The scannable blog

Marc Barrot is working on making his blog more scannable. It's a subject near and dear to my heart. I'm always looking for better affordances --- which is not quite a made-up term , apparently.

First Marc beefed up my storyList macro , adding category display to his version . You can see it work; it's wired to the contents link of his blog.

Now Marc's working on a variation, a JavaScript widget he calls radioScan . It looks nice and clean under IE, but Marc's worried about JavaScript incompatibilities in other browsers. If anyone would like to help, he'd love to hear from you .

As I look at these things side by side, I wonder whether JavaScript compatibility is the major issue. In both versions, the category names are tucked into HREF TITLE attributes, which means they're only shown when you hover over an item title (and maybe only in IE).

Perhaps a table enumerating all stories, with titles, dates, and categories, is really what the storyList page wants to be. This kind of widget can be rendered statically in a number of ways, and you can give the illusion of sorting up and down on any column by caching these views. It can all be done with no JavaScript dependency.

This would work up to a few hundred items. After that, you'd need to start partitioning the display, but even this can be done in a dynamically-rendered/statically-served way.

Designing an all-in-one storylist display for maximum clarity would be a challenge. But if Edward Tufte has taught me anything at all, it's that a well-designed information display not only can be dense with data, it should be. Perception is a game of pattern recognition. We scan in order to absorb patterns. But we can't absorb patterns that we can't see directly.

That said, radioScan does something that I always think should be popular, but somehow never is. It uses a second window to display a navigational map. This is something JavaScript can do easily and compatibly. Yet there seems to be a strong preference for one-window interfaces. I wonder why?

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