Best Designed Russia Blogs

Here is a 100% subjective list of the best (and worst) designed blogs in the Russia-watching blogosphere.

My main criteria for a well-designed blog include: ergonomics (fast load, little clutter, efficient search and archives); utility (easy navigation, explanatory information, contact, social network integration) and aesthetics. I will do my best to discount ideological bias.

This is a celebration of the efforts of individual bloggers, or at most small groups of bloggers, and as such I am excluding bigger organizations, or their affiliates, like Russia Today, Other Russia and The Power Vertical. Though they do not have to focus exclusively on Russia, it certainly must figure prominently – this is after all about the Best Designed Russia Blogs. Sorry, Registan. Finally, they must be alive and contain a substantial body of work, which rules out blogs like The Parallax Brief with its minimalist elegance.

That is all. Now clear the catwalk for the beauties…

1. Gus Newsthe German dark horse that wins the race flat out. Despite the uber-Web2.0 features, she handles surprisingly smoothly and navigates easily. It has dynamic headings and a really cool rotating tag cloud. Paul Becker runs this professional-looking site using premium WooThemes from WordPress (WP). Great work, dude. Too bad Anglophones outnumber German-speakers by an order of magnitude so your site gets next to no comments.

2. Sublime Oblivion – well, unlike the case with Andy modesty isn’t one of my strong suits. 😉 But it’s not 100% narcissism either, believe it or not. Since I’m the author of the blog, I optimize it to my own preferences, within the bounds of my time and ability…so it makes sense that my subjective evaluation of it is very high. Since the only commentary I found about it described the design as “pure cheese”, I assume most people don’t share my view that Sublime Oblivion is the best thing since sliced bread, aesthetically speaking.

I use WP with the free and versatile K2 theme. The randomly-changing headers illustrate sublime oblivion, the Apocalypse, in all its morphing grandeur. You like them too. Admit it, because I know! When I first installed them, the number of page views trebled even though overall visitor numbers remained constant!

Though there’s features galore from ShareThis / PrintThis / TweetThis to dynamic search, I do not get the impression it is excessively cluttered. However, I’m seriously thinking of ditching the scratched black marble look in favor of pure black to get faster loading times, which I’m thinking may be a problem for slower computers. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated, of course.

3. Siberian Light – Andy Young gives his site an airy, clean-cut look using the WP Thesis theme, much like…Siberian light, I guess. I don’t begrudge him the ads – though prominent, they are well-integrated and don’t clutter the site. I believe bloggers have a right to make money from their hard work.

That said, his header is seriously lame and should be removed ASAP in favor of earlier versions. Very slick Archives page, but it is – at least as of now – plagued with bugs, as is the Featured page.

4. Krusenstern – Andy pointed out yet another Teutonic hottie in the comments, with whom I was not previously familiar (his altruistic gesture kicked Sean off the rankings altogether). This WP site has been recognized as one of the top 200 best German websites for 2009 – its author, Jürg Vollmer, proudly displays the badge some way down. Though in some ways even slicker than Gus News, what really does it in is the atrocious, sickly color scheme. If he could find something less off-putting, it would easily soar to at #2 or even #1.

5. Robert Amsterdam – since he runs a prestigious-ass law firm, one would assume his blog would be the bitch slapper of the Russia-watching blogosphere, but actually its more of a bitch nigga (I’m guessing you are all starting to appreciate my profound skills as a blog design critic right about now). But seriously… the title Perspectives on Global Politics and Business clashes with the head titles beneath it. One and a half of those same head titles crawl across Amsterdam’s photo in the top right. The About Us and Contact Us hyper-links at the very top both lead to the same page. The navigation is seriously cluttered and unwieldy. These are major glitches, folks.

True, as Andy pointed out it looks swish at first glance. Interestingly, back then the home page rendered properly. Perhaps it still does on IE, but since I use Linux Firefox (or Opera), I wouldn’t be in a position to know. RA is the only one in the Top Five to use Movable Type instead of WP. Its main positive feature is the really cool headline post feature, which is very useful when the blogger is as prolific as RA. I also whimsically liked that he happened to be displaying an Aivazovsky work when I checked up on it today to do a screenshot – as regular readers will know, he is one of my favorite painters.

