A Note About the Notebook

Equally a reaction to my recent busy-ness and my desire to fold the QuickBits (short links to cool stuff) into the main content area, I’ve made a few small tweaks to the Notebook here.

Following the lead of a few other sites, I wanted to experiment with a singular flow of Notebook entries — both fleshed-out articles, as well as quick links to stuff that I happen to be reading. It’s become quite common for sites to break those quick links out into a separate column (as I had done previously). It prevents a proper “article” from being pushed down the page when quick links are added in succession. But there were other aspects of the dual setup that were bothering me.

It started to feel funny, stuffing longish descriptions of QuickBits into the title attribute of the link. Oftentimes, the descriptions weren’t titles at all. In fact, the title was often the text that was being linked. Visually, it’s cleaner to just show the linked text, and have the longer description shown on mouseover (when placed in the title attribute), but it’s hidden, and usually contains far more than a title. I want the ability to say more than just a few words about what I’m pointing to.
Attributing the source of a link becomes a problem when using the title attribute as well. If I want to give credit to someone for a cool link I’ve found on their site, I can only add unclickable text: kottke.org at the tail end. Even worse, If I just say, Kottke, is everyone going to know where that is? (Yes. OK, bad example).
Description Length
We’re limited as to how much text we can actually stuff inside a title attribute (I belive some browsers will truncate at a certain character length). I want the ability to write a bit more about something, without feeling the need to write a whole article about it.
Lack of Comments
This is primarily because I was using my own home-grown mini CMS previously, and I realize that other sites enable comments on link lists.
Lack of a Permalink
See the item above.

So, these are some of the reasons for the tweak. I now need to experiment with how to handle feeds. Should the title for a QuickBit link directly to the site that I’m pointing to, or should it point back to the archvied entry? I suppose if I enable comments on these, linking to the post would make more sense. Things to think about.

At present, a QuickBit’s title will link to the site directly, as well as a “Visit site” link at the end of the description. A permalink is added at the bottom (marked with a # icon) to reach the archived entry on SimpleBits. An extended notebook entry’s title links to it’s archved entry, and permalink is also marked with a document icon.

This got me thinking about importance, weighting and text size (a hot topic these days). It’s perceived that a separate link list in another column becomes less important than proper full-blown entries (and maybe that’s intended). But when mixed in together, the importance evens out. I’m attempting to weight the importance subtly by decreasing the size of QuickBit titles.

Confusing? Make sense? I guess that’s for you to let me know. I think it’ll work well going forward (still not sure about the feeds though).

And the experiment continues…

Update: Well, the experiment was a success, in that I’m back to having QuickBits in the sidebar :-). But while I’ve returned to abusing the title attribute, I’ve solved several of the other problems: permalinks, ability to comment, searchable entries (now that I’m using MT for all of it) as well as a singular flow for the main Notebook page and monthly archive indexes. Attribution isn’t perfect — the link obviously isn’t clickable in the tooltip, but it will appear in the archived entry page (as well as any other HTML). I’m also happier with the feeds, now still offering a singular flow of entries for all content or separate feeds for articles and QuickBits. So, while I’m back to the same placement, I’m much more content with the improvements.


  1. Chris Gwynne says:

    I quite like it. I’ve used a variation of the sidebar links and it is difficult to include a description of what you want and if needed list your sources.
    Your improved version of this works nicely, and fits in quite well into the design. Do you intend to leave comments off for all links or just certain ones?
    Do link entries get dropped down when you post a new Notebook entry? Or does one Notebook entry always reside on top whilst the rest are below?
    /me would like to know how you’ve implemented it. :)

  2. Thanks, Chris. I’m thinking of enabling comments here and there on those entries. Something I couldn’t do previously. I like your idea, of (somewhow) keeping the latest Notebook entry at the top. Hmm… will possibly look into that.

  3. Mark Boulton says:

    I like it too. I agree with you regarding the misuse of the title tag, more and more it’s being used (wrongly) for a rollover description.
    As Chris says, it would be nice if your most recent longer post occupied the top slot and all ‘Quicklink’ type posts followed on from there. It would certainly help us users identify the different types of content.

  4. I am generally quite a fan of this approach, so good going. But it’s hard to tell what’s a link and what’s a “real” post on your home page.

