Digital Magpies and Usability Ignorance

Whilst out and about on my travels a couple of days ago, I happened across a blog that had had an article syndicated on a favorite read of mine, and wanted to email the author rather than comment. I spent nearly 10 minutes scouring the page for a simple contact link or form. I waded through heaps and heaps of useless digital trash in the hope of being able to contact the author and ended up giving up.

To make a point, let me share with you what I had to traverse in the sidebar whilst squinting at the tiny fonts for a link:

  • A bunch of feed button links, all for the same feed but hosted at different feed services
  • A form field that wanted my email address for no dicernable reason
  • 9 or 10 other buttons all one after another in the sidebar that advertised and linked to a bunch of trendy services i had absolute no need of
  • A block of recent posts provided by Technorati — why the blogger didn’t use their own blog softwares version of this or why such a useful set of links was buried under all of the above escapes me
  • A pile of recnt comments
  • A stack of the authors comments on other blogs
  • A bundle of “incoming links”
  • Some related links — at least that’s what the title said they were
  • A “bitty browser” monstrosity that looked more like an adsense block and had the audacity to scroll me through a bunch of the authors favorite blogs
  • A set of links offering to let me read the same post as opml, or at a bunch of other gimmick services aswell as in pdf format or read it at various other rss/opml service and as if I’d not already had my fill, an invitation to browse the authors OPML at Dave Winers site
  • More options in the form of “rojo” links. Lord knows what they are or why they were there.
  • A creative commons copyright button, followed by a copyscape button
  • Another block of incoming links, this time with handy rss links in case i wanted to subcribe to the people that were linking to the author based on a text link to their blog
  • A broken “my pagerank is” button, just in case i was mentally ill and felt the need to know…
  • A map widget, in case my curiosity about the page had not been slaked yet
  • One more widget for incoming links, Zzz….
  • A blogshares widget (haven’t they died yet?)
  • “My blog is worth”… oh god, don’t tempt me…
  • Half a dozen or so more widgets to useless web2.0 services i’d sooner cut my arm off than visit
  • Some more generated bookmark/tagcloud links
  • Lastly, the authors recent bookmarks at

On revisiting the blog today to write this post, i actually found the contact link. It was hiding in a graphical button, naturally. God forbid it should be a blue underlined link in a prominent location..

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15 thoughts on “Digital Magpies and Usability Ignorance

  1. I have and newsvine links below my full articles. That’s just a joke/gimmick/gadget. In my excerpts these links were the first to be deleted from my template. As far as I can see nobody is using it (on my site).

    In my RSS feed I am using some/plenty of FeedBurners FeedFlare items. I think the result is the same (zero).

    Ken, your comment is a good reminder to get rid of them 🙂

    The next commenter please …

  2. A couple of sites I read have started putting six to eight buttons at the end of each post to send it to digg, furl, and other services with It just seems to smell of desperation to me, and the graphics on the buttons give no hint as to what they are supposed to be. If they start polluting their RSS feeds with them I’ll probably drop the sites.

  3. Get a new picture of a cat if you have lost yours. Flickr should have two or three. If that’s not enough of a choice Google images might help out 🙂

  4. Given that I’m responsible for the ” ‘bitty browser’ monstrosity ” — I thought I’d quickly note that part of the idea behind Bitty is that it can actually help reduce this sort of clutter. ie, rather than a seemingly endless pile of sidebar-stuff (which can also slow a page load) you might instead make much of it available from within a navigable region.

    Or, to cite your very own example — if that long list of links hadn’t been presented from within Bitty, it would have taken up even more space in the sidebar, if you see what I mean…

    And now, back to raising the undead… -Scott (

  5. Oooops. What were you doing on my site, Nick? I’d better do some housekeeping 😛 Has anyone seen (the picture of) my cat?

  6. I know that many — maybe even most — folks use the internet to work, but some use it to play. I am certainly a digital magpie. I did, however, add blue EMAIL text above the little button, and it’s near the top of the sidebar.

    I think blogging, for some of us, is an art form — a visual art form.

    All my little trinkets have alt text, and I provide full feeds for those who don’t want to wait. What does it say, that we’ve come to a time we can’t wait 20 seconds for a poem or a photo?

  7. I don’t have any massive objections to buttons, or gimmicks or, heaven forbid, truly useful services, but i do find it terribly difficult to use a site with too many of them.

    With blog design, im definately in the “less is more” camp.

    You have to think what your blog is about. This particular one had no financial motives in the form of advertising. In fact, everything I surmise about the authro from the (blessedly clean) rss feed items leads me to beleive the waht they have to say is the dominent motive of the blog — ie,they want you to read and understand their ideas and follow the things they link to.

    In that case, why not make that the focal point? Cut everything back to a bare minimum and focus on the TEXT of the blog…

  8. None of my blogs have gotten so crazy and I hate it when I see all those “trendy” multicolored buttons with the tiny text. I have tried a lot of thing and yes some of my blogs have some things that are kind of corny and stupid but only because I want to test some now and then but it’s usually on non-critical/personal blogs that may eventually move to their own domain from a free service.

  9. Nae, I know what you mean about sidebars becoming unweildly. I’m nearly at stage of launching my publication and I have to say my sidebars really suck big time. I’m looking for a designer JUST to help me with the sidebars! The rest of site design, is passable – it was actually a wireframe that I decided would be good enough as the actual design. Nothing is set in concrete.

    Anyway, I’m hoping that my site will make it easy enough for people to contact me, and/or submit their service offerings for review.

  10. In Germany you have to have an imprint. You still can decide which info to post or link but at least there must be an easy way to contact the author of the site.

    And of course I have a contact form 🙂

    Additionally I have some Dublin Core meta-data specification in my header:

  11. I run two websites, and I insist on having a “contact” link on every page (one has it in the page header/navigation bar as “Contact Me”, the other has it in the page footer as “Contact the webmaster”) – but the key thing, it’s available on any page, and isn’t hidden.

    All websites, personal or business should have some details as to whose page you’re looking at – and a way to contact the site owners easily.

  12. I don’t know what you guys’ thoughts are, but I always put my contact above the fold.

    Having countless times used websites to contact, or to get contact info, I see making it as easy as possible to find is critical.

    Basically, you haven’t got a business if you can’t be contacted.

  13. This has just reminded me that I need to do some pruning on my sidebar — i don’t think it’s as bad as that, but it’s still getting a bit unweildy! My biggest problem is my categories — i have a ton displayed as a list, but the only other solution I can think of is to put them in a drop-down, which i’d rather not do. Maybe i should create some super-categories?

  14. I have seen the site Nick refers to, I thought it was a pixel ad site for a minute. Can only think the design being so painful on the eyes must have contributed to the bloggers high RSS subscription count as people can’t stand to view it in their web browser, hah

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