A Fairy, a Low-Fat Bagel, and a Sack of Hammers

One bright, sunny day, the Bad Internet Fairy closed down every company and organization site on the web.

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No more shopping. No more sites selling endless products and services. No more university, non-profit, or political sites.

All closed.

So all the programmers, designers, and usability engineers went home, shaking their heads.

Too bad! No more web.

And they all slept in the next morning. After all, with the web gone, why go to work? They stayed home, got up late, sipped on their cappuccinos and nibbled on low-fat bagels.

And they missed something.

They missed the fact that even though all those company and organization sites had closed down, the internet was still ablaze with activity.

Tens of millions of people were sending billions of messages to each other. Young people and old people alike. Instant messages were flying. Blogs were being written and updated. Newsletters were being edited and sent out. Discussion lists were being read and replied to. Personal sites were being created and published. Emails were being written to family and friends.

People were reading and writing. Frowning and laughing. Crying and cheering. Agreeing and disagreeing.

People were engaged. Tens of millions of them. They were reading line after line, page after page. What did they enjoy the most? The best writing. The most interesting opinions. The most original thinkers and voices. Yes, everyone was reading like crazy. People love to read when the subject is close to their hearts, when the writer is known to them and trusted, when the writing is exciting and well crafted.

No surprise here, of course. It’s always been that way. Since the first Usenet groups. (Drugs, Sex, and Rock and Roll … naturally. 1988.) Since the early days of The Well. Since the first Bulletin Boards.

Regular folks, those tens of millions of “prospects” and “customers,” have always loved to read online. They love to write, they love to read, they love to get involved, feel engaged. Just text, just the words. (“Just the words?” What a terrible to thing to say about writing!)

Although these millions of people don’t think about it or analyze it, they all know a simple truth: their experience of the web is about words, the text. Always has been. Always will be.

This is their place, their medium. They were there, online, before any company or organization. They were there before venture capital companies had wet dreams about “upswings” and IPOs. They were there before a thousand experts decided that the web was about technology, design and process. They were there before some of those same experts announced that people don’t like to read online.


After a few days, the Bad Internet Fairy, who wasn’t so bad after all, put all the websites back online, and the designers, programmers and usability engineers heaved a collective sigh of relief and went back to work.

And they did what they always did. They designed, programmed and constructed, using the latest software, adhering to the most recent standards, following the coolest design trends.

And when everything was set, mapped out, constructed … they had someone find a writer to fill in the blank spaces with words.

Too bad. Dumb as a sack of hammers.

83 Reader Comments

  1. Best piece I have read in a long time. It truly is the content that rules the day and it amazes me to see that no matter how many times we preach it, many people are still missing the boat. Dumb as a sack of hammers.

  2. The title says it all – one of the best things I’ve seen about ‘Content is King’ in a very long time.

  3. I just read your article “A Fairy, a Low-Fat Bagel, and a Sack of Hammers” on A List Apart.


    Personally, I thought it was a great read; however, your use of the term “wet dreams” rendered the article useless for some of us who do web related work for a living in a corporate or government setting and who are trying to educate and enlighten our higher-ups by referring them to articles like this.

    I depend on articles written by you and others to not only educate myself, but my management staff as well. Call it prudish or not “hip” if you will, but the forwarding of this article with your potentially embarrassing choice of words to my management and executive staff will not happen.

    I hope you will take this into consideration when publishing your next piece.

    Thank you.

  4. What you say is the truth. The people are the ones on the edge of the internet, exploring into the cracks and crevices that the corporate-net can and will not dare to venture.

    Their interests are vested. Their voices are appeasing. Their heads all turn in different directions.

    We will always be leading the way. We walk the paths that are new and feared. We are the trailblazers. We are the pioneers of the electronic wilderness, and always will be. Catch us if you can.

  5. Bold assertions sans evidence. Sentence fragments. Overwhelming, vapid populism. Complaints without actions items or agenda.

    One-phrase paragraphs.

    This article was good for one thing. Underselling the web.

  6. This article was about as relevant as the Matrix Revolutions…

    Please, let’s stick to something useful on ALA.

