Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Wearable Computers & The Humachine


Are you hip to "Wearables"? Wearable Computing Systems? Computers that become part of your wardrobe, your body, your lifestyle, your total reality? Well, get hip, because here they come.

This from the MIT-Ideo wearable computing collaboration project (

" based interface enabling me to integrate ambient sound, music, telephony, and system information....My parents were worried about me not having a social life because of how much time I used to spend in front of computers. Somehow they feel a lot better about wearables. Now, my computer is always with me. I use my wearables all the time, everywhere." -- Kio

"...we're not replacing reality; we're enhancing it." -- Kio

[VASPERS: Yeah, right Kio. Who are you trying to kid?]

And this from a page higher up in the web site structure, an ideology for wearable computers (

"A person's computer should be worn, much as eyeglasses or clothing are worn, and interact with the user based on the context of the situation. With heads-up displays, unobtrusive input devices, personal wireless local area networks, and a host of other context sensing and communication tools, the wearable computer can act as an intelligent assistant, whether it be through a Remembrance Agent, augmented reality, or intellectual collectives."

[VASPERS: Catch that? "...should be worn..." They're making it an inevitability. They're saying: "Don't sit in front of that darned computer 18 hours a day like VTG, strap it on and go play outside. Wear your computer to bed. Let it do your dreaming for you." Soon you will be able to RECORD and PLAYBACK your DREAMS. I've been dreaming of this dream machine for many years now. Will it be a blessing or a curse? Will you say, "I dreamed that? That's disgusting. What on earth is wrong with me?" And there will be professional dream analysts, who will watch the video or DVD or whatever of your dream, and interpret and explain it to you...for a hefty fee.]



VASPERS: We are evolving into, not a higher form of human, but a hybrid form of mutant that is half-human, half-machine.

The computer will replace consciousness. By spending inordinate amounts of time at a computer, the human consciousness is disappearing, flowing into and becoming one with the Universal Electronic Internet Mind.

The line between human and computer is blurring. Even the line between life and machine is dissolving. Life is merely the consumption of energy, growth, and reproduction, as defined by science. Computers do all three.

Who's to say that computing devices are not alive? The human consciousness is nothing more than chemical and electric charges, manifested in images and sentences...remind you of anything? Like...a computer?

And how about those nano-machines, sub-microscopic devices that can be injected into your bloodstream? Soon we'll be full of little machines inside, and clad in little machines outside.

Farewell to the Solely Human.

Farewell to the Pure Machine.

Greetings to the Hybrid Humachine.

John Maeda & Round Web Sites

Are you ready to toss the square and grab the circle?

Can you imagine the circular web ?

A month or so ago, I went to John Maeda's web site ( and saw a round image. I clicked on it and it said something about...

"if computer screens were round, what would web sites look like?"

This has haunted me ever since. I just sent an email to the studio to ask how to access this image again. See, the web site has changed, and now I can't find it.

But...I want to design a round web site.

I'm mildly obsessed with this surreal notion.

I'm always thinking about what that would look like: a round web site.

Imagine an oscilloscope screen with a web site formatted to fit it.

Or an oval, plate-like object containing web sites.

A round web site. Round, I say.

The reason I make this comment is: I see Bandwagon Gloom settling in on the Web. A new design idea is used, then huge numbers of designers rally behind it and start imitating it.

Most recent trend is tiny logos, tiny fonts, minimalistic to an extreme, even more minimalistic than this blog site, tiny graphics that are nearly unnoticeable. I want to steal my Magnifier from my graphics studio program and import it to my browser I can read these nifty, tiny, new web sites that are all the rage. Squint squint.

So I say, let's shake everything up and design "outside the box" and "inside the circle." We can talk in circles, use circular logic, so why not design in circles?

We are so conditioned to square web sites. Even though computer screens are not round, why not act like they are, and design a round web site, just to see how you'd have to configure it?

We'll need round computer screens, even if installed in boxy monitors, to accommodate the round web sites. I don't like thinking of round web sites on square computer screens, but almost anything is better than the old "square web regimentation" going on nowadays.

(While you're pondering this bizarre concept, have fun at John Maeda's web games available at his site. Here's a web game for you, called Vertigo on the home page, but titled Rapid Roulette.

You can also download desktop images, like multi-colored jello, at his web site.)

Now I've discovered a web site ( at which this topic of the round computer screen is being discussed.

