October 2007 Archives

Navigation First Still OK?

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One the earlier accessibility mantras was to put content before navigation. The theory was that that screen reader users found reading the same main menu options on each page to be distracting and time-consuming.

Yet visual users generally prefer navigation menus to the left (which means they usually come first in the code). Interestingly readers of right-to-left scripts like Hebrew and Arabic want their navigation to be to the RIGHT (where their eyes first hit when reading).

In any event, some experts advocating placing navigation on the right so that content would come first in screen readers. Another variation was to put navigation after content in the HTML, but use CSS to move the navigation in the top/left where visual users were expecting. The final solution was to keep navigation first, but implement a "Skip Main Menu" strategy. Ironically, I found a Usability Source Order Survey in Australia which supports the "Skip Main Menu strategy" as the best choice.

According to this survey, it's not just visual users who expect navigation, but many screen reader users as well. What many users really wanted a quick bypass once they got familiar with it, but they were still expecting it to be there first.

I would compare to previews on a DVD. I expect the previews to come before the main feature movie, but am grateful when I can skip them (especially if the DVD is due back at the store before midnight). On the other hand, if the previews come AFTER the movie credits, I will be a bit confused (especially if I'm expecting the DVD bonus interview features next).

This is kind of a relief from a developer point of view because you can really use the same code for everyone with an extra tweak (actually, a lot of people would like "Skip Main Menu" - including keyboard users). Many visual users do prefer left hand or top navigation over right and bottom, so using right/bottom navigation seems awkward. I'm also glad to be avoiding CSS floating hacks which move content out of their source order. I've always thought this was dangerous, because other users (e.g. low vision users or color blind users) use alternate CSS sheets. The more you keep the content flow the same across alternate styles, the more accessible you are.

Blog Tags and/or Categories

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Movable Type has both tags and categories, and typically, I have been recommending that users implement which one feels more comfortable.

But I just saw a comment which gives me a new insight:

I like the analogy that Elise over at SimplyRecipes.com gave me: categories are chapters in a book, tags are the index at the end — Jesse Gardner (Comment) http://kwc.org/blog/archives/2007/2007-06-07.movabletype_4_categories_demoted.html
That is, categories give a viewer a global idea of what topics are covered, but tags can be more fine grained. I'm not saying I'm going to be tagging all my old entries, but it's good food for thought.

A Case for Private Blogs

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My colleague Brad and I have had an interesting ongoing debate about whether a "blog" is by definition public or whether a "private blog" makes any sense. I'll let Brad make his case elsewhere, but I think the concept of a private blog is valid and, for me, a different medium from a public blog.

I should say that I maintained a private blog elsewhere for some time. It’s really private too - not an anonymous blog hosted somewhere outside of Penn State. It’s password protected, and it’s dated, has categories and could generate an RSS feed. Although some entries in the private blog have made the public blog, most are still lying in the dark...and that’s OK with me.

Here is a sampling of some entries which are in the private blog.

1. A few are notes on my interests in cognition and learning which are sort of in the fuzzy stage. A public blog entry of any length takes me about 30 minutes to fully “word smith.” Anyone who has heard me speak spontaneously in public knows that I take a while to form a coherent sentence many days. If I only have 10 minutes, it’s better to dash off a quick jumble...but not publish it.

The nice things about these entries is that they do allow me to clarify some of my thoughts...sooner or later. I notice that my early entries on learning are a little vapid, but the further I got along, the more sensible they became. However, I’m not going to expose the stupid ones to the public.

2. Some entries are just random technical notes. Some are too elementary for public blog consumption (e.g. function keys of Flash). Interestingly, some of these are those that I’m not “officially” supposed to know about (nothing illegal - just not standard practice). Any experienced techie has a few of these tricks up his or her sleeve.

3. Other entries are just those I wrote when I was really, really mad or sarcastic. Having accidentally started a few flame wars with an unwise choice of words, I am more cautious about what I say in a public forum. I don’t have the time anymore for a good flame war.

Plus, I have made a conscious choice to be as apolitical as possible in my public life (I argue with close friends and family, but that’s about it). I get annoyed so when someone inserts a random political comment, so I don’t see any reason to add to the noise. Plus, I’m finding that many alternate points of view are valid (except for the really stupid ones).

In the long run, venting is just a way to listen to yourself - so why not make yourself the only audience? Yourself will always agree with you! Actually some vents will make more sense when the anger is worn off and the concept carefully reworded.

4. Some of the private entries are about work issues.

So there you have it - my reasons for the personal blog. I would end by saying that I don’t think the private blog is a place to hide information. I think of it as a staging area for better thinking ahead.

P.S. Definition wise, I think the term does allow for privacy as a parameter...unless you think otherwise.

A frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links.

An online Journal.

Web LOG is a journal kept on the Internet. This journal is often updated daily and contains all information that the person maintaining the BLOG (the blogger) wishes to share with the world. ...