While scanning the News.com RSS feed, I came across a link to this article titled, “Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes”. Portions of the article make a lot of sense – some of the points should even be pretty obvious to anyone suitably familiar with the Web. However, there are a few points that I think should not be taken as gospel by the general blogging public. The author of the article is Jakob Nielsen; a reknown expert in the area of Web site interfaces and usability with a Computer Science PhD. I, on the other hand, am a shlub with a mere-by-comparisson BSc in Computer Science who hasn’t written any books or been the main attraction at a seminar. I might as well be putting up my dukes against a speeding oncoming train. What you do with the info that I present is your call.
Mr. Nielsen frowns upon mixing topics in a blog. For corporate blogs, sure, that makes perfect sense. I subscribe to the MSDN Blogs for one reason; tips, tricks and advance info on what’s coming down the pike. If an MSDN blogger writes a paragraph about hiking adventures in northern California, fine. I may or may not pay attention, since I’m there for the gritty tech info. But the Blogosphere (ugh, I haven’t learned to like that word yet) has a very large personal blog contingent. I’ve put current thoughts and ideas on my personal site since 2001, back before there was such a thing as a “blog”. It was my .plan (Unix folk know what I’m talking about). I even wrote a few Perl CGI scripts to handle archiving duties so that one long text document wasn’t served to make your scrolling finger ache; this was before services like Blogger and software like WordPress were common. Back in university, we used to leave little messages and such in our .plan files in our Unix shell accounts on the school’s student server. Most .plan entries consisted of random Simpsons quotes and rants like “omg, project 6 for CS321 sucked large!!! i failed it for sure 🙁 “. For the most part, my .plan was about the goings on in my life and I continued to do the same when I became blog-ified. It’s my personal log, dealing with things that I’m interested in. I like computers/programming, hockey, golf and (good) music so that’s what I write about. I’m not a company with a focused set of products and services. I’m a person writing about my life, as are many of the other bloggers with personal websites. My target audience are not customers or investors. The audience I’m after are people that share my interests, people working in a similar profession (I get a lot of search engine referals containing computer programming keywords), friends, family, people I played hockey with/against, people from the old Timmins BBS scene (PS: it’s working according to this post – I’ve even received email from people from that scene) or anybody in general that may know me…or not know me.
Posting regularily is another habit that Mr. Nielsen recommends. Again, I see his point in terms of a business blog. For personal sites, blogging in a timely manner can sometimes be a chore. I know that I’m not the only one that works during the day, returns home tired in the evening and then still has things to accomplish before going to sleep. Sometimes I work late. Sometimes I go out socializing. Sometimes I’m asked to create a software application, write some SQL statements, or develop a website for side-projects away from work. Sometimes I attend Rangers games. Sometimes I’m asked to take a look at someone’s malfunctioning computer. Sometimes I chase our cats around. Sometimes I chase Dena around. Sometimes I go golfing. Sometimes I just want to unwind and do as little as possible. I call this life. My personal blog is about my life, and the frequency in which I post can represent what’s going on in said life. I’m not brave enough to make my personal blog my job like Jason Kottke has.
Mr. Nielsen believes that we should be conscious of what we blog, should any potential employers view it. He mentions that we should never show naÃ¯vity since it could come back to haunt us. Yes, the Web is archived (thanks to Archive.org and Google) so anything we say is recorded. Is it not safe to assume that employers would like to recruit those who are able to think and learn? It’s one thing to post a naÃ¯vie opinion or comment, but it’s entirely different if a subsequent post correcting that post exists. I would tend to think of that as a display of learning. In the past, I’ve posted about my hate for VisualBasic; I’m talking like four years ago. Anyone who has read my blog in the past couple of years knows that I have worked with VisualBasic more often and am able to deal with its annoyances (which I don’t find all that annoying anymore) and I’ve even learned to leverage its strengths; hell, I find VBS very handy in many situations and enjoy using it. Maybe I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses, but I’d like to think that potential employers would investigate me beyond an old blog post if they were truly intersted. Also, to me it seems as if Nielsen is suggesting that we appear omniscient at all times in order to be sought after by future employers. The Web is not the only facet of the Internet that is archived; Usenet newsgroups are as well. Take a gander at this thread on the linux.redhat.install newsgroup from back in 1998. Wow, I couldn’t get my SoundBlaster 16 (ISA) to work with RedHat Linux 5.1 right off the bat and a record of that is available for all to see. To me, it appears that I was a CS undergrad and unexperienced Linux user who was researching and seeking more knowledge by communicating with other human beings. Search Usenet archives and you’ll find other topics started by me, asking questions about developing Office add-ins with C#, Dreamweaver templates and the like. I think the old addage, “the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked”, is very applicable in almost every situation. By Nielsen‘s logic, a potential employer should see that as a strike against me. Umm, ok, then.
I’ll summarize my point. If you have a personal website with a blog, write what you want to. That’s why it’s your personal website. Who knows what I’ll write about next? What will you write about?