Links for 4662 Project Presentation

Information Architecture

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Comment on the information architecture of the site you have chosen. Are there places where the organization and layering could be improved?

The Spectrum Home Services site showcases its essential information, but it's only cursory information and not in the most effective order.

Currently, the site has lists of information without linked information provided to give in-depth info on each service or subject. The company specifically focuses on some of its services and others less so, however, these services aren't ranked in this order on the site. Some of the services could also be sub-categorized more effectively.

The company's services are important to the company in this order:
Senior Services
Home Maintenance
Yard Care/Snow Removal
Cleaning
Relocation

These services should be showcased in this manner so the user understands that the services are focused on the needs of senior citizens. Each listed category should also have linkable, extended information as far as scope offered, education and rates for each.

The IA is structured nicely in menu form, but the bulk of the information needs re-organization and more landing pages.

Comment on your web site of choice for the final project and on the use of headings, illustrations, and link names in your web site of choice. Refer to Redish where relevant.

Overview
The Spectrum Home Services website, though suffering from a lack of effective web writing, achieves at least an average level of heading, illustration and link usage.

Headings

The site's headings accurately label their respective categories, but do not use effective fonts to capture the reader's attention. They are also inconsistent ranging from graphic tabs to small font text. The headings should be consistent and should clearly mark each category with a linkable graphic, preferably an illustration for each. Set in a suitable order, the headings would help achieve Redish' "conversation."

Illustrations
The included illustrations are colorful and bold. There is a rotating, illustration on the top of the page euphamistically describing the company's services. The user is immediately drawn to these spaces. However, the site falls short of effectively using consistent illustrations on the remainder of the page. Each category of service (heading) could use an illustration to effectively describe that portion.

Links
The site does have some links for a variety of information, but not for each service category. Each heading could be linked, with an illustration, to a landing page with in-depth information on each category.

Write about your web site of choice for the final project. Select three separate pages from the web site and tell us what you think you might want to revise. Refer to Redish chapters and Yale Style Guide where relevant.

I'll be revising my company's website, www.spectrumhomeservices.com, for the final project.

Summary

The company provides residential home services such as maintenance, lawn care, housekeeping and snow removal. While these services are listed in some manner on the site, the message could have a much greater impact with adjustments toward Ginny Redish' suggestions.

Redish Rules
In Letting Go of the Words, Ginny Redish details the three main considerations when composing a website.

Good web writing is like a conversation
The Spectrum Home Services (SHS) site does utilize some helpful organizational elements such as menus and sequenced information structure, but the information is merely placed on the site without any connection between the elements. The site may benefit from statements such as: "For the interior of your home, consider the following options...cleaning, remodeling, etc." and "When the seasons change, we'll be there for your lawn, snow removal, etc." As it is now, the information seems to have been dumped on the page without consideration for unity.

Good web writing answers people's questions
The SHS pages frequently feature dense paragraphs of writing that showcase current services and news events in lieu of helpful description of the actual services offered by the company. For instance, there may be an article about the latest trends in lawn care featured ABOVE the actual description of what the company does in terms lawn care applications.

Good web writing lets people "grab and go."

The SHS site eventually lists brief descriptions of its services, but doesn't offer in-depth descriptions following the brief listings. The items are not hyperlinked and only offer one or two word descriptions. Normally, a reader searches for something specific, finds it, then "grabs" it to learn more about that specific service. That's not available on the SHS site.

Conclusion
The site could benefit over these three areas with an effective application of pictures symbolizing each service. The images could be hyperlinked to more descriptive landing pages allowing the user to learn more about their interest.

Writing for Audiocasts & Video

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How do YouTube and Podcasts change our understanding of "writing" on the web? How is writing different for video? Include a link in your blog entry.

The difference between traditional writing and writing for broadcast is the amount of content left out of the text and relegated to the intonation of the medium. Literature requires a description of everything the writer wants the reader to experience. When a writer writes for audio, they can leave out "the character screamed" or "a bell tolled in the distance." The intonation expresses the sentiment on its own accord.

Still, audio depends on a description through dialogue or narrative. Writing for video requires less descriptive text, but more "behind the scenes" writing in the manner of screenplay.

Opening slowly, the creaking door reveals the stalker's shadow.

Butler: Who goes there?
Stalker: I'm early.

The butler reaches for the broken broom handle...a moment too late.

In it's original "book" format, the writing would have moved with a fuller description.

