Sit up! You’re on the Web!

It’s either independent discovery or suppressed memory. Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox column explains something I’ve been saying for years: that people sit up to use a website, and that changes their behaviour.

Unfortunately he’s been saying it for years too, so maybe I got it from him and then forgot.

Anyway, in Writing Style for Print vs Web he says:

I’ve spent many columns explicating the differences between the Web and television, which can be summarized as lean-forward vs. lean-back:

  • On the Web, users are engaged and want to go places and get things done. The Web is an active medium.
  • While watching TV, viewers want to be entertained. They are in relaxation mode and vegging out; they don’t want to make choices. TV is a passive medium.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have entertaining websites or informative TV shows. But it does mean that the two media’s contrasting styles require different approaches to entertainment and education.

The differences between print and the Web may not seem as strong, but to achieve optimal results, each requires a distinct content style.

The very useful article then gives examples and good advice before spruiking his $1000+ per day seminars.

Nielsen is a smart man — though he isn’t always right on everything, as some of his fans believe. Still, if you’re considering the audience’s needs (and shouldn’t you always be doing that?) he’s spot on.

Of course I’m a complete hypocrite, because some of my posts have 1000 words of straight text. Rules were made to be broken.


I’m particularly flattered by the people who’ve been concerned about the dearth of original writing here lately. “Are you ok?” asked one. “Just asking ‘cos you’ve not written any new stuff to entertain me recently (you’ve got a public out here y’know).”

Yeah, I’m OK. It’s just tough finding the balance between doing my geek-for-hire thing (which is what pays the bills) and creating original media (which doesn’t pay nearly as well, unless you’re Stephen King or someone).

In the first half of 2008 I’ve certainly done more writing, but my cashflows reflect that cost. Resolving this dilemma is my great challenge for the next three weeks.

Sometimes I want to be a writer…

I enjoy writing (and talking about the things I write about) far more than I enjoy farting about with technology. For me the technology is a means to an end, not the end itself. But do I really want to be a writer full time?

Sometimes I do. Especially on days when things haven’t gone so well with clients. Then on other days I read stuff like Hugh MacLeod’s piece the quiet life of a writer yak yak yak. Explaining how he loved Hemingway and Graeme Greene, he says that even though their books were very different their daily routines were pretty much the same.

Basically, they’d live somewhere cheap, quiet and relatively conducive to getting a lot of writing done. The Florida Keys and Cuba in Hemingway’s case, the South of France in Greene’s.

They’d get up early each morning, then write diligently till noon.

Then they’d head for their local café, drink gallons of booze for hours on end, and stagger home late at night.

Then they’d do the same thing the next day. And the next. And the next. For years on end. Women came and went, friends came and went, children came and went, money and fame came and went, but the daily writing-booze combo remained the great constant.

I’m not sure I like the idea of staggering home drunk every night, but as somebody who likes to write, likes his beer, and likes the simple life, I can’t say I find their overall Modus Operandi unappealing.

On a sunny Friday morning in Sydney, in the city’s most beautiful time of year, I think I agree.

And now, back to reading a company’s office manual so we can build them a CRM system…

Novel-writing by snowflake?

Photograph of Randy

I’ve been talking about writing a novel for ages — not here, but certain friends are probably sick of hearing about it. So I was looking for ways of streamlining the writing process when I found Writing a Novel Using The Snowflake Method.

The website’s pretty cheesy, and I’ve got no idea whether the method works or not. But you’ve gotta love Randy’s moustache. It’s like the 70s never ended…

Now all I have to do is figure out what the novel is about and, you know… write it.

Say what you mean!

Most businesses are incapable of communicating clearly. They’re almost paranoid in the way they avoid short, direct statements.

Compare these two “positioning statements” from British companies, both in the business of writing.

Metia is a global provider of integrated marketing services and technology-based marketing solutions. We deliver services, programs and solutions that are relevant, smart and repeatable — and that generate measurable value for our customers.


Our passion is communication. We help businesses talk about technology.

The second is from Articulate Marketing. Who would you pick to work on your communication?

I discovered this thanks to Matthew Stibbe, proprietor of Articulate Marketing. His blog Bad Language (“writing about business, technology and marketing”) is extremely readable.