Do Dashboards Make Any Sense?

Over the Summer we had a student intern working with us in ETS. She was a very talented artist working to build her digital skills. In addition to all of the Adobe tools she was working with, we asked her to help us build some new styles for the Blogs at Penn State. We wanted her to make some things that would better appeal to students in some very specific contexts and disciplines. A couple of examples included something that would be more generally representative of a digital portfolio and a note taking blog. She could easily do the design work, but a larger, perhaps more important conversation emerged from her work with us. Blogs are too hard.

For quite some time Brad Kozlek and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to reduce the friction in using any old school blogging platform. For this post, I am calling any platform that generally separates the content creation from the content presentation as old school. I know it is hard for those of us used to blogging that the notion of the Blog Dashboard is confusing as hell, but it is. When you add to it that the URLs are sometimes so wildly different between where you go to write and where you go to read and things get even crazier. Our platform requires me to not only remember that to create content you need to go to, log in, navigate a content management system, find the right menu that allows you to create a new post, create the post, and publish it but also to view that content I then have to point my browser at to view it! When you step back it is bordering on crazy town. I then have to go back through that process to edit a post. I think that is out-moded and may be keeping people from getting it.


It honestly reminds me of the gripes I have had with tools like ANGEL and Blackboard for so long. Why force people into interfaces to accomplish tasks that should be so much more fluid and straightforward?

Clearly it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine a platform that still gives power users the ability to manage from the Dashboard, but one that also eliminates the need to ever see or travel to the Dashboard. In the World of the One Button Web it is easy to never really have to see the Dashboard to publish once a bookmarklet is setup … but again, that is a concept that is lost on most. Furthermore, the emergence of Twitter and Facebook as a place that allows users to both create and consume their own content at once has created a pattern of interaction that is 100% different than that of the Dashboard to Blog paradigm. New bloggers aren’t raised on Dashboards, they are raised on simple boxes within the flow of the content that allow them to publish.

To that end, we are embarking on a project that could eliminate the need to use or see the dashboard. A personal publishing space that allows its owner(s) to instantly create from the context of the site without ever moving away from the content itself. I’m sure people think this is crazy, but what we are moving towards is something that we feel could get us over the hump of people really embracing the blog as a real platform for personal content management. What we are thinking about is below.


Simple, but really different. All you do is remember where your website is and once you have logged in most of what the Dashboard is used for (composing, editing, and deleting) is available from a Quick Compose right on your blog. If it is a class blog, any member of the class can instantly publish to the space without the overhead of the Dashboard. Simple but very different.

Long term the vision is to offer this as really a one button solution. Students would arrive at their personal space for the first time and with a single click they have a blog space sitting there that they can instantly start publishing to. After they get comfortable with the notion, they may decide to dive into the Dashboard to mess with styles, templates, and all the power that a content management system like MoveableType has to offer. But then again, they may just enjoy the ability to type, read, and share instantly. Anyone have any thoughts?

10 thoughts on “Do Dashboards Make Any Sense?

  1. The issue you raise (the dashboard at one site, and the blog at another) was very confusing to a number of my students last spring. I’m glad you’re thinking through things and considering other options.
    This issue is one reason why I like WordPress better than MT — the dashboard is in the same folder system as the blog, and easier and more “intuitive” to access than a system that requires a different URL for the dashboard. But you’re right that many of our students are used to the website reading experience and writing experience being on the very same page. Completely different than a dashboard logic (though I prefer the dashboard, but that’s a pre-Facebook pre-Twitter mentality).

  2. I completely agree with this post. The WordPress dashboard (and the MT one on Blogs@PSU) has always given me fits (and I have a computer science degree and have been blogging for ten years!). Yesterday I was trying to move a blog on Tumblr to WordPress so I could have some more control over some of the content. I gave up after an hour b/c I was sick of fighting with WordPress’s overly confusing dashboard.
    I don’t frequently blog, but my blog runs a software package called Scanty ( that does what you describe. You log in using a link on the main page of the blog & post content right from there. It’s also how you edit and delete posts. Content creation on that software couldn’t be simpler.

  3. Front-end editor plugin for WordPress works nicely, and I think Posterous does a nice job of this implementation too. I’m curious to see what comes of the HTML5 spec for content-editable regions. This could be a nice way to integrate WYSIWYG editor too. I hate Dashboards, but I hate widgets and Portals just as much. Lame design paradigms.

  4. Cole, this will be great. It will again transform the way we interact with our students and the ways students interact with one another. I think the more the dashboard can get out of the way of our ability to engage ideas online, the better.
    Of course, I would also like to see some of the other aspects of the TypePad platform on our Moveable Type install. For example, the following/followers feature.
    Keep up the good work!

  5. Rethinking Blog Platforms

    I love this idea of how blog platforms could work so much better by getting rid of the “back end for posting, front end for reading” interface model that’s dominated for the last decade.This visualisation makes the point well:Blog platform…

  6. It’s difficult to make one dashboard that makes sense to everyone who sees it. We all have interpret information in unique ways. It’s really best to allow individuals to design their own. And while even that isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

  7. Hoo-ray! I love the idea! I think I’d probably post to my blog more if it had more of an “on-the-fly” feel. The more Tumblr-like, the better… with the Dashboard for tweaking if/when you have time or desire to mess around.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.