One element of good writing for the independent web[1] which is often overlooked is that your writing is part of a larger story which is not under your control. This is to an extent true for all writing which doesn’t stand alone: an article is part of a magazine just as much as a recipe is part of a cookery book. And like all such writing, it’s perceived as part of a larger whole.

What’s special about the online jungle is that you can’t even assume constant assumptions on the part of the reader. For example, NYT articles are democratic, CNN.com has propganda [;-)], and Fark.com is (adult) funny. If you write your articles in one of these media, and if you keep your average reader in mind (you’d do this is you want effective writing, which is what all this is about) then you’d tailor your articles to suit expectations. But in the larger miasma of the web, how do you decide what and how to read expectations? The web is connected, and the spiders that visit your frayed hideyhole might come on from thousands of different places, and there’s no guarantee of any continuity.

One simple answer is that you create your own universe and let your reader be immersed into it. People buy this oh very quickly. The hypothesis is that every page is special, and a click-through from an adult site is as likely to be impressed as one from a search engine.

As an aside, one technique which is underutilized to propogate this mass-hypnosis is clever linking. Hypertext is alive because it can send your user to other pages. Even though Google has perverted the medium with commercialization, people do like to click on links. Use that fact! Lead them on. Make a story within a story (it’s much better than enclosing an aside in parentheses), or even make them read a worthier one. You get to choose.

Getting back, is there a different way? Creating your universe is oh-very-well, but can you match zillions of varied expectations? A good way is to try to reduce it to a few common ones. A lot of sites use a technique where visitors coming in from a search engine get their words highlighted on the site automagically. Let’s say you come here searching for “porn king” (god forbid). To help you out, my site will highlight all instances of that term in your landing page. Is this good for the visitor? Undoubtedly. Does it match your interests, does it tell your story more effectively? Maybe. In this example, very much not, but it’s still a very user-friendly thing to do.

You probably can cook up a different version of a page for a user that comes in from:

  • a social networking site
  • your girlfriend’s site.
  • a mobile browser (device dependent).
  • a competitor’s website, etc.

Condensed, what I’m talking about is that referrals and clever referral management to rewrite your content could pay dividends. True?

[1] Blogs, pages, documentation, stuff which floats.

Computer Names: Etymology

I recently bought a Mac mini (yay! yay!) and it started up and asked me for a name. This got me thinking about how I name computers. My first several computers (A 286, 386, and a 486) remained nameless, but every one of them after that had a nice glorious name.

Almost always female, this name was devised mostly at the spur of the moment, often from books that I’d be reading then. Ione for example, a lean P-166 machine, was named after one of the AIs in Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy (btw, that’s still one of the best non-core Scifi books I’ve read till date).

My bro named my current primary machine (An Athlon 1800). He calls it BLAZE. It’s a name that I’m admittedly not too fond of :-). There was also a machine called Seven (A P3-500) of the Seven of Nine fame. My notebook (A Centrino) is Athena, the Greek Goddess. You get the drift ;-).

What’s up with those machines now? Ione, which currently my mom very sporadically uses, is probably going to be given away soon. Seven, which I’d been using until now as my secondary box is going to be offloaded to her, and Blaze, well, it still has a few years up its sleeve, especially with a stock new 7800GT 7900GT in its innards. My notebook is still the box I do most of my work on, although I’m slowly offloading a lot to my Mac.

Well, what did I name my Mac mini? Ayesha, She who must be obeyed. [2] 🙂