I recently wrote about using sub-networks within a blog network. Well, today I’ll tackle blog themes in a blog network, and the issues with using a general one.
First of all, there’s no obvious winner in the battle between general blog network themes versus an unique one, both can work. I know what I prefer and recommend when asked, but that’s not the definite truth either, since situations can warrant or not warrant unique themes for every blog. So yes, that’s my default answer – your blog network’s blogs deserve a true identity, and that includes a unique theme just for them.
However, some blog networks are just too extensive to use that method. Enter the general blog themes, pimped up to fit the blog’s niche, with header graphics, color choices, and even different fonts.
This works, my friends. A theme can, if it’s designed for it, be altered in such a fashion that it can maintain its identity. Just look at the Gawker Media blogs, a great example. Jezebel is more stylish and magazine, than the product focused gaming blog Kotaku, for instance. It helps that the Gawker Media network have developed a blog design that at least somewhat differs from the norm. No rounded Kubrick corners here, thank you very much. Overall, I like the Gawker Media blogs – they use images in a good way and stand out in their layout decisions.
Weblogs Inc. isn’t as good. Take a look at Engadget or Blogging Stocks – neither are very good, and you can see they are hacks of the same design, a very blocky and crowded one at that. Then again, Green Daily shows that the theme can be given that extra little twist, so I guess not all is lost design-wise over at Weblogs Inc. Besides, it used to be a lot worse.
Then there’s the blog networks who just doesn’t spend enough time, money, or talent when it comes to customizing the general blog network theme of choice. I’m surprised that b5media, a blog network rushing forward, isn’t doing more to profile their blogs in a positive manner. Their basic theme’s got those things you expect for a general one, but it’s poor theme to start with. A crowded sidebar, a really blocky feel, crazy contrasts – just look at the boxes within the black sidebar column on Film Gecko, for instance. That particular blog have at least gotten a decent logo treatment, while SF Universe get a clipped thingy on top. These two blogs are by far not the worst I’ve seen bearing the b5media flag, but they are not pretty at all. It’s a shame, because at a glance they look like pretty decent publications, so they deserve a better treatment, don’t they?
Using a general theme across the network’s got benefits. You can easily launch a new blog, and the fact that all blogs have the same basic structure adds to the network’s feel and brand. But when it goes wrong, it hurts both the blogs within, and the network itself.
Blog network owners, listen up! If you want to use a general theme for your whole, huge network of kick-ass blogs, then make sure it’s a theme that can be customized to really profile the blogs. Even better, go down the sub-network route and buy a customizable theme for each sub-network, it might be a little more expensive, but it’s definitely worth it.
I still believe that the best way is to have an unique design for each blog, that helps the site’s brand which in turn will rub off on the network. However, when that just isn’t possible, make sure you take the right route. Otherwise, it’ll look amateurish, boring, or even ugly.
That’s not something you want your precious blog network to be associated with, is it?