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Hypebot — Community Consulting Summary

Heya — Skellie here.

Our second community consultation has drawn to a close – this time we consulted for Hypebot. We’ve had a terrific response from the ProBlogger community (as always) with plenty of insights shared.

Those new to the project will want to read the Community Consulting launch post. You can also revisit the post where Hypebot was introduced to the community.

What follows is an overview of some of the main aspects of the blog that were highlighted by ProBlogger readers.

Lack of whitespace

The ‘whitespace’ of any website is essentially its empty areas. Without whitespace to frame distinct elements it can make your blog seem jumbled and make it difficult for the eyes to isolate individual elements (for example, separating posts from the sidebar).

While a number of readers thought Bruce’s sidebar was too wide, I think the real issue is the lack of whitespace within the sidebar and separating the sidebar from the posts. The edge of each post runs almost to the edge of the sidebar with very little padding, making the overall effect a little tough on the eyes.

To help alleviate this problem, I’d suggest narrowing the width of the third column and using the freed up space to add whitespace around the post column.

I’d also suggest adding an extra line of space below each post, to help make each content item distinct from the next.

Dark on dark

Some readers also found the contents of the sidebar difficult to read because the background and text are both dark. I’d suggest going with a much lighter gray instead, or any light color which looks good with the design.

Hidden essentials

A number of readers urged Bruce to add an About and Contact page to his site. While I agree that a Contact page should be added, there is already an About page available. For so many readers to miss it indicates that it needs to be made more prominent.

The ‘About’ page is the place where visitors decide to become readers. For that reason, it needs to be incredibly easy to find. I’d suggest moving links to the About and Contact page (once added) to the top of the right-hand sidebar.

It also seems strange to use a different layout for the blog’s About page. It’s important to maintain consistent branding across all your pages, so I’d use the blog’s existing layout instead.

Clutter

It’s difficult to find a blog without an inch of clutter, but decluttering is a worthy goal for all of us. Taking away the unimportant elements of our site allow more attention to be directed at what is important.

Bruce could remove the following unimportant elements in order to create a lean and usable sidebar:

  • Recent posts. Hypebot’s posts tend to be quite short so readers will find it quicker to scroll down than it is to interact with a list of titles. A recent posts list is only really useful on blogs with very long posts.
  • Links, privacy policy and blogroll. The links and blogroll could be moved to their own dedicated page. The privacy policy should be linked from the About page.
  • Recent comments. While I don’t mind the kind of recent comments display which gives a preview of each comment, the widget currently on the blog won’t be of much interest to new visitors. If you were a new visitor, what would you rather read? The content, or (insert person you’ve never heard of) commented on ( insert post you haven’t read yet)?
  • The tag cloud. If you’ll allow me to be a little opinionated, I think tag clouds are just one of those things designers started doing simply because they could! A simple list of categories is much more readable and usable, so I’d keep that and lose the cloud.
  • Kudos for Hypebot. The About page is where you convince potential readers to pay attention, so the CNN recommendation would be more effective displayed there.
  • Books clip-art. Clip art is good for Power Point presentations but doesn’t really make for good web design.

Readability

One common suggestion from readers was to increase the size of the links in the sidebar — something I strongly agree with. The font size should be equal to that used in each post.

To help distinguish links it might also be worth making them bold or underlined. Other readers also requested that the headlines on each post be left aligned rather than centered, for a more fluid reading experience.

News vs. Commentary: a common problem for bloggers!

Many readers congratulated Bruce on his writing style and content. I was also impressed with Bruce’s confident blogging voice.

One of the questions he asked was “Am I achieving the right balance of news vs. commentary?” I do have some concerns in this area (I suspect many bloggers do), and this is an issue I’ve personally struggled with in the past.

As a one person show, it’s incredibly difficult to break news. Unless you’re an industry insider, you’re essentially forced into a reactive role — reading about news elsewhere and posting it on your blog. The problem with this is that you’re probably going to be recycling news from other sites in your niche — sites that your target audience are most likely already reading!

