Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Elements of Internet Style

Speaking of style guides, maybe that's what we need--some standards for written English on the web.  You'd assume that what's good for the page is good for the laptop, but new technologies mean new ways to screw up your writing.

Case in point, this excellent post by John Gruber on Daring Fireball, my favorite nerd blog, which post is about one thing and one thing only: "a long-standing irritation: poorly designed web page titles":

The title is the string of text in the HTML "title" element. This string manifests itself to the user in several ways. It is presented in the title bar of the web browser window on Mac and Windows. It is presented in the tab, if you’re using tabs in your browser. It is presented at the top of the screen in mobile web browsers. It is listed in the “Window” menu of your browser, listing all open browser windows. And, when you choose to bookmark a web page, the title string is used as the default name of the bookmark...An awful lot of websites use patterns for page titles that are ugly, hard-to-scan, and/or just plain stupid.

In the stupid department, Gruber writes, resides MSNBC's ridiculously long "Breaking News, Weather, Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Travel, Science, Technology, Local, US & World News - msnbc.com," which of course is far too long to read in your drop-down bookmarks menu or browser tab, let alone on your bookmarks bar.  And of course since the actual name of the actual web site is at the end, nobody will ever, ever actually read it.

Gruber, predicably, favors the short and clear, just like Strunk and White. (One imagines E. B. White would have been simultaneously appalled and mesmerized by the internet, like any thinking person is.) I agree.  The fact is, half my reading is done on a computer these days--books are books and may they always be, but much of my life consists of incidental reading, which ultimately is as important to me as any other.

Somebody oughta write a style guide. Ellis & Lennon, perhaps?


rmellis said...

OMG, we would write the best style guide: "Every sentence needs a colon: and a exclamation mark! Leave out words and/or letters if it's funnier that way. If it's french, be sure to spell it wrong!"

Hugo Minor said...

Perhaps you need the Wired Style Guide.


Or Yahoo!


Anonymous said...

Aha! But that would have required research.

I still like the idea of our style guide. We would have a whole chapter regretting that the internet has no wine or coffee stains.

Hope said...

Cracking me up.

Sung said...

Maybe you can build on this!

The Elements of Spam