A Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals – Part 3 : Technology and Usability

Continuing my series on LDS Blog Portals from Part 1 and Part 2 .

In the previous post I discussed some of the history of LDS Blog portals and how the motivations of those creating the portals played into their design and discussed to some extent how those motivation ultimately affected how the portals are run. Be sure to check out the clarifying comments by the creators of LDSblogs.org on the previous two posts.

Now I would like to look a little at how the self-promotion marketing objective of the portal design has affected usability and technology.

As covered by the previous post, the creators of LDSblogs.org designed their portal as a way to promote themselves in competition to bigger group blogs. This motivation lead to a hierarchical layout that lends itself to using page position to promote or demote certain people or points of view. Interestingly, even after the portal creators had achieved the prominence that was the goal of their project, the layout of the site has not been modified. The box designations as “Big Islands,” “Isles of the Sean,” “Atolls,” etc are practically incoherent, but at some level are perhaps indications of web traffic or post volume.

Most of the subsequent LDS Blog portals have started in reaction to an injustice (perceived or real) that results from the promotional system at LDSBlogs.org, but ironically, every one of the other portals mimicked the hierarchical layout from which the injustice derived, albeit with their own interesting variations.

LDSElect.org kept the layout, however, it did introduce the ability to individually configure which blogs are displayed in which box. This was a helpful step toward equity for frequent users, but the default listing still promoted certain blogs over others, and there is some reason to wonder how many users bother to change the default.

Blogregate at Mormonblogs.org also copied the hierarchical layout of LDSBlogs.org, but with the twist that the boxes represented different topics rather than arbitrary designations of preference. However, in this case the hierarchy was topical, and so Feminism and Technology received preferred status over the rest.

Mormon Blogosphere adopted the same hierachy, but the categories, when taken at face value, are as incoherent and arbitrary as the islands designation of LDSBlogs.org. And because the categories are more numerous, and the content more cluttered, the site is hard to use.

This hierarchical layout appears to have been originally designed, in the spirit of self promotion, to keep the posts of the founders of LDSBlogs.org constantly at the page top, above the fold (a fact that none of the commentators disputed in the previous post). But that decision makes for an awkward usability problem. The founders, who, save a few, are busy posting at By Common Consent, post fairly infrequently. This means that in order to find fresh content, regular visitors have to move from box to box to see if there is anything new. This is both tedious and unnecessary. Users shouldn’t have to search for new content. It should be obvious and prominent.

Another effect of the self-promotion design of the portal is the lack of modern distributed content, like RSS Feeds, email subscriptions, or embeddable widgets. RSS and distributed content is the driving force behind nearly all web-based technology trends. Because their self promotion depends on the layout positioning of their blogs on their website, the goal is to attract as much traffic to the website itself, not to distribute the content elsewhere. This is a very technologically backward system. But RSS Feeds and Email subscriptions promote new content first, so it is contrary to their prime directive. And embeddable widgets send the content elsewhere where no one will see their content first. The only imitator to rectify this problem is mormonblogs.org, which provides RSS Feeds of new content in each topical box. The original Planet LDS portal had an aggregated RSS feed as well. Ironically, blog portals depend on distributed content technologies, specifically RSS, to function at all. So using other’s RSS feeds to bring value to your site without providing an RSS Feed seems rather self-serving and inequitable.

While there have been slight improvements to the technology employed by LDS Blog aggregators, other than the initial improvement introduced by LDSBlogs.org and since copied by the rest, as well as comment aggregation and LDSElect.org’s creative individualized customization, there has been little innovation. While the number of blogs has increased, the features offered have remained essentially static. Meanwhile, web technologies related to blogging, podcasting, and distributed content have exploded. This lack of innovation is probably partially because if the self promotional nature of the LDSBlog.org portal. Their goal was to market themselves, and since that goal had been met, there was little motivation to expand. Had their goal been to promote the church, or to promote lds blogs in general, there are numerous avenues of innovation that might have been explored. The lack of innovation is also probably due to the lack of technical ability among the founders of the Archipelago.

Since the advent of LDS Blog Portals, the official church websites have added numerous RSS Feeds. If the portals were interested in building up the church, and not just themselves, they would find ways to incorporate and promote official church content.

Another technological problem of the portals, is that the portal links are only temporary. Because links disappear as they are eventually replaced by newer content, the links do nothing to improve the search engine ranking of the included blogs. Google uses incoming links to help calculate how high a website should appear in search results. But those links need to be permanently discoverable to accumulate in search engine stats. If LDSBlog portals were truly interested in improving the visibility of faithful LDS content on Google, they would be aware of search engine optimization and attempt to use their popularity to help the church in this regard. Instead they encourage included blogs to place banner links back to the portal, which improves the Google standing of the portal in searches for LDS blogs, but doesn’t help the actual content they are aggregating achieve higher, long-term visibility.