Opening slowly, the creaking door revealed the stalkers shadow. Hearing the creak, the butler tensed calling "Who goes there?" The stalker rasped from her slight opening "I'm early." She heard his waistcoat billow as he moved toward the broom handle. Through the ink of the parlor shadow, she silently leaped across the room. The broken broom handle, liberated from it's hiding place hours before, splintered across the butler's knee with a crisp pop.

Audio & video change the writer's literary approach based on what the writer is describing and for whom.

Comment on the Case Study on page 46 of Redish regarding home pages and path pages.

The Health and Human Services website case study reinforces the notion that web users are less "reader" and more "scanner." Like Jakob Nielsen points out on his usability-focused sites, Ginny Redish reiterates that web users are usually task oriented - leaving extraneous details in the wake of efficiency.

The original Health & Human Services page featured icons with vague pathways and information irrelevant to a most user's task-oriented searching. The original site had some positive aspects such as prominent menus placed in expected locations, but its intent (if there was one) was to highlight information important to the Department of Health and Human Services. The updated page is much more focused toward what a user needs from the department.

The new site accomplishes a user-based experience by categorizing the information on its homepage with easily identifiable language. The labels are simple, but lead to more complex information, one benchmark of an effective website.

One site that could use a makeover similar to the HHS site is the homepage of the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in Sochi, Russia.

sochi-2014-host-city-logo.jpg

As of tonight, as I type this in front of the 2010 Vancouver closing ceremonies, the Sochi site is promotional and will likely be iterated into a usable traffic center as the world turns its eyes to Russia in four years. But for now, the site doesn't have a usable menu on its homepage and features news stories that lead to somewhat unrelated sub pages. The future site will likely feature linkable symbols of each event, graphs depicting medal counts, and up to the minute information scrolling across an interactive window. Sochi may need Ginny and Jakob's help to make it happen.

Reading on the Web

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Are you a "linear" or "non-linear" reader? How does your experience compare with readings for this week?

For the most part, as a web reader, I'm non-linear. This is because it's not really "reading" at all. When I'm using the web, it's nearly always information gathering plus there's the continuous availability of tangents (hypertext) to support the information. I fall right in line with Jakob Nielsen's thoughts on how user's read on the web: They don't.

Users scan information on the web in a non-linear fashion. I may read in chunks if an extended piece of text is interesting or useful, but my range of attention will never hover in space like it would for literature or a recreational piece. I believe most people interact with the web in a utilitarian fashion - gleaning useful information with an occasional, extended stay on an especially useful or entertaining piece.

While this "mile-wide, inch-deep" method of information gathering may be useful and necessary for task demands in 2010, it seems to be affecting my/our ability to process longer pieces of work. In week 4, we discussed Nicolas Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in which he quotes blogger Bruce Friedman, lamenting "I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print." They attribute the effect to our dissipating attention span brought about by the necessity and ease of scanning the web in a non-lineal fashion.

Usability research and Nielsen's article on pattern eye-tracking reveal that users scan a web page in an "F" fashion, reading a large part left to right of the page top, a bit less on the next line, and so on. This pattern of eye movement is considered "non-lineal" as the user doesn't read all of the information, they scan. So, as we improve web design to keep a reader's attention or at least direct it where it's most effective, will our definition of "linear" and "non-linear" change? Today, if a user reads an entire page top to bottom, left to right, it's considered "linear" reading. In the future, with knowledge of the "F" pattern, when a user follows the information we've purposely laid out in the "F" pattern and they ignore what we expected them to ignore outside the "F", will that be considered the new "linear" reading?

The Electronic Book

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Do you think the book is here to stay? Why or why not?

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While the use of the physical book continues to evolve, I don't believe it will become fully extinct.

Compared to electronic sources, a physical book has many shortcomings. It's a closed source meaning you can't conveniently upload new information to the unit. A book is not connected to other information via hypertext. And, of course, the logistics of keeping a large volume of work in one place is prohibitive.

The eBook, and to a larger extent the internet, offer an encyclopedic approach to information offering the user a large volume of work in an open-ended, single-source. On page 81, Bolter describes the eBook by saying "Unlike a printed book, which can only contain one fixed text, the eBook is designed to be reloaded." It's an efficient asset for information applications and source citation as well as an application for entertainment.

Just as these pros and cons are listed as they are, for a fan of a physical book, they are opposite. Many people prefer that a book is a closed source offering a concrete beginning and end without distraction to other sources. The prohibitive sense of a library is also appealing as people wish to escape to a quiet place and temporarily "disconnect" from the world. There is currently a trend toward creating private libraries in new homes for this purpose. People like a place to escape with something more physical, less cyber. Ironically, there's a link to this story.

