30 July 2011

My thoughts on the Blogger redesign

With the redesigned dashboard, has joined the growing club of services to enjoy a experience based on focus, elasticity and effortlessness, along with Gmail, Calendar, Maps and, naturally, Search. The update also added some minor features as well, like per-post statistics and the ability to link to any web address from ‘Pages’, not just to internal Blogger pages. But overall, the new look is actually less efficient than the boring old interface; here are a couple of issues I noticed:

  • Many common actions are one extra click away: this begins with the start page, where the new Blogger presents you with a list of blogs you manage, with links to posts and stats; every time you open it up, you need to select you blog, even if you only have one… I obviously don’t have any data on this, by I would venture to guess that most users manage a single blog, so they don’t need this extra step. Wouldn’t it be better for users to default to the individual blog dashboard and somewhere in there to have a drop-down for switching to another blog? There are many other examples:
    • The categories on the individual dashboard (‘Posts’, ‘Stats’, ‘Settings’, etc.) are grouped under a ‘home’-menu instead of the direct links used before – there would be enough space for them, at least on wider monitors;
    • In the post editor, the options in the right sidebar (‘Labels’, ‘Schedule’, etc.) are all collapsed by default, even though, again, there is enough vertical space for at least one (preferably labels) to be expanded – it would remind users to add labels before publishing;
    • In the post list, filtering by a label is also done through a menu – two clicks – rather than a visible list – one click.
    • The ‘Edit HTML’-section of the ‘Layout’ tab is buried somewhere at the bottom of the page; you have to scroll through the entire section of the ‘Template designer’ to get to it – of course you can’t just click to collapse the latter. I can only speak for myself, but it seems to me that one would edit the HTML template far more often than tweak the design. If only just for the back-up links this should be placed in a more accessible location.
    • After publishing an article, you don’t have a link to edit the post anymore; you have to navigate back to the list and edit from there – again, extra clicks needed for something that was easier before.
  • Basically everything has moved, so there will be a steep learning curve while people locate the old familiar functions. That’s probably unavoidable while making such radical changes, but what about the settings that have been removed altogether: enclosure links, selecting the comment setup (embedded vs. pop-out) and others? Are we supposed to switch back and forth between Draft and Classic? What happens when the old interface gets retired? Also, I don’t see why ‘Layout’ and ‘Template’ are separate sections now…
  • Doesn’t remember your choices between sessions: did you select ‘Edit HTML’ in the editor? the next time you visit Blogger you are taken back to ‘Compose’ mode (the old design had a setting to disable rich editing completely, but that’s no longer available); did you expand ‘Labels’ in the sidebar? no, they’re back to being hidden; switched to displaying 25 articles per page? no, sorry, next time you see only 10 again. Saving these preferences from visit to visit will do a lot to alleviate the problem of less efficient navigation mentioned above.
  • No tooltips on icon-only buttons to quickly inform the user what actions will they be performing. Sure, images should be more universal than language, but different cultures will assume different things when looking at the same icon; you can’t just forfeit labeling the buttons thinking the users will discover their meaning by themselves. After all, a trash can icon can just as well mean ‘delete this post’ or ‘delete my entire blog’.
  • Wrong post counts: curiously, for me the number of posts on the main page is different from the one reported on the article list! And this without having drafts or scheduled posts. I can only trust that the old version shows the correct count… The stats graphs also have some bugs: the labels on the horizontal axis in weekly view for example don’t amount to a week, but rather months.
    • Blogger post count in new interface
    • Blogger post count in old interface
  • The next one is actually an issue with the old design as well, but extremely annoying to me: for some weird reason, Blogger prefers <div>-tags to paragraphs; actually so much so, that if you switch from the HTML editor to rich text and back again, it will convert manually inserted <p>’s to <div>’s! This is a bigger issue after the update, because, as I mentioned, it doesn’t remember your preference for the HTML mode, so if you edit an older article you have every chance of messing up the code.

