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Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

Jakob Nielsen: written articles v. blog postings

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen betrays his 1997 post entitled ‘how people read the web‘ with his most recent article entitled ‘Write Articles, Not Blog Postings.’ That is, instead offering scannable content to a community of aggregators, the good Doctor suggests we ‘go long’ with our online rants and ramblings in the stylings of Spurgeon. I would suggest otherwise, tempering such advice as a bit myopic in light of some of the blogosphere’s biggest success stories.

First, let’s get one thing clear – you have more of a chance having your church, charity and/or lay ministry blog succeed if you DO follow Dr. Nielsen’s advice than if you don’t. That said, his most recent article would have perhaps been better entitled as “Researchers: write articles, not blog postings.”

Here’s what I mean:

I have no doubt in my mind that Jakob Nielsen knows his own market and demographics. Nor do I disagree with his basic assertion that we distinguish ourselves over the white noise of the Internet when he writes:

In contrast, in-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn’t add up to Shakespeare. They’ll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren’t integrated and that don’t give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic — even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

That said, there is something to be said about Shakespeare‘s oft-quoted assertion from Hamlet:

… brevity is the soul of wit …

How especially true this 1603 statement is in a day an age of aggregators and smart phones where ‘small media‘ includes ‘small blurbs’ that are short, sweet, punchy and to the point. For example, let’s consider these online success stories from a blogosphere of brevity:

  • Instapundit – dominates the blogosphere with one line wonders and witticisms
  • David Winer – two or three paragraphs a day, usually covering a wide variety of topics
  • Vincent Flanders – his pithy daily suckers feeds the sale of books, articles & lectures
  • Little Green Footballs – short’n'snarky, the way we like it

And for good measure, let’s do the same within the boundaries of the Christian blogosphere:

  • Mark Shea – sorta the Instapundit of the Christian blogsophere
  • Adrian Warnock – a stellar example of concisely compelling content
  • TallSkinnyKiwi – like Adrian, can says it all in a paragraph or three
  • PyroManiacs – a mob-blog with the ability to go Spurgeon, but is mercifully restrained

All of the above, from both lists, generally publish posts that are short, sweet and scannable. From time-to-time they go long, but for the most part they understand that many of us are communicating with a generation of gamers and/or TV watchers – both demographics that have shown a desire to consume content in sound-bites, snippets and other manifestations of ‘small media.’

Otherwise, why would podcasts and the iPhone have any value – and text rule the cell phone world? Otherwise, and please don’t miss this point, why would so many of the above use their blogs as small consumable advertising units funneling folks into larger articles and/or audio works?

Blog to support larger works:

Again, this is not to denigrate the work of Jakob Nielsen, but rather to cast it in a slightly different context as I fear a man so influential may send some of you without Dr.Nielsen’s marketing chops down the primrose path of creating big huge chunks of white noise.

Instead, all that may be needed to obtain your conversion goals are reasonably sized, well thought-out, well-written, concise, punchy and to the point posts that support your real-world and/or written works?

If nothing else, remember these word by the good Dr. Himself:

“People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences”

Okay, I’ve said enough. What do you think? Leave a comment, in love (only this time, keep it brief wouldja?-)

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