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    • CommentAuthorrstevens
    • CommentTimeApr 20th 2008 edited
     (1876.1)
    I'm hitting 2000 strips in about a week on DS. The plan is to close this act and reintroduce characters to help bring in new readers and refresh the old ones.

    What webcomics sites do you folks find most successful as readers? What makes it easy for you to stick around? Obviously can't take all suggestions, but I'd love to know what you think works as comics fans of above-average intensity.

    I'm looking for thoughts on site design and usability, not content

    Be as general or specific as you like. Such a thread could help a whole lot of cartoonists!
  1.  (1876.2)
    I find that the web comics that appeal to be the most are ones that remember that they are going to have new readers joining with each new issue.
    Without wanting to sound arse kissing I do find DS a good example of this. I just jumped into reading the comic and didn't bother reading the archives.

    So I think this plan of yours (the one about reintroducing characters) is a good idea. It will make me even more inclined to stick around.

    Also having a RSS feed that doesn't make me click through to read the comic helps lots. I'm looking at User Friendly and Megatokyo here.

    Apologies for the incoherence I've had a rather good Sunday dinner. :)
  2.  (1876.3)
    When you say "webcomics sites" I assume you mean the website design itself rather than the content?

    If it's the site, I personally appreciate simple navigation functions and a readily-accessible archive. Fast loading sites that don't demand a stupidly fast internet connection just to load the comic's surroundings within a ten minute window.

    I think that's why I love Cat and Girl's Donation Derby so much, because it is such a simple, functional design that doesn't have that much in the way of bells and whistles, but the bells and whistles it *does* have makes navigation a breeze and leaves room for the comics. The comments add a nice level of community as well.

    I like seeing an RSS feed even if I don't actually use them. Though I think that might affect the whole "ad revenue" thing.

    So basically the usual bits of "I want the site to load! I want to actually be able to FIND the previous comic!".
  3.  (1876.4)
    I can't tell if you're asking for suggestions on site design or comic content, so you're gonna get a little of both.

    Chapters, arcs, issues; whatever you want to call them, these divisions are highly useful when reading a comic. They provide logical stopping and starting points for both the reader and the writer. Without them, a new reader might read a few of the most recent comics, think "oh, this is interesting...", and go looking through the archives. Without a nearby narrative break, they might not want to start at the beginning of all 2000+ strips to get up to speed. With one, they jump back 30 comics, and read up from there.

    Gag-a-day comics should be written in such a way that no introduction is needed; each one aspire to stand on its own. Of course, this is patently impossible, but still a good goal. Character-based humor is all well-and-good, but this can quickly devolve towards injokes that you'll only get if you're read that one specific comic two years ago. Take, for example, the recent Penny Arcade "arc" about the WoW CCG. (It starts here.) It's funny, even if you have never read a strip of PA before. You can tell certain things about these characters just from this strip; you don't need to know their long-standing feuds over tabletop content. Of course, it enhances the jokes involved to have read the entire archive, but there's always a surface humor that's immediately accessible.

    "If this arrived in my inbox randomly, would I think it was funny?"

    For site navigation, making the back and forward buttons big and easy to find is nice, as is thinking about what kind of screen-sizes your users are viewing your site on. Scrolling generally = bad. Horizontal scrolling is right out. Making the comic clickable? I find it insufferably annoying, but opinions differ.

    RSS feeds are essential. Correction: Useful RSS feeds are essential. Gimme the comic in the feed, gimme news in the feed; offer a click-through to the actual comic page. If ad revenue is that important, work out a way to serve ads in the feed. But make an feed, and make it useful.
    • CommentAuthorrstevens
    • CommentTimeApr 20th 2008
     (1876.5)
    Whoops, coulda been a bit more clear. I'm looking for thoughts on site design and usability, not content. Won't argue with general thoughts on that, though!

    Adding arcs or "chunks" is an interesting thought.
    •  
      CommentAuthorlamuella
    • CommentTimeApr 20th 2008
     (1876.6)
    These are general thoughts, rather than ones specifically about DS (which, incidentally I love)

    in terms of site design:

    1) appropriate ads. I can absolutely understand the necessity of ads to keep webcomics afloat. However I'm always pleased when they fit in well with the feel of the site. Randy Millholland's tactic of letting advertisers pay him to design ads to be posted on Something Positive is a genius one, in my opinion, because it makes those ads feel like an organic part of the site rather than something tacked on. I liked his Jardinains ad so much I even clicked on it, which is super-rare for me. Failing that, I like ads that are appropriate to the comic in terms of look and content. Ads for webcomics are always appropriate in a webcomic. Ads for tech stuff are fine in a techy comic. "shock the monkey" spycam viagra ads are horrible in every way. In addition, if you are going to have ads, make them banner ads that are part of the page structure. Not interstitials, pop-ups, floating flash ads, or other fuckery. If the ads have video and audio it should be set to off unless I choose to play it.
    2) Page length: Don't make your readers scroll too much. I'm not saying you have to fit the whole of each page onto a screen, however, they shouldn't have to hunt through tons of crap. Also, any comments or whatever you want to make on the comic should be made below both it and the link to the next and previous comic. This is stuff for the hardcore fan, not the casual. The casual wants the next comic.

