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 News – the 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.