How many people work here? About half.

January 22, 2010

I was recently asked what I thought the ideal length was for an article on the web. It reminded me of a quip a previous boss would routinely trot out when giving prospective clients the red carpet treatment around our offices. To the question “How many people do you have working for you?” he would casually respond: “Oh, about half of them.” The point of his joke, and one answer to the question, is that efficacy is not a simple numbers game; if an article is good enough it is long enough.

Of course, it is rarely as straightforward as that and a writer for the web needs should be conscious of the way people read online. According to MediaCo’s David Mill most readers ‘skim’ and ‘jump’ online articles, enter via different points in the text, don’t like deep scrolling and find reading on screen more difficult than reading print. The corporate writer needs to be aware of all these considerations and additionally weave a business narrative that draws in and engages with a reader who is “already 10 minutes late for my next appointment, so if you could kindly get on with it and tell me what your point is…” Well, you get the idea.
It is a truism that writing for the web and for print is different. Michael Kinsley, reflecting on the differences in The Atlantic, argues that one reason seekers of news are abandoning the printed word in favour of the internet is not the convenience of technology but is a consequence of style. Printed news is, he says, too long and is filled with unnecessary verbiage, opinion and scene setting that correspond with a series of outmoded conventions that are “traditional, even mandatory”. These conventions have implications for online writers (avoid them at all costs) and publishers who when they recycle long articles from print to the web may be improving their bottom line but are doing very little for user readability. And when web publishing begins to resemble a Ford production line – you can have any sort of news you want so long as it’s cut a paste job from our morning edition – readers can rightly feel short changed.

It is impossible to talk about writing for the web without also considering how technology is challenging and shaping readers’ expectations. (And than you to those Twitter-conditioned readers who would normally drift away after 140 characters but have generously stuck with me this far). The launch this year of next-generation mobile communication devices, including the new Google phone and Apple’s keenly-anticipated iTablet, could change the rules again for how we want to receive and view news.

Emily Bell, writing in the MediaGuardian, says the emergence of such technologies could move us so far away from the page-centric world we grew up reading and writing for that “it raises the question of how long it will be before even the concept of a website becomes old hat”. Writers will need to acknowledge and adapt to these innovations so they have the answer to the next big question, whatever it is.


Employees challenge the technology status quo

November 2, 2009

The growth in the use of new technologies and social networking sites in the workplace offers the opportunity for more effective working but poses business risks for firms that fail to prepare for the changes.

These are the conclusions of a recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit Power to the People? Managing the technology democracy in the workplace.

The report sponsored by Trend Micro suggests that “employees are challenging the technology status quo” in their organisations by demanding greater freedom to use new technologies, personal accounts and applications to work in innovative ways.

The established order – centralised management by the IT department – has been undermined by the growth of mobile devices which allow, for instance, employees to get round company bans on the use of blogs and social networking sites while at work.

And while such changes have been gradual, the trend is set to increase due to the arrival of Generation Y (the “millennials” born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s) into middle management positions and the rise of home and teleworking.

Opinion is divided among the 390 executives from seven European countries questioned on whether greater technology liberty in the workplace was a good or bad thing. More than 40 per cent believe business benefits will accrue in the form of better grassroots innovation and higher morale and engagement. But many companies see the trend as potentially damaging to productivity and a threat to security.

Realistic or reactionary, such a view is likely to be rendered obsolete in the future. Companies, like it or not, will need to train their employees in new technologies, set out clear governance and manage risks where they exist.

To read the report click here.

Stephen Fry for Olympic gold

August 11, 2009

It was the standing joke at the Beijing Olympics: Britain is only successful at ‘sitting down’ sports, such as cycling, rowing and sailing. In the immediate rosy glow of success, there was indignation in the UK press about such jibes. Leaving aside for a moment that the joke was peddled, primarily, by Australians miffed that Britain had bested them in the medal table, it was felt to be an injustice to British swimmers, such as Rebecca Adlington, (although I suppose Australians of a querulous nature might suggest that swimming is actually a ‘laying down’ sport) and other medal winners.

But now it seems the Australians may be correct that Britons are inclined to recline. The communications watchdog Ofcom reports that people in Britain would rather go without holidays and eating out than cut back on spending on television and broadband access. They are also cleaved to their mobiles, preferring to economise on gym membership and sports, clothing, DIY, books and newspapers before their mobile phones. The only things considered more important than TV, the internet and mobile telephony among those polled were food and toiletries.

We are also as a nation, the report claims, spending more time in front of our computer screens and TVs. Britons spent an average of 225 minutes a day watching TV last year (up slightly on the previous figure) and internet usage rose sharply to 25 minutes each day.

The report also noted an increase (from 40 to 46 per cent) in people aged 25 to 34 who have a social networking profile on sites such as Facebook. But while there has been an invasion of ‘oldies’, the percentage of 15 to 24-year olds with a profile has dropped for the first time (from 55 to 50 per cent).

And there is our hope for 2012. We older Britons need to slide from our sofas in front of the TV to our seats in front of the computer and register with Facebook. By doing so we will crowd out youngsters whose only option will be to go and do the only thing their uncool parents are not i.e. sport. Unless of course we can make ‘tweeting’ an Olympic event, in which case I predict Stephen Fry for a gold medal.