What is the Halfbakery ? Ever heard of half-baked ideas? Ever have any? Maybe you can bake half the idea, and someone else can help by baking the other half. Or is it that the entire idea is half-baked and half-raw? Anyway, this is a quote from how they describe the web site:

"The Halfbakery is a communal database of original, fictitious inventions, edited by its users, maintained by a dictatorial cabal of volunteers. It was created by people who like to speculate, both as a form of satire and as a form of creative expression."


I'll quote just a few of the Halfbakery comments about the Round Computer Screen/Web Site here:

"Even when the old CRT's were round, the pictures produced for them were rectangular. There's plenty of historical precedent for rectangular images. Prosceniums of stages are rectangular. Writing paper is usually rectangular. Doors and windows are most commonly rectangular. Most art is rectangular. Display screens have to deal with all this and more, hence they are rectangular."

krelnik, Dec 11 2003

"Round isn't very efficient at displaying the types of things we like to see on computer screens. Windows, for instance. What shape would you make windows in? If square, you'll be able to fit less in a round screen of a given area. Make them some other shape and you won't be able to display text or images very efficiently."

Worldgineer, Dec 11 2003

"But faces are round."

kropotkin, Dec 11 2003

"...when it comes to IE, by which I presume you mean your browser window, I have coded circular and other non-standard window shapes since the dawn of GUIs. You can do it for a browser window, with some jiggery-pokery, but you'll lose the menu bar in the process."

DrCurry, Dec 11 2003

"Other cute effects of a round screen:

- The taskbar could be a circle around the perimeter, and you would rotate the screen to make the upside-down parts of it visible;

- Minimizing a window would turn it into a little round circle; these minimized circles would clump together like bubbles in the middle of the screen;

- Porthole screen savers, as well as radar screen savers, would become much more popular;

- The mouse might be replaced with something that works on *polar* coordinates; for example, you move the mouse to change the angle and slide the scroll button to change the radius."

phundug, Dec 11 2003

"If this were a setting in the operating system, it could compress the visual area into a circular shape, even as a "dome" or "bowl", on your standard CRT or LCD display. Using the mouse, move a viewer tool on the round screen, to "un-distort" sections of the screen.
Maybe it's not a useful feature, but I'm here to help make the ideas work, not to ask why."

Amos Kito, Dec 11 2003


BACK TO VASPERS: I added a comment and a link at the halfbakery site.

It's worth checking out. There is also a discussion at halfbakery on
spherical monitors rather than boxes.

You've heard the expression, "think outside the box." Does this not also apply to computer monitors, those boring boxes?

Why not have spherical computers suspended in mid-air in the middle of your office, viewable from all angles, with the interface being your thoughts, an electro-telepathic modem?

Excuses ring hollow in my ears: "This has never been done before" and "Paintings and books and doors are rectangular, not circular" and "Everything would have to be reformatted, reprogrammed, revised" and "Why would you even want a circular computer screen?"

On the halfbakery site, there is a comment about minimizing a screen, on a spherical monitor, into little spheres that would accumulate like bubbles.

Vaspers likes all these surreal ideas. Even pointless revolutions are more fun than stodgy old status quo "don't rock the boat" traditions.

What the world needs Circular Computer Screens...and Round Web Sites! Amen.

Your humble host is pondering so much, his tiny little head, what's left of it, hurts. It's

God's Web Site: Part 1

This document proposes to study "God's Web Site" from a usability analyst's point of view.

Once the identity and location of God's Web Site has been established, we will examine its compliance with consensus principles governing web content and design. These principles will be used to evaluate the site's usability characteristics, with special focus on its functionality, credibility, usability, memorability, and error recovery aspects.

Functionality: what the site is theoretically, according to its programmers and designers, supposed to do, or enable the user to do.

Usability: how easy it is for the user to understand the site, navigate within the site, and complete tasks by way of interacting with the site's mechanisms.

As we use the term web site, we will understand it to mean a system of nodes of compiled internal data and converging external data, that contains multiple two-way links, and functionalities enabling users to interact with the system and perform tasks. (Definition of web site based in part on web glossary entries by Tim Berners-Lee at

In more simple terms, a web site is a place where you can obtain information, respond to the information (post a comment), and do things based on that information (contact the site owner, order a product, listen to an audio file, play a game, create your own blog site,or download a form).