  7. I get your point, and I understand completely what you’re saying here. But I don’t exactly agree. There’s more to the web than “just words.” There’s a lot more. There are sounds, music, and imagery. This is the evolution of the internet. Stay tuned — there’s more on the way.

  8. I really liked this article. It does really show why we all design, program, and code- for the reason the web was invented- to communicate with other people.

  9. OK, so I found the warning, but it’s at the top of the page, while the comment box is at the bottom. This is poor design and for me, a usability nightmare. Help!

  10. Sure, there is more to the web than just words.
    There is more to the car than just engine.
    Where would you go in a comfy car without engine?

  11. There’s a warning right up the top below the title and author: “HTML tags and entities display as source; they do not render.”

  12. I’m sure your use of the phrase “dumb as a sack of hammers” was meant to get people cheesed-off and talking, but for those of us who are designers, it’s a slap in the face. When will we as web professionals learn to play nice together? We don’t need only writers, or only designers. We need both areas of expertise working together to achieve optimal web environments with kick butt content and writing.

  13. Nicely crafted sentences, but as shallow as the next design trend.

    What would you choose: the same content with a pretty face or unstyled?

    What else did ALA restyle for?

  14. You can’t possibly say good design doesn’t facilitate good writing. If it’s great writing buried in a load of crap, nobody will spend the time to read it. The converse also holds true. The two are intertwined and, honestly, writing is too similar to design to say one trumps the other. Good writing is clear, concise, easy to follow, and creates a large impact. Same goes for design.

  15. I’m not sure I understand this that much. Then again I know little of the history of the internet, besides that it was basically created by the leader of the World Wide Web Consortium.

  16. I think you have failed to see the woods for the trees!

    Communication is the woods, words are the trees.

    The designer is god of the woods, telling the trees how to grow and where to seed.

    The desinger says how the content should be written and what should be included, designers should point their writters at the target audience like a loaded gun.

    Then there’s the non-designed evolving communication such as personal sites and email as well, which is subconciously designed in our heads – you would choose to write in a different style when writting to your boss than to your spouse!

  17. I agree with everything you say, except for the the web will “always” be about text part. I think it’s a bit limiting. I also have a few photographer friends that might argue that the web currently isn’t only about words. But still, your words are breath of fresh air. My company has been screaming this for years, “Content is king!”

    When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  18. Guys, what you say is good. However it’s too difficult to get a useful site to work if you don’t have a nice design.

    Content is important, true. However would Yahoo! be successful if it was a textual black & white site? I don’t think so. Not now at least.

    I think the right approach is to deliver content AND wrap it with a good design. In today’s reality it’s both stupid to deliver design without the content and the content without a bit of design.

    Keep up the good work! Triple issues rule.

  19. A nice irony in “A webmaster”‘s words considering Nick Usborne’s own words in his book “Networds”
    ie. “It is the online environment’s sensitivity to voice and tone that dictates the enormous care you must take with the way in which you write.”
    Still, it’s nice to come across some unalloyed enthusiasm.


  20. Some good points, but … 1988?? By then I’d gone cold-turkey on Usenet twice/ after following just two groups (none of them the above-named) grew to a >1-hour-a-day habit.

  21. I agree that many people have failed to include pre-eminent amounts of “words” on the web. But isn’t the web much more than that? The web is an ever epanding resource for photographs, music, and video, not just an online newspaper. However, I can’t recall the last time I read an article as interesting as a Dumb Sack of Hammers! Touche my friend!

  22. Absolutely agree with the article.

    We, ALA’s readers, are usually on the wrong side of your equation. We are the people going home shaking our heads: “programmers, designers, and usability engineers”.

    But you’re right. I’ve been trying to explain to clients that what really matters is:

    1. Relevant content
    2. Up to date content

    I don’t think your article implies, in any way, that we the “go-homers” are irrelevant.

  23. I agree: content is a driving force.

    I disagree: “their experience of the web is about words, the text. Always has been. Always will be.”

