August 09, 2011

Drinking from the Digital Fire Hose

In a previous post, I lamented the en-dumbening of the written phrase to accommodate the short attention span of the average Internet surfer. There's a term you don't see much any more: "surfing the Web." Nobody really surfs the Web any more. The Web is now more about the destination than the journey. In the Web's infancy, you had to go down strange digital alleys and click through a tangled, well. . . Web. . . on your way to finding what it was you sought. Getting there was half the fun, to borrow a phrase about traveling and "surfing" was an integral part of the Internet experience.

Now you call up Google, enter what you're looking for, and you're basically done. It's sad, in a way, but such is the whiplash speed of progress online.

I don't mean to bash on Google, or any search engines for that matter--they serve a necessary purpose, I'll admit. But search engines are pretty much singularly responsible for the retooling of the written phrase that I routinely lament. Search engine optimization (SEO) has turned writing from an art into a science, and not one of the fun sciences either, where you use dry ice to make plastic bottles explode. No, the science of SEO writing is one of those boring sciences where no one is really exactly certain what it is, or how it works, but there's money to be made doing it, so there are a lot of SEO experts out there with competing theories. You know, SEO is kinda like climate change science in a lot of ways, now that I think about it.

Anyway, SEO writing sucks, and reading SEO writing sucks even worse. There are all sorts of SEO formulas and strategies out there, but they all basically boil down to: "repeat the same damned word or phrase multiple times within a Web page so the page will hopefully appear prominently in search engine results." It makes sense, but it also makes for seriously painful writing and reading, and it basically flies in the face of all the established rules for non-Web writing. If I had been assigned to write a paper back in college about, say, "butt cancer" and I turned in something that had "butt cancer" repeated three times for every 50 words, I'd have received an "F-" and been instructed to pursue a different field other than writing professionally.

Even worse than SEO is the trend towards rampant sensationalism. Everyone's competing to get the next big story/headline that goes viral, so you end up with ridiculously insipid crap all over the place about "WINNING!" or something about a cat saying "I love you" or whatever "crazy" thing some politician said or did. So you end up with Web pages like posting headlines like: "Justin Bieber scent inspires $32 ice cream sundae," and "It's a bird... no, it's a bat! On a plane!" and "Dad protests shutdown of blog about 'psycho' ex" and "Michele Bachmann’s Newsweek cover: Appropriate?"

And, no, I didn't make any of those headline up. They were ALL on at the same time this afternoon. I shit you not.

Even more basic, the very make-up and design of today's Web pages contain a ridiculous amount of completely unnecessary content. I mean, compare the visual scream-fest of today's home page:


Now, remember, that's only about 1/8 of the total home page, and that's AFTER zooming out about five times. Contrast that with early 2001:


That's the WHOLE page, with only two zoom outs. It was still a bit visually jarring even back then, but at least it didn't drown you with links and ads and video options. Just think, if you wanted more headlines, you had to actually click on the section heads over on the left navigation panel. Or on the bottom. Your choice. Can you IMAGINE? And, notice, with some exceptions, the 2001 headlines, for the most part, weren't overly sensational twaddle? Generally, the headlines were about stuff that kinda, sorta mattered.

And it's not limited to It's EVERY news site on the Internet. It's like they're all competing to annoy and overwhelm me.

And you know what? They're all tied.

Posted by Ryan at August 9, 2011 01:16 PM | TrackBack
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