The original source of the news will always get the links and mentions, making news aggregation a very difficult growth strategy to pursue. Without the ability to break news, I think commentary is a much more viable option. People will still go to other sites to watch the news break, but they will come back to read your unique take on it.

I think Darren’s approach is illustrative of how best to do this. While there are regular news posts at ProBlogger, they’re almost always accompanied by a reflection on what the developments mean, and its impacts.

People will still read the posts even if they’re already familiar with the news because they’re interested to hear what Darren has to say.

Bruce is an expert in his own niche and I have no doubt that readers would love to read his commentary. My suggestion to Bruce would be to focus on commentary more so than he is currently doing.

It’s impossible to compete with well-resourced and staffed music news sites when it comes to being the first with news, but they may never be able to offer the kind of insight Bruce is capable of.

The Prize!

Sheesh, you guys don’t make picking a favorite comment easy, do you? Fortunately we have a few more prizes to go around, thanks to Bruce’s generosity.

This week’s prize-pack winner is Anthony Lawrence. I was impressed both by his attention to detail and his respectful approach to the review process. He’ll soon be the new owner of an iPod Shuffle and 5 CDs courtesy of Bruce’s booking company, Skyline Music.

Our five runner-ups, Jen, CompuWorld, Michael Martine, coolthought and Sakura will also receive a CD of their choosing.

Stay tuned for the introduction of blog number three.

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Comments

  1. This is an excellent feedback by the community. Congratulations to the winners.

  2. Would it be more productive to combine the about page and the contact page one page instead of making them seperate? I agree that having these two pages are essentials, because it will help new readers become more intrested in the site.

  3. Well,

    I think i miss this opportunity. Anyway, congratulations to the winner of the contest. Hope to read some good blogs from the winners.

  4. Cathy Moore says:

    Great feedback again. One concern:

    I’ve seen several suggestions saying that “recent posts” lists should be removed from the sidebar. While I agree that such lists should be short, I wonder how removing them could affect the experience of people who land on an individual post through a Google search or a referral.

    If someone lands on an individual post, they’re not going to see any others on the page. If there’s no “recent posts” list in the sidebar, I suspect they’ll be less likely to explore the blog.

    I just checked my stats, and it looks like 10-15% of my human visitors click on something in “recent posts.”

  5. Sangesh says:

    In my opinion the whitespaces in a blog are important. It helps the eyes of the viewers. If the contents are jumbled up, then the viewer cannot focus on any particular part of the page. This then ends up on the visitor leaving the page.

    By the way, Good luck to the prize winners.

    Cheers.

  6. @Jenni: Not usually, because they serve two different purposes. There may be many reasons to direct a reader to a contact page where getting all the “about” info hinders the easy contact process. Likewise, wanting to know more about someone doesn’t mean you want to contact them. Better to keep them separate.

    Oh… I won something! W00t! :)

  7. Thank you very much. I’m going to give that iPod to one of my young nieces – her family had some troubles this year, and I hope this will brighten up her Xmas a little.

  8. Swade says:

    Darren/Skellie,

    I sent in my email when you first advertised this community consulting program a few weeks ago, but I’d like to remove myself from the queue, please.

    There were two attractive ideas about this program: first, the advice that one could receive, and second, the incoming links from a highly ranked site like PB.

    On the first point – I think paying bloggers would want some assurance that the advice is coming from experts in a field. now whilst that’s quite possibly the case here, there’s little assurance given to the blogger that that’s actually happening. I fear that this series might start to read the same from start to finish from week to week for each blog analysed.

    On the second point, there’s not one link to the target blog in this post, which I find to be of some concern. Prizewinners have more links than the paying blogger in this instance.

    Could I suggest an alternative format?

    Previous campaigns or community writing projects have involved people writing their piece and then leaving a comment here, which would turn into a link to their piece. If the same happened for this project, then there’s be a whole bunch of links to the target blogger, Skellie would have a list of sites to check out and could still write the summary post and hand out the prizes.

