Reading Order on the Web

May 13, 2011

One minor annoyance I have always had while surfing the web, is the non-standardized order in which you consume a website's content. Two pertinent examples spring to mind. First, are the "post navigation" links that you find on many websites. Out of the box, WordPress uses a link pointing to the left to indicate older posts (example: « Older posts), while a link to the right indicates newer posts (example: Newer posts »). This design decision no doubt stems from the humble beginning of the blog: the journal (as in the pen and paper variant). In English, we read left-to-right, top-to-bottom; and in a pen and paper journal, newer entries are always "to the right of" older ones. I'm sure this is one reason why WordPress themes come as they do. I have always taken the opposite stance, however. Digital entries on a site are not (in my mind) the same as handwritten entries in a journal. So I have always used a link pointing to the right to indicate older posts, while a link pointing the left indicates newer ones. In short, the newest content appears "first".

My opinion changes with my second example, however. The Twitter timeline presents the newest tweets at the top of your home page. This seems like a major design flaw, since I am seemingly shoe-horned into reading tweets in reverse order. My typical modus operandi for reading Tweets is to scroll down to my last known position, and work my way back up to the top of the page. This is really bothersome to have to do. I'd love to have an option to have the newest stuff appear last, so I could consume the content as it was presented to me.

I take a similar stance in Google Reader. I used to browse items in "newest first" mode, but I stopped doing that since I would see stories in reverse order. After switching to reading items in the "oldest first" mode, I've been much happier; it feels much more natural to me. I'm not sure why I feel so differently about two remarkably similar items, but I do.

Which order do you prefer? Is there a "right" way to do it?

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