  5. Jeff Croft says:

    Looks great, Dan.
    Related to Chris’s comments: although I keep my quick links separate from my journal entries, I did fairly recently enable commenting on my links, and I’d found them to be more popular and fun than I thought they might be. I usually disable comments when I’m linking to a blog post or other page that allows comments itself, and enable them when I’m linking to something I want to discuss but don’t provide capabilities for discussion itself.

  6. Mike P. says:

    I just started a quicklink type thing on fiftyfoureleven.com, and went with the “longer description/via/category/visit site” idea as well.
    All pretty much the same, really, just sans-commenting and not in the flow of larger posts.
    I’d say that I’m with Chris’ idea of keeping a notebook post at the top though – Quicklinks can be so underwhelming, as many have pointed out recently.

  7. Ste Grainer says:

    Personally, I think linking the title to the actual quickbit link (rather than your archived page) is the more logical solution, even in the case of commentable entries. I talked a bit about this on my weblog earlier this week because certain linklog RSS feeds (yours included *smile*) link back to the archived entry on the site rather than the link they discuss. This is very frustrating because it adds a redundant click from a newsreader.
    Anyway, glad to see you’re thinking things out and experimenting – I for one like the idea of weighted titles between full entries and quickbits.

  8. Yeah, that’s actually quite nice. It’s good so there’s actually more than just a link, there’s a bit of text one can read too. I really like the comments too. Especially if it was a quite fun link, and then people could sit and discuss the oddness of the link. Quite cosy.
    But if you had some nice articles on your weblog, they could quickly be pushed out by all the many new links. What I personally think I would do was to, as Chris said, keep the newest article on top, and then make the content area into to columns. Let’s say, left for articles, and right column for links (not including the sidebar). Then people would know what were links, and what where articles, and the links wouldn’t bump out the second or third newest article.

  9. Scott says:

    I think incorporating the links into the flow is a good idea but only if your comments are added for each. Obviously if you ‘quicklink’ it then it made you feel something…share that with the link. It doesn’t have to be very long, even one sentence would do. Kottke has many interesting links but one reason I keep an eye on his site is to get his .02 on stuff. Sometimes he just puts in the link without an extra word about what his thoughts are on the subject. I’d make the title link to the actual site and not your notebook entry. Just make sure any feeds have your comments included.

  10. Ben Spicer says:

    Hi Dan, my you have been busy today.
    Having links in with the rest of the content does seem to be the way to go.
    Kottke seems to be setting the page as usual.
    When will you be setting up a webcam? ;D
    Ben S

  11. Tony says:

    What about a standard pretext for link entires, like Quickbit: Transmit 3.
    Then you don’t have to monkey with the order of posts or with the size of the heading, and the quickbits will still be instantly identifiable.

  12. Brian says:

    I like Tony’s idea. I was going to suggest a different background color (or image) to identify the Quickbits, but I actually think the prefix of ‘Quickbit:’ is a better idea.
    I’m a little torn on how to handle the title links. I like the idea of it going straight to the link for convenience, but I like the idea of it going to the archive entry for consistency. Hmmm.

  13. Jeff Wheeler says:

    I also like Tony’s idea. A prefix would be simple and easy. I think that each set of links should have a permalink, rather than having an individual one for each link. That way, they could distinguish themselves as higher importance than alone easily, while still being only links. Perhaps a subtle background difference would be nice too, like the post a comment section, but a smaller title would make it feel as if it were a sub-section of the previous post, in my opinion.

  14. Zelnox says:

    I actually didn’t notice of the change until after reading this. I thought those two links were entries. Haha.
    I do prefer having the links in the main flow, but not this way. I only glance whatever is on the side.
    Will we be expecting single links? Or will you group a bunch together and post the batch?

  15. Joel says:

    I prefer to keep links and journal entries seperate, but I normally post more links than entries. I used to create a new blog post for each link, before I discovered del.icio.us feeds, which was just stupid.
    It depends on how many links you are going to post. When you had the sidebar, you only posted a handful of links a week, and I thought the system worked well. Are you going to save up links and have one post per week, say? or just update as they come? Or were you just put off posting links by the old system?

  16. Jonas Rabbe says:

    What are you going to do about your feeds? As I see it you have can either have both quickbits and normal entries in your feeds, or you can split them up into two feeds. Matt Howie recently wrote an entry about his reaction to friends adding links this way.
    I am still undecided since I mostly read Simplebits through my browser, maybe this will change with Safari RSS.

