Unremarkable Content

March 14, 2012

Earlier this week I read an article by Mandy Brown on long-form content for the web. Her piece has stuck with me for days now, and is sure to linger on in my head for several more. It’s important, go read it.

What she wrote inspired me to make some slight design variations to my website, placing greater emphasis on the content itself. Not much has changed; I’ve removed the sidebar that you see on my other pages and added a white background to frame the content on individual entries. I hope that these changes will make things easier to read while offering a subtle way to bring the text into focus. I also took away the ability for readers to comment – not because I don’t want to hear their thoughts, but because it became obtrusive to the design. Anyway, she didn’t just inspire me to alter some design elements of my website, she got me thinking differently about the presentation of content on the web.

So, who is Mandy Brown? Well, I didn’t know until recently. She was mentioned (with high praise by Ethan Marcotte, founding father of responsive web design) at An Event Apart, a web design/development conference I recently attended here in Atlanta. You can visit her site to learn more, but she is a writer, designer, publisher, and expert in the fields of web design and typography. She serves as the communication director for Typekit and has also been an editor and contributor for A List Apart (among other things). A List Apart is a web magazine that has become a cornerstone for the web design industry, pioneered by Jeffrey Zeldman and Brian M. Platz in 1997. I was still in high school. By the way, I don’t personally know any of the people I’ve mentioned here, but they are people certainly worth mentioning. I’m digressing…

In Unreadable?, she challenges an idea presented by Joe Clark, in his article called… Unreadable… that the web is forever changing how we read, that we are becoming unable to read long, and that reading will never be the same. Mandy Brown’s argument is that it is how the reading is designed that keeps the reader’s attention. There are good points on both sides and the theme of such an argument is an interesting one. It is a subject that I think anyone creating content for the web should pay close attention to. This stuff isn’t just for writers and web designers.

I’m a web developer, not an aspiring writer. I’m not “blogging for dollars”. What I log here is more of a hobby than anything. It wasn’t always this way though. My first step into creating content for the web was strictly for the purpose of marketing and driving revenue. And I definitely had some success with that website, which then carried over to this one. But at some point I became so stuck on this idea of marketing, driving traffic, getting found, and getting shared and liked, that while I was racing to try and become the most popular person on the Internet, my content, and the way I was presenting it, had become unremarkable. The next thing I know, more than a year had past before sitting back down at my keyboard. Don’t worry, I’m not having an Uncle Rico moment here. I’m sharing the experience I had creating content for Joe Clark’s Unreadable world. And while I realize that the experience I’m describing may deviate from the core of the discussion, I think it’s an appropriate real-world example.

While there are thousands of new blogs springing up everyday, there are thousands more that are being abandoned, neglected, or misused (I write that like I’m asking you to donate $.05 a day…). If you’re the owner of one of these blogs, I hope you’ll ponder the ideas discussed here. Shifting your attention away from SEO and social plugins, and putting greater emphasis on the design of your content, could possibly change the trajectory of your whole mission.



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