A Blog Table of Contents, Or…

This blog has been around for many years and there’s a lot of gold buried in the archives. The problem is that the state of the art in blogging software doesn’t make it easy to find older content. You can sort of search by category or you can google keywords but these are very crude and imprecise ways to do what should be easy.

This problem afflicts most established blogs. There is no reason — other than the arbitrary limitations of the journal format used by blogging software — for it to be difficult to find specific content. We’re not kids discussing our social lives. The contributors here post serious work and much of it remains worth reading years after it was written. The journal format is inadequate.

One way around these issues would be for someone to edit and organize the blog’s archives into a book in either online or paper form. But this would be a tremendous amount of work and it would need to be updated periodically to incorporate newer content. Alternately we could expand our list of “best of” links, but doing this also requires a lot of work and is impractical for the listing of more than a handful of links.

Is there an easier way to organize blog archives, using software? By this I mean, how might blogging software be improved to make it easier for bloggers to organize and readers to view blog content by topic or theme? I think it might help to incorporate a RoboHelp-type tool in the admin editing interface to make it easy to create a TOC and populate it by dragging and dropping from a comprehensive list of posts. And then to make a TOC view of the blog available to readers. These are ideas off the top of my head. What other solutions might work?

Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

5 thoughts on “A Blog Table of Contents, Or…”

  1. My observation on browsing behavior is that users prefer to search first and click link second. Indeed, they usually do it in that order: search first and then click through the search results. Link collections intended somehow for deep linking quickly spiral into directed graphs of unfathomable depths, after which people hit the back button and start searching.

    I’d recommend a lower tech curation approach: do a best of ChicagoBoyz roundup/”Notable Posts” post every week or so and link to 5 posts or so from the past that people can read in a manageable chunk. Put them all under a “Best of ChicagoBoyz” or “Notable Posts” WordPress category and put the link to that category in a distinct location on the sidebar so it’s not conflated with existing categories. You can retag to the posts selected, not for linking from the main page but for linking from directly from one post to others of a similarly narrow category since that’s one area where users will use finer grained linking.

  2. I tried the same thing over at LITGM, the “best of” route.

    After a while I had to give it up (Dan told me it would fail) because there are a LOT of good posts. In the end you kind of just “give everyone a post” by author because it seems fairer, too. But then you realize that isn’t the point, either.

    But in reality the issue here is that there isn’t a central “theme” – except for the great single threads like Okinawa (one of the best military books I’ve read, in a sense) – which you already call out.

    I tried the “tag cloud” over at the “most important site on the intertubes” http://www.drunkbearfans.com

    This worked OK because I went through all the posts looking for common themes (although I missed some, notably “passed out” although “shirtless idiot” is a tag) and there were only about 150 posts. Here at Chicago Boyz there are THOUSANDS of posts, many of which are highly interesting or of use.

    I am facing the same challenge, on a smaller scale, at LITGM. I think I may “clean up” the tags a bit but then again Dan likes funny / one off labels / tags too.

    I kind of am obsessed with this problem that you are listing and think a lot about it. I don’t know so much if it is a software problem but more of a “cognitive” problem in that people want what is new, not what is old. Bizarrely I think if you went back periodically and directed people towards older posts or series of posts as “new” or “still useful” people might click back.

    Twitter / texting / facebook all have the “look forward only” problem as well. Who goes back and looks at old tweets? No one (but I am a bad example because I tried tweeting and it didn’t “take”).

    I don’t think that this is a very satisfying answer.


  3. Actually that’s a helpful answer, thanks.

    Also, WRT Twitter, and unrelated to my original question, I don’t see any downside to tweeting old posts.

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