My conclusion: unfortunately the new design has too few useful changes compared to the annoyances it introduces; looking better doesn’t compensate the reduced usability. I can relate to the fact that this was a Google-wide project, so I assume the Blogger team didn’t have much choice on the matter, but maybe after this is done they should focus on things that actually bring value to the user:

  • Improve the commenting system – something many complain about. It took years before we got pictures in comments, we shouldn’t have to wait that long for comment replies, to give only one example. Since there are several good third-party solutions available, Blogger wouldn’t necessarily need to build everything from scratch; just work closely with one of them so that users can integrate it easily, maybe even offer to sync the comments between Blogger and the other provider. And where is that promised sync with comments from through the Salmon protocol?
  • Start supporting Internet Explorer 9 properly. Months after the official launch, Blogger still detects all versions of Internet Explorer with conditional comments and uses scripts to render the more advanced design components, like rounded corners. Internet Explorer 9 can render many ‘modern’ elements natively, but because of these scripts it’s forced into compatibility mode; this makes rendering slower, less efficient and in some cases breaks CSS that would otherwise work. And no, you can’t just remove this part of the template yourself. Or, better yet: Blogger IE detection with conditional comments
  • Stop supporting outdated browser versions, like other Google services have done over the past year. It’s probably not desirable for all users, but there could be at least an option to choose between ‘modern’ and ‘backwards compatible’ templates. Maybe throw in a couple of HTML5-templates, not these overblown, barely readable collections of nested div’s. It would make responsive designs and styling for mobile browsers much easier.
  • Allow users to host CSS and JavaScript files directly on Blogger. That would speed up page loading through less DNS requests and caching of files in the browser and also boost security, because they could be served through secure connections and checked for malicious content. The first step has already been done, because custom favicons are hosted on the Blogspot domain.
  • The post editor could really use a simple way to insert code snippets or simply to autocomplete CSS class names from the template. It’s silly to check the HTML template to look for a class name every time.
  • A tighter integration with the rest of Google products, especially with the new launches from Search: as I discovered before, adding schema.org to Blogger requires a lot of manual work on each article you publish. And getting the 'author' mark-up working is again not trivial, users need to edit the template in order to add the proper links. This should be easily accomplished through the user interface if there is to be a wider adoption.

The feedback has been mixed in the comments to the official announcement and I hope the team will address at least some of the complaints before launching this as the default interface for Blogger. What are you thoughts on the new design? What features would you like to see in Blogger?


  1. Great review. Hopefully they will read this at Google. Frankly the old is better than the new in my opinion.

  2. Well summarized. I am going nuts switching back and forth between the old blogger-in-draft and the new blogger-in-draft. The most irritating thing is - if one is not with the new blogger-in-draft, and wants to edit a post, the text does not show up. Also, all the earlier options are gone. While the new blogger-in-draft (phew!) looks fancy, it is still a house under construction :-) I wish Google gave the option of picking between the two until they have everything in place. I also noticed some of my widgets are misbehaving :-)

  3. Hi Vidya!

    I'm not sure if you noticed, but Blogger-in-Draft has a check box to make it the default dashboard, on the top-right if the main page, under your profile. If that is checked, Blogger will always redirect to Draft mode with the new interface.
    If you uncheck that however, you will be able to access both dashboards at once (for example in different browser tabs) by going to the web addresses draft.blogger.com and www.blogger.com respectively.

    Previously I used the Draft interface for the extra features, but after the redesign it's too annoying to work with it, so I reverted to the classic one.

  4. Hi Gxg,

    I figured that out.

    Thing is - in the process of trying to navigate the new draft blogger, I went back to the classic one a couple of times, and was surprised to find I couldn't edit posts there. Because only the title field showed up. The box where the post goes was blank :-).

    Also, each time I navigated to different tabs, the info wouldn't load, or there would be an apology message saying there was an unexpected error. :-)

    Anyway - as I said, everything new and shiny takes a little time to get used to. I think I became hyper-freaked out because suddenly I had hassles with my template, feedburner not picking up feeds (although I wasn't doing anything different), and widgets disappearing, leaving a blank space on the site.

    To top it, it was crazy to find the edit template tucked away right at the bottom of the layout page.

    What I miss most is the ability to view the post under the title in the "edit posts" page.

  5. Hmm, I haven't experienced any problems with the old interface after testing the new one. That could be a browser issue with the cookies or cache becoming corrupted. Do you have the same problems in other browsers?

  6. Just checked. I have that problem on my desktop computer - but not on my laptop. Strange. So, all's well, it seems.

    Am enjoying your blog.I need to experiment with some things, especially "transforming a blogger label into a page". I was content with posting via email or drafting it in notepad and doing a quick five minute job of it on the blog.

    Oh, I love life. So much to do. :-) Now, if only I could stretch that 24-hour day!