As I have argued previously, Every Page is Page One is the new fact of information seeking behavior. Whether a reader finds information by searching, or by surfing links on other pages, or even by browsing the landing page of a website, the page they arrive at is page one for them. And when they are done with that page, the next page that they arrive at, whether they do a new search or follow a link, the next page they arrive at is not page two, logically following from the page one they have just read. It is a brand new page one.
The question before us is how to design information that best serves readers who seek information in this way. How do we write topics that work as page one, no matter how the reader arrives at them? This is far from being a new design challenge. The fact is, there are millions of Every Page is Page One topics we can look to for guidance, both online and on paper.
The essential characteristic of an Every Page is Page One topic is that it stands alone (in the sense I describe here). There are millions of such topics. Indeed, I think it almost certain that there are more Every Page is Page One topics in the world than there are books.
Examples of Every Page is Page One topics include:
- Technical articles, like this one on Push, Pull, Next from Bob DuCharme
- Blog posts, like this one on Faceted Classification and Faceted Search from Tom Johnson
- Wikipedia articles, like this one on Ottawa
- Recipes, like this one for Black Forest Ham and Gruyere Frittata from Canadian Living
- Used car reviews, like this one on the 2003-2008 Subaru Forrester
The list could go on endlessly, but that is probably enough examples to get the point across. None of these topics follows from a previous page one, and none of these topics leads on to an inevitable page two. Every one of them is page one.
People have been reading and writing Every Page is Page One topics for centuries. You have certainly written Every Page is Page One topics yourself. If the only thing you have every written that was shorter than 100 pages is your resume, you have still written an Every Page is Page One topic, because a resume is a great example of an Every Page is Page One topic.
The thing that is new is the demand that technical writers should start documenting their products using topics rather than books. That is a significant change, and a difficult change. All too often, the attempt to move to topics does not produce a collection of Every Page is Page One topics, but either the same book you had before, only with shorter chapters, or the same book you had before, only stitched together out of fragments culled from a database.
To help writers make the transition to real Every Page is Page One topics, therefore, I think it is useful to define the major characteristics of a Every Page is Page One topics. This is not an exercise in inventing something new; it is a exercise in delving into something old and long established and pulling out the salient characteristics that can help us transition our material, and our minds and habits, to the new (but old) form. Here are what I take to be the main characteristics. An Every Page is Page One topic:
- is self-contained
- has a specific and limited purpose
- establishes its context
- stays on one level
- often conforms to a type
- assumes that the reader is qualified
- is as long as it needs to be
- is the smallest unit of reference
I will look at each of these characteristics in turn in the next few blog entries. (I maintain the right to change the list as I go, and I invite the reader to suggest other salient characteristics that should be included in the list.)