[NOTE – no longer in Top Five after addition of Krusenstern; otherwise text is unchanged] Sean’s Russia Blog – Though I ultimately picked this blog, the distance between it and the likes of Siberian Light is substantial and I was seriously considering other contenders like Copydude, La Russophobe or even the seductive simplicity of Pavel Podvig’s Russia Nuclear Forces blog or the quaint but underdeveloped charm of Moscow Tory.

Sean Guillory used the Blue Zinfandel WP theme to construct a decent blog with a nifty search feature, an interesting “popularity” plug-in and a comprehensive, albeit scattered, navigation tool-kit. It’s very much in the pre-Web2.0 era, using generally outdated technologies. The pages and header are uninspiring. His is the only blog in the Top Five not to have a unique favicon.

…and now its time for the beasts to strut their stuff.

-5. Russia Blog – It has just Google search, crappy navigation and a thoroughly old-school interface. Much like Russia Other Points of View, its aesthetics leave much to be desired, albeit the latter actually has a normal Search and Category function. I’d provide a screenshot but the blandness might bore readers to death.

-4. Truth and Beauty…(and Russian Finance) – not really a blog as such, but a newsletter issued by Russia investment guru Eric Kraus. Much more interesting and engaging than what might be presupposed from its web address at http://nikitskyfund.com/content/blogsection/4/37/. I would strongly encourage him to ditch .pdf’s in favor of WP’s.

-3. Timothy Post – once an OK blog, but no longer has anything except his Weekly Twitter Digests. Not a pretty sight…

-2. Edward Lucas – went from meh- to methed out. The header titles are hopelessly cluttered and are hard to make out because of the color constrast, or rather lack thereof. Much of the left sidebar is devoted to promoting his stupid book in all the languages of Babylon.

-1. Ukrainiana – the hyperlink to this blog should be followed up with a health warning. This blog is quite possibly the mother of all clutter on the Russia-watching (or in this case, Ukraine-watching) blogosphere. Though I have a decent computer and excellent Internet connection, my Firefox crashes whenever I try to load up its impressive 300+ page elements, many of them YouTube embeds. My Opera just about manages to creak along – most of the time, anyway. It’s only mitigating grace is that the clutter is an appropriate metaphor for the blog’s subject matter. 😉

Singularity Point. Mike Averko – the fail is so epic it is in fact the greatest success. :)

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Comments

  1. Thanks babe.

    I’m not into design as much as ideas.

    Meantime, my AC column (hyperlinked under my name) and other activity has made the rounds in what I feel is a productive enough way.

    Such experiences are planned to continue.

    On the mentioned ideas point, I’ve made it a point to take into consideration what you privately communicated to me.

  2. Great take on the ‘Russian blogs popularity contest’ theme!

    I’m now gutted that I ditched the Premium News theme that GUSNews are using – if I’d kept it, would I have won?

    (By the way, Krusenstern – krusenstern.ch – is another German site using the Premium News theme to great effect.)

    Thanks for pointing out the glitches in the theme – I upgraded the backend recently, and hadn’t noticed them. I’ll get them fixed as soon as possible, promise!

  3. Thank you for including Ukrainiana in your “Best Designed Russia Blogs” list!

    I hope my heavy “Victory Day 2009” post did not result in any cyber casualties.

    At any rate, eight lines of description for my blog is quite impressive!

  4. Hey, it is a vesigial site left over from when I used to run a fund, then got scared and closed it down just before the meltdown. Unlike Mike, I am into neither design NOR ideas but if someone wishes to create a decent blog site for me – after all I have dont for Mother Russia – pajalusta!

  5. On the non-political side, my ideas can periodically relate to style as well (refer to Taras’ recent post on YT).

  6. @Andy,

    I’m not sure – the only way would be to actually change it and find out (my main current issue with your blog is the unimaginative header). Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking of switching to a magazine style theme too in the past few weeks.

    Why? I see myself making a lot of posts over the summer, but many of them will be relatively uninteresting Notes. As such the concept of “Featuring” particular posts on the front page would come very much in handy.

    @Taras,

    You’re welcome. 😉

    But seriously dude you need less stuff on your page. This is the main reason I don’t actively visit your otherwise excellent blog.

    @Eric, Mike,

    If you do end up setting a WP blog, feel free to ask me any questions you may have on it – I’d be glad to help. :)

  7. Thanks AK.

  8. The Premium News theme that GUS News are using might be a good way to go if you plan on writing a lot of posts – if I remember correctly, it can be configured either as a magazine style theme, or a straight blog theme, and you can switch between the two reasonably easily, depending on posting frequency.