This study will attempt to draw productive analogies between the cyber realm and the spiritual realm. Those with more expertise in either realm, I beg to patiently endure any imprecisions they may discover in this analysis, and consider the study on its merits as a pioneering work.

That object by which information and services from God are accessed by human beings is what we mean by "God's Web Site." The Cosmonet, or interconnected cosmic network, in which God's web site is located, is the universe in its totality.

God's Web Site, situated in the Cosmonet (much as the World Wide Web is floating on the Internet), is His Logos, His Divine Expression of Himself, otherwise known as His Word.

This Word, though it has existed as spoken statements by prophets, and as written documents compiled by inspired scribes, is most perfectly and completely embodied in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Word was with God, the Word was God, and the Word became flesh (human) and dwelt among us (see the Gospel of John, chapter 1).

However, we must always consider God's Web Site to be dual in nature: the divine and human person of Jesus Christ AND the paper and ink book called the Bible.

Our interface with God's Web Site is our mind (soul, spirit). More specifically, our mind in the mode of prayer and contemplation. We prayerfully contact the living Word (Jesus) and contemplatively study the written Word (Bible).

Let us now proceed to closely examine God's web site, and determine some of its usability characteristics.

1. FUNCTIONALITY: The proclaimed purpose of God's web site is to reveal God's nature and will, and to provide vital services, to all of humanity, to whomsoever will come. By systematically testing each functionality, we arrive at the conclusion that they are intact, operable, and reliable.

2. CREDIBILITY: God's Web Site is trustworthy, up-to-date, and supported by His own divine authority. Fulfillment of prophecy, archaeological discoveries and scientific substantiations, punishments to nations that rebel against Him, and the very existence of the Cosmonet (universe) itself testify to the credibility of God's Web Site. Users experience the integrity of the information by observing how promises, as well as consequences of non-compliance, are fulfilled in their personal lives.

3. USABILITY: God's Web Site is extremely easy to use. Jesus is ever present through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible. When reverent users study the text of the written Word, they sense the nearness of God. When they ask for things in prayer made in Jesus' name, and believe they will receive, they do indeed obtain. The need for outside influences, guides, or teachers is obviated by the Holy Spirit, who is proclaimed the Comforter, Advocate, and Teacher of spiritual things.

4. MEMORABILITY: The story of Jesus is one of the most remarkable tales ever told. How can anyone who has heard it forget the Man who was born of a virgin, healed bodies and minds, rebuked hypocrisy, taught beautiful lessons, died for all humanity on a cross...then arose from the dead and ascended back to heaven? On the other hand, who can blot completely out of recollection the parables, beatitudes, new commandment to love, and other utterances? Even the so-called hard sayings are unforgetable, by virtue of their oddness (plucking out the offending eye, camel going through the eye of a needle, removing the plank in your own eye so you can better see to pick out the speck in your neighbor's eye). God's Web Site, from Genesis to Revelation, embodied humanly in Christ, is indeed memorable.

5. ERROR RECOVERY: Any mistake made at God's web site is easily corrected by direct instruction from the Holy Spirit, reproof from other believers, or further application of prayer or study. Divine intervention can assist in re-establishing a user's intentions and efforts. Forgiveness is offered freely, which eliminates user remorse.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Web Credibility Destroyers

How will your customers react to your web site?

Have you ever Googled a word or phrase, then clicked on a link to a web site, and were repulsed by the weirdness or clumsy design of the site? Has a web site ever annoyed or disappointed you? I’m sure we’ve all experienced such things.

No matter how nice, professional, and ethical you are, if your web site looks bad, prospects and customers will form a lower opinion of you. People are increasingly turning to a company’s web site to find out what products and services are available, the price ranges and specifications, staff bios, location, and contact information. So, in many cases, all they will ever know of your company is what they see on your web site.

You really have only one opportunity to make the right impression. If your site has even a few mistakes in it, or broken functionalities, many visitors may never return. Some may even spread negative word of mouth about you.

Here are some of the devouring ghouls lurking in web sites that can ruin the overall impression of trustworthiness and dependability.

Pounce upon and eliminate these pesky monstrosities before they ruin your web site.

1. Amateuritis. Unprofessional design, poorly written content, tiny fonts, confusing organization of content, light colored text on slightly darker background, too many items on the home page that are fighting for attention and should be links to separate pages. Having site registration and login links, with no statement of the benefits of registration.

