It struck me today that the Web does Minimalism. Not only does it do it, it does it naturally, and it does it well. Consider:
Here’s a common listing of the principle tenants of minimalism (borrowed from http://www.ryerson.ca/~ipederse/Minimalism.htm via Google):
- Take An Action-Oriented Approach
- Aim for Guided Exploration
- Position the Documentation in the Task Domain
- Support Error Recognition and Recovery
- Design For Non-linear Reading
- Embrace the Motto: Less Is more
Let’s look at how the Web does each of these:
Take An Action-Oriented Approach
Search for help on the web, and you will get instructions for the task you are trying to accomplish. Virtually every hit you get will be action oriented. You could stumble into a uber-geek forum that will baffle you with baffle-gab in the hopes that you will go away, but so what? There is lots and lots of action oriented help out there.
Aim for Guided Exploration
The Web is constantly inviting you to explore. People tweet about things they want you to check out. Blogs enthusiastically recommend trying out such and such a feature of a product. But the real beauty of the Web is that, for most tasks, you can begin in confidence knowing that if you get stuck, you can Google for help. And in the unlikely event that you don’t find any preexisting information that helps you, you can certainly find a forum where you can ask for help and where helpful people will guide you through your problem step by step.
Position the Documentation in the Task Domain
The Web is anchored firmly in the task domain. People ask how to do something. Other people answer with the necessary steps to do that thing. It is all about the task. The answers may assume more knowledge than you have, but you can usually find another answer that does not make the same assumption. Overall, though, the vast majority of technical communication on the web is rooted in the task domain. Not only that, it is written by people who have actually done the task.
Support Error Recognition and Recovery
As David Weinberger points out in Too Big To Know, it you get an error message for a system these days, all you have to do is Google the text of the error message and you will find an answer. No matter what kind of mess you get into, you can find resources on the Web that will help you recognize the error you have made and tell you how to fix it. Those resources may be existing content, or they may be forum members. The fact that you can communicate with real people who have already solved the very problem you are having means that the Web supports error recognition and recovery better than any manual ever could.
Design For Non-linear Reading
Check. No need to elaborate on this one.
Embrace the Motto: Less Is more
At first glance, this may not seem to fit. If the Web is about anything, it is about more, more, and more more. But in an important way, that more is less. My personal take on Minimalism is that it is not about less content, it is about the reader spending less time on the content. The problem with trying to reduce the amount of time that the reader spends on the content is that every reader is different. Cut back heavily to serve the quick, well-informed reader and you risk marooning the slow, clueless reader. Expand to support the slow, clueless reader and you risk boring the quick, well-informed reader. But the web has a cure for this: massive redundancy. The web does not choose which reader to serve; it serves them all. Every reader can find instructions that match their level of knowledge and their vocabulary. The obscene prolixity of the web, as sifted by fantastic relevance engines, results in less reading for the individual reader. (Not, of course, that it does this equally well every time, but what does?)
So there we have it. The web does Minimalism, and it does it well. Makes you want to ask if our role needs to be re-examined, doesn’t it.