First, let me point out that a viewer's needs and actions are fundamentally different when viewing CSTheory and when reading the blog. Most of the questions posted on CSTheory are a few short paragraphs in length (or less), and require only a couple minutes to read, though they may inspire a lot of thinking time. By contrast, our blog posts are averaging over 1200 words each, or in one case much longer, and the technical introductions have been conceptually dense, requiring re-reading sections more than once in order to digest the material. Also, people have been posting in meta about starting polymath projects, or posting for ResearchBlogging.org, either of which would be likely to increase blog entry length, as well as density of content.
Therefore, it would be quite surprising if the same page format were ideal for both the blog and CSTheory, given such different user experiences -- and, in fact, the same format is not ideal for the blog. The current design of the blog violates universally accepted industry best practices. I will start with those, move to a suggestion based on personal taste, and finish by pointing out an issue (math rendering) for which I believe no great solution yet exists.
- Industry Best Practices
Characters per line: Different sources differ, but all agree on the following range: a blog should have 50-75 characters per line. (One link here.) The blog currently has about 95 characters per line. This is consistent with the CSTheory site, but not consistent with blog readability. I see no reason to change the Q&A site, but I suggest we change the blog line width to 60 characters. Just this step alone would dramatically improve readability and the blog design would still be reminiscent of the main site.
Web fonts: There is no longer any reason to put up with Lucida Sans UTC-8 when publishing content. Professionally-designed web font services allow for a much more legible, and beautiful, reading experience. The only webfont service I have used directly is Typekit, which would be free for us, since they offer a free package to users with less than 25,000 views a month. There are at least a few alternative companies as well. Also, Typekit provides close relatives to Lucida Sans, like Luxi Sans, so the blog would remain in theme with the main site, while the readability would improve dramatically if we installed one or two web fonts.
Line rules and boxes to texturize the space: This is an area where the main site is currently much better designed than the blog. If you look at right hand column of the main site, you will see two input boxes at the top, an information box about the chatroom below that, information in a special meta color about meta below that, a blue-background section below that, and a list of (boxed) tags below that. By contrast, the texture of the right sidebar of the blog is essentially identical to that of the blog entries themselves. As a result, the page appears washed out, because there is no delineation between one type of content and another. So in this case, I think the blog should look much more like the main site. Perhaps the fix here is as simple as arranging plugins in a particular order, so they appear usefully in the sidebar. But, for example, the Twitter feed could appear in a blue-bordered box with the official Twitter logo on it.
- Personal taste
Both the blue and the black are too white: I think if we deal with the above issues, that will solve almost all the problems, but another thing that concerns me is the flatness of the color scheme. This is particularly an issue with the black letters in the blog entries. Again, the main site is better here than the blog. If you compare the same letters on both sites, they are rendered more "blackly" and less pixelated on CSTheory than on the blog. This particular issue would be solved with a web font, but overall I would prefer more contrast between the colors of the letters and the background color. For example, I think the blue in the article titles should be darker.
- Something to think about
Math rendering: I don't believe there exists a great math rendering package for the web right now, but, even so, I would like to raise the point that we don't need to be using MathJax. I don't have a better suggestion, though. For more than you probably want to know about rendering math on the web, see this blog entry, and the followup entry to it.
That's all I can think of for now. I'm sorry I didn't just post this when the blog first started, but I hope we can deal with it now.