Whatever Happened to Cross-Media Publishing? --McIlroy
What works best on the Web, we're learning, is very different from what works (or worked) in print. It's not that print has no role on the Web, it's just that its role is relatively minor. We're slowly learning to appreciate the uniqueness of the Web as a communication medium.
I've been reviewing articles about how to write for the Web (that I've found on the Web), trying to understand what makes Web writing different from print writing. Jakob Nielsen, who I think is the finest writer on Web usability, wrote a piece back in October 1997 called "How Users Read on the Web" (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html).
The piece begins: "They don't. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In a recent study John Morkes and I found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word."
As a result, he writes, Web pages demand a very different approach from the author than print, including: "one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph), the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion, and half the word count (or less) than conventional writing."
No wonder cross-media publishing has never caught on. No one can write for cross-media publishing. The Web and print are two very different media: we were wrong to think that the twain should meet.
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and analyst, based at Arcadia House in San Francisco. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.