ErosBlog has been paying attention to Anil Dash for a very long time. Indeed, the second ErosBlog post ever quoted his 2002 musings on the masturbatory uses of hand-held shower nozzles. So I’ve been mulling his Stop Publishing Web Pages article for about a month, now. Specifically, he talks about how mobile apps tend to present stuff to the user in a highly-functional stream that’s just more useful and easier to process than standard web pages are. I don’t consider myself much of a media company, but I recognize ErosBlog in this unflattering description:
Most media companies on the web spend all of their effort putting content into content management systems which publish pages. These pages work essentially the same way that pages have worked since the beginning of the web, with a single article or post living at a particular address, and then tons of navigation and cruft (and, usually, advertisements) surrounding that article.
Users have decided they want streams, but most media companies are insisting on publishing more and more pages. And the systems which publish the web are designed to keep making pages, not to make customized streams.
And I recognize myself (and my behavior) when I read this:
Pay attention to the fact that all the links you click on Twitter, on Facebook, on Pinterest, all take you to out of the simple flow of those apps and into a jarring, cluttered experience where the most appealing option is the back button. Stop being one of those dead-end experiences and start being more like what users have repeatedly demonstrated they prefer.
The Google Analytics for ErosBlog reinforce this unwelcome sense of familiarity. Not only do I click back in horror when I land on an old cluttered web page that doesn’t play well with my smartphone, but so do you. The ErosBlog bounce rate (a measure of people who arrive at the site and very swiftly leave again) is already an unflattering 61 percent, but for mobile users, it’s an even worse 68 percent.
What’s less obvious is how to streamify the ErosBlog experience. Even Anil (much smarter about content management systems than I could ever hope to be, having been the first employee of the folks who invented the once-famous Moveable Type blog software) admits:
Obviously, I’ve written this in an old-style content publishing system, and this piece lives on my website as an old-fashioned HTML page. But if I had my preference, I’d write up an article like this, and it’d seamlessly glide into a clean, simple stream of my writing, organized by topic and sorted with the newest stuff on top. Blogs have always worked this way, but they were shoehorning this stream-like behavior into the best representation possible under the old page model.
I don’t have a tool I can use to run my website which will output a stream that works the right way…
Of course it’s been three months since he wrote that. And (to me, at least, who may not be understanding what he’s saying as well as I should) it looks as if there’s no theoretical reason why smart HTML5 templates in a properly-constructed WordPress theme couldn’t do the job. Has anybody written them yet? Not that I’ve found, but I keep hoping.
I’ve been tinkering for more than a year on various efforts to make ErosBlog more mobile-friendly, but my coding skills deficit has proven too large, and so I’ve not really gotten a lot of traction. I’ve done a lot of not-so-idle Googling for solutions coded by others, but haven’t seen anything that really does the job the way I want it done. And that’s when my vision was simply to make something that “looks like ErosBlog” while making more efficient use of small screens. Then Anil came along and convinced me I was thinking too narrowly. Now the goalposts are moving, because the app ecosystem is teaching people to want/demand new functionality in the ways their media is displayed to them.
Do I have any idea how to get ahead of this problem? Nothing concrete, I fear. As I tinker with this, my skills get better (so slowly!); that helps my feeble efforts, and on top of that I take heart from the notion that smarter people than me are working up awesome templates and themes that I’ll eventually find and put to use. All suggestions gratefully considered!