The Long-Tail Archive

One of the prototypical features of any blog is a monthly archive. This is typically a link on the sidebar for each month since the blog went live, and usually looks something like this:

It’s obviously a good thing to provide access to archived content from the front page. But what use case is being satisfied by this design? Is this really the best way to access archived content?
The casual browser who wants to explore your older content is forced to click on each month in succession, “pogo-sticking” from month to month just to scan your stories for interesting content. Loyal readers looking for a particular article are also forced into the same pattern.
This is a huge waste of time for readers. A much better approach to the archiving problem is to provide one page with hyperlinks to ALL your content, organized by date. This allows your readers to scroll immediately to the article they are looking for, bypassing the annoying “pogo-sticking”.
I call this archiving style the “Long Tail Archive”. The archive doesn’t have to include story excerpts: just the name of the article, and a link to it, are sufficient. This allows you to fit hundreds of links to stories on one page.
For a blog with thousands of entries, archiving links to all the stories on one page may be impossible. In this case, the archive can easily be extended to a second or third page. The key insight here is similar to the mullet blog layout. By removing story excerpts, you can increase the information density in your layout. This makes it much easier to find archived content.
For more on blog layouts, avoiding blog usability problems, and what the next generation of blog software should look like, check out this article by lukew and jed wood (as well as the followup article). Jakob Neilson’s top 10 blog design blunders is another good read.

3 thoughts on “The Long-Tail Archive

  1. Austin Govella January 4, 2006 / 9:25 pm

    This is great. I’m just in the process of hiding date based archives as much as I can in favor of clearer categories and a more structured tagging system.
    There was a post a while back (maybe by Donna Maurer?) that criticized blogs for their crappy IA, despite everyone’s focus there.
    Though, I *still* don’t quite buy the mullet… :-p

  2. Jon January 4, 2006 / 10:27 pm

    Hey Austin,
    Give it a while, the mullet will (wait for it…) grow on you.
    What do you think of my AJAX site archive (top right on main page)?
    It still needs some design work, and I haven’t checked it for all browsers yet, but I’m pretty stoked about it.

  3. Bill Lazar January 12, 2006 / 2:22 pm

    As someone whose main blog is nearly five years old and does have thousands of entries I don’t see your approach providing a meaningful experience especially since many (shorter and/or older, from when Blogger didn’t have a title field) entries don’t have titles.
    Even ignoring the untitled entries, what good does anyone really get from scrolling through such a list? I would agree with Austin’s comment that categories are a much better exploration tool. Of course Blogger doesn’t have those either so I’m doubly screwed 😉 I’m curious to know what Rashmi thinks on this topic since she’s familiar with our technology.

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