
archives, check out Dave Weiner's http://scripting.com Scripting News.
The "cats" are hidden under what looks like a "Search" button for now.

I'll see if I can get some discussion of your menus at his meeting on
Thursday. I added a mention to my own blog here.

One other addition to the page would be an online version of your
"Correspondents Wanted" handout or something to explain what the blog
items were. The "note to a friend, not a news story" concept would have
worked better in a few cases if there had been a straight summary of
the talk, or if readers had a glimpse of that original guideline. I
poked around the site trying to figure out whether I could post my own
after-the-conference item directly, decided I couldn't, then got
distracted by other snowy-week things.

Print and online veteran Bob Stepno receives his Ph.D this month at UNC Chapel Hill. See his website. We welcome your suggestions for the blog.

Posted in about the blog, about the conference on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink