Content design part 2. Designing an About page

With content and structure in mind, have a read of the old About page. All the more ideal if you don’t know who he, or what is. 

I must have read the page a few times over the years. Each time in search of clarity as to why so many people reference him and his blog, and each time, never really understanding it. The first line says the site is “one of the longest continuously running blogs on the web, having been in operation for 18.0755 years” which sounds impressive, but when it comes to website longevity my mind thinks of the Space Jam website which has been up since 1996, and didn’t impress me much back then. 

Next it lists some names that I don’t quite recognise before stating that: 

The editorial direction of the site is all over the place but clusters around a pair of hand-wavy ideas: the liberal arts 2.0 and people are awesome. You can read more about on [INCEPTION HORN]

Which sounds a tad flaky and like it contains in jokes that I’m not part of. Yes, hyperlinks are given, but having to leave a paragraph four times just to understand what’s trying to explain is more than I feel willing to give after reading it. 

It goes on to say he works on which I never really found very interesting, then links to all his social media accounts, makes sort of jokes about having directed Jurassic Park and his sweatshirt having a Twitter account with 289 followers. Next he lists lots of US state initials before concluding “I don’t have a plan.”

Finally there are some contact details, and links to fonts, web hosts, an advertising network and a jobs board. 

So, would you believe when I tell you that I love Jason Kottke’s blog, that I think he’s a great writer, has a beautiful mind, is consistently inspiring, and well  respected by a broad range of equally influential peers? After re-reading his old about page, neither would I! 

Now have a read of the new About page which Jason had this to say about when he recently redesigned it and the rest of the website:

With the help of some friends (aka the board of advisors), I rewrote the about page. I liked the brevity of the old version, but in the words of one friend, “the previous version undersold the site so much it was almost inaccurate”. This is the first bio I’ve ever written that takes seriously what the site is and what I’ve done in my career…and as such it makes me really uncomfortable. Taking credit, particularly in public, has never been my thing. But I wanted to have a chance at explaining to people who might not know the whole story. Everyone here has an opinion about, this is mine. Source

Thank goodness for that board of advisers and that friend for putting words to my feelings about the old page. The previous version totally undersold the site so much that it was almost inaccurate. And well done Jason, in spite of your own discomfort, for writing something that helps people that don’t already know about you or your website and work. 

How much clearer are these segments alone from the first paragraph:

Founded in 1998, is one of the oldest blogs on the web. It’s written and produced by Jason Kottke and covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas… Frequent topics of interest among the 26,000+ posts include art, technology, science, visual culture, design, music, cities, food, architecture, sports, endless nonsense, and carefully curated current events… 

Now you know what it’s *about*. But what about his authority? Who he is? Why we should care?

More recently, The Guardian named one of the 50 most powerful blogs in the world in 2008. In 2013, Wired Magazine asked me to write about for their 20th anniversary issue honoring the people, companies, and ideas that “have shaped the future we live in today”. Slate wrote a robotic blogger to see if the site’s output could be matched algorithmically. Time named me one of the 25 best bloggers in 2013…

Boom! This new About page is great. I wager anyone seeing this will get far more than that would have from the old page. I do too. It’s actually changed my perception of Jason. Still humble and human but much more of an authority. Total halo effect win. 

From a website redesign point of view – speaking specifically as someone that reads the blog via RSS and so almost never visits the website – the best of the design updates has to be the About page content design. Sure, it still has an early and slightly confusing mention of ‘the collective adjacent possible’ which requires a digression from the page, but as his design statement says, “Since you should never launch anything completely finished, there are probably still some things that need to be ironed out”. I hope he includes About page content design reviews in that, and not just gradient, colour and typography tweaks.