I read quite a few web comics. Every once in a while, I’ll be introduced to a new one and I’m reminded anew at how horrible the user experience is of the web comic experience as a new user. I’ve not yet found a web comic which I feel even has a barely acceptable user experience.

From the most trivial to the most radical, I present some suggestions:

  • At the very least, have at least one place on the page where the previous/next comic button always resides. That way, I don’t have to continually hunt for the link on every comic. Either make the comics a fixed size and put it below the comic or just add it above the comic.
  • Keep your actual comic above the fold. I don’t want to have to scroll down every time I visit your page. If you want to have stuff above your comic, use HTML anchors and anchor the next/previous links.
  • Use an AJAX preloader to load the n adjacent comics. Currently, it takes me more time waiting for your comics to load than it does to read them. This is unacceptably inefficient.
  • Allow me the option to display more than one comic per page. I would love to be able to take in comics a week or month at a time.
  • Create a consistent API access to your comics so that I can use desktop software to consume it rather than do everything through the web browser
  • Make available a .zip file of your entire archives so I can just download the images to my machine and use whatever image viewer I want to view them.

I would love to see web comic authors start thinking much more about the user experience of comic reading and doing something to fix this abysmal ecosystem.

  • mwotton

    there's a tension between giving an optimal user experience and showing enough ads that you can actually afford to keep the server running (and perhaps buy yourself a coffee now and then).

  • http://twitter.com/magicofpi Ryan

    I agree most comics are like that, though there's always xkcd, for which at least your first two points are true.

  • nathanbaker

    I think the solution isn't for each comic to solve this problem independently but for someone to develop software specifically for reading webcomics.

    Most comics have an rss feed nowadays (and most of those are decent feeds, though you still sometimes get the brain-dead feed which requires you to click through to actually read the comic), so a useful first stab at this would simply be a feed reader. Future enhancements could provide for things like archive browsing (few comics actually have the entire archive in their feed). Users could switch from regular consumption mode to archive reading mode; in the latter, the entire archive would appear unread. Perhaps this would be as simple as providing a “mark all unread” feature to go with the standard “mark all read” feature.

    Also, sorting would necessarily be done through increasing chronological order, and the main view would probably be sorted by comic. That way when I'm reading my unread comics, I would be able to read all of comic A before moving on to comic B rather than alternating in strict chronological order.

    It would probably also be important to incorporate advertising into the reader. This could be as easy as telling each author to put ads in their feeds if desired.

    Obviously features such as keyboard navigation a la Google Reader would be important as well.

    This would also make it possible to publish a webcomic as just a feed, with only a Spartan page (or even no page at all, if you hosted your feed on feedburner or similar).

  • http://twitter.com/tobiasprinz Tobias Prinz

    Good points that actually apply to all kinds of image gallery software.
    If you treat comics like images, this would be all one needed. If one allows for more narrative control for comic creators, other approaches might be viable, too. Pay a visit to the incredible http://scottmccloud.com/ if you got some free time.