    Yet images and colors can also create experience. Why do people spend hours looking at paintings in museums? Because shapes and colors can say as much, and sometimes even more, than words ever could. There is more to the human experience than words and content, but content rules the web today, only because the web is limited in its potential. Look to the future, look to the ‘metaverse’.

    The future of the web is ‘full immersion’. The ability to connect analog with digital, electro-chemical with electrical, the human brain with machine. The future of the web is a new reality unto itself, and in this ‘metaverse’, people will be able to experience more than words. They will only be limited by their senses and imagination, and when such a time comes, text will be only one of many modes of communication and experience.

    Therefore I disagree. Text will not always be the sole experience of the web.

    Yet this story was well written and enjoyable to read. Thank you for the text-based experience.

  24. I often wonder why the so-called wonderful world of Internet has lost its glamor, at least in the eyes of the so-called commercial analysts (bogus fools). Why, why? So many out of work when there is still so much to do. I guess we have to remain patient and wait for the good old pendulum to swing back again. And it will, I am sure. When it does I and a million other excited souls will be there to pick up from where we left off and get our lives back together again. Can’t wait for it to happen.

  25. Content isn’t just words. Even words aren’t “just” words, as the imagery in Usborne’s title, “A Fairy, a Low-Fat Bagel, and a Sack of Hammers,” shows.

    Words can lack content too. Usability experts have shown that reading text on a monitor is slower than reading text on paper and that website viewers become impatient with words that go on longer than the content justifies. Usborne could have made the same point with half the number of words.

  26. I think the reason people turn to e-mail, boards, etc. is because they provide two-way communication, a way to have conversations. The content and writing of a site can be great, but unless people can interact with other people it’ll end up having the same static properties as broadcast or print media. Maybe that’s why amazon continues to be successful, they’ve taken advantage of the interactive power that seperates the internet from broadcast, building a community. The points are much better made in the Cluetrain Manifesto. http://www.cluetrain.com/

    “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”

  27. Wonderful post. Seems some didn’t get it but not everyone will. Mostly just it’s us writers and readers (“customers” to you Corporate IT shills) who understand that the web is not just porn and Ebay, or somwhere else the marketing Pubahs can invade and fill with gaudy Flash animation or popups. It’s all about communication. A free exchange of ideas (some of which don’t follow the Chicago Manual of Style).

    And I don’t think anyone questioned the prevalence of sound and motion on the web but what more is there to come? Smell-O-Rama? Feely Vision?

  28. This is a slap-in-the-face reminder of why technologies like XML and HTML were designed. To organize our content not to define it. Content should be primary and design secondary, the design should simply be a compliment to the content. Its nice to know that “A List Apart” understands this simple and elegant approach, it brings me a sense of comfort.

  29. first of all, its premise is that programmers, designers, etc only work on those eeeeevil corporate sites. once those are gone, they have nothing else to do, eh ? well, newsflash ! most of these people are just as active with their own blogs, instant messengers, emails etc. they do know the value of words. they do know the value of content (they seek it out themselves, on a daily basis, coming to places like this very site).

    secondly, if anybody is to blame for the proliferation of zero-content sites, it’s most definitely the clients, the managers, the CEOs, the “we need a website right now, because our competitors have one as well” bosses. THEY would be the ones that would simply turn to a more profitable medium if by some freak accident all corporate/commercial sites disappeared from the web.
    don’t blame the programmers/designers who need to make a living from clients…and the clients’ wishes are, at the end of the day, what we have to abide to. sure, WE know about usability, accessibility, the importance of substance over style, etc, and we try our best to advise our customers…but if what they want are overstyled, “cutting-edge” sites with little or no consideration for quality content, what can we do ? starve, out of a sense of utopian idealism ?

    a mildly amusing read, but completely misguided. you’re barking up the wrong tree, mate…

  30. Proof:

    If “content is king” why did he find it necessary to “adorn” the article’s title?

    Why make it so contrived?

    It’s quite surprising that Zeldman would let this misguided article see the light of day. Ironic, also, that it would be written just a few days after ALA’s re-design. Why did ALA get a face-lift, anyway? Why use CSS? Why go through the trouble of dealing with browser’s bugs and the necessary hacks? Why waste time with stupid “Sliding Doors” tabbed navigation tutorials by Doug Bowman when we can just get beautiful, content-rich unstyled links? The author must have great answers to this simple questions!

