A couple of posts have got me thinking about linking. The first was a post at Lifehack (via the wordpress admin homepage) offering six tips to ‘improve your blog’. Number 5 was “Link, Link, Link”
When you talk about 43 Folders, give them a link. When you write about a hilarious video on New Year’s Resolutions, share the direct link. This has two effects: one is that it makes it more useful to your readers. Two, it shows Google that you’re alive and sharing information back and forth (which benefits you *and* the linkee). BONUS: it’s good karma, and people feel warm and fuzzy when they see you’ve linked to them.
Sensible advice for the busi-blogger.
The other was a Howard Owens response to a post by Gary Goldhammer which I mentioned in an earlier post.
Owens asks journalists to think about how much they are writing. For Owens the key is not that the web offers us the opportunity for depth, the key is that it removes the necessity to conform to space constraints.
…the true beauty of the web is that you are no longer constrained by the need to fill a certain number of inches or a certain number of minutes. You can stop telling us the story when the story is over. You cut the crap and cut the filler. Besides, on the web, where attention spans are short, shorter is better. Just tell us something interesting about people, but don’t try to make the story something it’s not.
Good advice. So what connects the two?
The depth of coverage can often go hand in hand with the amount of content. In-depth interviews often stretch over several pages in a magazine or newspaper; hours are put aside in broadcast to cover an issue in an in-depth documentary.
We know by experience that, online, a comparable amount of information would be a daunting task for our audience. Even if you use multiple-media to tell the story, design great pages and use all the layout tricks at our disposal we will still be left with lots of text on screen; a no-no for user experience. Perhaps that why online has a (unfair) reputation for being short and shallow.
If we interpret depth as the amount of content constrained by the page – the whole meaning of the story must be contained in one narrative artefact – then too much can be a bad thing in the online medium. But the beauty of the lack of constraint isn’t just that we can choose to be verbose if we want to. The real beauty is that we aren’t just stuck with one page.
The defining feature of the web is linkage. Linking related documents together was one of the reasons Tim Berners Lee came up with the web in the first place. But if you look at content online it’s easy to think that we have forgotten this.
Stories don’t have to be long. They don’t have to have paragraphs of context in them because we can link to that context. We can connect the user to content off the page, giving them the choice to direct the story. When we put the story together we need to understand that it doesn’t exist in isolation – both editorially and in the context that the user came to it.
Don’t get stuck in the mindset that the web can’t do depth. The secret is to link, link, link.