Saturday, January 27, 2007

Are You an Older/Newer or a Newer/Older? (Or, Proof That the Washington Post Leans Left)

While reading the Washington Post's Express blog, I noticed something annoying:

Their Previous/Next navigation is backwards from what I expect:

Express forward/next nav
Previous 10 Posts [older] | Next 10 Posts [newer]

It bugged me until I figured it out.

Now, since timelines usually start with older dates at the left, moving towards newer dates at right, I guess this makes sense.

However, since we read from left to right, having the newest stuff at the "left" side of the timeline is a more natural and more expected behavior for me.

But if you're going to use metaphors, what about paper diaries? The first entry is the earliest entry...

I think because blogs are reverse chronological anyway (their defining characteristic -- the new stuff goes on top), flipping the timeline so the newest stuff is anchored at left has a certain symmetry to it.

Looking at other blogs, say, Engadget, a Weblogs, Inc. blog that uses Blogsmith:

Engadget forward/next nav
Previous Page [newer] | Next Page [older]

Over at GawkerMedia blog Wonkette (are they still on Movable Type?) they do the same thing:

Wonkette forward/next nav
Previous [newer] | Next [older]

And you know, those guys don't agree on anything.

Lastly, looking over at Valleywag, even though they're also GawkerMedia, they're so forward-looking, they can't go back:

Wonkette forward/next nav
Next [older]

Taking the opposite point of view, it looks like Wordpress blogs default to
« Previous Page [older] — Next Page [newer] »

I don't think we Blogspot/Blogger users even get a vote in the standard templates.

Anyway, the « [Older] | [Newer] » folks could bring up browser forward/back navigation, and the « [Newer] | [Older] » side could counter with Top 10 lists (editorial top 10 lists should always start at 10 -- to start at 1 is anticlimactic).

Muddying the waters further, I realized that the Gawker & Weblogs blog networks don't really have calendar-based archives -- Gawker's archive pages go « [Newer] | [Older] » within each month, and Weblogs blogs don't do monthly archives. Obviously, calendaring goes from « [Older] | [Newer] », so that's another one for the ONs (making the other side the NOs?).

So basically, it's a big mess, and someone's always going to be annoyed (even though all we right-thinking folk know it should be « [Newer] | [Older]» )

At the very least, I would say the "Previous" and "Next" labels should be replaced with "Older" and "Newer," to take away any ambiguity and remove the misleading linguistic baggage that the Previous | Next labels carry with them.

In the classic new media "make it a user preference" cop-out-to-avoid-tough-but-ultimately-meaningless UI decisions, just label the links clearly and let the blogger choose. That way, people could use whatever scheme they wanted, readers are happy, and I wouldn't have such a headache.

(Oh, and something else irritating about the Gawker blogs? The "Next" link at the top of the page doesn't do the same thing as the "Next" link at the bottom of the page -- the top page link goes to the next entry, while the bottom page link goes to the next page [with multiple entries])

4 comments:

Needtsza said...

blogspot templates are a nice jumping off point, but yea. They are very limited.....but free

Joelogon said...

The new Blogger, with the widgets, seems pretty flexible. I just don't feel like mucking about in the CSS too much right now. -- Joe

Mike said...

Blogsmith blogs can do things the other way, but Weblogs has always done it Next=older, and I have to admit-- like you, that's how it makes sense to me. But I could definitely see the other (browser buttons) side of the coin.

Glad to see that someone's actually talking about this small but potentially significant usability hangup.

Joelogon said...

Hi Mike -- I think the left-to-right reading behavior trumps pretty much everything else, but I think as long as people use more useful labels, it's a manageable issue. -- Joe