Home Do we really need Web Design and Taxonomy?

Do we really need Web Design and Taxonomy?

Two recent memes from the blogosphere seem to me to be ripe for mixing:

Meme 1) The current trend for tech blog re-designs to have a minimalist, lotsa-white-space look that places emphasis on the content. Dave Winer probably started this trend with his re-design, but I’ve seen it elsewhere before him (e.g. Peter Lindberg and Erik Benson). And now Robert Scoble and Marc Canter. Mark Pilgrim’s site is also bathed in white space nowadays. Hey I guess my site is pretty minimalist too. Maybe it’s just a tech blog thing?

Meme 2) Jason Kottke’s comment today: “Nothing takes the fun and personality out of writing like metadata.” Jason points out that blogs have lots of extra design bits in them to help people organise and link together information, but it distracts from the main content.

What’s the connection? Maybe it’s that some of us bloggers are trying to push extraneous pieces of visual design out of our weblogs. And what’s this a trend towards? The usurpation of websites by RSS perhaps. I’m beginning to sound like Steve Gillmor or Dave Winer. What I mean is: does web design, in the visual / graphical sense of the phrase, really matter anymore? Does ontology / taxonomy of a physical website mean much nowadays? If the majority of people read a weblog via an RSS Aggregator – and that’s not the case yet, but it’s heading that way – then does Web Design or Taxonomy matter a hill of beans? Why bother putting in all these design flourishes and metadata if our readers don’t see/use it?

I’ll give you an example. I use k-collector to categorise each weblog post I write into topics. But those topics can’t be seen via RSS Aggregators (at least not in the one I use – let me know if you do see them). Another example: trackbacks aren’t visible in the RSS Aggregator. A link to comments is available in my Aggregator, but there is no context – ie I don’t know how many people have commented on a post, I have to click the link to open it up in my web browser.

And some people still don’t provide the whole of their text in their RSS feeds. Movable Type people are the biggest offenders (if that’s the right word), but only because it is the default behavior to include only excerpts in their RSS feeds. Doing this may be The Last Bastion of Web Design, because it’s forcing us readers to go out of our RSS Aggregators and visit their websites. It’s noticeable that most of the people who I’ve categorised as “Designers” in my Bloglines RSS Aggregator exhibit this “click to see” behavior. Can’t blame them, they’ve got nice pretty sites and they want people to view them.

Mind you I’ve noticed in my own referrer logs that about half of my visitors (to my actual site) get here via a search engine. So that alone is probably a good case for me to continue to provide a nice design and a helpful taxonomy. Plus of course you want to make a good impression generally speaking with your web presense. It’s like you don’t want people to see your house when it’s messy and has things strewn all around the lounge. You want to vacuum the place and have your furniture arranged in an orderly fashion before visitors call. So design and taxonomy has its place, even in our increasingly RSS-ified world.

But RSS (and/or Atom) is the Future. How long before we can represent our content’s taxonomy/ontology in our RSS feeds? I mentioned this in a previous post and Dave Winer commented: “I plan to make my aggregator work with categories.” That’s definitely a good start. What are other aggregator developers planning to do in this regard?

And how long before we can cram all those bits of metadata that Jason mentions into our RSS feeds? That wasn’t Jason’s point of course, he was saying all that metadata necessarily de-emphasizes the main content. I agree with that sentiment, but I have to admit also that I’m addicted to those little bits of metadata. I like reading comments, clicking on the trackbacks, seeing the referrers, etc. It all adds to the community aspect of weblogs. And if we can cram all that community into our RSS or Atom feeds, then all the better.

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