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Thursday, January 18, 2007

We Come Recommended


I'll have to do this quickly. I just wanted to say thanks to Thom Hogan for including us in "Recommended Web Sites" in his characteristically excellent new "Recommended Products" grid on his website bythom.com. There, okay, done, no more about that now.

Just kidding. Out of curiosity, do you agree or disagree with his one complaint?

And for the record, his website would make my recommended web sites list, too, if I had one. (I especially love his annual predictions, which we didn't get this year—there's an abbreviated "Nikon Only" version for Nikonophiles, though.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thom Elaborates: My complaint is more nuanced than the short version posted on my Recommended Products page. I have no doubt that some will subscribe to the "more is better" notion of content for a Web site that they find central to their interests. But TOP is probably slightly tangential to the majority of the audience stopping by (and this is likely very true of someone who finds my site central), and thus the rapidity with which things fall off (or the fact that the page requires a lot of scrolling sometimes) can be problematic to them. Whether you agree with my complaint or not is most likely going to depend upon how often you visit the site. At present, it doesn't support once-a-week visitors well. And for those of us with large RSS lists, the volume of posts also tends to be too high, I think.

The issue for Mike is a tough one. Growing organisms are generally healthy ones, and contracting ones are usually unhealthy. Right now Mike is trying to keep TOP in the growing category, and that's where my complaint starts to become relevant: the number of folk that will read everything is likely very finite (and those tend to be the first responders, so that group may be near maximum size). The groups that are tangentially interested but don't want to wade through 10 articles a day are larger and more necessary to the long-term health of the site, I think. It's akin to what happens with magazine subscriptions, actually. You have the core who you can count on, and you have a group that you have to constantly attract and replenish. My complaint is applicable mostly to that last group.

One way of dealing with the issue is to "gather" the most recent major articles into a sidebar that always appears. Likewise the "print of the week." Leave off the stuff like the post that provoked this comment ;~) and the other "comments in passing" so that someone who's a casual browser hitting the site doesn't reject it because they see "too much filler." (A lot of stuff in quotes there--I'm not saying there's filler, per se, I'm trying to come with a way of describing the various pieces of material that appears.) By doing that, the less-than-daily site visitor will still see the last dozen or so "serious" articles that they might be interested in without having to wade through every last little post. Likewise, the prints that are still available would continue to be visible.

And Mike and Player are right in their assessment: when I criticism something, I try to make it a constructive criticism. I'm a perfectionist at heart (and not one in reality). You don't see me saying "that sucks" or some similar contentless criticism. I try to be precise in what I think can be improved. Sometimes, as in a one paragraph assessment in my Recommended Products, I also have to be concise. Hopefully this comment helped make my comment more clear.

Mike Responds: This (and the rest of the comments, for which thanks to the commenters) is of course very interesting to me. I really did "back into" becoming a blogger; I had been preparing a website (it never did get launched) that centralized and collated my photography activites, and there was literally one extra button that I didn't know what to do with. Oren Grad had suggested that I try a photo blog. I began TOP simply to have something to link to that last, unused button. I was as surprised as anyone when it took off.

Since talking to David Hobby at Strobist and now hearing from Thom, I've really just begun to toy with the notion of making it into a "real" website—that is, leaving the free Blogger UI behind, hiring a web designer to build a site to my specifications, using multiple pages, and so on.

Thus it becomes a design problem, which Thom alludes to. The questions of "What can the site be? To whom? How will they use it? What will encourage further growth and expand the site's appeal past its current core audience?"—all are really aspects of: what do we want to provide and how would it be arranged for optimal access? That stuff is fun to think about—the design aspect, I mean. I like design, even though I'm not the best designer. I like sketching house plans, for instance. So lately I find myself blocking out home pages, inventing ways to accommodate different kinds of content.

The question the whole "site design" thing begs is, of course, do I really want it to be any different? Could I handle it?

