Monday, 9 February 2009

Index Page

I saw a post by Ken Allan discussing what he calls an Index Page. Part of the inspiration for his index page comes from my First Time Visitor Guide page. As I describe on this page, the challenge that it tries to address is:
It can be daunting to visit a blog for the first time. The author(s) have been writing individual articles for months or years. This is my attempt to help you get a sense of topics of my blog and find some of the more interesting past articles.
Ken's Index Page description seems to try to tackle a similar, but possibly different issue:
my intention is to provide an index to popular posts and those of general interest only.
In fact, Stephen's recent discussion about Serialized Feeds while focusing quite differently, got me thinking again. He points out that the flow of information via an RSS (and thus how a reader experiences is most recent first). However, it was produced and the story is really from oldest to newest. And isn't a blog is best experienced through on-going reading over the course of time? Which leaves us with a question:

How do we create resources on our blogs that will help a
new reader or a
search visitor
understand what's there and orient themselves?

I distinguish the two types. A new reader is going to pick things up from there. A search visitor is going to explore and may come back periodically, but will not subscribe. I definitely do not have the right answer here, so I want to raise some issues and then I definitely would like to get ideas and help.

Index Page as Jump Off Point

Ken has some interests statistics collected around his Index Page. He looks at time on page and numbers of views. My statistics suggest that the Index Page is used as a quick jump off point to other pages. It actually has a fairly low exit percentage, but a below average time on page. Most people spend a significantly longer time on pages with meatier content.

Thus, I see one of the primary goals of the index page or however, we define these resources as being a place where you can understand the various topics of the blog and find the best posts on those topics.

Large Index Pages - Daunting

Ken Allan and I have discussed this before (see the First Time post for some of the discussion). Ken told me that his experience with my page:
It all made more sense to me on second time through, some months on though. At first reading, I found it a daunting post to take in.
I completely agree. That the size of both my page and Ken's page are quite large and overwhelming. This is probably the classic "wanting to tell everyone about all the great stuff."

The thoughts that we came up with was that realistically an Index Page needs a couple of parts:
  1. First Time Visitor information that gives just a few seminal posts that will get someone into the flow.
  2. An Index Page with lots of the topics and the best stuff related to that topic.
Index Page Worth the Effort?

I find myself updating the index page about every six months based on posts like 2008 2009.

However, it is a lot of work to manually keep this page up to date, so unless I've already pulled the information together, it's doesn't seem like it's worth the effort.

Ken suggested that it would be better if I periodically post to remind people to visit the page. This certainly increases the value.

At the same time, Index Page needs to be easy to keep current.

Design of an Index Page?

I'm not quite sure I get what a good Index Page design would have on it.

I'm hoping folks will help me with design ideas. How would you structure your page? Or better yet, create your index page?

Automated Index Page?

And here's the rub. The technology that is currently running eLearning Learning has some capability to produce something pretty close to an Index Page. It can show me the "best" (based on social signals) of my blog:

Best All Time Posts on eLearning Technology

It has best based on particular keywords:

Best eLearning 2.0 Posts from eLearning Technology

Which then quickly springboards into

Best on Adoption and eLearning 2.0 from eLearning Technology

Or it can show recent and best for a topic:

Recent and Best for eLearning 2.0

I regularly find myself using it to find my own content because the search is better than Blogger's search. For example, as I was creating this post, I looked at eLearning Technology Blogging.

Right now, there is no view for a blog that is like an Index Page, but maybe we can create it. So, let's start with what an Index Page should look like, and then I will try to figure out if I can help create something similar automatically.

In fact, I wonder if this raises a bigger, more interesting questions:
  • Should the design of a blog be for regular readers or for first time and casual readers?
  • Should there be multiple views of a blog?
  • What should those views be?
Wow, this could be a very interesting conversation with potentially big impact. I hope you will join in and help.

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