On the Web, Context is Vital

Supply subject area context; avoid institutional context.

In a recent blog post, On the Web, context kills, speed saves, Gerry McGovern states:

A key difference between web writing and writing for print is that on the Web you need to avoid context and instead focus on instructional, how-to, task-based content.

Since one of my seven principles of Every Page is Page One is that an EPPO topic establishes its context, this quote made me think that either Gerry McGovern had gone bonkers or he was using the word context in a very different way than I use it. Turns out that it is the latter. (Sorry if you were hoping for fight here.) I actually agree with almost everything that McGovern says (I’ll get to the part I don’t agree with a little later). In fact, I have said many of the same things before, but in a different way. read more

Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools?

Why is writing the only profession untouched by its tools? Larry Kunz strikes a familiar note in his recent blog post, Tools come and go. I’m still a writer.

I’m a writer. Once I used a typewriter. Now I use XML editors. If I stay at this long enough, other tools will come and I’ll learn to embrace them.

My old typewriter is gone. But I’m the same writer I’ve always been.

The same refrain is sounded over and over again wherever writers gather. It seems almost a badge of honor among writers to proclaim that your work and the essence of what you do is unaffected by the tools you use. read more

Findability is a Content Problem, not a Search Problem

Findability is a constant theme in content strategy and technical communications, yet it  seems to me that people often treat findability as a problem existing outside the content. Findability is addressed using SEO tactics and by devising sophisticated top-down navigational aids, such as taxonomies and faceted navigation, but it is seldom seen as issue to be addressed in the content itself.

I believe this focus on top-down findability is wrong. Top-down finding aids have their place, but the majority of the focus should be bottom up, and it should start with the content itself. read more

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Web Organization is not Like Book Organization

One of the most difficult aspects of moving content to the Web is that webs are not organized like other things — books in particular. And the difference is not small. It is not that web organization is somewhat different from book organization. It is so different that you can’t even look at web organization the way you look at book organization.

And that may be the biggest problem in moving content to the Web. We are used to being able to look at the organization of our content in a particular way, from the top down, and that does not work on the Web. That makes the difference very difficult to get used to. read more

How the Web Designs Information

John Carroll, in Nicky Bleiel’s recent interview in Intercom, suggests that there has emerged a theory that the advent of the Web means that information does not need to be designed anymore:

I do think that techniques like crowdsourcing and search have caused, what I think, is a radical position that there is no need to design information anymore because it’s so abundant. We can rely on the crowd and search, and between the two we’re going to be able to generate such wondrous amounts of information. read more

What is your primary media? Paper or the Web?

Which media is your principal design target? Most tech pubs organizations deliver to multiple media, but which one do they design for? Judging by the content I see every day, most organizations are still designing for paper even when they mostly deliver to the Web. If you are delivering primarily to the Web, shouldn’t you be designing primarily for the Web?

Tom Johnson’s latest blog post, Single Sourcing and Redundancy, ask the important question of what to deliver to each media. Do you deliver different content to paper, help, and Web, or do you deliver the same content in each media? read more