Personally, I like a combination of the two technologies. When I can, I read a physical book because I enjoy the tactile and visual sense of a printed text. However, when a printed text is unavailable or inconvenient (traveling, lack of light), I'm very glad I can still escape into a story via my iPod Touch with its downloaded books.

I believe that the process works both ways. To some extent technology drives/determines the way we think, read and communicate and the way we communicate, read and think drives our need for technology. The situation is very similar to the classic, rhetorical argument between texts from Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz.

In Lloyd Bitzer's The Rhetorical Situation, Professor Bitzer argues that the situation controls the rhetorical response. For example, the events of September 11, 2001 elicited a massive rhetorical response from every media avenue available. The situation prompted the discussion.

In his Myth of the Rhetorical Situation, Richard Vatz claims that rhetoric elicits a situation and people's perception is created by what they're told. In 2001, a dramatic shark attack on a young boy brought a national awareness of shark activity. He was heroically saved and the forthcoming media attention resulted in front page news which further prompted communities to demand increase shark protection and marine predator controls. In reality, the number of shark attacks in 2001 were considerably fewer than years past. The rhetoric had created the situation.

As is the relationship between Bitzer and Vatz, the causal relationship between technology and our functionality lies somewhere in the middle.

Technology drives the way we function, but I don't believe it completely determines our approach. While we have instant information available to us through a wide range of channels, we continue to exercise the free will of sensory interaction. People make it a point to read from a book in part because of the sensory experience; in part for the chance to disconnect from technological stress. Though surface information is readily available on any topic, we often delve deeper than a cursory "surf" into a subject for a more comprehensive understanding. As for communication, we may be more digitally connected than ever before, but often use our channels of communication in order to arrange in-person meetings...especially socially. The technology hasn't replaced the interaction level. My family and friends meet just as often as we ever have, except now we're more efficient with the coordination. I am still friends with a close group of 10 - 15 people that I met 20 years ago. Without "Reply-All", we probably would have lost touch years ago.

What Does Hypertext Refashion?

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In Writing Space, Jay David Bolter states that hypertext is the "remediation of print" (p. 46). He means that hypertext builds on its predecessor just as the book built upon the format of the scroll, movies built upon the format of stage productions, etc.

Bolter's "remediation of print" notion specifically points to the specifics of print such as use of a table of contents, footnotes and the organization of print (libraries).

While there are traditional tables of context found on websites (menus), hypertext replaces some of those functions normally performed by the menu. Hypertext lets the user accurately move ahead or behind to specifically desired information rather than moving straight through a text as the author may have written it or intended. In the same sense, as a reader reads written text, they may highlight portions deemed especially useful. Hypertext makes an assumption that the user will find the linked information especially useful.

Hypertext is a clear refashion of the traditional footnote. As Bolter points out on page 27, "it would be intolerably pedantic to write footnotes" to achieve the same layers of writing offered by hypertext. Whereas, traditional printed footnotes referenced a bibliography found in the same book, the bibliography referenced text found elsewhere - perhaps not readily available to the reader unless the reader was in a space holding all of those texts. Which brings us to libraries:

The librarian or library system was traditionally used to efficiently obtain complementary information. When coining the term "hypertext" in 1963, sociologist and philosopher Ted Nelson suggested "literature is an ongoing system of interconnecting documents" - like a library. Hypertext allows a user to automatically find suggested, complementary information to what they're currently reading such as a librarian does. While Nelson offers very useful information and has pioneered multiple areas of communication, it should be noted that he claimed "most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong." I bring this up because we as technical communicators construct our work in large part based on our idea of the user. Nelson considered his user as quoted.

Hypertext refashions print just as symbols refashion concepts, books refashioned scrolls, scrolls refashioned wall writings and so on. Each new format attempts to simplify its predecessor making it more efficient, more usable.

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Recent Comments

  • andy@spidertel.com: Coming from a family of educators, the eBook upswing is read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Sounds like you have some good directions for revisions here. read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Sounds like you have a nice rank order there for read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Tony, Great--each of these areas are potential revisions! read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Tony, It sounds like you have plans for a read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Nice point about "intonation." Incidentally, I attended a conference recently read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Great example of a site in need of help. There read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Good question. I thought about the F pattern as linear read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: That is a great picture. I haven't seen a two read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: You make a very interesting comment comparing Bitzer and Vatz read more

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