The Web Leaves You Smarter, But Feeling Dumber

Is the Web making us smarter or dumber? Kath McNiff sums up the dilemma beautifully:

I fear that the web is not making me smarter. It’s distressing my synapses and dumbing me down. Not because the content is junk but because there is too much good stuff. Amazing material at my finger tips – TED talks, zeitgeisty blogs, beautiful pins and seriously meaty journal articles.

It’s the “too much good stuff” that is the problem. (The emphasis is Kath’s, not mine.) Feeling smart is not so much about having knowledge, as it is about feeling like you are in command of a subject. Read a book and you can really feel like you understand the subject matter. You feel smart. read more

The Key to Organizing Web Content is Stickiness

Sticky bun.

The stickiest content rises to the top. Image courtesy of Maggie Smith /

The most important thing you can do to organize your Web content so that people can find it is to make it sticky. Making it sticky is more important than categorizing it or placing it in a hierarchy or taxonomy. It is even more important than linking your content set effectively. In fact, if you don’t make it sticky, neither of those other things are likely to matter much.

It is easy to think of the Web as simply a vast ocean of content. But if it were that, it would not work at all. What the Web actually is is a vast index of content. It is not a fixed index, like in a book, but a complex, dynamic, volatile, multi-stream index. For purposes of findability, how your content is organized on the Web comes down to how it appears in that index. And while you can definitely contribute to how it is indexed in small ways, its indexing is largely controlled by others. The Web organizes itself communally. read more

Solve First, Buy Afterwards

In, This Is Why It Matters if Your User Guide Is Just an Afterthought, Bill Kerschbaum posits a scenario in which a potential customer, impressed by your glossy website, downloads a trial version of your software, is initially impressed, but then tries to figure out how to do something, is disappointed by the poor user manual and decides not to buy the full version.

My immediate thought on this was, but that is not what happens today. People don’t turn first to the user manual. The first thing they do is Google or ask their social network how to do something. Unless your user manual is online (preferably in the form of Every Page is Page One topics), and unless it ranks reasonably well in the search results for questions about your software, it isn’t even going to get a chance to disappoint. Instead, whether the user decides to buy your software or not is likely to depend on whether some other user has documented how they did the particular task they are interested in. read more

The Value of Collegiality in Technical Communicaiton

Society’s attitudes towards written communication are changing. This is not simply a matter of the eternal development of language, though that, of course, goes on, and at an accelerated pace in any time of great social or economic change. There is also a difference in the relationship between the writer and the reader.

We might easily dismiss this as simply becoming “less formal” — a development you will either welcome or disdain according to your taste. And we might also too easily see as growing informality what is really just the diurnal migration of vocabulary. I would suggest that what is happening is something more precise and more important than that: the relationship between writer and reader is becoming more collegial. read more