Quiet. Too quiet.

April 4, 2001

I sit pretty high on the web food chain. Every day out there, people scour the web for interesting things and topics of discussion, and then I read their web pages and find neat stuff to reference here. (Some might call this attitude lazy. So would I, come to think of it.)

For example, I came across this style guide for writing hypertext while reading through NUblog (an aside: How the hell do you capitalize that? NUblog? NUBlog? NuBlog? Nublog?). It's “old”—that is, it claims it was last modified back in the halcyon days of 1998—but the advice it gives is still relevant today: write about your subject, not about the mechanics of the web; avoid assumptions about how readers will encounter your document; make sure your links make sense in context and give an idea of where they lead. Perhaps all this is obvious to you, perhaps not. I see a lot of site where people write “click here for X”, which is wrong on two levels. First, it assumes that the reader is using a web browser on a graphical computer system. Second, it talks about the document, rather than the subject.

Occasionally, I’ll remind myself that I’ve set aside space where I can discuss ZedneWeb itself and the conscious elements of my personal style. Perhaps someday I'll get around to it, but I suppose anyone curious can simply browse around and get a feel for it. Links pose the biggest question in terms of web style, mostly because traditional style manuals were written for non-linkable media. There simply isn’t a long history of figuring out what does and does not work.

I try to follow two partially-contradictory guidelines when I link. First, sentences containing links should still make sense without the link. This prevents all that “click here” nonsense. Second, the link text itself should make some sense out of context. This is useful for browsers like iCab and Internet Explorer, which can create a list of all a document’s links for quick access. The first rule takes precedence, except when it makes things really awkward.

By happy coincidence, some later browsing brought me across two vaguely-related resources. First is the Guardian’s style guide, which they describe as “neither pedantic nor wild.” I’m not terribly familiar with British newspaper style, so I find some of the differences intriguing, like using mixed-case for acronyms that aren’t spelled-out when spoken aloud. Second is a guide for writing bulleted lists that compiles a lot of techniques and rules that should be common knowledge, but don’t appear to be.

I came across those two through a back issue of Mersault*Thinking that was mentioned in the March issue of JOHO, which (as usual) also references some other fun stuff, like Vivísimo, a service that provides real-time clustering of search engine results. That may sound like gibberish, but it’s actually pretty cool. What it does is take your search query, pass it to a bunch of search engines, take the results, and spontaneously create a categorization system for them, which it presents as a hierarchical list. It works amazingly well; at times it’s hard to believe no humans were involved in creating the categories. #

Also in that issue is a reference to an article about the 64,000 voters who were purged from the voting lists on the grounds that they were felons—even though most of them weren’t—and why the British media reported it first. Apparently, investigative reporting consists mostly of reading press releases and getting statements from the subjects of investigation. Actual research is expensive and may result in lawsuit from the subject. #

If that isn’t sufficiently annoying, consider the possibility of features in consumer electronics being silently revoked (hat tip: Hack The Planet). Replay TV, like Tivo, provides a digital TV recorder that stores TV signals on a hard disk, allowing you to record live TV and watch recorded material at the same time. This means you can pause a live broadcast and come back to it while it’s still airing, without missing anything. This used to operate as a freeze frame, like the pause on a VCR. One night, while Replay TV boxes downloaded the next day’s program listings, it also downloaded a software upgrade that changed the pause functionality to show commercial messages while playback is paused.

I’ve occasionally considered buying one of these boxes. Up until now, I had preferred Replay TV to Tivo, because it didn’t charge a monthly fee. Now I’m not sure I can trust either company. Would you buy a toaster if there was a chance it might suddenly lose the ability to toast bagels? #