Writing for the Web or the Stupid? Published 2008-06-19 under

stupid? What is the rule for writing for the Web and is it making use dumber?

Are you stupid or do you just have an attention span of a flea? If you listen to the usability experts, then you are probably just scanning this article, looking for keywords that pop out of the text.

You might just look for


  • Links
  • Words that standout in a sentence.
  • And of course lists!

Last week, I found an interesting link thanks to Brian Lamb's del.icio.us bookmarkings. The link was to an article from "The Atlantic" by Nicholas Carr titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid". This sounded really interesting; I bookmarked it to use in my Week In Review posts. You see, I don't believe that the Web (or Google) is making us dumber. I still feel that we have the same or perhaps better capacity to delve deep into a subject.

It wasn't until later that I realized that I only scanned the article and didn't actually read it in depth.

While I may believe that I still have the ability to sit for long periods engulfed in a book, I know that my mind wonders. I am constantly thinking how what I just read relates to a project that I am working on. Or I read something that sparks an idea of a new project. This constant attempt to contextualize the information that I am reading is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does speak to either my impatiences or my restless nature.

I have since read Carr's article and agree with the general premise that attention spans are decreasing; folks just want the "facts" wrapped in a quick and easy to digest package. The Web both offers, enables, and even promotes this behavior.

What I found even more interesting was Carr's suggestion that Google (perhaps as representative of the God of the Internet) believes "that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized." In other words, Google is attempting to solve the problem of artificial intelligence using their vast number of smart people who work at the GooglePlex supplied with terabytes of click activity that they capture daily from our activity on the Web. His fear is that intelligence is being defined as vast amounts of information readily at hand and "ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed."

I personally, don't share Carr's fears. In the first place, the Web offers an unbound source for both the Cliff notes edition of information as well as access to the primary sources and deep discussions on the information. Actually, the Web embraces ambiguity through dissenting opinions. This post is an example. I also don't fear Google's quest of artificial intelligence. Actually, my concern is more that Google is confusing click activity with actual answers. Just because a site is popular does not mean that it is the best soruce for a particular piece of information. But my concern is tempered by the knowledge that the brains at the GooglePlex probably realize this and are motivated to excel at connecting us with the best source for the information that we seek. I am also aware that popularity not equating to the best is just as relevant in the printed world as it is on the Web.

So what does this mean for us who write for the web? Well, if I am writing copy for a page that will be scanned, I will keep in mind the differences between print and online content. But that does not mean that there are not places for the narrative or storytelling on the Web. Similarly, the Web offers a perfect platform for papers that promote deep thinking and expanded intelligence. But unlike other mediums, the Web also offers the platform for reflection, commentary and further discussion.

Tech Tags: