Web Grammar (Occasional Thoughts)

Writing about Web comics two weeks ago, I used a phrase that went something like this: Internet publishing is about short, sharp, powerful bursts intended to convey a point, arouse an emotion, or elicit a reaction. Hardly a unique realization but one that touches one of the core attributes of the Internet — this medium makes it easy to share material with others of like mind. So when we package stuff in ways that are easy to share, we leverage the Web. The best known example of this trend is the illicit sharing of music files. But the strength of the underlying technology is elegantly explained in a recent Reuters article : “Peer-to-peer, or P2P, software allows users to connect directly to each others’ computers, bypassing the powerful servers that underpin much of the Internet. Web pages, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other material usually stored on servers can thus be made public directly from a user’s hard drive.”

The article went on to spotlight P2P applications outside the music realm, including Shinkuro, which enables the creation of secure collaborative groups that include (and therefore exclude). “High-school teachers in Washington have turned to Shinkuro to develop lesson plans,” the article noted, adding, “Two online standards-setting bodies, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, have developed agendas and other material with Shinkuro.”

Wikis are another collaborative environment, but they operate, I think, more from an egalitarian presumption that all comers will be allowed to join and on an equal footing. These and similar technologies enable people to tap each other on the shoulder, share information and complete tasks. So if the novelty is in the ease of sharing without regard to physical proximity, it follows that when we create material for the Web, one guiding rule should be to make that material easy to share. With regard to writing, the form of communication with which I’m most familiar, this would make conciseness and usefulness prime virtues. In searching for the phrase “grammar of the Web,” I came across an interesting comment in this regard: “writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print. People read differently … jumping from one piece of content to the next. People are more action-oriented on the Web. They get online to get something done.” Following that comment by Web designer Gerry McGovern led me a list of 10 rules for Internet writing — many of which seem equally appropriate to the creation of audiovisual content. Make the stuff easy to digest and, by extension, easy to pass around, because when material finds a friendly mind it doesn’t want to simply rest there. It wants to Move On.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media