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Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox post recommends omitting bylines except in a few cases regarding credibility.

We've considered dropping bylines from the top of news articles to the bottom of articles in an author bio, but the pattern just feels a bit wrong. Nielsen also recommends that opinion pieces add the byline to the top of the article.

In a site mixed with news and opinion would it be too confusing of a pattern to omit bylines from the top of news articles but not from the top of opinion-editorial articles?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The need for consistency can be met without having everything be the same: have a template each, for example…

  1. opinion pieces (byline at the top)
  2. regular articles (no byline)
  3. featured writers, if you have any (byline at the bottom, maybe a bio)

The key to avoiding confusion is that you actively design the patterns in each case, rather than just have a variable element come and go arbitrarily. Make every design element count within each design and know how each fits together.

Case study: newspapers differentiate their opinion content with a headshot (interestingly, NYTimes shows the author pic for opinion pieces on the front page, but not the article page). Growing up, I always knew Michael Olesker was a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, and not just a regular reporter, because they always had his picture by the article. Doing this in your articles isn't just an old-timey carryover, it's good design: users will appreciate the visual cue that lets them know when they are reading opinion versus "factual" reporting.

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+1 for addressing the issue of consistent patterns. –  zacechola Feb 28 '12 at 22:53
    
In the case of where I work, we used hired and volunteer writers and syndicate our content. We are considering bios with links as an enticement for writing for us. Therefore, we have business reasons for including bylines that take some precedence. That may also be a consideration for you. –  tajmo Feb 29 '12 at 16:40

This largely depends on the content type.

In his Alertbox, Nielsen leaves out my only reason why I would leave out a byline from a news article: If the content is impersonal (i.e. when users don't care at all who wrote it).

Of course, determining whether content is impersonal is a subjective process. It is pretty easy to determine that plain news articles on CNN.com are impersonal because CNN is a large news organization. The byline can go at the bottom. However, what about your local newspaper? If it is the same 5-10 authors every day, then each article is inherently more personal. Opinion pieces and reviews (as mentioned by Nielsen) are even more personal.

For most articles, a short byline should be at the top of the article and a longer bio should be provided at the footer. The footer bio should link to the full bio (if available on the site).

J. Jeffryes's points about looking lazy and helping users discover more content are good, too. Tajmo's argument for consistency is a good one and why I would not eliminate the byline for mobile.

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Why does there need to be a byline at the top if there is essentially one at the bottom? –  zacechola Feb 28 '12 at 22:57
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@zacechola on top just the name. On the bottom, name and profile resume. (In case you chose to use both) –  Telephone Feb 29 '12 at 0:40

To me, a byline is critical and so is a publish date. I feel I can't trust a site that doesn't tell me who wrote the article. I also need a date to make sure it's new enough to still be relevant.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

    
But what if the byline is at the bottom of the article and not the top? I guess I'm asking more specifically about byline positioning. –  zacechola Feb 28 '12 at 22:20
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"to me" isn't exactly an expert answer. Can you motivate why you feel this is expert advice? –  Rahul Feb 29 '12 at 0:11
    
@Rahul Maybe "To me" can be seen as an usability report from a real user, not expert. –  Telephone Feb 29 '12 at 0:38
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@Keyne Indeed. But that's not what this site is for: this is a Q&A site for experts and researchers, not for usability reports from users. OP is not really helped by a single person reporting how he feels about the UI. Would you make design decisions based on one person's feedback? –  Rahul Feb 29 '12 at 1:21

We live in a social media world. Not knowing who wrote something and not immediately being able to click links to their profiles, other work, and sites does the following:

  1. makes your site look broken or lazy.
  2. doesn't allow your users to discover additional content by an author they like, making your site less useful and giving up pageviews and user loyalty.

The idea that bylines are especially bad on mobile seems misplaced. Mobile is even more social-focused, and users are even more likely to expect social features.

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The article doesn't advocate removing author links/photos/bios, just moving them to appear after the content. –  Andrew Bacon Feb 28 '12 at 16:50
    
The second section lists reasons to remove them, and then imply it's only important to include them if they are famous, have lots of other articles, or it's an opinion piece. I think those are spurious lines to draw, and there is never a reason to not have bylines. –  J. Jeffryes Feb 29 '12 at 21:37

It's a question of visual hierarchy. How much impact does the name of the author have? How important is it to the other information you have ready to present?

The Nielsen article makes a pretty logical case that the author should only be prominent if that author is famous or lends credibility on what follows.

I'm inclined to agree.

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I agree with Andrew. If I'm a reader, I'm visiting a web page to read content first, and I might want to know who wrote it, and when, second (i.e., I feel in general, the author's name on its own isn't as meaningful to me, as a reader, as what the author wrote). I think at the end of the article is a perfectly legitimate place to put a byline without muddying the information flow of the article itself). Some sort of time indication would be great as well (I hate looking up technical info and reading an article only to find out it's five years out of date). –  robmclarty Feb 28 '12 at 17:00

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