    Now, I’m not asking for censorship of dissenting opinions; I’m asking for simple, good old-fashioned editorial supervision of “publishable” material. Some will make it, some won’t. This “article” should have died in the writer’s virtual womb…

  31. After reading all of the above comments, I would have to agree with the author. You folks have absolutely proven the author’s point.

    Sometimes it takes an article as oblique as this one to make a point. Looks like it hit too close to home for a lot of you ‘designer types’.

    Can’t see the forest for the hammers?

  32. I am one of those who read the article and was very annoyed at having wasted my time.

    It might surprise some of you to hear this, but many of us who thought it was a waste of time DID “get it”. It’s fine if you are a writer and you want others to think highly of you. You do that by quality writing. Telling everyone else that they are “dumb as hammers” does not elevate you. It makes you look childish.

    Words are content. Images are content. Sound is content. Design is content.

  33. For those of you offended readers, I think that you are missing the point.

    The article by no means says designers and coders are worthless and that we’d do fine with unstyled black times on grey content.

    The point made here is that content creation should be part of the design process, not just an afterthought.

    design should not be thought as a generic shell for any content, rather, design should be created around content.

    Same goes for code. As a CMS developer, for example, I see great gains in custom CMSs built to serve specific and detailed content needs. Generic CMSs are too often too limiting. Even ALA, which seems to be running on a custom CMS, just bumped on a lack of multiple authors support problem with the suckerfish article. (You can see by the ugly hacks in the source)

    The other point made here is that content must not be dull, and it’s superbly done by writing in a magazine carrying more than 150 greatly written articles with an style that deeply differs from all of them, and however still is enticing, entertaining, and which shocks with a pleasant surprise. But as with all original content, it simply cannot please everyone.

  34. The article makes too many broad generalizations without qualifying them or backing them up with facts. While I agree that words are the core of the best content on the web, they can be as abused and meaningless as any other communication tool. This article seemed like it was prodding not to provoke real discussion but simply to troll for reactions, especially the “dumb as a sack of hammers” remark. I felt it was below the usual ALA standards. (no pun intended! 🙂

  35. Writing is important, very important, yet it is only one of the many ingredients of communication.

    Not to forget that before people learn to write they started communicating through drawings; Writing was evolved out of Visual Communication. Math, Geometry and architecture got to the point that pyramids were built, yet people still communicated through drawings.

    In today’s world the blend of Writing, images and illustrations makes the most effective way of communication. That gave birth to Graphic Design, Communication Design and such.

  36. I’m particularly optimistic about weblogs.

    Though hundreds are as boring as the ingredients in a candy bar, it may be that weblogs are in fact a profound revolution in publishing, as grand as the invention of the book.

    It seems like a certain eloquence in writing is emerging, and a swing from the slang era back to a type of personal journalism that we’ve not seen since a “person of letters” was respected. Your article is one of these well-presented pieces.

    Weblogging is also changing the way we can navigate the web, for it permits following the chain of simpatico people with common interests rather than simply searching a subject. There’s a difference.

    Weblogging in particular will probably continue growing like topsy.

  37. In summary: content is at least as important as design, if not more so.

    Not exactly rocket science for ALA’s core audience, surely?

  38. And what about pulling in new readers? Until I came across sites like ALA those years back I was one of the evil ne’er do-gooders who thought that content played second fiddle to style.

    New readers repent! Read ALA. 😉

  39. It’s interesting that all the examples of activity the author gives, not only are examples of content, but examples of interactivity, too.

  40. If i see Zeldman rave on his log that thay already published 6 articles in 2 weeks on the new ALA i begin to wonder if the result will be badly written trolls like this one slipping by the editors.

  41. Erin and I solicited this piece from its author, the writer and speaker Nick Usborne. After reading it, we approved and produced it with no alterations other than changing UK-style punctuation to US-style. Far from “slipping by” us, the article pleased us.

