Eric has a new book you should buy, despite the fact he’s all wrong about weblogs. His thesis is that it’s easy to read chronological items that relate to each other from top to bottom on a page. It’s not that Eric has his facts wrong, he’s just looking at the wrong facts.
Weblogs are not 20 chapter books. Eric’s entries refer and develop more than the average weblog’s, he is no exception to the rule that most weblogs would be just as intelligble if they randomly ordered the entries you haven’t read yet than if they presented the newest ones at the top. For some reason Eric insists on using monthly archives for his permalinks, which isn’t helping his visitors or Google (or the bandwidth he’s concerned about). Anchored monthly archives should never be used for permalinks. The only people who still use these are those who are technically hindered from or too lazy to implement post-level permalinks.
On monthly, weekly, or daily archives it makes perfect sense for the entries to be ordered chronologically, because the defining characteristic of the posts is their chronological relation to that date range. On a search result page, I want to see the results ordered either in reverse chronological order or by some search relevance. Both Technorati and Feedster get this, and both default to reverse chronological order of their results. On the front page, which is where Eric has his main beef, the most relevant thing to at least 95% of visitors is going to be the latest items. Anything else is going to be making the site less useful to the majority of users for the benefit of a few. There is a much larger precedent for putting the most recent items at top than just weblogs: most email and webmail software I’ve used, every press release page, news sites like CNN, Zeldman, the Board of Governors, the White House. Breaking the convention of thousands of familar sites for the benefit of the occasional reader who checks back every week or so but is really annoyed at having to scroll funny to what they’ve missed breaks the Hippocratic Oath of design. Weblogs aren’t ordered the way they are because of some freak historical accident, they’re ordered this way because it works.
(A sidenote about the bandwidth issue: it’s dead. Of course pages should be made as small as possible using standards and efficient markup to help them load quickly. No one is going to argue that. However an optimized 10K page loaded thousands of times a day is still a healthy chunk of bandwidth. If you are adjusting your content or paying more for the popularity of your website, find a better provider. The server that this site (and others) is on is allocated 1.2 terabytes of bandwidth transfer per month. At worst it uses a third of that. Server bandwidth should not be an issue anymore these days.)
I mostly disagree with his post, however I feel Eric’s pain. I’ve had to do the scroll-catchup thing before, and it was annoying. Without breaking the website for the vast majority of my users, I can offer some relief:
- Eric is a busy guy and I’m guessing he uses a newsreader (like NetNewsWire) to keep track of who has updated. If you click through to the permalink of a new item it will take you to the individual archive for that page, complete with comments. I have always had intra-post navigation at the top of the page, but after reading Eric’s screed it occurred to me where that would really be useful is after you’ve read the article and want to move on to the next thing. So now I have post navigation above the article, after the article, and after the comments. If you’re a few posts behind, navigate the individual archives instead of a monthly archive or the front page. Enjoy.
- One benefit to a completely dynamic system is that you can change views on the fly pretty easily. So if the reverse chronological thing bothers you that much, at least with WordPress blogs you have a easy fix. Simply add
?order=ascto any WordPress URI and it will order the dates ascending instead of descending. Example: my March archives, my March archives descending. It would also be pretty trivial to set a cookie to allow people to see things ordered different ways, and I imagine within a few hours of writing this there will be a new hack or plugin on the forums. If only everyone used WordPress.