Faceted Navigation of blog archives

Maybe it’s a cruel conspiracy of the makers of WordPress, MovableType, Blogger, et al that make blog archives a disaster of design.

Let’s start with the basic weblog design. It consists of stringing together posts of less than a couple hundred words in length. Since many posts may have been added since the reader last visited, this allows the reader to skim through without clicking.

As noted here previously, this design breaks down for a site where the content consists of posts of lengths closer to traditional articles. After all, the the user must click to read the whole piece. If the publisher insists on putting the whole article on the front page (see PBS MediaShift), this ends up disorienting the user: they can’t well gauge the length of the article. A headline-emphasized webzine format should be considered, in order to squeeze more article links on the front page.

Navigating through archives presented in the weblog format is even more cumbersome. The first common mistakes in how blog software renders archives is that it providing an impossibly long page of entries (click on any week of TalkingPointsMemo’s archives). As a reaction, some blog software chooses pagination to chop up the archives for a period of time, but this merely breaks up the data in an unnatural way. (See Citmedia’s archives for this month — there are more entries than the ten set by pagination). Using headline-links can help solve the navigation difficulties.

Three weeks ago I redesigned my own archives to use the facets of year and genre. The genres now have distinctive icons to indicate what the article is. Only the headlines show, and the teasers expand on a click.

I’ve tried different variations on this approach (based on the available data) at the Campaign Trails website:

Each facet brings up a table of posts with author, subject, date, number of responses, word count. I could have generated more facets where I had the metadata. But there’s no reason that these can’t be generated dynamically by the publishing software for live blogs.

And it shouldn’t be an optional plug-in. So, my question to MovableType, WordPress, Blogger, and other blog and CMS solutions: will you make faceted navigation a standard part of your software? Or will you continue to frustrate people browsing the archives?