2. Advertisement Overload. Over-commercialized clutter that prevents visitors from finding relevant information. Ads flashing and bouncing all over the place. Trying too hard to “monetize” a site by burdening it with a bewildering array of distracting ads. Making customers feel like you’re only interested in selling, rather than solving problems and meeting needs. Questionable promotions: “You’re the five millionth site visitor. Claim [by jumping through a million hoops] your huge prize now!” or “Get a $50 gift card by completing our [48 page] survey!”

3. Boundary Blurring. Unclear differentiation between advertisements, opinions, and factual information. Giving voice to paid opinions, in the guise of objective reports. Not revealing that a company provided compensation for a glowing reviews of their products. Not substantiating claims with links to relevant and reputable sites.

4. Bold Balderdasheries. Overly aggressive sales hype. Outrageous claims. Immodest assertions. Exaggerated promises. Lots of exclamation points and bold text, rather than sedate, dignified, moderately stated facts. Using old-fashioned mail order and print media tactics that are ill suited to the more informed and product-comparing, web-savvy customer.

5. Premature Contact Burial. No “Contact” page, or it’s hidden somewhere on the site, and difficult to find. Site seems like a one-way, non-interactive broadcast platform. No land phone, no email address, no contact form, no physical address, no discussion forum, no comments enabled: no way to communicate with the company. Makes the site seem kind of “dead” or arrogantly aloof.

6. Anonymous Creator Syndrome. Similar to lack of contact information, but here we have no identity that can be verified. No “About Us” page. No individual’s name, just an unfamiliar company name or logo. Or perhaps a site title that seems relevant, but the site looks like it was constructed from RSS feeds, it’s full of Google ads, and there’s no evidence of any personal, human author behind it. Some legitimate sites obscure who they are, with just a tiny link to organizational information at the very bottom of the page. The company seems impenetrable, a closed alien entity floating in the murky fringes of cyberspace.

7. Discongruent Design. Colors, layout, images, and other visual elements that seem bizarrely inappropriate. A look that is contrary to the actual nature of your business. Like wild colors, childish-looking type fonts, or edgey graphics for a conservative company. Or a boring and bland web site for an artist, online gallery, or art supplies company.

8. Slop Bucketing. Typos, incorrect spellings, grammatical errors, poor text formatting, pseudo-redundant links (links that seem to point to the same information or locations, but actually don’t, e.g. tutorials are in “Resources” and not “Training”). You feel like the web site was thrown together in odd patches and clumps with totally different goals and aesthetic considerations.

9. Isolation Islanding. No credentials, no staff biographies, no bibliographies, no source references, no links to reputable sites. You feel like the site is disconnected, a cul-de-sac, myopically unwilling to acknowledge other sites of relevance. We expect an authoritative site to link to other authoritative sites, thereby showing a wide expertise, association with colleagues, and a sense of web-based community.

10. Imaginary Authority Syndrome. Vague references to unspecified, authorless “research,” “studies,” or “reports.”

11. Ghost Town Trauma. References to dated information, or even “last updated July 2002″ wording that strongly suggests the site was abandoned years ago and is now an “orphan.” While the information may still be valid and relevant, you feel like the company is a fly-by-night entity that no longer exists.

12. Conclusive Rampaging. Text rushes hurriedly, headlong into insupportable iron-clad assertions, instead of carefully and patiently leading from one fact to another.

13. Misguided Misnomerisms. Calling something by the wrong name, using incorrectly or incompletely defined terms, revealing a lack of understanding, while posing as an expert. Like saying “blogs are just digital diaries”. Or referring to tags as “labels”.

14. Linkrot Lollygagging. Hyper-text outbound links lead to unavailable pages or pages with changed URLs. It’s important to check your links and make sure they still work. Even though it’s not your fault if the pages you link to change or vanish, your customers may think you typed the URLs in wrong.

More information and research on how people respond to web design, and enhancing web credibility:

Consumer Reports WebWatch

The Unsponsored Link

College at Home "Evaluating Online Information"

Altruistic vs. Narcissistic Web Sites

Heated debates are now raging in the web design blog* realm.

[* blog = “web log,” i.e., digital diary, internet notebook, online journal, in which an individual or organization presents opinions, feelings, beliefs, ideas, news clips, quotes, and other items of interest. Most blogs enable users to interact by way of searchable comment archives, email contact, and a “post comment” response functionality for each blog entry.]

