What’s the point of blogging?

STFUNo, it’s not a rhetorical question. What is the point of blogging? If you’re a blogger, why do you do it (assuming you have a cogent reason)? If you’re a blog reader, why do you read the blogs that you do?

Here’s a secondhand quote on the matter that I found on one of the blogs I read:

In many ways the core of blogging is a willingness to apply what you know to every problem you encounter, and see how good a job you can do of it in a more or less integrated fashion.

That gem, which I had to read five or six times to understand, but the more I read it the more I agree, was written by Tyler Cohen on another blog I (less often) read.

Thinking about the blogs I read most, the authors have a clear purpose; the blogs have a clear theme. The authors are experts (or at least well-versed) in the subject matter they’re writing about, and the blogs become a commentary on the events of the day (within the author’s realm), bringing to the reader’s attention items of interest that they may have otherwise missed, and supplementing the link with a tidbit (or more) of relevant discussion.

So then, assuming that the success of a blog in achieving this goal is an end in itself, the point of blogging is to act as a niche news service with commentary, or perhaps more accurately as a trusted adviser — that “in-the-know” friend (though you probably don’t know the blog author personally) who knows what you’re interested in and keeps you on top of the latest and greatest.

It’s fascinating to think of the power blogs have in this way. But it also reinforces the importance of the trust I mentioned in the last paragraph. A blogger’s stock in trade is their trustworthiness. Readers need to know that the blogger actually knows what they’re talking about, and perhaps even more importantly, that they’re not being misleading — whether deliberately (for unknown nefarious purposes), accidentally (because they goofed), or due to the invisible hand of an outside influence (money from sponsors, potential to achieve a position of power and authority).

It’s easy to say that this is a reason not to trust blogs, and why blogs will always be — or at least are for now — inferior to “legitimate” journalism. But given numerous recent examples (all of which in my mind right now involve Glenn Beck in some capacity) of the failures of traditional media for many of these same reasons, I think blogging deserves more serious consideration.

The Guardian gets newspaper web design right

Most newspaper websites are cluttered but utilitarian at best. Many, like my local paper, have undergone elaborate and expensive redesigns in recent years but still suck ass, if for no other reason than that they can’t really get the interface right and so are interminably tweaking it, not to mention that they allow their advertisers to shit all over the page layout with intrusive Flash overlays that jump out unexpectedly and cover what you’re reading if you let your mouse hand drift across the wrong spot on the page.

I’ve noticed in general that the British media seems to have more design sense, in that they actually seem to care about making things usable — in other words, facilitating the dissemination of information — as opposed to first and foremost making a buck, no matter how crass the means.

I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a newspaper website, though, and said, “Wow, that’s really good design!” but that all changed today when I saw the new site for the Guardian.

Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no advertising whatsoever on the home page. At least that’s a start. The layout is clean and well-organized, and doesn’t feel crowded or overwhelming, even though there are four columns and approximately 85 gazillion links on the page. Something else that helps: color coded sections. There’s risk in using a lot of different colors in a design. The page could easily end up looking like My Little Pony barfed all over it. But the nine different thematic colors are represented solely by colored type in the navigation bar at the top (no colored rectangles or obnoxious 3-D tabs) and by thin horizontal bands identifying the beginning of each section’s home page real estate.

True, on my 1280×800 display, the home page scrolls to the height of seven screens. A bit much, but the aforementioned organization keeps things manageable.

Ultimately, the designers have somehow managed to find the optimal midpoint between bland, utilitarian black-and-white monotony and retina-scorching, brain melting sensory overload. And in the land of newspaper websites, the space between the two is surprisingly small.

It’s no wonder that they won Website of the Year in the British Press Awards. Kudos!