How the Internet and WWW all began…sort of…

How the Internet and WWW all got startedMany thanks once again to my good friend Eleanor S. who has passed on this short historical document which explains everything. Well, nearly everything…(original author unknown.)

In ancient Israel, it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dot. And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and
long of leg. Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.

And she said unto Abraham, her husband, “why dost thou travel so far from town to town with thy goods when thou canst trade without ever leaving thy tent?” And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said, “how, dear?”

And Dot replied, “I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and they will reply telling you who hath the best price. And the sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah’s Pony Stable (UPS).”

Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever having to move from his tent. To prevent neighboring countries from overhearing what the drums were saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers knew. It was known as Must Send Drum Over Sound (MSDOS), and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures – Hebrew To The People (HTTP).

And the young men did take to Dot Com’s trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung. They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or NERDS.

And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land. And indeed did insist on drums to be made that would work only with Brother Gates’ drumheads and drumsticks.

And Dot did say, “oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others.” Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel, or eBay as it came to be known and said, “we need a name that reflects what we are.” To which Dot replied, “Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators.” “YAHOO,” said Abraham. And because it was Dot’s idea, they named it YAHOO Dot Com.

Abraham’s cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot’s drums to locate things around the countryside. It soon became known as God’s Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE).

That is how it all began.

Or something.

More smiles – and they’re useful, too:

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

“The English Language Joke book”…hundreds of laughs about this crazy language of ours


photo credit: Deivis via photopin cc

10 hard lessons I’ve learned about writing for the WWW

Remember how early web text could make you cringe? Squinting at all 2000 solidly crammed words so obviously lifted straight from an equally cringe-making corporate brochure? Peering at that fat, uniformly gray column of garbage scrolling hypnotically up through the browser window?

Well, nearly all of that went some years ago to the Great Delete Tab in the sky, thanks to people like Jakob Nielsen (and many others) who showed us how to get real and write for the web as it should be done. But the journey hasn’t always been easy.

Because I’ve been writing for the web for a long time now I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Here are my top ten to share with you…

1. It’s essential to have clear objectives

Any piece of online communication that doesn’t have clear-cut objectives comes over as chinless and indecisive. Many printed documents have got away with being chinless and indecisive in the past, but the internet shines a very strong light through the transparency of woolly thinking and soon reveals if that’s wearing any knickers or not. If they’re going to be taken seriously today, all comms need clear objectives too – driven by what you want to achieve, not just what you want to say.

2. People often prefer to scan and go back to get detail later

Thanks to those cute little scroll buttons, online text has championed scanning. To facilitate scanning we break up text with highlighting, bold type and crossheads which enable readers to get the gist of our message in a few seconds. If all you offer people to scroll through is endless bland text they’ll soon get “text blindness” and move on – to your competitor’s site.

3. People do not always read in a linear fashion

We don’t expect people to view our web pages and blogs in any particular sequence. This is not new. For years people have been leafing through brochures starting at the back, skipping to the front, dipping into the middle and back again. Always organize your content on a non-linear basis to cater equally for the linear readers and the grasshoppers.

4. Not everyone needs or wants the technical stuff 

Even with high-tech business, we often put the techie details in their own little cubby-hole on a website, or in a downloadable PDF file. That way they’re there for those who are interested but don’t obscure the main marketing messages. OK, your audience may be technically minded, but they probably don’t want all the finer details about what your latest doo-hickey does right now – they’re more interested in what it will do for them. Save the features for another page on your site.

5. Visual clutter confuses readers 

People loathe website and blog home pages that bristle with shouting headlines and graphics and other grinning gargoyles. If it’s hard to find your message in amongst garish junk, they’ll just click over to your competitors’ information. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) isn’t very romantic but it certainly is essential on the internet, and all the more so as online business keeps growing exponentially.

6. BS is boring 

Everyone sees through hype now. The online environment makes it look even sillier than ever.  Readers of any marketing communication expect your writing to talk directly to them, as one human being speaks to another. If you wouldn’t insult a customer by using boastful, pompous hype in face-to-face business circumstances, why do it online?

7. Complex thinking doesn’t work 

Although long copy often works online, the writing style itself needs to be very economical and uncomplicated. Every word has to earn its keep.  Sentences and paragraphs should be short and free from convoluted notions. One sentence should lead logically on from the previous one; one paragraph should follow on logically, too. If your audience needs to read your text twice or more to understand it, you will have lost them – probably for good.

8. Lists in the form of long sentences don’t get read

If you have more than two or three items to list you’re advised to create bullets, rather than run them together in a long sentence.  That makes them quicker to absorb, and also helps to break up text visually.

9. Headlines and crossheads must be relevant, not cutesy-clever

These lines often have to stand alone – e.g. as email subject lines – so must be directly relevant. Also, they must appeal to the search engines which certainly have no time for anything other than straight talking. Although abstract headlines are acceptable in some circumstances, in longer text the headlines are what people latch on to while scanning. This means they also have to be directly relevant, so they’re instantly understood.

10. Cut the c*** and get to the point 

Not only do online comms demand uncluttered information, but also relevant information. People haven’t got time to wait 10 minutes while your incredibly creative animation downloads, and equally they haven’t time to figure out the meaning of a literary quote over an arty picture when they’re in a hurry to find out about your diesel generators. In our high-speed business culture, direct is beautiful.

Now, make your writing WWWonderful:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English