I’ve noticed two popular ways of organizing a blog’s homepage:
The one I prefer is what my own site uses. On my homepage, you can see a compact list of all of my posts. Everything’s on one page, and it only takes a moment to scroll through all of them. My topics page is similar. I’ll call this the compact style.
On the other hand, blogs like The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee use a less compact style. The homepage shows the five most recent posts in full, including all of their text and images. Scroll all the way past them and you see a link to read the next five. If you browse by category, you’ll see all the posts in that category in full as well. I’ll call this the expanded style.
The expanded style is typical of blogging platforms that have been around for a long time, like Wordpress. The compact style is typical of static site generators and other newer blogging systems, including Jekyll, which is what this blog is built with.
When each style makes sense
The expanded style makes sense for a blog like The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. Back when the author was posting frequently (sadly, it hasn’t been updated in a while), fans of the site liked to follow the story of a litter of kittens from arrival to adoption. Every time they visited the site they immediately found what they were looking for: the latest posts. The expanded style makes sense for lifestyle blogs and online diaries for the same reason: usually, readers are just looking for what the author has been up to lately. First time visitors can catch up with the story in reverse by scrolling as far as they like.
That’s not how people read technical blogs, though. I have posts about Jekyll, Ruby, Elixir, and Git. Just because you’re interested in my Ruby post doesn’t mean you have any interest in my Elixir post. If you’re not a coder, you might want to read some of my posts, but you’ll probably have zero interest in others.
It’s pretty unlikely that anyone would want to read all of my posts in reverse chronological order. What is more likely is that somebody finds one of my posts via Twitter or a search engine, clicks from it to my homepage, and scans the list for titles that sound relevant to them. The compact style makes this possible.
Not just for technical blogs
It’s not only technical blogs that benefit from having a compact homepage. Any site that people tend to browse in the same manner can. That probably includes many instructional blogs, product review sites, and any blog that covers a variety of topics. I even think lifestyle blogs, for which the expanded style is probably ideal, would benefit from having a separate, compact archive page for quickly scanning titles.
If you’re not sure which style you should use, try asking yourself this question: “Will readers want to read all my posts in chronological order, or will they want to look for the posts that are most relevant to them?”
When bloggers mess it up
Thanks to the popularity of static site generators among developers, lots of technical blogs use the compact style, even if it’s not a deliberate choice. But sometimes I find one that doesn’t, and I think it’s a mistake. I’ll read a post and like it, check out the homepage, and quickly get tired of scrolling through a bunch of technical content that isn’t relevant to me. If these sites had compact homepages, I’d stick around longer.