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Writing on the Web / Writing For the Web

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by woodleywonderworks

Hypertext the Lingua Franca of the Internet
The Web wouldn’t be there if Tim Berners-Lee did not design webbrowser and webserver software, invented HTTP and defined URL. Also not less important if his bosses of CERN wouldn’t have had the insight of allowing to have the world this for free it would have gone the same way many other fine projects went: “the big void.”
— from Hypertext and the Web by Lamont Wood (1991)

From several places lately (student blog posts, some course web sites), I see a repeating pattern of people writing words and putting them ON the web, not writing words FOR the web.

It’s not like we lack examples of web-based content that makes use (well designed and not so well designed) of the building blocks that make the web the most important innovation of the last XX years.

And the most humble, fundamental piece is the hyperlink. Have you ever seen one of those? In the context of what you are reading, you might are free to explore relevant (or related? or just curious?) rabbit holes. Put aside Nicholas Carr’s logic, the web is not web if you end up at dead ends.

I remain appalled at content on the web that begs for links. I see my students doing video assignments based on re-interpretation of film- how can they not consider linking to the source material they found on you tube, to the movie reference on sites like IMDb, to location names, to director names…

Maybe it’s just my own way, but I cannot write too much without wanting to link it. It just seems the natural order.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Noah Sussman

Links not only make the web what it is, they make it better. We need more links, Carr, not less. If you think otherwise, find some other place online to hang your writing.


There’s more to it than links.

What about MEDIA?

I would not say that every piece of content on we web needs images, videos, but certainly in blog form, how can you avoid using the language of media to augment words? Not as add ons without meaning, or candy, but to communicate what can be done well by the brain- seeing patterns, metaphors. I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure the brain does not store information as words.

begin Parenthetical Insert: March 26, 2012 Reminded by @dkernohan’s comment below, this is less of a universal need than links; it very well depends on the purpose, place of the writing. Dave asserts that media should be used only where it advances the point and does not present accessibility challenges, say in the online writing where one si trying to propose an idea, make an argument (dare I say “formal”) (nahh). I am a bit stuck where to line myself up here, as even in my post here, I use media that are not critical to what I am trying to say; what I am writing could stand without the pictures.

But (for me and how I write) media adds some sort of visual punctuation, some breaks in the content. Whether it distracts, depends on the individual. The again, Carr argues that hyperlinks also distract. Sigh, I cam finding more unstable footing here.

Yet- we have these affordances to employ said media in am abundance that print did not allow, and there is room, IMHO, to push what we can do in communication through visuals.

end Parenthetical Insert

What about VOICE? This web space is a place to speak in a voice we own, not that abstracted removed, dehumanized stuff best served up in exam blue books.

This is my mild rant phase on this, my next step is to organize some ideas to go about remedying the situation. It seems almost silly to have to do this when we are immersed (many of us) in a rich flow of media rich hyperlinked content- what is the brain logic that says, “I think I will just dump 1000 words on my web page”.

I want to send all of you linkless text lobbers to read Jon Udell’s Seven Ways to Think Like the Web

Given the web’s hybrid nature, how to can we teach people to make best use of this distributed hypermedia system? That’s what I’ve been trying to do, in one way or another, for many years. It’s been a challenge to label and describe the principles I want people to learn and apply. I’ve used the terms computational thinking, Fourth R principles, and most recently Mark Surman’s evocative thinking like the web.

This is going to be basis of hopefully some future work for me–

  1. Be the authoritative source for your own data

  2. Pass by reference not by value

  3. Know the difference between structured and unstructured data

  4. Create and adopt disciplined naming conventions

  5. Push your data to the widest appropriate scope

  6. Participate in pub/sub networks as both a publisher and a subscriber

  7. Reuse components and services

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Jason A. Samfield

This is the web I believe in.

These are core values I would like to see enacted much more widely.

The web is what we make of it. What we assert of it.

Please, write FOR the web; think in a webbed way.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. With you 100% on hyperlinks to sources and related info – newspapers are *just* in 2012 starting to catch on to how useful this is.

    But I would have added that embedded rich media should be used carefully… only where it genuinely advances the argument you are making and taking account of accessibility. It can be enormously irritating otherwise.

    One other

    1. I forget to include this perspective (and as well forgot whose blog it was that held this conversation recently).

      This to me me is a place where we need to break down a bit more of where and what kind of writing is happening. Look for an edit above soon….

  2. I would love to see a rich text editor make the process of adding links even more seamless. It seems right now (for me at least) the writing is easy, but going back and linking is just a bit more work. It requires me to stop my train of thought, find that link, and then either write the HTML or use the link button and paste that link. Then where was I? Oh yeah so what I was saying….it breaks the train of thought. I don’t know what a better way would look like. Maybe a keyboard hotkey that pulls up a text box where I can type a search, it looks both through my history as well as Google search, I grab the link and give it a name, and I’m back at the editor moving along.

  3. My experience thus far certainly doesn’t warrant any authoritative opinions on the matter (I’m only 2 weeks into my first higher-ed teaching gig), but I’m curious if there’s some sort of environment that’s trying to be preserved here at the higher-ed level with the lack of hyperlinked text, and properly annotated and cited works.

    It seems as though there’s a large body of thought that is based around encasing the written work in some sort of “future proof” shielding, as if keeping the text isolated will prevent it from being maligned with dead links or some other sort of internet perversion.

    As I watched a roomful of 9th graders spend almost a week researching and practicing proper MLA style citations, checking with their teacher every few minutes to make sure they were creating the citations properly, I became curious. I asked one of the teachers, “how mission critical is it for these students to be able to produce proper MLA citations?” The response was an emphatic, “Extremely mission critical, as they’ll be having to do this in college.” I shook my head metaphorically; despite this being an amazing writing teacher, her experiences in her master’s courses seemed to have convinced her that the citations on this one research paper would be of paramount importance for success in college, not for success in life.

    I didn’t have the heart to ask her the next question; “if this is so important, why do students only do it once a year?”

  4. Putting links at the end of the text as Carr suggests takes us back to the era of footnotes in appendices, which is just a big time-consumer. Why waste time flipping (now, scrolling) to the end of a piece just to get a significant piece of info related to what you’re reading? If we could only hyperlink in books, I’m sure we would have done so ages ago. And yes, while it can be distracting, it’s also essential. If distraction is Carr’s reason, then DON’T add footnotes at all. And his distinction of the hyperlink as being a “yank”, compared to the footnote as being a “gentle nudge” is irrelevant. If you’re a curious reader, even footnotes can lead you to labyrinths of over-information (at least, based on my experience). Point is, we can’t help but deal with distractions when we’re reading, whatever we’re reading. I think people will eventually have to “develop” the intelligence to be disciplined readers who can filter out the most essential info in any digital post. And publishers/bloggers will also have to develop the intelligence to choose which media and data to add/link to.

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