    ALA’s first issue included an article on writing for the web, and I hoped that that subject would be one of the magazine’s focuses going forward. From time to time we have published good articles on various aspects of web content, “better” writing, web narrative, etc. But we need to do more. Nick’s little Fractured Fairy Tale is an effort in that direction.

    Some readers seem to think the article is saying that writing is the only thing that matters on the web. I don’t see that at all. What I see the article saying is that writing is important and rarely gets the consideration it deserves.

    The author made the point that, on the internet, writing is not just something writers do; it’s something readers also do, and the comments in this forum prove that point, regardless of how the article was received. That some people loved the article while others hated it also shows the power words have to convey and shape perception.

    Many other things also convey ideas and shape perception on the web, including graphic design, usability, and speed. The author does not claim otherwise; he merely makes the case that writing should not be an afterthought.

  42. A lot of people who simply “do the writing” are able to do so on the Internet because of those who do the coding. The coders continue to build more and better tools to make the job of “publishing by the people” even easier to do. The Internet is more of a symbiosis, really. Coders need a purpose, and writers need tools. Together the two groups make up but one facet of the web. Being a sophisticated user of blogging tools doesn’t make a writer a prograammer any more than pounding out a million lines of code makes a programmer a writer. That being said, both produce elegant pages of prose, both of which have relevance, beauty, and expression to others. Each gives the other a platform from which to give something of themselves to the rest of us. I see no sack of hammers here–I see two sides of the same coin.

  43. I guess I just don’t understand the point of this article! Yes, there is such a thing as BBSs, usenet, email, discussion groups, etc. And yes, they were generally around before the WWW. But what do they have to do with corporate/organizational web sites? It’s like apples and oranges. “Take away the apples, and what do you have left? Oranges! So oranges are what’s important! Pay more attention to oranges!” ??? If the articles intent is to display the importance of quality writing and content WITHIN the corporate/org sites, you’ve completely missed the mark! Maybe good writing should come with a little more logic!

  44. This is a great story. I enjoyed the writing and the point.

    Of course, in this (unfortunately) fairy-free world, those large companies with their usability engineers will always be around. And sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. I think it’s a positive thing for websites to incorporate (often as nonprofits) so that they can bring good stuff to a good audience, regularly, without the day-to-day fear of going under, or without the resources they need to do what they do even better. Good writers deserve payment and an audience that only publicity can bring about.

  45. Did ALA change something…they used to have one or two useful articles at a time, now this? Don’t have an opinion on the content, just not placed in the right space.

  46. I have always found an article or two per issue in ALA well worth my while, but this – this was abysmal. The tone of the article was much more concerned with conveying the clever and sassy attitude of the author. Very little effort was spent on providing his readers with useful tools for promoting the importance of content to their clients. One would assume that to be the point of publishing the article in the first place.

    Articles like this one, championing personality over useful content, reveal ALA’s blurry editorial focus.

  47. The point of the article is lost in hyperbole, reminiscence and meaningless analogies. If the message is, we have to get back to basics, well we were never there. Writing on the corporate web has always been an afterthought, or at least recycled from print, in the most part.

    The idea that today’s audience is the same one that used BBS’, Gopher and Usenet in the nascent ‘modern online era’ is ridiculous. Those people were computer-savvy folks, earnestly discussing their pet topics in sparsely distributed online communities. Then it was about the words cos that’s all there was, and the discussions were of a relatively high quality because of the intense pressure of one’s peers (a bit like blogging is now, actually, except much less self-involved). The interesting (ironic?) thing is that a lot of those people became those disparaged in the piece.

    The reason the web exploded is that it became about more than just the words – multimedia, right. The web is about communication, about information exchange, in whatever form it may take. Of course the word is the foundation of communication, but that’s hardly breaking news, is it?

    But I do think the article made an interesting and _very_ relevant point: “People love to read when the subject is close to their hearts, when the writer is known to them and trusted, when the writing is exciting and well crafted.” If you’re writing for a corporate entity, often the subject is not close to their hearts, nor do they know or trust the writer. Quite the opposite, in fact. How should we deal with that problem? Perhaps that would make a good article.