In my next post I will conclude my Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals.

Category: lds
Tagged: , , ,
Bookmark: link

6 Responses to A Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals – Part 3 : Technology and Usability

  1. J. Max, while I find your observations fair, I find your analysis bizarre and twisted. You ascribe motive and causation to action and inaction that you simply haven’t bothered to research or verify.

    For example, you say, “If LDSBlog portals were truly interested in improving the visibility of faithful LDS content on Google, they would be aware of search engine optimization and attempt to use their popularity to help the church in this regard. Instead they encourage included blogs to place banner links back to the portal, which improves the Google standing of the portal in searches for LDS blogs…”

    Well, I would ascribe it to the fact that that we all have day jobs, don’t have the expertise, and have limited pecuniary and temporal resources. I would love to be able to fund such grand improvements.

    The reason we have boxes, as opposed to the single list aggregation like planet LDS, is because it allows more fresh content available more easily. For example, when we first started, the biggest blogs, like Times and Seasons, had tons of content, and if they weren’t in their own box, smaller content would be off the page rapidly. The bottom box at LDSBlogs.org, started out as a low frequency posting box. That way, blogs that only posted once a month or so, would have their content up for longer (that box has evolved with the need to include more and more blogs). So the boxes actually allow more traffic to reach more sites. We keep the official MA box at the top because it is our site and we do the work on it. Simple as that. Still, it has been my experience from the referral stats that I have seen from other blogs, that the box system works very well at distributing large amounts of traffic to blogs that otherwise wouldn’t get it.

    Besides the technical hurdles, which we don’t have the resources to tackle, adding rss feeds and the like seems like it would take away from the individual sites, not add to them. Wouldn’t you rather have someone subscribe to your own RSS feed and not someone that is aggregating your feed? Maybe I am misunderstanding etiquette, but that seems a bit odd to me.

    You also say: “Since the advent of LDS Blog Portals, the official church websites have added numerous RSS Feeds. If the portals were interested in building up the church, and not just themselves, they would find ways to incorporate and promote official church content.”

    The thing is, J. Max, LDSBlogs.org exists to promote Mormon blogs. We have toyed with the idea of including news feeds and official content, but we have opted to stick with blogs (as if that weren’t a big enough job).

  2. J. Max,

    While it is “below the fold,” we do feature links to official LDS sources.

  3. J. Stapley,

    “That way, blogs that only posted once a month or so, would have their content up for longer (that box has evolved with the need to include more and more blogs).”

    I certainly appreciate being in the bottom box as opposed to nowhere. LDSblogs.org is the number two source of hits for my blog (first is Google of course), for which I am very grateful.

    That being said, I wonder why you don’t simply open another box as opposed to having so many blogs in the bottom one. There are several blogs in this box that have posts all the time—I’ve found that the average time for being in the box is about 1 day (some of the other boxes are much longer). I wouldn’t care as much about this if it weren’t for the fact that there are a couple really crappy blogs that publish all the time. In addition, there are other blogs that hardly ever post (they probably did more in the past) that are included in some of the middle boxes.

    I know that, as you say, you all have real jobs. But here is where Max might have a point—you guys are doing a whole lot of blogging (and commenting), in spite of your day jobs. You (by you, I don’t mean “you,” but those in charge of MA) could prove J. Max wrong that you truly care about the LDS blogging community, rather than mere self-promotion, by paying a little more attention to improving some of these quirks—especially in a way that promotes blogs with posts that have the highest quality, even if they’re not part of the in-crowd. Just a suggestion, you can certainly do whatever you want.

  4. Dennis: “That being said, I wonder why you don’t simply open another box as opposed to having so many blogs in the bottom one.”

    That is an excellent suggestion, and we may do just that (see how much easier that was than just being perturbed?).

  5. J. Stapley,

    Thanks for considering that—yes, perturbation is certainly overrated 🙂

  6. I have long wanted to see a non-hierarchical aggregator. For awhile I used a RSS feed plug-in to provide such an aggregator at Blognitive Dissonance. However, the plug-in did not keep up with the advanced progress of WordPress and I abandoned it.

Leave a Reply

Be sure you are familiar with the Comment Policy before commenting.

Anyone who wishes to comment here must register for a sixteensmallstones.org login or connect using their Facebook account. Registration is simple and fast.

Once you have activated your account, you must log in to post comments. The first time you comment will still be moderated, but once I have approved your first comment you should be able to continue to add additional comments on any article without further impediment as long as you are logged in.

Copyright © 2005-2018 J. Max Wilson. Some Rights Reserved.