Saturday, March 30, 2002

So You Want People to Read Your Blog?

The key is readability. Far too many blogs (and other things, I might add) are totally unreadable. Not because of content, but because of the presentation. The default font for most Blogger templates is a teeny-tiny sans-serif font that I, for one, simply can't read without a magnifying glass.

How To Fix It

Note that this applies only to Blogger templates. I have no idea how any other log-type things like LiveJournal work because I don't use them. If you have a way of fixing the fonts on some of these, drop me an e-mail and I'll put a link to your instructions here.

Most Blogger templates use something called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). This controls the appearance of text from descriptions in the header of the Web page. If you click on the "template" button, you'll get a screen full of HTML stuff. Look for a section between <style> and </style> tags. This controls the entire Webpage at once. Change this, and you don't have to change anythig else. There will be several sections, starting with a dot and a name and followed by some stuff in curly brackets, like so:

  .blogtext { ... font: 12px arial, verdana, helvetica, sans-serif; ...}
  .blogtext { ... font-family: arial, verdana, helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px; ...}
You need to change the one that controls the size of your blog text. This is really the only one that needs changing; all dates, links, and stuff works just fine in small type. Unfortunately, there is no standard for names; you just have to play with it until you find the right one. Some don't even start with a dot. Until you figure out how the CSS stuff works, it's just a matter of trying things until you find what works for you. When I'm working with it, I cut the old data to a scratch text file so I can just paste it back in if I get it wrong. Worst comes to worst, there's a button that throws away all your changes and goes back to the original. You don't want to do this unless you ablolutely have to; it wipes out all changes to your template. Note also that if you switch templates, you'll have to go back and do it all over again.

In the "blogtext" section (remember, it may not be called that on your template!), I just erase the part that says "font-family: (whatever); font-size: (whatever);" or "font: (whatever);"Note that the font, font-family and font-weight data ends with a semicolon. Delete everything up to and including the semicolon. This will make the text appear in whatever font and size the viewer has set as "default" in his or her browser. I'm sure we all have our defaults set to something we like to read. Mine is eleven-point Georgia; yours is probably different.

If you insist on specifying font sizes, you can specify them in "points" instead of "pixels". This means that the type size will be independant of such things as screen resolution. In the "font-size" description, make sure it's something like "font-size: 10pt". This gives ten point type, which is quite readable on most systems.

Wen you're done, click "Save Changes" to return to the main editing screen, and click "publish" to make the changes effective. Then reload your page to see if the change did what you expected it to do. If not, just repeat the procedure until you get what you want. Be sure to publish and reload. Forget this, and you will go crazy trying to figure out why your changes didn't seem to have any effect.

Why Do They Do It That Way?

Graphic designers can't read. See Sneakers for a discussion of this little problem.

Im not worried about offending graphic designers here; the good ones are more familiar than I am with the problem and the bad ones can't read.

What About Other Peoples' Pages?

OK, you've fixed your blog. What about other peoples'? They're still unreadable. My solution is to switch browsers. The Opera Web browser has a little button that makes all the fancy fonts, colors, and backgrounds go away. One click and you can read practically anything. You can download Opera for free, but it has obnoxious flashing ads. If you pay for it, the ads all go away. For me, it's definately worth it. Main disadvantage is that far too many Web pages (including Blogger!) use nonstandard HTML. Speaking as someone who designs such things for a living, this is just pure, unprofessional laziness.

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