Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

So, I've been told again that my weblog is really hard to understand. (By a non-blogger). The person said that if I could make it easier to understand, it would have so much more value. On the other hand, my blogging community network seems to be expanding and I generally get positive feedback. So what's one to do?

On the one hand, the blogging community is accelerating and as the tools become second nature, we begin to take many things for granted. The blog is a conversation about many things that only bloggers really understand and with inside jokes and keywords whose explanations span many blogs. On the other hand to most people my blog is a just a web page that is getting more and more strange.

Is there a good solution? Is there a blog that does a good job being just a web page, while at the same time being a great blog? I guess Boing Boing is great fun for the casual viewer, but is a great blog. On the other hand, it's less of a conversational blog and more of a micro-content/link blog, it seems to me.

Any thoughts?


Non-bloggers don't know what to expect when hitting a blog site. They aren't familiar with the terminology or lingo. When they hit your site and see "Blogrolling," "Moblogging," "Trackbacks," and "LinkRolling" (just to name a few) I can imagine that a non-blogger would see your site as "wakarinikui" ("hard to understand")

Maybe have something like your "cool fonts/polite fonts" thing with your frontpage content, and have a "yasashi" page for newcomers and a "hardcore blogger" page for the more adventurous.

Just a thought.

- ScottAG

The best solution is to have a homepage which have some description and a link to your blog.
Many in the blogging community use that.

I've been having a similar issue. What I have done are the following things:

(1) Each page has an explanation in the top right corner what it is, e.g. on the weblog homepage "This page is the homepage of Stefan Smalla's Info Feed. It shows the most recent entries by date and time (newest on top). It is frequently updated." The individual entry page as well as other pages have their own descriptions.

(2) In the top-left corner, I have placed some links called weblog navigation that give a basic overview. These links stay the same all over the site for consistency.

(3) In the navigation, I have prominently placed a link to an FAQ page, which describes in quite some detail what the weblog is.

(4) Each page has a breadcrumb navigation, which makes it a little easier to understand especially for the people coming via Google. This For an entry this might look as follows: Home > Archives > Feb 16, 2003 > "Google has acquired Pyra Labs".

These four, relatively simple things, have worked quite well for me, althought there are still a number of people with questions.

Joi, I love what I read here. But this is coming from someone who recently got de-linked by a reader because I talk too much about blogging. So, then, I may be a bit biased. Few get how this is changing culture, changing us, changing everything. Keep telling the story.

When designing site architectures and content guidelines for my clients, I always try to live by the maxim "Know thy user."

In this case, matters are complicated by the fact that you've got at least two distinct types of user: those who are new to (or at least not immersed in) online/blog culture, and those for whom the lingo and assumptions are second nature.

While it's impossible to please everyone all the time, there are some concrete things you can do to make things easier for newcomers without alienating regulars. For example, linking any word that is likely to be unfamiliar to a definition, or providing it with a mouseover-state link description, provides a way for people who don't understand a given term to learn what it means, while folks who are already in the know need not click through.

Just a thought...

Thanks for the helpful thoughts. More stuff to do over the weekend...

joi, you're in a tough spot, and one i can appreciate. i've been there too and i've chosen each road once. i'd like to offer advice similar to adam's in that you provide resources to bring the noobs up to your level. please, don't do yourself (and us, i say selfishliy) a disservice by dumbing down this blog. i read this for the same reason i read anything- you engage me. maybe there's already a site with some introduction to blog culture and terminology you can post a permanent link to. if not, maybe all of us here can pool our resources and post one.

I think its more than the terminology. Its the continuance and implicit context. Blogger remembers all. Subscribers know some. A casual visitor knows nothing.

All I know is that the blog sites that try to cater to the readers interests and demands wind up with all the same crap. (It's not really crap, it's actually very interesting, but do I really need to read about some cool new technology, or find some funny link on every blog?). The sites I am a regular at are sites where the author stays true to themselves, and writes what they want to write about, and not what they think will get them more hits, or will show everyone that they are "with it" when it comes to blogging lingo and the latest blogging news and coolest links. Of course a lot of us are interested in the latest lingo, and coolest links... but the sites that stand out are those that relate it to the writer personally, rather than just reporting. It's the personal aspect that even non-techy types can identify with.

Of course I think I am in the minority in feeling like this, and this is simply because most of the people who read and write blogs are into the technology a lot more than the regular Joe. It's hard to remind ourselves that we are not normal and blogging is not as prevalent as it seems to us. I don't have many Internet inclined friends, and it shows in the fact that NONE of my friends know or care what a blog is, beyond reading mine.

It seems to me, that if you really want to get non-web people interested, spend some time writing about things they can relate to, like your everyday life... what did Joi Ito think about while he was riding the train today? What where his fears and joys? What scared him and what made him giddy or proud?

But that's just what I like to read about... and not being in your position as a shaper of the future, I have less demand to meet and am more free to not worry about what I write.

Finally my point: I know you are busy, but for every post you make that appeals to people who already know what you are talking about, how about making it a point to post about something that more "average" people can relate to? You do a lot already, but it is often overshadowed by what seems like (valuable to some of us, but not to most) crusading for bloging's place in society.

This blog is outstanding just as it is without major change because of the quality of intense, active engagement (posts and comments at all hours from author and visitors), the reach into vital topics (democracy, for example), and the way it really says something, not just, "Go see this, this and that." It surpasses the best newspapers in that comments, generally serious "letters to the editor," actually have bearing on the outcome of articles or the site itself. While improvements for this site are under consideration, this writer will look for places on his own sites to apply tooltips (title="attributes") on links that are part of the template, the very form of the page, for greater ease of use.