  48. I’m glad someone brought to light so eloquently how integral good content and meaningful text is to the web. Definitely something to be kept in the fore of our minds as we work: People aren’t on the net to see good markup.

  49. First I am from India. Not a web professional or computer trained. By back ground is Army. But I am also legally qualified.
    Your article has impressed me immensely. Web may not be all about words. But words or articles impinge on human mind more than any other medium.
    If I can do anything for you from here in New Delhi, India,please, feel free to contact me. Wishing you a great future and best luck.Col Behl

  50. So… content is important?

    I guess you gotta polarize your opinions ta git da peeps riled up and thinking but, c’mon. Whatever happened to “the Medium is the Message”? Just because words are important doesn’t mean that all that other stuff isn’t. Maybe that’s not what you were saying but that’s what I thought I heard.

    Course, maybe I’m just too sensitive.

  51. As far as corporations are concerned the web is just one more way to market products: invent a new method and they’ll use that too. Expecting them to ‘care’ about it in any other way is futile.

    I agree with your basic point though, in fact I had the line “the web is about words. Always has been. Always will be.” on my website all the way back in 1996!

  52. You know, there appear to be exactly 2 factions replying to this piece. One is an outraged crowd of bagel eaters. The other seems to like words. Draw what conclusions you like, but I dare you to read the article again and then read your comment again and listen very carefully to your internal irony detector.

  53. There are not only 2 factions replying, but the article divides everyone involved with the web in 2 factions: the writers on the one side and the programmers, designers, etc. on the other. I think you forget that most people out there belong to both factions as well.

  54. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Without bad writing, how would we know good writing?


    If a good, deaf writer fell down in the woods and no one was around to hear it, would it make a sound?


    Q. What do you do if you meet a good writer on the road?

    A. Kill him


    Words I like to write
    include haiku and quatrain
    but I have no pen


    A good writer, a priest and a Rabi went into a bar…

    yada yada yada

    …twelve inch pianist!


    Cue the music!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all write
    Then we wouldn’t have to read so much
    Unneccessiarily bad grammar
    and careless spelling errors.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if every writer
    Offered everone their skills for free
    Better yet, not to everybody
    No, better just to me.

    Then I could have a really great website
    One that was worthy of all praise
    And everybody who would visit
    Would stay and read for days

    Then I could retire because they would
    All feel that they should
    Send me lots and lots of money
    Man, I think that would be good!

    Oh wouldn’t it be nice?

  55. Sure, people can sit and nit-pick this to death, but the fact is you’re right. Good content comes first. Words and text are just one kind of content – the most prevalent form of content. Design puts structure to content – form follows function (usually). The best part of what you’ve done with this short article though is you’ve provided an example of someone getting their point across with an engaging and funny tone. This is killer content. It’s not enough to have great ideas – you also have to convey them in a way that the audience wants to consume them. Keep it coming.

  56. Nicely done Nick, thanks. I guess that puts me in the “I like words” camp, as far as appreciating the article goes.

    Being a map-maker by trade, I have a very deep appreciation of good visual design and how hard it is to achieve. The web has a looong way to go before it can accomplish visually what is already possible, and in active use, with “bare words” in terms of engaging people. That said, CSS and structured content is a very healthy step in bringing graphic appeal into the picture.

    It would very interesting indeed to see a _visual response_ to this article. Prove how narrow minded and one-sided Nickʼs viewpoint is with something other than ˮjust wordsˮ. Anybody up to the task?

    This is emphatically not a trolling question, in the sense of smelly unpleasant trodgeledytes that live under bridges. It is a fishing expedition though. I am genuinely interested in a graphic or text+graphic response to the article.

  57. the warning about “HTML tags and entities display as source; they do not render…” should be at the bottom of the page, on top of or adjacent to the comment box.

    It should also be in a different font or colour or something so it doesn’t blend in with the comments.

    and quotes (“) get screwed up.

  58. First of all, Usborne seems to use the terms “Web” and “Internet” interchangeably. A definite no-no. Secondly, for the record, Usenet was born in 1979.