    Just trying to think of ways to provide some value for the $250 your asking for this service. But for the moment, please remove me from the queue.

  9. Edwin says:

    Skellie, great article! I have some feedback on the post itself that might be helpful. It would be great if in the future you could include screenshots when describing particular areas of the site that could use improvement or that you are describing. This would make the post valuable even after the blogger has incorporated the suggestions and made design changes to the site. I found myself opening up another window and reading the post with the blog side by side to follow along because I found the post so insightful. Keep up the great job, I love this idea of community consulting!

  10. Skellie says:

    @ Swade: No problem — I’ve removed you from the queue.

    (There is actually a link to Hypebot in the second sentence of the post.)

    I don’t think you’re implying that the community should be experts in the area of blog critique (the point is that it’s a good litmus test of how average visitors will perceive your site). My job is only to rank aspects of the blog mentioned by the community in order of most frequent to least frequent, and to add my own commentary.

    As for my own expertise, I’ve been designing blogs for four years, have completed (literally) hundreds of blog reviews and have grown Skelliewag to 2,100+ subscribers in just over four months, with a lot of my content dedicated to sharing insights on design, usability and simplicity. I’ve done paid design consulting in the past and am currently paid to write about design, usability and simplicity (in addition to other topics) at a number of well-known blogs.

    Whether that makes me an ‘expert’ is up to you, but those are the qualifications I have :-).

    As for the links idea being a better way to do things, it asks the ProBlogger readership to create content with little benefit to their target audience (for example, what if someone who blogs about knitting or cooking or productivity wanted to participate? Why would their readers want to read a design review?).

    With such a long queue of people willing to take part with the existing format in place I don’t really see why we would ask the ProBlogger readership to make that sacrifice.

    Anyway, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad you were able to decide community consulting wasn’t for you without spending money on it and being dissatisfied.

  11. Skellie says:

    Just one other point to add to my last comment: if you made writing a post of feedback a requirement, you’d get fewer people taking part, meaning lower quality feedback for the blogger.

  12. Jen says:

    I really enjoyed this community consulting project, and I’m also excited that I won a CD! :) Thanks to Skellie and Darren for the opportunity to participate in this. I learned a lot and had fun doing it. Can’t wait for the next one!

  13. Skellie says:

    @ Edwin: Thanks for the feedback :-). That’s a good idea you’ve got there. My only concern is that the posts take a long time to put together already, and that taking, formatting and publishing screenshots with everything would take the work required to another level. If I can make the time, I’ll certainly think about it.

    @ Jen: Congrats!

  14. Thank-you Skellie and Darren and the entire ProBlogger community for this opportunity. Please come back and visit Hypebot.com in the coming days and weeks as I follow many of your wonderful suggestions.

  15. Swade says:

    Skellie, thanks for the feedback.

    I wasn’t questioning your expertise, and I understand the communal nature of the exercise (i.e. how will a group of visitors find it) but for a fee paid service, I guess I’d want a little more than that. I think this ideas got a lotta legs, but it just isn’t for me right now. Bruce seems appreciative of the exercise and that’s what’s important here.

    And with all due respect, there wasn’t a link to Hypebot there when I wrote the comment.

    I look forward to the next installment of the community project.

  16. Swade says:

    Oh, and I’m not being a PITA intentionally, but I was thinking the same thing as Edwin as I was reading this. Screenshots would have been of great assistance.

  17. Darren Rowse says:

    thanks everyone for your feedback. I did add the hypebot link this afternoon. I think Skellie inadvertently missed it when writing the post up – innocent mistake (one I do all too regularly myself).

  18. Skellie says:

    Thanks for catching that slip up, Darren. I re-read the posts so many times to make sure they’re fine that it’s a wonder that one got through…

    @ Swade: Sorry about that. It was perceptive of you to pick it up!