I'm actually already very concerned about posting too much and letting posts go on for too long, and I've been worried about it for some time now. I know people just don't have enough time to read and ponder over every thought that happens to come into my brain. Oddly enough, sometimes it has meant that I don't have enough room on TOP for my own posts. If I've got two or three great things written by other people all going up at once, I don't want to dilute them by posting some rambling little mini-essay of my own. So I end up wanting to write a blog post but not really having a place to do it—like I say, odd problem for a blogger to have, isn't it? Nice problem too, though.

The fact is, I could put up twice as much content if I wanted. There are plenty of interesting things out there. So it seems like I should do something.

I'll keep thinking about it. And I'll let you know.

33 Comments:

Blogger Markus Johnson said...

Mike, I've read what Thom noted and I too had this problem...at first. Then I decided that I enjoy the content enough to visit daily, which isn't always possible, but I somehow manage. Another thing that actually helps is utilizing your RSS feed, so when I have a moment I just click on the feed and it shows me the latest and greatest.

Actually I think you should be applauded for having this much content, I don't know how you do it. I have actually thought about this a few times when reading some of your material, how you manage to wade through so much info is beyond me, but I love it nonetheless.

In addition, I know that there will always be something new and interesting on your website, as opposed to some other sites that I like to frequent, such as Luminous-landscape. Don't get me wrong, I really like Michael Reichmann's site, I am just disappointed everytime I go there and there isn't a new article for me to digest.

Anyway, keep up the great work Mike!

4:43 PM  
Blogger jon said...

Not sure which complaint you are referring to.

I didn't read the whole page, as its quite lengthy, but his complaint about the Luminiuous Landscape did match my views almost entirely.

Is that the complaint?

4:45 PM  
Blogger Robin P said...

Don't worry about Thom's only complaint Mike, after all "you can't have too much of a good thing".
Yes, there can be a lot to wade through if one doesn't visit every day but the layout makes it easy to select what might be of interest to the individual viewer.

Cheers, Robin

4:47 PM  
Blogger johnbeardy said...

I'd only agree if the content had been diluted by the volume of posts. Do you think it has been? I don't.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Del Bomberger said...

Yes and no. To get to the point it has become my first go to place (replacing Luminous Landscape) for my photography interests which need to be fed frequently. One reason is that it feels to me at least, and I don't have statistics to prove it, that LL is updated less frequently than it used to be. I like the fact that TOP is updated frequently. I'm not always drawn into the latest detour (today as an example), but I don't find the detours objectionable either, simply not always of interest to me. I say, keep it up! I enjoy both LL and TOP, but TOP is on top for now.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Disclaimer, I say this as a person following 100 active RSS feeds not including podcasts...

I partially agree with his criticism. Frequent updates are not a problem if the entries are short--say a paragraph or two like this one. But if they are long such as the recently posted "Easter Egg Number Two: Pentax's Green Button," then I will have to skip some posts as there is just not enough time to read it all.

(This is not to say the Pentax post was long in of itself, but combined with several others it's length then things get difficult.)

5:06 PM  
Blogger Mick Ryan said...

I agree with his compalint to a certain degree. I don't think there are too many posts. I don't think such a thing is possible. But sometimes the page gets so long I't hard to grab the scroll bar (which is often tiny) and scroll smoothly. The page can dart up and down too fast trying to locate the last unread post. Perhaps older post shoud go to a subsequent page.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Player said...

Mike, I don't agree that your site is updated too frequently, and I doubt that the majority of your readers only visit once-a-week. The updates are what keep your site fresh and interesting.

Thom strikes me as the type that no matter how much he liked something--whether a photo product, or a web site--he feels the need to offer some sort of "constructive" criticism.

TOP is outstanding!

5:11 PM  
Blogger Ed Wolpov said...

For me, that's not a complaint... it's a benefit!

Keep on, Mike.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Not sure which complaint you are referring to"

jon,
Just his comment about us, that our site gets to be a little too much to wade through.


