A few months ago I said that the typical way of displaying aggregated content on websites — a list in reverse chronological order — probably wasn’t the best format. It treats everything with the same importance, whether it’s a twitter, a photo or a long essay. I’ve now, with my new front page, had a stab at something a little better. It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction toward showing a snapshot of what I’ve been doing online recently.
Most websites with a lot of content don’t look like weblogs. Any news or magazine site attempts to show you an overview of everything happening right now. Whether it’s BBC News or The Onion, the different types of content are shown in different ways. The important items are more prominent and different parts of the page will change at different rates depending on the shelf-life of the linked-to pages.
These days many of us generate large amounts of different kinds of material across the web and I wanted to create an equivalent front page for an individual (ie, me) — a constantly shifting overview of everything that’s “me” online right now.
Although I’m getting there, my new front page isn’t quite right yet. The biggest problem is that I don’t want to spend any time curating the page — it should update automatically, in a clever way.
All professional sites will have human hands involved at various stages. The priority and position of each item will be set manually and all the copy will be written to the correct length for its slot. If the length of text isn’t precisely tailored then any flexible layout will, I think, tend toward the vertical stream of content I was trying to get away from.
I was also restricting myself because I didn’t want to start a design from scratch, so had to fit this into the existing framework of the site. But what I’ve ended up with is certainly progress.
With those restrictions the new design (on the right) is nothing radical, but the content and way it’s ordered is a bit different.
The page now shows the most recent items from several sources: Writing from this site (like the piece you’re reading now); Photos from Flickr; Links from Delicious; Comments I’ve posted on other sites; things I’ve written on PhilipGyford.com, Overmorgen, Whit Stillman and Pepys’ Diary; and recent YouTube favourites. I hope to add more. Plus, the sidebar shows my Last.fm listening, Twitters and reading.
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.
In keeping with this project I added another aggregated RSS feed. If you’re reading this via RSS you’re probably using either the feed of only Writing or Writing, Photos, Links, Comments and PhilipGyford.com combined. I’ve now added a feed of everything combined, including things I’ve written on my other sites. I’m not sure anyone needs that much of me but for completeness sake, it’s there.
And last, but not least, I’ve created a page for every single day that pulls together the day’s bits and pieces. It doesn’t aggregate everything I’ve done — yet — but it’s worth it for me just to have a daily archive of my Twitters. Most dates on the site link to the relevant page; here’s an example of one.
I’d love to add more stuff to the front page. Some kind of statistics and graphs would be wonderful — a real and personal version of that Sprint widget would be awesome — but I’m not sure how best to manage this. I know there’s Daytum and Mycrocosm but having tried a bit of personal data gathering with Gyminee and Toggl I found myself getting more obsessed with tracking stuff rather than doing stuff.
Anyway, there we go, a few little steps toward aggregating the things one person does in a way that’s more interesting than a dumb old list. A fair distance to go yet though. If you have any comments or thoughts I’d love to hear them.