Over the last couple of months, I’ve been rebuilding and tweaking my digital identity, this includes the blog you’re reading right now. In an earlier post, I discussed the trail of recent changes as I rebuilt this site. In this post, I wanted to detail some of the choices that I made and the rationale for each decision. Every decision is made with the intent of better serving, scaffolding, and empowering the reader. Please keep in mind that with all of these choices, they are merely tests as I figure out what effect they have on the reader. I may make changes in the future…if I do, I’ll document those as well.
Reading time indicator
At the top of my posts, there is an indicator for the reading time. The ReadMe theme I’m using has this built in, but there are other options if you want to add it to your WordPress site. I investigated these different options but ultimately came back to the built-in read times as they are subtle, and not annoying. Some of the read time plugins incorporated a countdown clock on the page. From my experience in teaching and scaffolding readers, I thought this might make some reader anxious or nervous.
Medium started calculating and adding read times to track how this impacts engagement. I value this subtle indication as it lets the reader know at the beginning of the piece how much time they’ll invest (or waste) reading your post. Time is precious, especially as we interact and communicate online. I believe that readers will want to know how much of that time you’ll take up.
Short synopsis of the top of the post
I believe, at least for this blog, that posts should be around 300 to 500 words in length. Of course as I start writing, this often times expands until I fully complete my thoughts. I revise and sometimes chunk parts of the posts out to other posts in the future. Throughout this experience, I’m trying to think of the audience and identify design choices I can make to scaffold and support learners.
In this process, I include (or at least try to include) a summary of the page at the top for those instances where I run on past my self-imposed limits. At the top of the post I include a “TL;DR version” of the page to give a general overview of the content of the page and let the reader decide if they want to invest more time.
I also include a TL;DR statement at the beginning of PPTs for class, presentations, and keynotes. This often acts as an indication of the “essential question” or the “so what” of my content and presentation. Keep in mind that I also started up the TL;DR newsletter…so I guess I’m really trying to simplify for my audience. 🙂
The suite of SumoMe plugins
While I was rebuilding my website, I noticed a product called SumoMe from AppSumo. SumoMe acts as a really intelligent plugin that gives your website a ton of extra functionality. In the series of tools, I use the following:
- Google Analytics. I’ve always used Google Analytics to watch traffic at my sites. This makes it much, much more user-friendly.
- Highlighter. One of the features that I loved at Medium that is starting to make its way around is the ability to select and share one line or section of text. This allows you to select and share…and keeps a notation on the page to see what people are saying. This drives engagement. 🙂
- Share. This adds a block of sharing buttons to the left of the page allowing readers to quickly share the entire page out. This also allows readers to see how often my content has been shared out online. I like this transparency.
- Image Sharer. I mostly use CC-licensed content in my posts. I’m trying to get better at taking and using my own photos in posts. This tool allows readers to quickly share out your images. It’s not that helpful (yet) on my site.
- Welcome Mat, Smart Bar, and Scroll Box. As I indicated earlier, I’m interested in ways to make it easier for people to follow my work and ideas. Most people will not follow me on Twitter, or the other social networks and actively read all of the stuff that I write and share. For this reason, I created the TL;DR newsletter. The newsletter is an attempt to scaffold and empower readers of my content. These three tools create interactive portions of my site that welcome readers and get them signed up for the newsletter.
I really love the suite of tools and the work that the AppSumo team is sharing with the SumoMe plugins. I’ll have more on this in future posts.
At this point, I want to wrap up so I don’t contradict everything I’ve said up to this point. 🙂 I’ve put a lot of thought into the different pieces I publish online, but I’m also still building and breaking things rapidly. If you use these tools or have comments, I’d love to have some feedback in the various channels below.
Cover photo by █ Slices of Light █▀ ▀ ▀ http://flickr.com/photos/justaslice/1237061197 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license