"Thom strikes me as the type that no matter how much he liked something--whether a photo product, or a web site--he feels the need to offer some sort of "constructive" criticism"

Player,
You have to admit, though, Thom's constructive criticism generally is just that--constructive. He's very perceptive about a lot of things, so I tend to take what he says with seriousness (despite my somewhat flip attitude above). I suppose this is just a long way of saying I respect his opinion.

--Mike

5:28 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kott said...

I love Thom's ebooks, newsletter and website.

Funny, my only complaint about his website is that it isn't updated frequently enough - :~)

5:40 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I love Thom's ebooks, newsletter and website.

Funny, my only complaint about his website is that it isn't updated frequently enough - :~)"

Jeff,
I'm surprised his website is EVER updated, considering everything else he does. When he's off writing another book, I'm usually taking a nap....

--Mike

5:47 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Updated too often? I love using a spare 5 minutes to browse the internet, and TOP is top because I know there will usually be something new - and interesting.

I agree some of the posts can get too long - or rather, too long for the front page. Is there a way to snip them after a few paragraphs, then make those interested click a link to read it all (like you do with off site content)?

But keep updating!

5:52 PM  
Blogger robert e said...

Well, one could simply check in more often...

But, seriously, while it's hard to complain about success, Mr. Hogan does have a point in that the kinds of postings that appear on this blog are often deserving of more than merely quotidian apprehension, consideration, and even discussion. Yet the blog format "expires" posts quickly, and it can be disappointing to come back and find that I've missed several fascinating discussions, as well as having a lot of heady stuff to digest in a gulp.

As always, my bottom line for any blog is: whatever is best for the blogger/publisher is best for the blog. But it can be a good thing sometimes to re-evaluate whether the medium or format one uses happens to be the best fit for one's (re)vision, or, simply, one's needs.

Personally, I feel you're just hitting your stride with TOP, Mike--finding the groove--and I encourage you to work it as long as it's enjoyable, but TOP also appears to be growing and evolving healthily and I wouldn't be surprised if it outgrows its wardrobe in the near future.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Player said...

Mike, it was a good idea then to create this particular blog because your reader's responses will gauge Thom's critcism, as you know.

I'm amazed to even think that someone, especially a photographer-type, would find too much content on a site, usually it's the other way around.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

It's not a problem! I spent so much time reading T.O.P. that I lost my job, then had to sell all my cameras to pay the mortgage, and now nothing on T.O.P. means anything to me anymore. These things are self-correcting!

OK, to be serious... I like the frequent updating, because once in a while I need a BREAK from my job, and I think the articles are just the right length for that.

Mike: Just keep doing exactly what you're doing!

--Marc

7:33 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Mike, I agree with Player, I stop by every couple of days and I have no problem keeping up. In fact, sometime I see "only" two or three posts in that time frame and wish there were a few more... Keep it coming.

8:17 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

Well, it's just a bit like complaining that the supermarket has too much to choose from. A luxury "problem" that is.

And I don't think it is a complaint as such. Maybe even a sly compliment.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Bill Harrison said...

Mike, I don't think that you update too often. I visit your site several times a day hoping to seen new posts. TOP is in my Bookmarks Bar.

Bill Harrison

9:02 PM  
Blogger Dwight Jones said...

Too much of a good thing??? Na.

Most of us check in every day. We're all wondering when you will endorse Dennis Kucinich for president.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"We're all wondering when you will endorse Dennis Kucinich for president."

Obama! Obama! Obama!

--Mike

10:21 PM  
Blogger shaggy dog pix said...

Disagree. But, then, I tend to fidget a lot.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Adam McAnaney said...

I think the message is clear: we like the frequent updates. Keep it up!

Best,
Adam

5:40 AM  
Blogger Michael Canyes said...