    I had more thoughts but I don't remember them.
  4.  (1876.7)
    Thoughts on the site layout:

    The page layout definatley needs a reshuffle. At first I didn't even realise all the other stuff was down there under the comic itself!
    Can you change your top header advertising to a sidebar? This could allow the strip to appear fully in screen as opposed to scrolling to get the second set of panels as happens on my laptop. You could also easily make the top menu smaller or move that to the sidebar too. I think a lot could be done with a full reshuffle of information on the site to get it tighter and use less clicks to get somewhere - some similar items could easily be brought together. I'd happily give it a go now, but it's 2am and I need to go sleep!
  5.  (1876.8)
    Here's some good advice on web layout that you might find useful Richard.
    I see you've made some changes already!
    •  
      CommentAuthorglukkake
    • CommentTimeMay 7th 2008 edited
     (1876.9)
    I find that good navigation is key and I like an archive page where it's easy to reference the old strips by titles and story arcs - and I've even seen websites where you can search for a specific one, just entering a piece of dialogue in it. I was able to easily find that one comic with a line that I liked to share with a friend.

    Looking at your site really quick (I'm all about the RSS feed these days, and yours is great) I do like that your own blog/comments section about the day's comic are to the side of the comic - it really works with the three panels as your eye moves from left to right and makes sure that I don't miss out.

    I like when the most important information on a site is readily available when you go to the page - scrolling down because someone has a ginormous header bar is a nuisance. Hierarchy is key a good element of the composition of a page, in my opinion

    edit: I had to edit out that second "key", I can't stand repeating myself. If these paragraphs make no sense, it's because I'm delirious right now. I hope they make sense...
    •  
      CommentAuthorLokiZero
    • CommentTimeMay 7th 2008
     (1876.10)
    #1: An RSS feed. I love Married to the Sea and Toothpaste for Dinner, but no RSS, so I never remember to read them.

    You're doing a great job on that front, Rich. Keep it up. I'm currently saving my pennies to buy socks and t-shirts from you.
  6.  (1876.11)
    First of all, Mr. Stevens, you're a god of webcomicry. Second, if what you just said means what I think you just said, I would be deeply disappointed. I don't think anybody wants new characters to take the place of Clango and co. Thirdly, and getting to what you wanted to know, you only really need to do two things to make your site as user-friendly as possible: turn that banner up top into a sidebar, so two rows of the comic show up on the average resolution (1028x780 or whatever it is these days), and move your comments/blog posts/whatever underneath the comic, where they used to be. Do that and the site will be basically perfect.

    Oh, and why do your print archives run about five days behind? I hate having to navigate through comics.com.
    • CommentAuthorjohn-paul
    • CommentTimeJun 15th 2008 edited
     (1876.12)
    If you’re producing work people like, they will forgive bad design to get to a free well written/drawn comic.

    Good design doesn’t mean you’ll keep the site going, though.

    This is why advertising is important.

    If you are looking for a place to develop your style and voice then a web-comic is ideal. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t very quickly. You’ll even establish an audience for your work.

    I think further down the line that getting advertising, or at least, putting yourself through the process of trying to get advertising, helps you get ready for the business end of comics – web or otherwise.

    It takes a lot of motivation to keep a web comic going, especially if you’ve got a day job and other commitments. But once you’re into the process of making money on your web comic, the motivation is all there.

    And before you ask, my surname isn’t Gecko. : )
  7.  (1876.13)
    Whores.
  8.  (1876.14)
    I'm sitting here and staring at that, and I just can't decide whether it's a comment on advertising, or an answer to the original question.
  9.  (1876.15)
    What's wrong with whores? Some of my best friends are whores (although they prefer to call themselves "sex-workers.")

    Frequency and regularity of updates seems to be terribly important. People will wait two months for the next installment of a printed comic but if a web-comic doesn't update at least three times per week, fuggedaboudit. (Although there can be exceptions -- Warren uses his massive Intarwub presence to drag people over to FreakAngels every Friday.) And it appears most of the most successful web-comics update at least 5 days per week (e.g., PvP, Sinfest, The Dreamland Chronicles).

    Which is why I currently have a 5-day-per-week project in development.
  10.  (1876.16)
    I've decided that I prefer "Whores" as the answer to the original question.

    But beyond that, if earning income from the webcomic's a goal I agree about frequent updates - obviously from the reader's viewpoint, but also, from the advertiser's point of view, the day of an update is likely to be more valuable than an in-between day. Figure that if the cost of an ad is basically the same every day, the update day is probably going to deliver more traffic. That'll drive up the ad rate on that day at least, and possibly overall.

    Which, now that I think of it, Scott would already know since he sits on both sides of that table.
  11.  (1876.17)
    RSS and Regular (At least once a week) updates
    •  
      CommentAuthorMrSmite
    • CommentTimeJun 26th 2008 edited
     (1876.18)
    The comments/blogification on the right hand side of DS doesn't carry as much attention from me as it did when it was on the bottom. On the side, it fits better with a vertical oriented comic, sure, but I seem to be less likely to read it where it is. When it was below, it was in the natural vertical progression from reading the comic to reading the comments/updates/notices.
    Also, you're gonna hate me for this, it seems a lot more... shouty than, for example, the sidebar comments on Questionable Content, possibly because of Jeph Jacques' smaller type size and sans-serif font. Something about the DS sidebar resembles too much of a conventional ad, which my mind naturally tends to tune out, whereas the QC sidebar has a more unobtrusive, bloggy appearance (which might be interpreted as friendlier/less threatening?)

    As a result, I know more about the new Opeth album than what the last DS t-shirt was.