Building a better reader-trap

I’ve just introduced two new features that should improve navigability and access to the Via Negativa archives: an Advanced Search function (see sidebar, under “Search Via Negativa”) and a Table of Contents (see top of page). I can’t take credit for either of these innovations: both employ free, open-source software plugins, and as usual I needed my cousin Matt’s assistance to get them up and running.

Advanced Search allows boolean operations, searching by category, searching of comments, and other nifty features (see the plugin page). Let me know if you have any problems with it.

The Table of Contents page is exactly what it sounds like: a complete, clickable list of blog post titles arranged in reverse chronological order. It uses software developer and photographer Justin Blanton’s Smart Archives plugin. I did this as much for my own convenience as for anyone else’s — I can barely remember what I wrote last week, let alone last year. I’m beginning to think more seriously about pulling some material together for a book, and this new navigation tool should help me find it. But I hope it will also encourage visitors to settle in and browse. I want Via Negativa to become a total time-sink experience for everyone who stops by.

To make room for the TOC link at the top of the page, I’ve moved the blogroll link into the sidebar, under “Other Places.” The credits are linked in the footer as well as at the bottom of the sidebar (as Acknowledgements). I’ll probably make more changes in the days or weeks ahead (I really like Blanton’s idea of a website tour, for example). The challenge, as always, is to engage new visitors while also serving long-time readers. Please let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions. And thanks for reading.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

4 Comments


  1. There are some very good ideas here.

    One of the best ones is calling what amounts to a chronological index the “table of contents.” Everybody understands what that would be. Here’s to clear English.

    VN is one of my favorite reads. I come in through the RSS feed. Thanks for all the good writing.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you agree that calling it a “table of contents” is a good idea. I think we bloggers should remember that most folks out there really aren’t too familiar with blogs and blog terminology, and when they happen on our sites, through a web search or what-have-you, navigation ought to be as transparent as possible. (I don’t quite feel I’m there yet.)

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  3. I’m not there yet, either. Take categories (which I call “topics”). What does either term mean to a non-blogger?

    It would be good to know.

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  4. Right on. The lack of an ability to group posts by category was one of the main reasons why I left Blogger last April. But I have yet to come up with an alternative term that really captures all that categories do. (The term “tag,” of course, is even more opaque to the non-blogger.) I suppose one approach would be to pursue the book analogy: since the archive listing is a Table of Contents, isn’t an alphabetized list of topics an Index? The problem for me, of course, is that I have over a thousand uncategorized posts. And I’ve kept the Categories list relatively short for ease of sidebar browsing, severly limiting its effectiveness as a true index. Perhaps this too should have its own page. But my time is better spent creating new stuff. I want someone to write a program that will extract keywords from posts and produce an index automatically, dammit!

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