I want to earn the title!

Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 [Sunday, 5 Feb 2006]

In fine weblogging tradition, today I shall talk about some changes I am about to make to the way I log.

This latest bout was catalysed by my reading Web Publishing Tip: Write Clear Titles. As anyone who has been following this log for a while has had opportunity to notice, I have a faible for pithy titles. That is not to say I like them obscure; I just like them memorable and metaphoric rather than overly obvious. Which the article explicitly and strongly advises against – and I can see the point. But it feels anticlimactic to be giving away the entire point of the article first thing.

After all, the title really has two conflicting roles: to tantalise and to inform. I don’t want to give up on the former. So how can the two be reconciled?

The epiphany came to me as the aforementioned article pounded on the fact that the title should concisely summarise the main subject of the article:

Think of your title as the super executive summary of your page. Just provide the most relevant words that say what your page is all about and you’ll be fine.

Summary. Summary. Well, I do have a place to put a summary of the page – atom:summary! Henceforth, entries will have an extremely short summary which will be used as the page title for permalink pages.

This solves another problem: I have been meaning to have summaries for my entries for a long time, in order to be nice to the people who prefer using aggregators that way, maybe because of limited screenspace or for whichever other reason.

In fact, it solves a third problem: some of my entries have no title. Currently, there is a fallback mechanism give them a title of “”; with summaries in place, I could actually provide meaningful titles for those entries as well.

By unifying two related problems I can solve three different issues at once, and solve them well.

NB: the changes will take a while to show up. Since I am obsessive enough to go back and add summaries to all the entries I have written so far, it will be a while before I adjust my code to actually implement this scheme.

Update: obsessive enough, yes, motivated enough, no, not at this time, so there we go. Check the front page, the latest entries and the archive (well, and the feed, I suppose) to see how it looks.

Long-after-the-fact note on a long-before-the-fact note: Jakob Nielsen’s Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines is also pertinent.

Via Paul Hammond.