Structured vs Unstructured Hypertexts

One of the questions I am often asked about Every Page is Page One is whether it simply means write articles instead of books. But while articles are certainly much closer to the EPPO model than books, there is something more to EPPO than simply writing articles. EPPO is also about the relationships between articles/topics/pages (or whatever else we decide to call them).

A single article is seldom sufficient to cover a large subject. You often need to create a much larger content set, consisting of many articles/topics/pages, to cover a subject adequately and to meet your audience’s varied needs. In the age of the Web, however, in the age of Google and information foraging, a linear or hierarchical organization of content is no longer adequate, and does not match how modern readers approach content. We need another way to approach the organization of content — one I have termed bottom-up information architecture. read more

Bottom-Up Architecture Q and A: Organizing the Site

Once the reader reaches an Every Page is Page One page, does it still matter if the site is well organized? It depends on what you mean by “organized”.

This is another in the series of post dealing with questions from my TC Dojo Webinar on bottom-up information architecture.

Q: I understand that the site is not online, but it is the pages…however, you still need to have a site, right? …once a user gets to a page, don’t you want them to be in an organized site?

A: Absolutely, we always want our content to be well organized. But electronic media, and the Web in particular, have profoundly changed what it means to be organized. read more

The Role of the Manual and the End of Civilization

An interesting article in Popular Science charts the rise and laments the fall of the manual. Instructions Not Included: What the Disappearance of the Common Manual Says About Us, traces the origins of the manual as a form of technical communication, and notes how many products now come with no manual. It draws from this dire fears of human decline.

By dispensing with [manuals], we could, consciously or no, be setting the stage for something few would relish: a society divided.

This is accomplished by a parlor trick in two parts. The first is to build up the civilization changing role of the manual: read more

Successful Patterns are the Best Guide to Information Design

I am very grateful to Jonatan Lundin for a lengthy conversation on the subject of topic patterns because it helped me to crystalize something important about the basis for the principles of EPPO information design and how they are derived.

Approaches based on psychology

Traditionally, theories of information design have been psychologically based. Researchers (usually academics) attempted to form a psychological theory about how we learn and then suggested information design approaches based on those theories. The success of such efforts has been mixed. read more

The Death of Hierarchy

Hierarchy as a form of content organization is dying. A major milestone — I want to say tombstone — in its demise is the shutdown of the Yahoo directory, which will occur at the end of the year according to an article in Ars Technica, Yahoo killing off Yahoo after 20 years of hierarchical organization. (Actually it seems to be offline already.)

As the article observes, a hierarchical directory made some sense when Yahoo was created:

In the early days of the Web, these categorized, human-curated Web listings were all the rage. Search engines existed, but rapidly became notorious for their poor result quality. On a Web that was substantially smaller than the one we enjoy today, directories were a useful alternative way of finding sites of interest. read more

Reference Distance Zero: Beyond Linear Information Design

Summary: Designing information for paper was largely about managing reference distance. On the Web, the reference distance is zero. A completely different set of design requirements apply.

Linear information design

Traditional information design thinking has always been linear. This is a consequence of the medium in which the vast majority of information was presented: paper.

Whether you roll it into a scroll or chop it up into pages and bind them into a book, paper is a linear medium. This presents a fundamental information design problem: some of the things you want to talk about in the real world have complex relationships that cannot be laid out in a single straight line. read more

Content is a Utility

Summary: When content is a utility the job of the tech writer is to ensure reliability of supply.

In my earlier post, Content as Furniture, I suggested that while content used to be furniture — something to be acquired selectively and displayed as a prized possession (and a mark of status) — it is rapidly becoming a utility — something we simply expect to be there when we need it, like water or electricity.

The notion that content is becoming a utility has some pretty important consequences that I think are worth discussing. read more

Getting Past the Linear/Hypertext Hybrid

A lot of the information design being done in technical communications today is what I think we can fairly call a linear/hypertext hybrid. Perhaps this is a necessary stage in our evolution from static linear paper manuals to dynamic hypertext information sets, but if so we have lingered in it far too long, and we are still producing and using tools and systems that are designed for the linear/hypertext hybrid rather than for true hypertext.

This thought occurred to me when reading Tom Johnson’s post on collapsing sections. As I commented there, collapsing sections are a symptom of the linear/hypertext hybrid. They are hypertext in the sense that you have to click a link to open the section, but still linear in the sense that they are written and organized as part of a single consecutive narrative. As such they have some pretty significant problems, as I noted in my comment on Tom’s post. read more

Links are Not About the Relationship Between Texts

One of the most important distinctions we need to make when writing for the Web is the difference between how texts are related and how subjects are related. If that sentence made you say “Huh?”, let me explain.

In the book world, the principal reason for one book to refer to another book or article was for purposes of citation. A citation says, for support for this claim, see this work. The citation is used either to prove an assertion about another text, or to support an assertion about a subject with reference to an authoritative text. Any old text on the subject won’t do. It is the authority of the specific cited text that is being invoked. read more

The Nature of Hypertext

Hypertext means more than just text with a bunch of links in it

Hypertext is something of a neglected subject these days. Everyone is talking about the Web, but nobody is talking about the class of thing the Web is: a hypertext environment. But to neglect this essential fact about the nature of the Web is to risk getting your approach to the Web seriously wrong.

Perhaps people associate the term hypertext purely with linking. But I would suggest that there is much more to hypertext than links. Hypertext is about the non-linear traversal of information spaces, and while links were the first tool created for this, there are now four key drivers of hypertext: read more