Anti-usability Designers

In their personal blog sites, some designers express impatience with user considerations. Usability guidelines are scoffed at as subjective or even “random.” Rules are, to them, just dogmatic opinions that are severely limited in application. They desire the liberty to design web sites with restriction-free “beauty,” or sites that other designers will praise as fresh and innovative.

They tend to add mouse-overs and drop down menus where the norm is to link to lists with explanations. Or they'll have a Search entry box with no “search” or “go” button, requiring users to hit “enter” on their keyboards. Doing the unexpected is a prized value. If users have to learn new skills and terminology, just to deal with the novelty at their site, so be it.

Pro-usability Designers

Other designers argue in favor of web sites that provide optimum user experience. For them, visual aesthetics is a subordinate concern. These designers have observed users struggling at web sites, trying to perform tasks and find information. Thus, sacrificing a clever design idea or unusual color scheme, to ensure the higher ideal of ease of use, is acceptable to them. To violate user expectations and familiar modes of operation is taboo. They realize that users are conditioned to web norms established at such high traffic sites as Google, MSN, and

Most web designers probably fit in somewhere between the two extremes. But some outspoken designers are vigorously proclaiming a markedly anti-usability aesthetic. Usability “gurus” are reviled as tyrannical invaders of their privileged realm, wielding “weapons of mass artistic destruction” (i.e., usability guidelines).

Having waded into the rough currents and rowdy tempests of this debate, one thing gradually became clear: one can categorize web sites, based on the underlying attitude of the designer, as being either altruistic or narcissistic.

Altruistic Web Sites

Definition. Altruistic (from Latin “alter” meaning “another”): putting the needs of others first. Strong desire to help rather than hinder. Seeking to be of value to those in need. Friendly benevolence. Following the Golden Rule. Not seeking personal benefits in a way that causes others to suffer. The opposite of selfish, vain, and egotistic.

Altruistic design accommodates user preferences, established web norms, the conventions that users expect. This is done, not to be “slaves to users,” but to shorten the learning curve for web site visitors. Few users have the time and patience to develop a whole new skills set to accommodate an “off-the-beaten-path” web site.

Altruistic designers believe it's poor strategy to risk alienating or confusing users, just for the sake of being different. Or to impress fellow designers with controversial violations of best practices.

Users enjoy altruistic web sites. They perceive these sites as familiar, helpful, and service-oriented. Altruistic web sites are easy to understand, the information is relevant, and users can quickly perform a variety of tasks. They tend to visit altruistic web sites more often, bookmark them, and recommend them to others.

Characteristics of an Altruistic Web Site:

1. “You” oriented copy, focused on benefits to users.

2. Standard link nomenclature, e.g., “Home,” “About,” “Contact Us,” “News,” “Articles,” “Archives,” “Privacy Policy.”

3. Text is written in user language, rather than corporate speak.

4. Informs user when task has been successfully completed.

5. Provides link back to Home Page from every page and form.

6. Upfront, easy to find Contact Information, rather than hiding from the public, afraid to hear any criticism.

7. Depth gauge (Home > Products > Engines > Mining Truck Engines) to let users know their current location, and how they can backtrack to higher levels of the site structure.

8. Search Site entry box provided for complex, information-rich sites, so users can quickly access items without having to remember or guess where they're located.

9. “About Us” page provides enough facts about named individuals to establish the credibility of the web site and its contents.

10. Registration instructions provide users with specific requirements, such as mandatory fields, characters and symbols allowed for a password, how many it should contain, and how to make one that's hard to crack (“avoid maiden name,” etc.).

11. Site functionalities, forms, and links actually work—having been tested prior to releasing the web site to the public.

12. “Printer Friendly Version” is provided, so users can print a page stripped of ads, navigation tools, and other non-essentials.

Narcissistic Web Sites

Definition. Narcissistic (from Greek “narke” meaning “to be numb”): being insensitive to the needs of others. Viewing ones self as the primary object of pleasure. Considering all criticism and advice as attempts to destroy personal happiness. Craving adoration from others. Displaying contempt toward any suggestions for improvement. Seeking personal benefits without regard for the feelings or well being of others. Conceited and arrogant.

Narcissistic design imposes unusual restrictions and requirements on users. Users confront a radically unfamiliar, challenging, or indifferent environment. Independence from experts is brazenly asserted, to allow the designer to “do anything I want to do, because it's my creation.” An immature, unprofessional attitude.