    The Thesis theme I use has the same functionality, but is a paid theme.

    Totally agree, by the way, about the logo over at Siberian Light. It’s on the list of things to fix!!

  9. Greetings from the dark horse :)

    Thanks for including my blog to your top 10 list! Indeed the Original News Theme is quite popular nower days. But I very like the dark design of your site too, cause it´s very relaxing to the eyes.

    Best

    Paul

  10. So on this topic: Sublime Oblivion or Da Russophile? Which is it?

    It’s very disorienting. I always feel lost, not even knowing which blog I’m on. I click on Sublime Oblivion and end up at Da Russophile. I click on Da Russophile and end up at Sublime Oblivion. Like I’m being volleyed back and forth between parallel universes which appear identical to me, and yet, they are distinct.

    I give the design of the blog (which one? I don’t know…) a thumbs up for successfully recreating the experience of an existential crisis, but so far as “user-friendly” goes, I have to give you a FAIL. Sorry AK. Still one of my favorites, though. If it’s any consolation. Best “About me” page ever, too.

  11. @Andy,

    It’s still up in the air. Changing themes would take a day or two of intensive work; I could just install a “featured post” plug-in instead. We’ll see.

    @Paul,

    Thanks to you for adding me to your blogroll. :)

    @poemless,

    My original blog was Da Russophile, at blogspot. However I wanted to write more than just about Russia, so I moved to self-hosted WP and created Sublime Oblivion, and imported all the old Da Russophile posts.

    But as you can see from the sidebar, Sublime Oblivion is actually a kind of parent blog:

    “Sublime Oblivion Blogs

    * Coffee House (22)
    * Da Russophile (92)
    * Life in General (7)
    * Notes (2)
    * Sublime Oblivion (19)
    * Translations (2)

    Da Russophile focuses on Russia’s economy, demography and the Western media’s biased coverage of it.

    Sublime Oblivion is my project to identify key current trends – growth, Moore’s Law, global warming, resource depletion – to vision the future, in my upcoming book “Sublime Oblivion” for which I’m currently making Notes.

    Coffee House is about economics, politics, philosophy, and other intellectual stuff.

    Life in General and Translations is self-explanatory.”

    The reason I switch between DR and SO, is quite simply because I’m not sure what it’s better to call myself in discussions. On the one hand when discussing Russia the DR is more relevant, and has wider name recognition. On the other hand I acknowledge people can get confused by seeing the name DR, going to my site and seeing SO on the header instead.

    So as of about a few weeks ago I decided to stop posting as DR at all other blogs and shift fully to SO.

    Sorry about the user-unfriendliness. Could you please give some tips about how I could remedy this?

    (When ranking these blogs I of course gave SO’s user-friendliness a high rating, since I did say it was a “100% subjective list” 😉 ).

  12. Ok, I am going to try to be serious.

    Da Russophile was the name of your old blog. Now, it is both the archive of that blog on Sublime Oblivion, and the name of the category for current Russia-specific posts? Correct? And Sublime Oblivion is the name of the new blog and the name of the category for your non-Russia-specific, “future history” type posts. Correct?

    It’s your blog, and if it works for you, people can adapt, I’m sure.

    If you really want tips:

    ~The header of your blog is Sublime Oblivion. Let us call this the name of your blog. Ok. Your blog has a name. Taken care of. (Your name is Anatoly Karlin. You have a name. Taken care of.)

    ~At the top of your blog are tabs for:

    Blog: I assume this is the same as “home?”
    Articles: self-explanatory enough, save for the url. http://www.sublimeoblivion.com/home/
    Da Russophile : Right now it looks like the intro to a blog without posts. Which is confusing, because there’s also a “Blog” tab. Just make this a link to the old blog, with a brief explanation that Da Russophile was the name of your old blog.
    About: Brilliant.
    Contact: fine

    ~In the middle of the blog, Sublime Oblivion, homepage is

    Sublime Oblivion Blogs
    * Coffee House (22)
    * Da Russophile (92)
    * Life in General (7)
    * Notes (2)
    * Sublime Oblivion (19)
    * Translations (2)

    I’d change this to:

    Categories:

    * Coffee House (22)
    * Da Russophile *2.0* (92)
    * Life in General (7)
    * Notes (2)
    * Sublime Oblivion (19)
    * Translations (2)

    ~When I click on the categories, or “blogs” the name of the site changes on the toolbar and browser tabs and the header on the screen (ie, …I know). So that is confusing. I should be able to tell if I already have Sublime Oblivion open if I’m at another site. And when I’m reading Sublime Oblivion, it should be reflected in the address bar, on the tab open, etc. Right?

