Blogs are fundamentally flawed for the typical Grandma-User
It may seem a little sad but I can honestly say that reading my access_log is far more interesting than any soap opera on TV; they are filled with exotic foreigners, futuristic robots, drama, intrigue and personal tragedy. The best thing about it is that it’s all real; these are (mostly) real people who stumble across your humble Blog in the hope to find the solution to their problems.
Over the Christmas period I have observed more people visiting an ancient post of mine than in the past six months. The post is about my experiences with an external hard drive enclosure; more accurately, the chip / controller a great deal of hard drive enclosures use. Based on this I would guess that a considerable number of people got hard drive enclosures for their Christmas and ran into the same problems I had. Anyway, I am wandering a little.
It was reading my access_log’s that made me realise that Blogs are actually a really bad format for the Grandma user…
Picture this, imagine your Grandma is Google’ing and happens to get a result that points to your Blog. She see’s a teaser in the search results that shows you’ve written something about what she is looking for. Grandma clicks your link and is presented with your last 10 posts about God knows what and no sign of the post she saw the snippet of. Grandma goes back to Google thoroughly disappointed and never to return…
I encounter this phenomenon frequently, but because I am familiar with the Blog format I think nothing of drilling down to the relevant category to find the post I wanted; or if I am lazy click Google’s cached copy of the page. However for the average internet surfer it presents a fundamental flaw in the usability of the Blog format.
The problem is quite simple; search engines can never be up to date with your content all the time. The more frequent you post the more the problem will occur and the harder the post will be to find. The way I see it there are two possible solutions.
Smarter search engines
Enhancing search engines so they can distinguish between an index-page of posts and individual posts. This could be done by identifying sections of text within a page as an extract from another URL using something like RDF [http://www.w3.org/RDF/] which can already be embedded within XHTML [http://internetalchemy.org/2005/10/introducing-embedded-rdf]. Enclosing the section of text between the ‘<rdf:RDF>’ tags would do the trick.
In the Blog format the index pages and category pages would all contain embedded RDF indicating that the enclosed section of text is actually from another URL – its permalink. However this idea is not just limited to the Blog format, it has huge potential for most modern website formats.
This wouldn’t be a trivial change for search engines to make, it would be time-consuming and therefore costly but I believe it would be worthwhile for the future of internet content.
A more short-term solution I am looking at is improving my website [i.e. WordPress] to detect that the visitor has come from a search engine, try and determine the query they used from the ‘Referer’ HTTP header, then find and present the best matches to that query before any other posts are displayed.
Obviously this method has quite a few shortfalls:
* The ‘Referer’ header may not be there (some people disable it within the browser or through third-party software)
* Although handling the query formats of the main players is quite easy, not all search engines can be catered for
* It requires an intensive search of all the site’s posts, the standard WordPress search won’t cut it
I contemplated getting the site to pull a copy of the URL given in the ‘Referer’ header, scan for the result that led the visitor to your site then locate the correct post given the snippet text… Then I decided that was a reeeeeeaaally bad idea.
In the long-run I believe the content and therefore the search engines that index it have to improve to cater for the format of internet content today and I think embedded RDF might be the key; unfortunately this cannot happen overnight.
In the meantime making smarter websites will help the situation until the content and the search engines catch up.