Narcissistic focus is on the designer, as reflected in the web site, which acts as a vanity mirror. The designer's need for self-expression, freedom from constraints, and praise from fellow designers, is the primary concern. Users are expected to gaze in awe at the “brilliance” of the narcissistic design.

Users flee narcissistic web sites in frustration, and sometimes anger. They can't understand why anyone would even bother to put up a web site that fails to consider potential problems users might encounter. Once repulsed, users seldom return to narcissistic sites.

Characteristics of a Narcissistic Web Site:

1. “We” (corporate sites) or “I” (individual sites) oriented text, with product descriptions from the organization's point of view.

2. Non-standard, idiosyncratic link nomenclature. For example, “Home” is called “Main Page,” “About Us” is called “Resume,” and “Contact Us” is called “Rattle Our Cage.” Many users will be confused, or annoyed, at such deviations from web norms.

3. Links are not immediately obvious that they're links, not underlined, and don't change color to show they've been selected.

4. Tiny fonts that require squinting and extra-precise mouse clicking skills. “Large font size” options usually enlarge only body text, not the navigation or heading text.

5. Self-indulgent color choices that possibly look nice to the designer, but cause readability and usability problems. Very common: light color type against a background of the same, slightly darker color.

When you encounter a narcissistic web site, remember: there's nothing wrong with you. It's the design that's dysfunctional and impolite. Then again, it could be that the content is so bad, it deserves the design in which it's confined.

It's possible to produce web sites that are gratifying to designers and satisfying for users. Innovative, award-winning web design doesn't necessitate ditching guidelines based on user observation studies, common sense, or altruistic artistic ideas.

Converting "Print Read" to "Web Scan" Text

Surfing web sites is very different from reading a magazine, book, or letters.

The first law of web dynamics states that users are racing through sites.

Users very rarely visit a web site in a leisurely, casual, slowpoking, linear navigating manner. Web visitors are typically in a time crunch, they have other, better things to do than play guessing games with a web site, trying to figure out what's relevant and what's not.

Users are aggressively seeking relevant information, entertainment, or functions that enable them to accomplish a goal. Text that is designed or formatted specifically for web sites is called "web scan text".

Web sites can enhance usability, increase traffic, by conforming to the best practices guideline of converting print read text to web scan text.

Print Read text means text that is written, formatted, and designed for reading in print medium vehicles, such as brochures, books, letters, magazine articles, print ads, etc.

Web Scan text means text that is written, formatted, and designed for scanning on web sites as they appear on computer monitor screens.

PRINCIPLE #1: Text in web sites is difficult to read due to peculiar properties of pixels and computer monitors, as differentiated from the traditional ink on paper of print vehicles.

People are also used to holding print vehicles at various angles and having the ability to vary their positions (sit, slouch, lean, lie down) while reading lengthy material, while computer monitor screens are generally at a fixed position and necessitate users to assume a fixed posture. This inflexible posture can result in neck aches.

PRINCIPLE #2: People exhibit impatience when surfing the Web or researching web sites.

Focused attention to text is sporadic and of short duration. Text is usually not read in a leisurely, scholarly manner. People tend to zoom through both images and words, to find what is of importance to their immediate concerns. They'll slow down for a while. But once their needs are met or their interest subsides, off they go again. Clicking away.

Users expect to connect to the Internet quickly, arrive at web sites quickly, have web sites download quickly, have links connect quickly, have everything happen quickly and, if possible, effortlessly. Delays and extra effort are greeted with annoyance and even downright irritability, especially when a user has been online for a long period of time in a single session. We must strive to accommodate these human behavior and attitude factors.

PRINCIPLE #3: Print Read text must be converted to Web Scan text for use in a web site. If your web site text could easily transfer to a print vehicle, or was directly imported from print documents, it's not in the correct style or format for web content.

Users do not visit web sites to engage in long-term reading, even when the topics are of interest. In most cases, users skim rapidly through web text to gather pertinent facts, and print out lengthy material to read in print format later.

Jakob Nielsen's webwriting study verifies this.

See also the book, Designing Usable Electronic Text by Andrew Dillon, Taylor & Francis Publisher, 1994.


It's not difficult to convert Print Read text to Web Scan text, though it requires some concentrated, strategic thinking about words, phrases, and idea presentation. Try to follow these guidelines:

#1. Eliminate unnecessary articles (the, a, an), prepositions (by way of, in terms of, at, through, regarding, in, for) and other words that contain little information or slow down reading.

