Monday, March 8, 2010

The Holy Grail of Book Sites (Part Three)

Over the past three entries, we've gone over the Who, some of the Why, and described the Search end of things. Today we're going to start with the main page and see where that leads.

The things you really want on the main page are things that don't fit into the search category and shortcuts to complicated searches that the average user might not figure out themselves1. Those take up very little actual space though. In a two column blog format like I use, it would leave the larger content column completely empty. Let's start there.

Remember that the primary function of this site is to help users find the books they already want and find new, similar books that they've never heard of. Or to put it another way, to give users the as-precisely-as-possibe targeted advertising that they've come looking for. Since searches take care of that pretty well already, let's use the big honking wads of empty space to advertise books based on something other than the users' known desires. We still don't want to annoy them with flashy advertising or distract them from what they've already come looking for though, so let's keep the ads limited to something they might find interesting on a trivial level and might want to see anyway after a few separate visits to the site.

For that, we're going to take a lesson from the competition. Specifically, from the Most Popular and Most Recent lists on bittorrent sites. Split the main content column in half. On the left side put top ten2 lists. Have them not be all-time top ten lists but the list for the week or month; I haven't decided but we're arbitrarily going with week for this article. Have them separated by high-level genre3. Have the genres ordered by popularity on the site, descending. In each genre, list and link the top ten most popular titles for the past week, as defined by popularity on this site.

On the right hand side, using the same genres and same order, list the ten most recent releases in the genre. Make them ISBN specific so you can get plugs for paperbacks as well as the hardcover and ebooks that released earlier4.

Common to both columns, the entries should be one line of text with alternating, slightly different colored without being jarring, background colors. They should include only the book title and the author's name. The book title should be hotlinked, the author's name should not. Too many links side-by-side is hard on the eyes. The title of each genre list should link to a predefined search for the most popular or most recent of that genre, displayed in descending order.

Back to the rest of the page. We're going to stick to de facto web standards here. People are familiar with them and we've no interest in making things difficult for them.

At the top, put a bar that includes links to log in/out, account control, a link to the main page, and possibly a help section. Also a search entry field, a submit button, and an advanced search link. There might be other useful things that could be put up there, but I can't think of them off the top of my head, so they're for another day. This bar should persist across all pages.

Along the left side, we'll put a link to a News page, a Browse link, a link to a New Authors page, and a link to an Upcoming Releases page. We might also go with a Recently Added to the Catalog link, for when we add a new publisher or more books from a publisher we already had on board.

That's enough for today, I think. The rest of the pages should be easier to write but don't expect them on a daily basis. I started figuring out the database structure for a functional mock up site and getting it created last night and, frankly, I much prefer getting my hands dirty with some code than talking about it.

~The Mighty Buzzard

1 Apparently, according to the sketch I did last week, you also need Photon Torpedoes. I am apparently not the only wise-ass in my family.
2 It doesn't have to be ten, I'm just arbitrary-numbering it so we can move along.
3 i.e. something along the lines of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, Horror, Mystery, etc...
4 Growl, snarl. I'm fairly sure that in our instant gratification culture, release windows promote piracy better than anything else. But anyway...

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