Neil's Sideboard
The Fate of Katrina’s Elderly

Blogging For Older Readers

When Crabby Old Lady first started Time Goes By, she read the people on her blogroll every day. It was easy then with only about ten links and the list grew slowly as she gradually found good, strong blogs by people older than 50.

There are more than 60 links now along with a stored list of new ones Crabby hasn’t had time to post yet - not to mention the 30 or so on the Honorary Older Bloggers list – and she has another, unpublished “favorites” list of bloggers that she likes to visit regularly too.

And there are always more blogs to read as Crabby follows interesting links. Well, you know how it goes; keep clicking and soon you're in new territory, lost among all manner of interesting stuff.

She’s reading as fast as she can, but Crabby lately finds herself skipping some blogs because they are too hard to read. Old eyes are different from young ones - they tire more easily and don’t function as critically as young eyes. But there are easy adjustments bloggers can make to their sites so that older people can enjoy them too:

Entry Date: Unless there is a photograph or other image at the top of a post, all blog entries look alike when the page loads – words, words, words - and Crabby feels cheated when she gets to sentence three or four and realizes she’s already read and maybe even commented on the post.

So those dates at the bottom of an entry aren’t much help. Better to have them at the top since Crabby usually knows about how long it’s been since she last visited.

Short Paragraphs: Crabby is sure you know that screens flicker and eyes, even young ones, tire faster reading on a screen than on a paper page. It is impossible to read paragraphs that go on and on without breaks.

Crabby first realized this when she was managing editor at cbsnews.com in 1996 and early on, she made a New Rule: no paragraphs longer than six or seven lines for ease of reading. She would be a less crabby blog reader if she could as easily enforce this rule for the entire blogosphere.

Line spaces: It’s not enough to just start a new indented line for a new paragraph. It is necessary to leave a line space between each paragraph. Puh-leeze do this; it takes only one additional tap on the “enter” key. It hurts way too much to read long blocks of unbroken text.

No Horizontal Scrolling: You’ve been to those blogs where you need to scroll left and right to read each line. Crabby doesn’t do it anymore and she knows she’s missing some good stuff, but it’s too much to ask readers to do this. Text columns should be no more than 500 pixels wide, max. 400 is better.

Background Colors: For old eyes, reading light-colored text on a dark background is like trying to read without a lamp at dusk. [Younger readers who don’t know what Crabby is talking about, give it a few years and trust her for now.] And anyway, dark backgrounds stopped being “kewl” in about 1998.

Color Combinations: As eyes age, they have trouble distinguishing between red and orange, between blue and green, and between certain shades of gray and black, particularly when they are near one another. So it is not a good idea, if you value older readers, to use those combinations for background and text.

Few older people, for example, can easily distinguish green text on a light blue background. Too much squinting involved.

Unidentified Links: In the past few months, a new link style has erupted that is growing like fungus. It is the practice of posting unidentified links. It usually appears thusly:

“Great story here. Also, don’t miss this and this.”

Oh, yeah? If it’s so great, tell Crabby what it is and why it’s so great. At best, this practice is lazy blogging. At worst, you waste a reader’s time following a link she’s already seen or is not interested in. Trust in otherwise friendly bloggers goes only so far with Crabby and doesn’t include lazy linking.

Crabby would be most grateful to any bloggers who would, if needed, make a course correction with any of the above suggestions. It could be that you don’t care about older readers and that’s fine, but these web best practices work just as well for younger readers too.

Crabby Old Lady thanks you for your attention.

Comments

I agree completely and have added one more aid to reading on my own blog - bolding. Yep, it's all bold all the time. The normal type used on popular blogging programs is awfully skinny, to my eyes.

You are so right Ronni. I agree, and I think I'm pretty good about following these suggestions...at least most of the time. Thanks.

AMEN! I especially agree with the one about dark backgrounds! I may post a link to this in a day or two.

An excellent post, Ronni. It's good advice even if you're not ready for the geezer bus™.

Yes about the dark background. Another pet peeve are blogs that don't allow font enlargement.

If I really want to know what they're saying, I copy and paste into MSWord, but most of time, I just click off.

tefta: If you had Firefox installed, you could increase the size of any text on any page (assuming it's not an image of text) by pressing control-+. "Blogs that don't allow text enlargement" are caused to a limitation of Internet Explorer on Windows, not the blog.

I think that these are all top notch usability recommendations that more blogs ought to take to heart when it comes to all of their visitors, not just older ones.

I'm only 29, but even I can't read blogs that feature light text on a dark background.

Thank you, Ronni - I am not the world's greatest when it comes to aesthetic and usability nous - I tend to focus on the words, and leave the templates as they were. That said, I recognise a few misdemeanours on my part among those on your list, and I promise to address them by the weekend. Meanwhile, if you (or anybody else) spots anything amiss on my blog, please, let me know.

I, too, will undoubtedly link to this post in a day or too. Cheers!

All, but tefta in particular.

Be aware that Internet Explorer allows a few variations in text size.

Note: I am using IE 5.5 SP2. IE 6 should have this capability as well and the CTRL-scroll wheel trick works in OE 5.5 as well!

