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When There’s No About in the About

From the dark ages of building web resource collections, I have always stressed the importance of having 1-2 sentences to describe what a web site is about– other wise, what you end with is a linkatorium, a laundry list of URLs or site titles and no context. And this is that is key for me, in the light age, when I tag something for my del.icio.us collection, I want that snippet that describes a site.

And it is even better if it is a chunk of text I can highlight, since when I use my bookmark tool (the one my marklet maker not in the one del.icio.us hands out), that chunk of text goes into my notes field. It’s gotta be short and sweet, since del.icio.us truncates at (??) 256 characters??

But woe is my blood pressure, when I cannot find that chunk of text on the front page, must less the about section what the heck a site is about? Is that too much to ask? I mean sometimes, the about section does not tell you “about” the site, it ends up being “about the cool people who made it”. Or it just does not even explain.

Or worse, when it has an about, and it still does not say what it is about.

So based in Stephen Downes’ nod today, I am checking out “academici“. Hmmm, it has red, tan, and green shades of color… and here in the middle, this must be a description:

Welcome to “academici. Knowledge networks”. Here, you can extend your personal and academic networks.

Good reasons to enroll:
academici is successful, because it combines the interests of

– knowledge workers who are interested in their special interest areas, topics and problems
– people who are interested in relating to others, sharing information and knowledge, but also friendship and life
– institutions who would like to support and enhance their knowledge workers and all the other people dealing with them and their institutions
– companies who spend billions for R&D, but could save millions if they could easier link up with researchers:
– secure data protection, no advertising, no direct sales, no spam

Nice, but… what does that really say? I am seeing words, but am not “getting it.” What does academici do? It “extends my personal and academic networks”. is it a dessert? Is it a floor wax? So we have to do, following intutition to the link for “About academici“:

‘academici’ is successful, because it combines the interests of – knowledge workers who are interested in specific topics and problems, looking out for colleagues and partners – people who are interested in relating to others, sharing information and knowledge, but also friendship and life – institutions who would like to support and enhance their researchers and all the other people dealing with them and their institutions – companies who spend billions for R&D, but could save millions if they could easier link up with knowledge workers

I am two clicks in, several paragraphs consumed, and I still have no clue what the ______ this site is about.

Now, it may sound like I am picking on academici, and I am not (there are piles of other web sites that somehow obfuscate their purpose). If Stephen recommended it, it is worth digging a bit more. And I bet some will be thinking I am just poking with a sharp stick. I did not even get to examining their site because I was blown away that a web project could roll out with some a muddy entrance.

My guess is the folks behind it have focused on some deeply nested level of functionality and programming, and have tossed up the user’s interface as an after thought. “Let’s just copy some stuff from the junk we wrote for fishing for funding”.

This embodies the designers dilemma- the folks that build a web site know exactly its purpose and intent. Everyone else has to guess. And if it is not bonehead simple obvious, in short sentences one can copy and paste, then they are doing themselves and their visitors a dis-service.

Good writing takes time, effort, care. Good writing has thought and sweat poured into every verb, pronoun, and comma (spelling might be over rated ;-) There is writing, good writing, and spraying words into HTML just to have something there.

Note the beauty of the work Stephen Downes does- he writes the about statement the site itself lacks, “Academici is a social networking service for academics. Has a free version and a fee-based upgrade. Fairly standard set of social networking features with group articles. Multilingual.”.

Maybe they can hilite that, copy/paste it…

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Looks to me like YASNS for academics. Not sure why this example is of interest any more than things like LinkedIn… all of these “external” social network sites seem doomed to failure because they don’t fit into the way we work. It’s like going to a dating service formal event vs. hanging out in your favorite coffee shop and finding a soulmate. I misght do the first if I were desperate, but the second is who I am.

    But I have to admit I didn’t dig particularly deeply into it.

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