Jakob Nielsen Doesn’t Like Blogs

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, July 09, 2007 at 05:23 PM with 2 comments

I am not sure if the title of this post, Jakob Nielsen Doesn’t Like Blogs, is the most suitable. However after reading and re-reading his article about blogging vs. writing articles, it is my only logical conclusion as I don’t believe Nielsen convinced any informed blogger if they are wasting their time.

Dr. Jakob Nielsen is a world-renown usability expert, and you can read more on his background and career on his Web site, useit.com. For anyone like myself who has even the slightest inclination about the usability of the Web or software, you are familiar with Nielsen. And anyone who is familiar with Nielsen will probably have an opinion similar to my own of him – they generally agree with him, but every once in a while he comes out with something that they do not agree with or is not commercially viable. As many of us earn our living on the Internet, commercial viability is very relevant.

This morning I received Alertbox, his bi-weekly newsletter, and as I was having my first sips of coffee, I read with interest the topic of his latest article, Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. Right away I clicked on the link and read the article. Then I downed another cup of coffee and re-read it. I let the email sit in my inbox and now the end of the day, I read it again twice, and am sitting down to write this still with ambiguity.

The summary of the article reads, verbatim,

“To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”
This made sense to me. In business, the ultimate goal is to make money. Some actions, or in this case writings, are directly tied to that. Others are not. A blog by the president of a company that gives a glimmer of transparency into their organization, and as a result help its reputation, is one that comes to mind.

However reading the article further, the line between thinking and blogging gets intertwined. To begin with, there is not a definition of a blog anywhere in the article or linked from it. I am curious what Nielsen defines as a blog. I can infer that he suggests that anything posted on a blog is not well thought out, as that is the direction he takes the article. Note that nowhere on useit.com is any reference to an RSS feed and there is no auto-discovery of a feed URL, so Nielsen himself does not blog. I was also taken aback by this line,

“This has been a very long article, stuffed with charts and statistical concepts -- like standard deviations and utility functions -- that I know most readers find difficult.”
I did not, and most of the people who read this post on The Hot Iron probably wouldn’t find it difficult either.

I have never been someone who believes in technology for technology’s sake. Of all of the clients I have, only two have blogs (I developed one of them) and I did not start my own blog until after I launched the one for my client. One of the goals for The Hot Iron was to give me a venue for sharing knowledge and writing. Should I just write white papers and articles and not blog posts? I don’t believe so, but then again, any answer would fit just me, and for any other client or perspective client, the decision to blog would depend on overall goals for their Internet presence, who their customers are and what their expectations would be. Making a broad stroke recommendation without this information doesn’t serve anyone well.

At a higher level, blogging is publishing content. What have made the concept popular are tools (e.g. WordPress, ExpressionEngine) that allow people to easily publish. People have published Web sites on various topics since they got their hands on the first browser and an HTML editor. However merely publishing content on a blog doesn’t mean that it is shallow or does not add value to you or your business or organization. Sure, with a blog you can share with your readers one sentence, one paragraph just one word - or even a whole article. As a publishing tool, blogs allow content to be transformed into email messages, or posted on a Web site that does not “look” like a blog.

Could Nielsen think that blogging is a threat to his own consultancy and this article is more self-serving than anything? I am sure like any “traditional” author he has been impacted by it. In the article he talks about his own sales lead-time. Part of this may be due to the fact that most people in the world don’t consciously think about usability. When they are struggling with navigating PeopleSoft or joyously playing their music on their iPod, usability may come to mind. Usability is, in my opinion, like the “green” movement, and if anything it has a better chance of going more mainstream. But if it does, it will more than likely come from people reading usability blogs than hundred-page reports.

Or maybe his article was intended to stir some controversy on blogs? If so, kudos Dr. N!

I still have the same amount of concern about the usability of my client’s and other Web sites. I will still refer to Nielsen’s writings and opinions on usability and will still agree to disagree with him on some points. I also recommend you, whoever you are, to subscribe to his newsletter. Make your own informed decisions, and like anything, doing something for the sake of simply doing it, especially when time can be better spent, is a waste. Hopefully reading this was not a waste for you, as it wasn’t for me to write it, even if for a blog.

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