  17. Simon Cox says:

    I am currently very much in favour of the side links approach as I really hate it when Bloglines tells me that there is new content on a site and its just a set of links rather than a juicy article. Hence I set up a side blog on my site – its actually a separate blog that I can quickly post into and my templates just pick up the content.
    But here is the clever bit – when you visit a section on my main site you only get the quick links that are relative to that section – i.e. if you visit my CSS pages, or an article about CSS, then the quick links shown are all relative to CSS!
    This way I can also easily set up an RSS feeed for my quick links.
    I ought to document how I did it sometime!

  18. Aaron says:

    I agree with Chris Gwynne’s comment about keeping the latest notebook entry on top. Gives the site a cleaner overall feel and is a more complete entry point to the start of the news.
    The reduction in size of the QuickBit title works well. Other ideas following the same line of thinking:
    - reduction in line-height (say 1.2 em)
    - change to Tahoma
    Both suggestions work around the idea to make the QuickBit section smaller, more compact.
    My only critique would be the QuickBit title linking directly to the external site. Personally, I don’t expect to leave your site when I click on the title. I would prefer to be taken to the permalink … the information is redundant but does help to reaffirm that there’s no further content for this post. At the very least I would recommend the text “Visit Link” in the title attribute of the link for the QuickBit title.

  19. Mike D. says:

    Me no likey. Sorry. I find myself generally a lot more interested in people’s original posts than their link lists so it really tends to clog up my aggregator when I’m forced to subscribe to both.
    If you’re going to do this, I recommend at least providing a separate feed which doesn’t contain the link list. That would solve the only major problem I have with the new format.

  20. Mike – Fear not, I’ll have new feed options, shortly. It does make sense to offer an articles-only feed.

  21. Zach Crisler says:

    Try offsetting the star for the “Notebook” title into the left margin–I do that on my site to differ a significant post from a less-significant post. It seems like this is a popular (um…proper) direction. Evil trickery and semantics aside, I do believe that a single column of aggregated data is preferable (at least when running a site with only one/two authors). Especially if data is evenly published on a consistent but non-predetermined basis (unlike a weekly or monthly publication). That means, you publish a reasonable number of quickbits that they don’t over take your notebook entries, and vice versa. A smaller font and line-height for quickbits (maybe also wider margins) might do the trick?

  22. Taylor says:

    I share Mike D.’s feelings, but thought I would share my own personal reason why: Live Bookmarks in Firefox. (For the uninitiated: my SimpleBits Live Bookmark looks like a folder of bookmarks but is really a list of the latest SimpleBits posts, pulled from RSS.) Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to tell the difference between real articles and your QuickBits. Imagine my surprise when I clicked “Transmit 3″ and ended up on what seemed to me to be the wrong site…
    This touches on a larger point that is gaining importance on the web: with the increasing use of RSS and friends, we developers can no longer assume that users will use our interface to interact with our (or our clients’) information. Separation of content/information from presentation is excellent, but it requires us to think beyond our chosen medium.

  23. Taylor – Interesting about Live Bookmarks. I suppose the answer there would be to have all links point to the archived entry. Perhaps the decription could include the “visit link”, to avoid clicking twice from an aggregator (I’m doing the reverse right now).

  24. Josh says:

    I generally enjoy the new kottke-style inline thing, but I must add my vote for two separate feeds – 1 for articles and 1 for quickBits.
    I also would vote for a bit more visual hierarchy between articles and quickBits on the page, especially because your use of the extended entry link means that each post is about the same length on the home page, making it difficul to scan the page for big bits vs. quickBits. (Cf., again, kottke for comparison re: the role of post length WRT scanability ) Perhaps the quickBits text color keeps the grayer text color of the sidebar?

  25. Daryl says:

    I see you’ve divided the RSS feeds, which is a good thing.
    I’m curious as to why your RSS feeds don’t make use of <category> within the <item> node.
    You could set the category to either Quickbit or Notebook

  26. Tim says:

    I think it’s a pretty good idea to mix things up and get a full “flow” of information, coming from you (notebook entries) or other (quickbits). There’s just one thing that bother me: the entries disappear too fast from the main page… If i have no access to my RSS reader and to internet for a day or two, then I have to browse through your site to find the last words published. Maybe you could allow more than 5 links on your main page…

  27. Mikey says:

    Keep up the good work. Sees like every time you update the layout I like it more and more.