I already wrote about three ways to communicate more effectively online. Here’s three more.
Google and Facebook, two internet giants, both tailor the information that they present to their individual users. Google gives results that change based on a user’s past searches, which are assumed to define the user’s tastes and values (TED). Facebook does the same with the friends that it features on the newsfeed for each account: if a Facebook user clicks on certain friends’ pages more often, those friends will migrate to the top of the feed. This is because, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa” (TED). Eli Pariser, founder of the liberal organization MoveOn, discovered that his conservative friends “had disappeared from [his] Facebook feed,” as he clicked on their links less often than on those from people in his political party (TED). There’s a clear disadvantage to this method of aggregation: it enforces habits and methods of thinking, sacrificing impartiality and fairness in order to get more clicks.
The way to address this problem in writing is to understand buzzwords. Algorithms pick up on commonly-used words and phrases, and when they are used in an article online, it will be picked up by the relevant people, those whose tastes are similar. If you are writing an article that might attract a certain demographic, using the right words can pull in others.
A few effects of the internet are minor and therefore lesser known. One aforementioned effect, that of making internet users lightly scan text, is connected to distraction. Light readers move on to new things quicker, since they aren’t as invested in their original interest. Aptitude for distraction manifests itself in several different ways. As the academic of the internet, Gary Small, said:
“Research was painting a fuller, very different picture of the cognitive effects of hypertext. Navigating linked documents, it turned out, entails a lot of mental calisthenics—evaluating hyperlinks, deciding whether to click, adjusting to different formats—that are extraneous to the process of reading. Because it disrupts concentration, such activity weakens comprehension.”
“In a study published in the journal Media Psychology, researchers had more than 100 volunteers watch a presentation about the country of Mali, played through a Web browser. Some watched a text-only version. Others watched a version that incorporated video. Afterward, the subjects were quizzed on the material. Compared to the multimedia viewers, the text-only viewers answered significantly more questions correctly; they also found the presentation to be more interesting, more educational, more understandable, and more enjoyable.”
Within this quote, Small gives two distractions that can be present on a website, neither of which are intuitively recognizable as such: hyperlinks and videos both detract from the actual text. Based on this evidence, a simple, streamlined approach to the content of a website is recommendable. Videos and hypertext may be present, but only when necessary. Unbroken text is a clearer method of communication, and therefore a better one.
3) Style and Substance
I’ve saved this bit of counsel for my final point because it takes a look at the entirety of my post series. I have discussed style for most of this paper, but anyone who writes with just an eye on style is selling out and ultimately handicapping themselves. If online writing doesn’t have style, no one will read it, but if it doesn’t have substance, no one should read it. Vapid text, written to manipulate algorithms, should not be the end goal. Postman asserts that this is the direction in which mass media points technology’s shaping power, saying “the business of business becomes pseudo-therapy” when organizations use their messages to attempt to make the audience feel good about themselves (Postman, 170). Advertisements don’t focus on reason, but on style. Hopefully, your writing can use both.
Postman, Neil. Technopoly. New York, NY: Random House, Inc, 1993. Print.
TED talk. Web video @ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOTPz7KnwIA]