Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ready, Fire, Aim

The world is so fast-paced now that we actually publish stuff before we've written it. I've set up a new website, the next great nexus of spiritual energy: www.thedynamicground.com

Of course, if you go there, you'll see that there's hardly anything there. And that's precisely the point. In the past, I've nearly always succumbed to the temptation to craft something in secret, under wraps, and then have the "ta-DA!" presto presentation that amazes all. And it just doesn't work very well. At least, not for me . . . and not for every organization I've worked with that tried to build a website that amounted to more than brochureware.

Website design usually bogs down into inaction because:
  • Glitzy presentation is overrated. Especially in the dot.com days of yore, everyone wanted a website that looked great -- which was fine for that all-important first-impression. But after that . . . people cared about content. They wanted useful information, presented simply, as easily as possible. Nowadays the only sites that are heavily Flash-enabled are movie sites: one-time events with limited updates. And the king of all sites is Google, with the simplest interface ever designed: type what you want here, and here's a list of what we found. So, when it comes to making compelling websites, less is more. That is, less design, more content.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good. Most of the time, the content doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough. But the amount of time required to get new content on a website was so long (what with hard-to-understand techie tools, or worse, hard-to-understand techies) that we would only ask for stuff to be posted once we knew it was perfect. But blogging has taught me that sometimes quick-and-dirty is just fine, maybe even 80% of perfect.
  • Collaboration is difficult, bordering on impossible. Most sites have one or two webmasters who can load up new content, so all changes went through a bottleneck that made rapid, timely changes almost impossible. Getting multiple people together to provide the necessary content either meant an exhaustive round of extracting material, or an equally exhausting round of could-you-fix-this from contributors after posting.
  • Websites are too much work for one person. No single individual ever had enough time to make a perfect website . . . not even a pretty good website. It usually requires collective effort. But since the threshhold for collaborating was previously so high, the good stuff rarely made it out to the web. I can't begin to count how many times I've heard people say, "That ought to be on the website," but it never made it there. The Wikipedia proved that if you can tap into tiny contributions from lots and lots and lots of contributors over time, you can have extremely rich content without someone dedicating their whole life to maintaining it.
  • Navigation and search design hampered availability. Even once you got good content online, it used to muster, unused and unappreciated, because it was buried beneath menus or orphaned by dead links. Google changed all that. Now, if your content is distinct enough, it will be found by somebody looking for it, no matter how deeply buried, or poorly promoted. Now people who have something to offer can focus on creating content, instead of designing navigation.

Hence, my current fascination with wiki technology. "Build it and they will come" has turned into "They will come and build it." Now, I'm not completely seduced yet by the promise of easy content -- "this time it's different" was the rallying cry of the dot-com boom, and the ironic scorn following the dot-com bust. Somebody still has to bust their hump to create content, direct vision, promote and cross-link the site, sustain the community, blah, blah. But now, at least, that someone is not alone.


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