    ~Lastly, and really this is the only real user-friendliness issue I have, I just want to know what your latest writing is, regardless of category or wither it is a blog post or article. You know? All of that should be on the Sublime Oblivion FP, home page.

    Of course, if you were to do all this, my own oblivion would not be so sublime. :)

  13. And I thought that my doppelganger persona as a Brit liberal leftie rubbing shoulders with patriotic Russian Hayekians was safe ;-).

    Still, great website. In Britain our media is almost like a Soviet construction where facts are (as Reagan said) ‘silly things’. I came across Da Russophile originally after reading Ed Lucas’s blog. This was when he was plugging his book. In The Guardian he wrote ‘capitalism is amoral verging on immoral’… portraying Putin as a hypercapitalist. Simultaneously he wrote a plug in The Times about how wicked Putin was for imprisoning Khodorkovsky.

    As you correctly pointed out (I think) the most frustrating thing about the ‘Russophobes’ is that they have a very poor relationship to facts, and they rarely make falsifiable predictions. It is just ‘oh Russia is very bad, and the evil Vladimir Putin will continue his evil and destructive policies and suck the fertility out of the Russian people and evilly kill dissidents until Russia is destroyed. As it was supposed to have been in the 1990s, but anyway’.

    So great work on providing so many interesting facts and statistics and giving the other point of view. But that aside… well, frankly I do find a lot of your computer generated ‘apocalyptic’ images cheesy. Sorry. I myself would not have the ability to make any. My own blog is just an assortment of miscellaneous rants.

    Incidentally, speaking of friend Lucas, we Brits seem less keen on sorting out the problems of Eastern Europe now that it turns out a lot of our economy was based on buying America’s bad debt. Don’t know how his book’s doing.

  14. @poemless,

    Thanks for the tips – but I’m sorry to reject most of them. Well, all of them. No offense. And again thanks for making the effort.

    “Da Russophile was the name of your old blog. Now, it is both the archive of that blog on Sublime Oblivion, and the name of the category for current Russia-specific posts? Correct? And Sublime Oblivion is the name of the new blog and the name of the category for your non-Russia-specific, “future history” type posts. Correct?” – Right… but the old blog was seamlessly transferred to this WP blog, so the archive encompasses all the original blogspot writings as well as those I’ve done since. Right.

    “Blog: I assume this is the same as “home?”” – assumed correctly

    “Articles: self-explanatory enough, save for the url. http://www.sublimeoblivion.com/home/” – I’d change it but I’m afraid of breaking old links; besides, I want to create a proper home page once I’ve got more stuff up there. A slick page with feeds to the blog; list of articles; extracts from the book(s) I hope to publish; etc…

    “Da Russophile : Right now it looks like the intro to a blog without posts. Which is confusing, because there’s also a “Blog” tab. Just make this a link to the old blog, with a brief explanation that Da Russophile was the name of your old blog.” – no point because the old blogspot blog is now horrible out of date (actually I’ve erased all the posts on it except the very last one which said I’m moving), and automatically redirects to sublimeoblivion.com anyway. I *want* that page to be an intro to the DR mission.

    Proposed change to “* Da Russophile *2.0* (92)” – possible, but again the number of people who are actually aware that there was an old DR is diminishing relative to newcomers.

    “When I click on the categories, or “blogs” the name of the site changes on the toolbar…” – don’t really understand the problem, I’m afraid. Surely its better to differentiate between different Categories for the purpose of easier bookmarking?

    “Lastly, and really this is the only real user-friendliness issue I have, I just want to know what your latest writing is,…” – my latest writing is always at sublimeoblivion.com, regardless of Cats. The Cats are for people who are only interested in, say, my Russia writings but nothing else.

    @Gregor,

    I didn’t make those images myself. 😉 I got them from teh internets and creatively edited them with GIMP.

    Agreed, now’s a horrid time to be writing a book about Russia or current affairs in general. The world is in a high state of flux and it may well be utterly obsolete by the time it hits the stores.

  15. I like how you included yourself–that makes me laugh 😉