Quick Takes?

Does OTB's Quick Takes section still serve a useful purpose?

One of the major drivers behind the recent site refresh was that we needed a more responsive design for users on mobile devices. While the site framework launched in 2010 had gotten buggy for a variety of reasons, it still looked pretty good on anything from a large screen to an iPad but it was incredibly difficult to use on a smartphone.

We worked with Jason Lefkowitz of Rogue Repairman and came up with a much more functional site that merely tweaked the familiar look on larger devices but looked completely different on mobile. The one problem was the Quick Takes posts. The way they display on larger screens, even an iPad, doesn’t work on a phone. So, we just decided to skip those.

Several readers complained that they were missing, so we added them back in. But that was also inelegant, as the logical way to do it was to simply feed them the way they are on the page: the first two main posts, the fifteen or so Quick Takes, and then the rest of the feed. My preference was to simply use the blog feed but that would require essentially having two separate layouts that would have to be constantly tweaked—plus a slower loading site.

On the old, mobile-unfriendly design, 57% of our users were visiting via desktop and only 32% via a smartphone but that’s now 49% and 41% (the rest are via tablet). So, it really makes sense to have the site equally geared toward desktop and phone users. (Again, the site looks essentially the same on a tablet as on a desktop.)

On the discussion thread about the latest set of tweaks, @MarkedMan offers a really simple solution:

FWIW I’d be happy if you eliminated the separate Short Takes section and just implemented them in the regular feed. Since they don’t get a comment count, We can’t see if any new comments have been added without opening them.

As I noted in a query to Doug and Steven this morning, I wanted them in there when we went to the magazine style in 2010 partly because it didn’t make sense to go through the trouble of looking for a photo, crafting an excerpt, etc. for posts that were just a cut-and-paste and “Heh. Indeed.” But we’ve since solved those problems by automating tasks. And there are only three of us writing posts on a regular basis and a handful of others who post occasionally; the site design shouldn’t be about our work process.

Do the Quick Takes still make any sense from a user perspective?

My initial rationale in that regard was twofold. First, they signaled which posts were more developed and which were old-style “web log” posts that mostly pointed to content elsewhere. Second, they allowed more posts to remain on the front page of the site, highlighting the more significant efforts but still listing the one-liners.  But, eight years in, I’m not sure we have any consistent pattern as to what constitutes a main post versus a Quick Take.

Simply making everything a post, with the most recent, regardless of length, at the top of the site and then moving down until they bump off the page, is the easiest solution to the design dilemma. As MarkedMan notes, it would have the additional benefit of showing comment counts for those who use that as their metric for returning to posts (you can also subscribe to get emails for the ones you’d like to follow). But it would mean maybe ten fewer posts on the main page.

UPDATE:  Thanks for the feedback–and continue adding comments if you have something new to suggest. We’ve decided that ending the Quick Takes going forward is best for all users and are doing so immediately; indeed, I bumped all the Quick Takes from today to the normal feed. The widget will remain on the large screen site for a few days until we can get some things sorted out on the backend but the mobile feed will soon be just posts in normal chronological order.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Peabody says:

    This focus group of one will tell you…I don’t even know what “Quick Takes” means. My bookmark is strictly on “/blogs”, since I visit several times a day, I just want to see the latest items on top.

  2. @John Peabody:

    Yea there’s no differentiation for me when I look at the OTB posts on Feedly, which is based off the RSS feed.

  3. mattb says:

    I’ll be one more vote for @MarkedMan’s Gordian Knot solution.

    The do still make some sense from a desktop perspective, but as you point out James, the difference between them and the main articles is not always readily noticeable. And I don’t think the website will loose too much from having that section go away.

  4. Franklin says:

    I agree with MarkedMan.

    Since the former Quick Takes didn’t have an associated photo (with the mild exception of Steven’s ‘Photo for Friday’), perhaps you could still differentiate them slightly by using a standardized ‘Quick Take’ photo, stamped with the words ‘Quick Take’.

    I’m not worried at all about losing the 10 or so oldest posts.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Franklin: That’s a really good solution.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    As an acknowledged anachronism I don’t access anything on a small screen. So my opinion should not be taken for too much. But I don’t discriminate between ‘quicktakes’ and the other posts. And I do kind of like the retention of posts for a fairly long time. My retirement consists of occasional longish excursions and I kind of enjoy reading the longer strings of comments when I emerge from woods or rivers. I believe there’s an archive? I haven’t had to look but assuming there is, the length of time a post is left up wouldn’t need to exceed 48 hrs to satisfy me.

    OTB’s quite remarkable for it’s ‘customer pleasing’ attitude. I’m sure I speak for lots of commenters: Thank You.

  7. Andy says:

    To add to Franklin’s excellent suggestion, you could create a “quick takes” category and another category for more “in depth” content.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, @Franklin’s got this.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @JohnMcC: Yes, the site is archived lots of ways. There’s the “blog” feed, which is just every post, regardless of type, in reverse chronological order (Accessed via the Read All Posts link at the bottom of the home page or at /blog). And every author, category, and tag has its own archive (also in reverse chronological order). There’s also the list of archive by month, etc. accessible at the top of the page. And various highlighted archives at the bottom of the page.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    I also agree that Franklin’s got the right take.

  11. teve tory says:

    This isn’t meant to insult anyone, just to describe how I use otb–which I very much like, btw:

    I don’t come here for the posts, I come here for the comments. There are a couple dozen pretty sharp commenters here. Sometimes I read the posts. Maybe there’s one contributor I never read because I dont have 2 hours to read one post. So the problem with Quick Takes from my perspective is, I can’t see when the comment number changes, so I don’t know when to refresh those links.

  12. teve tory says:

    For those of us who enjoy the comments, a Recent Comments list on the right hand side would be great.