{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Posts Tagged ‘content’

Open Letter: The Importance of Capitalization

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Dear People of the Internet:

I know it’s hip and cool right now to use all lowercase letters in your brand names, menus and whatnot. Heck, I do it too — just look up at my header and you’ll note a lack of proper case.

But!

This does not mean you should completely abandon reason in your quest to appear youthful and edgy. Capitalization serves a legitimate purpose in the English language: it helps us decipher proper nouns and names from other words, especially when a word could be either. On the internet correct case performs an even more important task: proper use of capital letters helps us scan content quickly. Capitalization often indicates important keywords like place and name. It also helps us quickly identify and digest those clever informational chunks known as “sentences”. Without capital letters, periods get easily lost and sentences blur together visually, making it difficult and frustrating to read quickly.

Blog post titles and any website body content that is longer than six or seven words should always use proper case. At least, they always should if you’d actually like people to read the stuff you’ve written. Branding is great, but when it gets in the way of what you’re trying to say you’re probably doing it wrong.

Missing those capital letters,

Chelle

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When Floating Web Elements Go Bad

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Floating elements along the sides, tops or bottoms of web pages — usually displaying some sort of persistent social media cue or functional element of the website — are all the rage, and I can see why. It’s a neat trick and, when used correctly, is a snazzy, mostly unobtrusive way to include a persistent piece of information. It can be small and still get noticed by virtue of being the only thing on the page that isn’t scrolling.

Except. Now we get things like this:

badly designed floating web elementsI’ve accepted the realities of animated gifs flashing across the outskirts of webpages like giant annoying fireflies trying to distract me from the reason I went to the page in the first place, which was to read content. I harrumph at those irritating automatically expanding banner ads that unexpectedly push the page content down, but dutifully wait for it to finish so I can collapse the thing and get on with my reading. I even deal with my hard knock life when I inadvertently set off expanding-popup-video ads by sliding my mouse past them.

But when websites start layering these things over my content they’ve gone too far. This Twitter bar is overlapping the content I’m trying to read — the reason I came to this website in the first place — and it’s doing it mid-page along the side, right where my eyes are most comfortable reading and where I scroll content to centre in. If this floated along the bottom or very top of the screen and covered text it would be less intrusive because that’s at the very outskirts of where I read anyway, but mid-page is smack dab in my field of vision. Also note there’s no way to get rid of or collapse the layer: I’m forced to either read above or below it, or to intuit the missing letters it covers.

The most frustrating part is this is such an easy, no-brainer fix: add ten or fifteen pixels of margin space on the left and the problem goes away. This is just shoddy and lazy web design and usability, and it raises my hackles.

Look. I get that advertising revenue is how the Internet stays in business. I don’t use add blockers and I begrudgingly put up with seizure-inducing flashing gifs and pop-out cars driving across my screen and videos with auto-play functionality because I understand websites do cost money to host and maintain, especially the successful ones. Advertising on the web is a reality of the current system where people expect everything online to be free and don’t understand there are real costs to the people behind the websites they love, and as people get better at ignoring ads the ads have to get better at being noticed.

But once these elements start permanently obfuscating the content that brings me to and keeps me on the website, we have a problem. The way I’ll solve my half of the problem is by not coming back.

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Content is Not a Feature

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

After having worked with a lot of different people and — now — several different companies building websites, I would like to let the rest of the world know something that I see as obvious but is apparently a massive surprise to others.

Website content is not a ‘feature’: for the user, it is the entire point of your website.

good content hugPeople don’t come to your website to see good design or a good user interface; these are all important things to have, yes, but in the end what those things get you is goodwill and happier repeat visitors. What users come for — the reason they click a link or search for you — is to see your content. To read the words. And watch videos or look at pictures, yes, but mostly to read what you have to say about whatever it is you do.

If you don’t have content on your site — good, text-based content — then you don’t have a good website.

I cannot stress this enough: unless you’re work is primarily based in photography or video, what people are ultimately looking for is information that can only be communcated via words. And even if you are a photographer or an artist or a video producer, once they look at all your pretty they’re going to want to know things that take words to communicate, things like ‘who’ and ‘where’ and ‘how much’.

Good content takes time. A lot of time. Time to plan, time to create, and time to markup and format. Content is almost always the biggest time-spend, no matter whether it’s being created from scratch or migrated from one platform to another. Trust me on this.

I have spent days, weeks, months and even years working on content pre-launch. I have written it from scratch. I have formatted it with any number of markup tools and languages in lists and tables and columns. I have copy/pasted more times than is possible to count. I have tagged content, catagorized content, pagenated content and aggregated content.

I have some expertise in this. So when I say with 100% certainty that whatever amount of time you’ve budgeted for content is not enough, you know I’m not pulling your leg.

The other thing good content takes is writers. And not just any writer, but a copy-writer. Preferably one with web copywriting and SEO experience, because writing for the web is different than writing for any other medium, just like writing a newspaper ad is different from writing a commercial is different from writing a book.

You should never just slap something up in online spaces, but that’s what happens all the time; things need to be adapted. In print you write and design around turning pages; on the web, it’s all about scrolling down. Print that can be read comfortably on paper is too small or too big on screen. Words in graphic elements can’t be seen by search engines, and either the graphics need to be rebuilt with searchable text over background images or appropriate alt and title tags need to be added.

Remember also that content is never ‘finished’. There’s no ‘done’ like there is with design. Content changes, expands, and expires. There is nothing more frustrating to users than old, outdated, inaccurate, or stale content. Good content is always current. Keeping archives of content is great practice, but the most important stuff you’ve got is the stuff that’s relevant now: online spaces are always about ‘now’, and the first place new content should be available is from your website. If updates happen in other mediums before they make it to your online sites and media, then you’re doing it wrong.

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