On the Placement of Linked List Content

When I debuted the Linked List back in June, I described it thusly:

The Linked List is a daily list of interesting links and brief commentary, updated frequently but not frenetically. Call it a “link log”, or “linkblog”, or just “a good way to dick around on the Internet for a few minutes a day”.

Six months later, that’s still as good a description as I can think of. The endeavor has proven quite successful: I enjoy posting items to the list, and feedback from readers has been tremendously positive.

The original idea was to make live access to the Linked List available only to paying members of Daring Fireball, by way of a members-only RSS feed. Monthly web page archives have been available all along, for posterity and for search engines, but the only way to follow along via a daily index of new items was via the members-only feed.

The Linked List has worked out well enough that I’ve decided to make it available to everyone. Starting now, the most recent Linked List posts are now available on the web. Effectively, it’s a second weblog. (The RSS feed is still available only to members, however.)

I also considered publishing it on the front page of this site. The most obvious and common design solution would be to put the Linked List items to the side of the main content. Many very well-designed web sites do this with link-log content:

The list could go on and on. A sidebar is the de facto standard placement for link-log content on the front page of a web site. And on all of the above sites, such placement works well.

However, sidebar placement would not work for Daring Fireball. For one thing, most of the link logs at the above sites are just links, and easily fit within a narrow column. My Linked List, however, consists of links plus brief commentary — “brief” compared to the length of a regular article, but not so brief as to fit comfortably in a narrow sidebar. (Another common technique is to put link commentary in the title attribute of the link, which reveals itself in a tooltip when the reader mouses over the link.)

A year ago, Jason Kottke launched an extraordinarily clever redesign of his web site’s home page. Kottke’s innovation was to move his “Remaindered Links” out of the sidebar and into the main content column, interspersed with his full articles in a single chronological list.

A significant part of the (intended) appeal of Daring Fireball’s layout is that there is just a single column of content. There is a sidebar, but it contains just a short navigation menu, my byline, and one sponsorship ad. The idea is that there’s only one place where you need to look for new stuff to read, and there’s little else to distract you.

(Semi-Interpolation: It’s for this reason that I’ve never seen the appeal of so-called “blogrolls”, long (sometimes exceedingly long) lists of other recommended weblogs. Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit lists 296 weblogs in the sidebar blogroll — how in the world would anyone notice a new entry in a list that long? If you want to know which weblogs I recommend, just pay attention to the sites I link to. End interpolation.)

And so I shamelessly copied Kottke’s idea, and applied it here at Daring Fireball. During a test run over the past three days, the front page of this site contained the three most recent full articles, interspersed with Linked List items, ordered chronologically.

To be sure, this involved a certain incalculable trade-off. Gained was a bit of vibrancy, a home page which could remain current even during periods when I don’t have time to write full articles. Lost, however was a certain element of virtuous simplicity, a quietness of presentation.

The evaluation of trade-offs is the hardest part of design; in this case, I’ve decided it wasn’t worth it. Or perhaps better put, while I feel the idea is good, something feels not quite right about it when applied here at Daring Fireball. At Kottke.org, the intertwining of links and articles made the site even more Kottke-ish. Here, however, it made the site less Fireball-ish.

So, I’ve decided to leave the Linked List as a separate, sibling weblog. If you want to try the Kottke-style home page, however, it’s available as an option via the Preferences page. Some of you, I suspect, will like it. But it is, and likely will remain, off by default.