Digging For Abouts, Indistinct TITLEs

Here are some web site gripes I’ve been storing up. These are not meant as criticisms of the work and content people are posting, but things that may affect the usefulness, usability, or even return visits to your sites.

First up, you as the person who created a web site for yourself, for your organization, are the best at knowing what your site is about, its purpose. Everybody else is going to be guessing at first glance. I have seen more than a few web sites, where my Blink level experience does not give me a clue as to what a site is.

But even worse, when I am sharing a web site with others, and especially when I am tagging and adding sites to my del.icio.us collection, if I cannot locate a 1-2 sentence explanation of the site, it makes it pain down in the nether regions to do my social bookmarking. I am looking for chunk of mouse selectable text I can highlight (since del.icio.us can use that for a description) or can copy paste– I should not have to find it on another page, or be forced to type it since it is trapped in flash or an image.

And if I have to dig several layers deep to find out what a site is, my interest level drops even farther.

Take a Blink second look at the Open Source Media site — I found it in my feeds this morning. The descriptive title tag is “OSM”. That tells me a lot. It looks kind of blog like, and there are bright red ads up the stripe. I am already 30 seconds in and I lack a clue.

So I follow the About OSM link. Do I get the information.. no, it is another menu. I have to dig even deeper:


So what’s your guess? Which one of the coconut shell links reveals something that tells me what the site is about? Taking the first link plunge, From the Founders, I have to wade through more text just to find what this site is about. It’s not until the 6th paragraph down do I even get close:

OSM’s mission is to expand the influence of weblogs by finding and promoting the best of them, providing bloggers with a forum to meet and share resources, and the chance to join a for-profit network that will give them additional leverage to pursue knowledge wherever they may find it. From academics, professionals and decorated experts, to ordinary citizens sitting around the house opining in their pajamas, our community of bloggers are among the most widely read and influential citizen journalists out there, and our roster will be expanding daily. We also plan to provide a bridge between old media and new, bringing bloggers and mainstream journalists””more and more of whom have started to blog””together in a debate-friendly forum.

And even reading that, I have little sense what is here, this being something that could have been spawned from a Buzzword Statement Generator

That is way too much digging to give me a human readable statement of what a site is about. If I have to work that hard to find something that simple, how willing am I to wade through for something less defined?

Gripe number 2 is also related to my bookmarking habits- sites that do not put unique text descriptions for different web pages in the <title>...</title> parts of their pages. Maybe some web site consultant told them to brand every page with their organization name, or maybe they have not figured out how to set up the correct strings in their blog templates, but if I bookmark 8 different pages from the Wooly Mammoth Society, Inc site in my browser or in my social bookmark tool — which automatically extracts a page title as an identifier– how will I tell them apart if they are all labeled as “Wooly Mammoth Society, Inc”? How can I use my History or Back button on my browser to jump back from a set of viewed web pages on my site if they all show up with the same name?

Just as a few examples I have been collecting, all of these sites, some of them I visit regularly, are sadly set up to have the same eaxct string of text on every web page of their site. This makes me manually have to type in a title every time I bookmark, and those seismic tremors are me cussing at the manual effort required:



Poynter Online


Walter Mossberg

Now this may seem like petty griping to you, but for any blog generated site, it is bone simple to set templates up so every individual page posting has its blog entry title as the web page title. If you need branding, stick it in some parenthesis.

So here are Alan’s ways to make the web a tinier bit better:

(1) Make sure your home page has a selectable text, human language sentence that says what the site is about. This is a very Jakobian wise tactic. It can then link to a more detailed explanation. But for your visitors sake, finding this information should not be a treasure hunt through arcane menus. It’s bad enough when we have to deal with menu trees on the telephone, do not do that on your web site.

(2) Make sure every web page has a distinct title in its <title>...</title> tags (unless your is a one page web site with no other internal links). It is an identifier for each page, maybe even metadata if you will. There are better ways to brand your content that mis-identifying content.

There, I feel better. Got it out of my system.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. When I read complaint#2 I panicked and rushed over to my blog. I hadn’t even thought about my web page titles.
    I got ’em. Whew! Thank goodness for WordPress. Otherwise this old dog would have had to learn a new trick.

    Now I just need to think about my “about” text.

    Thanks for the tips!

  2. In the case of Open Source Media, this opacity serves to hide the fact that it’s a right-wing political blog, has noting do do with open source, is not in fact open source, and copied the name from another site. There are more details available on CNet.

    That said, I second your comments. I deal with new sites every day and one of the most frustrating things is finding out who the author of the blog is. Imagine! And, of course, the other details that an about page would provide – like where they’re from, why they’re blogging, who they are affiliated with, who is paying them (if anyone), etc.

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