Not too much for me. Anyway, I read fast.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think there might be a difference in the dynamic of each one's surfing. May be some people's main scope is staying informed, go here for this piece of info about printers, here for something new about technique, here to see some other stuff, and also read a book, and..
I tend to watch only a couple of sites on a regular base, and I hope they provide a balance of technique, gear, amusement, even philosophy. And I have no trouble in leaving behind whatever doesn't catch me in the first lines. So taking these two things into account the fast update is never a problem.
Mainly, I think I follow certain authorship, rather than just information. I like this blog, and it's funny how I feel exactly the same as others here about the Luminous Landscape site having been my main site for long and now having lost its original "shape".
From a product philosophy point of view, I think one author should be aware of where the perceived value lies for its readers, so as not to go astray and suddenly loose followers without knowing why.
On too much updating, I think it's great, because it's not too much about one isolated subject. I like very much that there's a post about music or politics, and I feel authorized to skip it whenever I feel like, choose. It makes the experience different from some kind of blind worshiping demanded by a site that aspires to post only a stroke of genius every two weeks.
It's just different.

7:48 AM  
Blogger jw52tx said...

It is the randomness, variety of your blog that makes it interesting and separates it from the rest- captured my attention.( That and the fact that I was a fan from the 37th Frame) What brings me back is the quality of the writing and thoughtfulness. Again, keep it up--- HOWEVER it suits you!

3:40 PM  
Blogger Player said...

Mike, I now have a clearer picture of what Thom was alluding to. I haven't put as much thought, as Thom did, into "what are needs of the most casual readers," but Thom--with his talent for looking beneath surfaces, and predicting the future--is most likely making perfect sense, especially regarding the long-term health of The Online Photographer. I've naively assumed that readers devour the content here, as I do, and wish for more.

Insofar as "Mike Johnston" is a household name in my little world, there was no need for me to be captured, but the uninitiated might need to be hooked before they can be reeled-in. What the exact solution is to that dilemma is unclear to me.

It seems obvious that your loyal core group pretty much feels as I do, and the trick seems to be how to interest new readers to stick around while at the same time continuing to please us groupies.

As just a reader, I can thankfully let this go and just enjoy your site, but I'm sure if you do make changes, they will be the right ones.

4:06 PM  
Blogger stephen best said...

Whatever you do, keep the focus of the site about PHOTOGRAPHY. Interesting photographic sites you've found, books on photography, photography and society etc. Whether it's wise to delete in camera or elongated reviews of camera gear I'm not going to buy just pad the site out for me. Leave it for others to flog the latest gear, products or techniques, none of which have any bearing on photography.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Allen George said...

I like the volume of updates :)

7:08 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

TOP has quite rapidly become one of my everyday reads - and that's because I can always be sure of something new (and interesting) every time I look.

Sure, sometimes when I've just cruised through a backlog of entries and my RSS feed shows new entries by the time I've 'finished', I get a bit frustrated, after all, I DO have other things I should be doing!

I feel a re-design may help. Blogger basic is probably not up to the volume and diversity being posted here now. Maybe something along the lines of Conscientious (another regular read for me). Joerg often uses summary entries with an option to 'Read more...', this help keep the page scrolling to a minimum. Maybe even defined categories with their own RSS feeds? - although I grant that may be difficult to manage effectively. In essence, I find Conscientious a model site for conveying a lot of information, simply - but of course he doesn't host advertising.

10:54 AM  
Blogger nextSibling said...

From your own accounts here and elsewhere, it seems TOP is quite the success. Plugs from the likes of National Geographic, a growing and loyal readership, a quality of discourse in the comments that's hard to find elsewhere. Compared to the vast majority of blogs out there I'd say you're doing pretty darn well.

I guess my point is, if it ain't broke, be careful about fixing it.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

T.O.P.
An obligatory read to start one's day.

It is consistently current in a range of interesting topics.

To change the format would perhaps
make more work for Mike, does he
"require" more work?

Conversely, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Bryce

11:05 AM  
Blogger Billie said...

I admit, I only skim some entries but there is always something that interests me. I'd hate to see the content reduced.

12:22 PM  

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