…Denton was conceiving a comprehensive redesign of his blog network that signalled his steady march toward mainstream respectability. … The redesign, he told me, would “probably be seen as the end of the blog.” It was, in a way, the inevitable result of his original insight about transparency and objectivity. The problem with publishing some stories that are two thousand times as important as others is that it no longer makes sense to display them in reverse chronological order.
Two years ago I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the conventional reverse chronological stream of stuff that most blog-style sites have as a front page:
There are tools to help us [aggregate different kinds of content]. … One problem with these, for me, is that they’re too mechanical. They treat every item as equal, whether it’s favouriting a YouTube video, Twittering a thought, posting a photo to Flickr, or writing a long essay.
Some people love this kind of aggregation. Good for them. I, however, am human and my eyes glaze over when trying to comprehend a chronological stream of equally-weighted events, a format only robots could love.
Going back to the New Yorker article, it says:
[Denton’s] sites will soon abandon the scrolling layout in favor of a more conventional front page that is dominated by images and headlines. The only difference is that his story placement will be determined by algorithm…
Broadly, the most recent items are shown toward the top of the page but each source is weighted and some things will fall down the page quicker. For example, when I’ve found something new on YouTube it will, like everything else new, appear at the top left. But the YouTube block will slip down the page pretty quickly as a favourited video doesn’t mean a great deal to me. On the other hand, something I’ve written, like this, will take longer to fall — it’s more important to me so it should stay prominent for longer. I expect the weightings will need tweaking but it should work.
It’s not for me to say that I am a prescient internet genius…
I’m surprised it’s taken so long, so many years of professional blogging and so many years of blogging tools, for things like this to happen. The reverse-chronological stream, the “river of news” only makes sense if you’re posting things with a regular frequency and they’re all of pretty much the same importance. I doubt those two criteria apply to most blog-style sites.
I haven’t been entirely happy with my front page. It’s OK as an overview, but probably isn’t great for people who come back to it reasonably frequently — it’s hard to tell at a glance which items are new when the ordering isn’t obvious. And I’ve written at length about my dissatisfaction with the kinds of news websites whose front pages I was originally trying to emulate. But it’s OK, and it’s a hard problem to solve without manual intervention.
So, good luck to Mr Denton, and I’m sure we’ll see more sites doing this kind of thing. Eventually.