#2. Write the information any way you want. Then pretend you have to pay $100 out of your own pocket for each word you use. Start cutting out every word you possibly can, while retaining the full meaning. Say it “fast,” as though you had ten minutes to live. No lengthy, preparatory introductions. Cut to the chase.

#3. Instead of listing three or more items in long sentence strings, separated by commas, list them as bullets (when order is not crucial) or numbered items (when sequential order, or recall of items, is critical). Bullets are generally asterisks or round dots.

#4. Use symmetry in bulleted or numbered lists. When possible, begin each item with an beneficial action word, or a command.


* Fixes your...
* Polishes the...
* Preserves all...
* Beautifies like...
* Saves time by...


1. Write the...
2. Show others your...
3. Ponder comments from...
4. Revise according to...
5. Double check all...

#5. Make the listed items fit grammatically and stylistically with the sentence fragment leading to the list. Take the sentence string and convert it to list form.


When writing web scan text:

* write conclusion first
* incorporate user language, not insider terms
* keep it short
* use reserved, objective descriptions
* avoid high-powered sales hype
* employ bulleted or numbered lists.

[Notice, I didn't say “conclusion comes first,” “user language is best,” “experts suggest short sentences and paragraphs,” or “lists should use bullets or numbers.” Sentences begin with command word. Lead fragment and list items are consistent in style.]

#6. Use bold or italics to emphasize key words and phrases. Never use underlining, since this embellishment is strictly reserved, by web convention, for hypertext links. Be careful with bold words and colored type, since this may be interpreted as a link.

#7. Use copy chunking to break material into linkable segments, then use hypertext links to enable users to pursue topics more deeply. Links can be outbound or to internal site pages.

#8. Use heads and subheads to segment information into manageable chunks and give users a quick sense of idea flow and segment content. Extract the essence of each info segment.

#9. Keep sentences and paragraphs as short as possible. One idea per paragraph. For some reason, people will read short sentences and paragraphs nearly forever, as long as it's interesting. But they tire and bail out of long, dense blocks of text in a few minutes, no matter how interesting it is.

#10. Keep web pages short. Users generally don't like to scroll. Inexperienced users may not even know something could be “below the fold,” thus will not scroll, so all that information will not be viewed by them, will remain invisible.

Present information in the “inverted pyramid” style of newspaper articles: conclusion/call to action first, proof and background details next, supplementary material last.

#12. Explain what, though you understand it, may not be obvious to users. Anticipate their questions, objections, and concerns.

#13. Don't slavishly follow these or any other guidelines. Apply what makes sense for your specific web site. Vary the text styles. Perhaps even add some short Print Read text here and there.


Now let's apply some of this Conversion Process to a real life situation, an actual, existing web site

From the web site, we find the following text in the Programs > Camping > Winter Camping > First Aid Building section (the actual URL is too long and complicated to render here, which is another problem we need to fix):


First Aid Building

The First Aid Building is equipped to sleep 14 individuals and has separate rooms available for adult male and adult female leaders. The building is equipped with a propane heater, electric stove, refrigerator, tables, chairs, and mattresses for sleeping. There are portable toilets and picnic tables outside the building for troop use. During the winter months, water must be carried in by the participants.

COST: $85 per weekend for W. D. Boyce Council units; $100 per weekend for Out-of-Council units.


First Aid Building

*sleeps 14
*separate adult male leaders rooms
*separate adult female leaders rooms
*propane heater
*electric stove
*full-size refrigerator
*3 tables, each with 4 chairs
*mattressed beds
*portable outside toilets
*3 picnic tables

NOVEMBER to MARCH (only)--you must carry your own water supplies into building from our campground reservoir. (Water pipes are turned off to prevent freezing.)

W. D. Boyce Council units: $85 per weekend

Out-of-Council units: $100 per weekend

The Print Read text was converted with no loss of vital details. A list makes it easy to compare First Aid with other camp buildings. It also is easier to scan quickly.

Please remember...web sites are NOT magazines or books. Prolonged screen reading is a pain to users, who are usually in a big hurry, distracted, and impatiently skimming and scanning.

Do yourself, and users, a big favor.

Format your online text to make it easier for users to skim, scan, compare, and recall. Break up your paragraphs, even in blog site comment postings. Short paragraphs are so much easier, and more fun, to scan quickly and read.