Unless you blog for money ("weblog as typicam mainstream mass media"), then keep on saying it loud and hard. The blog represents, in my view, a human being speaking with a human voive rather than a news outlet that caters for a well-dentified market segment (read audience). And as I want to believe that all of us are on the same page on this, weblogs are not pointers to good stories and the latest collest links around, but they are ongoing conversations that realise the potential of a conversational WWW.
So, if it doesn't make sense to anyone outside of the conversation, just tell 'em to join in. The conversation is open and everyone is welcomed to speak his mind:-)

I am a blogger myself, but I still don't understand what Trackback and RSS really do. I've looked and looked, but I haven't found an explanation of these concepts in compehensible lanuage. It's as though the people using these terms cannot imagine *not* knowing what they mean, so all explanations are self-referencing and circular, making them meaningless to the people who most need them.

What is needed is a glossary for these terms.

Also, Joi is, I hate to say it, guilty of the solipsistic practice of blogging about technology about blogging about technology about blogging. At some point it needs to reference something else to have meaning for most other people.

OK Good. I now have a mission. I will create a glossary. If someone knows of a good glossary already, stop me now! ;-0 not the essence of blogging the harvesting of niche interests? Do 'general purpose' blogs serve much purpose? How many 'general purpose' blogs would we need.

Atomization of audience appeal == blogging?

Joi, there are blogging glossaries linked to from here.

Like a lot of comments, I think a good blog is fairly self explanitory, but only once you jive with the whole blog design sense -- so to try and make a blog readable for the brand newbie, I think, is difficult. Unless that's your thing -- converting or something. Maybe we should have beginner, intermediate and advanced blogs -- the more you blog (which I think is writing AND reading), the deeper you get into it and the more complicated the design can be.

As well, as a relatively new bee, I've been wondering what makes a good blog. Yeah, for sure, you have to be true to your interests and in what got you going. But shit, no one wants to rant into the darkness -- everyone wants readers. So, you either do irony, or sex, or lots about current affairs. Dunno about talking about your family, unless they are really fucked up. All of this is fairly well covered. If you are semifamous, that helps too.

My favorite blogs are turning out to be places where people express themselves well -- I don't know, kind of hard to say... And where the variety of topic is broad. And where they aren't affraid to link away, and when they are relatively concise -- I think there will come a point where a blog entry has a natural length -- not as long as a newspaper article, not as short as a headline. You know, the movie-too-long syndrome.

Kind of like this comment. Jimmy

OK My conclusion on glossaries. I will link instead of write stuff on my own. That's much more blog-like anyway.

I always wonder why people don't google more and say, "wow, I didn't know that!" when I send them the URL at the top of the google results for the word. Most of my "links" in my Ivan story are just 2 minutes of googling and scanning the first page of results for the best looking result.

Maybe it's about knowing just enough about the topic to know what you're looking for in th results, or maybe it's just that most people are lazy. ;-)

Actually, I met someone the other day who used the Net, but didn't know what Google was. I forget about these people sometimes, but we have to get them into the family. Blogging is like giving a dictionary to someone who doesn't know a single word in the dictionary. Where do you start?

I guess you start with the content and start to "get it" as you see how everything is so linked together...

I'm reminded of how news magazines use sidebars for backstories. Tables of bullet points, charts, maps. Catching a reader up on what went on before, who the players are, the big issues, timelines.

You provide your own answer when you say, "The blog is a conversation..." The blog as a conversation (not as a "medium of conversation") means that a newbie to the blogging world will be as confused as someone who steps into the midst of a small group at a cocktail party in the middle of their conversation. One of two things will happen: Either the person will "pick up" the conversation and join in, or they will quit the group and move on - possibly to the buffet table to load up on more "content." While someone may, in context, recap aspects of the converation up to a particular point, few will take time to explain the rules of conversation, the context of conversation and so forth... at least during the party. However, there are indeed venues for such education, particularly when one is crossing into a different, and unfamiliar, cultural ground.

The rest of my comments are here.

After you decide who your audience is, you can determine whether you need to change your online presence. At the moment, you have hundreds of bloggers in your main audience. I hope you continue offering your perspective to them, without changing much of your editorial style. It works for me while underway in Ireland.

I was kind of new to the blogging world when I discovered yours. As much as i can understand how you might alienate some readers by not making it easy for them to get immersed into your world, I think that 2 points need to be considered. One is that regardless of what this blog looks like or sounds like, one should be able to understand what is going on and join the discussion as one might do in real life. Secondly, I think that the very nature of your blog being a bit confusing and specialised might very well motivate the newcomer to research more and read more if he wants to. In which case he will either go to Google and make a search or you could provide him with some links. Thus, I don t think you should change the look of your site either. just provide a few links and make it possible if one wants to, to learn more but don t dumb your blog down. We were discussing about a week ago with Adam Greenfield about universal information accessibility vs. hard earned rewards and discoveries/preferential treatment and this is kind of what your site did for me. The more you come back, the more you understand and then there are those little happy moments which feel good, when you finally understand the meaning of one word you ve been reading about for 1 week. I like those moments.

I'm reminded of how news magazines use sidebars for backstories. Tables of bullet points, charts, maps. Catching a reader up on what went on before, who the players are, the big issues, timelines.

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