The bar that has the 'back' and 'forward' arrows on it can be customized (see Help) to include an icon labled 'size'. This offers five sizes which may or may not be helpful depending on what the web designer selected as the nominal size and how it was specified.

On the tool bar View/Text size offers the same five choices but is more awkward to access.

The best way to access the five choices is with a mouse that has a scroll wheel. CTRL-scroll will change the text size up or down.

While previewing the above, I noticed that Nathan Sharfi has prempted my next observation.

His comment is entirely correct with regard to text size control in Firefox with the addition that CTRL-- will reduce text size. The +/- on the 'number' row of the keyboard or on the right side of the 'keypad' both work.

In addition the mouse scroll wheel provides a much finer adjustment of size.

Contrary to what Nathan says, by installing the Firefox extension 'Image Zoom' graphics can be (individually) enlarged. This capability is useful even if there is no text involved.

Note: The link I supplied for 'Image Zoom' is a/the Firefox Extensions mirror site. I cannot (right now) access the main site - don't know why.

Since I am not a fan of spam, my email address supplied is bogus. Use wpmelcher -at- comcast -dot- net instead.

Can you change text size using Ctrl-Scroll wheel?

Mike James: Yes, you can change the text size with control+scroll wheel in Firefox.

All the suggestions are good ones - and I agree, not just for older bloggers. One other thought, I'm not sure whether you read your blogs through your links or favorites or if you've tried managing them on a site like www.bloglines.com. Keeping up with my blogs is so much easier since I've started managing them there. There are lots of features, but primarily it lets me know who has a new entry without having to visit their blog. I've also created a blogline feed to my own blog, so I manage them all from one place.

Few older people, for example, can easily distinguish green text on a light blue background. Too much squinting involved.

Few ANYONE. I hate weird color schemes like that.

Also, my personal pet peeve half-touched by this list: DON'T tell me something's funny, interesting, etc., what it's about, etc., and neglect to mention it is a sound file or a movie!

My laptop, on which I do much of my browsing, can't play those. I play them on my desktop. I have had my system fall to its knees over such a link before - it drives me nuts. I've learned to kill them very quickly and to follow links more warily, but all it takes is to say it's a movie, or a sound file, or whatever it is. (Checking the link works, but not if it's embedded in a web page.)

All excellent tips as usual from you, Ronni. One more that bugs me is text that I'm expected to read laid over a design of some sort. I ran into one recently that was totally impossible to read. Really nice design spoiled by text plastered over it, or was it interesting text spoiled by the mess underneath?

A way to avoid having to check for new stuff is to subscribe using RSS in a newsreader like NetNewsWire [for the Mac]. There are others for PCs.

And, I agree with everything you say about type choices too …

Susan and Allan Moult suggest using an RSS reader to avoid some of the difficulty of reading blogs whose usability is less than optimal.

Excellent suggestion and Crabby Old Lady does use one now and again. But for her, part of the enjoyment is the design and layout of blogs. And the blogroll links, and other peripheral information many bloggers include.

RSS readers are efficient and useful if all you want is the information, but the look-and-feel and design of blogs give readers an additional sense of the person behind the blog which, to Crabby Old Lady, is part of the pleasure - getting to know the writers behind the blogs.

I was going to suggest using an RSS reader, too. Like you, I resisted it for a long time because I like to see the actual site. And I still do. I just click over to the site when I see an update.

Conversely, if I don't like the site design it allows me to read the content without struggling through some of the bad design issues you discussed.

The RSS reader lets me know when the site has been updated so that both saves me the time of opening up a lot of sites and alerts me when a favorite writer has something new. I really appreciate people like you who put their summaries into the RSS as a teaser.

I use Bloglines and I love it. I probably track twice as many sites now as I did when I just kept a list of links in my sidebar.

Thank you, Ronni, I see I have some work to do.

I've been reading most of my blogs in Bloglines since Blogher -- it does save me time. I go visit "live" --read directly on the website -- from time to time. You don't have to choose one or the other.

Ronni, further to my last comment, I've now analysed my blog against your criteria, and responded as part of this post, http://www.multidimensional.me.uk/2005/10/29.html#a296

Any comments or feedback gratefully received. Cheers, Koan

Thanks so much! I have made an effort to keep the reading easy on my website, but I am guilty of the long paragraphs. This was a good reminder.

What's an URL

A URL is the internet address of a website. It looks like this: http://www.timegoesby.net

Crabby, there are 3 or 4 options available for those of us who want the ease of use of an RSS reader for blogs but don't want to give up seeing the blog design. I use SharpReader for the PC, which can be a bit fussy but performs well. There are two options with the Firefox browser: LiveBookmarks and Sage. For the Mac, there is NetNewsWire. Apparently, our desire to see the design is a minority preference since this functionality is so rare in RSS readers. But you can get the best of both worlds. Email me if you want additional info, I'll be happy to share what I've found.

Thanks for this post. I came across your blog searching for ways to tweak my blog template and make it more readable. I had already enhanced my font size but I gotta warn ya, I kinda like my light lettering on dark background. I think this may be the new black.

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