    Those quibbles out of the way, I think Usborne missed out on some of the most exciting innovations of the pre-commercialized Web. Mosaic allowed for early net.art, the whole reason many of us got on the Web in the first place. To claim that the Web is just a text-based medium is missing the point. There’s a reason the Web surpassed Usenet in popularity. Suddenly multimedia artists had an online canvas too.

    Usborne’s claim that non-commercial writers are the only ones “keeping it real” is shallow and divisive. The great thing about the Web is its inclusiveness. On one hand, you have a blogger posting a breakfast recipe, on the other you have a non-writer posting photos of his tape measure collection. They’re both cool. Usborne can stay in the world of mailing lists and Usenet if he wishes, but thankfully most people are a little more open-minded.

  59. P.S. I agree with Lyle above. If Usborne had just expanded his definition of content beyond, “Just text, just the words,” he wouldn’t be getting so much flak!

  60. Mr. Usborne is correct: bless the internet and the ‘engaged’ people that make it interesting.

    Still, how comical that a such an observant person would produce such half-baked nonsense. The experience of the web is about well chosen words and so much more (like freely trading copyrighted music).


  61. …are our clients. The same clients that receive a site map with all the planned elements and required info. They look it over, nod and smile, and go back to their email. Oh, and there’s no budget for copywriting — have my assistant work it up. While I’m designing all of my trendy pages, the client is ignoring my repeated requests for copy. I end up writing it myself and filling up those white spaces… That’s copywriter in addition to: marketer, strategist, designer, photographer, retoucher, programmer, print liason and babysitter. It’s a cultural thing — not a designer thing.

  62. Great article, the point is made succinctly and well and fits nicely with the general ethos of ALA site – web standards. The rapid development of graphical (proprietary-tag ridden) browsers and interest in the web has resulted in its bastardisation. Many developers went mad and forgot about the content.

    Time to get over our design egos and get back to basics by implementing fundamental standards intelligently so we dont have to sacrifice visual appeal. This is about the maturing of the web and re-thinking how we design and construct sites to prioritise the content not our over-bloated designs.

  63. ‘Can’t see the forest for the hammers?’ – vWoning (http://www.alistapart.com/discuss/hammers/4/#c5486)

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head (dunno what with – I’ve got the sack with all the hammers!)

    I mean that I HAVE missed the point of the article, which only goes to show how bad the article is.

    It seems that all these comments come from people that “got it” and people that didn’t.
    Unfortunately the ones that didn’t get it were the ones that needed to.

    The colourful article was very entertaining in the great way it was written, however this was the sole reason some of us did not ‘get it.’

    After reading these comments I think the point has now been revealed.
    ‘In summary: content is at least as important as design, if not more so.’ – Matt K (http://www.alistapart.com/discuss/hammers/5/#c5501)

    The fact I now see the message, highlights how communicating on the Web helps us understand things.

    Plain English is often the best bet as opposed to the fairy-dusted self-indulgent (maybe immature?) pantomime of an article we all read.

    ‘For those of you offended readers, I think that you are missing the point.’ – Caio Chassot (http://www.alistapart.com/discuss/hammers/5/#c5506)
    If the message is that content should not be shoved back to the least important part or the Web, then those that the message was intended to reach, only perceived the article to attack them.
    Throwing that sack of hammers in our faces gave us one very clear message, and entirely obscured the more important and useful message.

    If the author had designed the article properly, he would have the target audience well set in his mind and written an article the target audience can understand.
    (So he’s just shown how lack of design skill/knowledge, or just plain common sense, can lead to a total waste of time.)

    ‘That some people loved the article while others hated it also shows the power words have to convey and shape perception.’ – apartness
    A little power in the wrong hands can do more harm than good, maybe you SHOULD have re-written, or at least added more clear explanation as well as neutralising some of the acidity.

    Another point made by Craig Hartel (http://www.alistapart.com/discuss/hammers/5/#c5510) is about the symbiosis of the writers and the designers, and I want to extend this point to say that it’s about working together, playing together, sharing, and getting along, the sack-of-hammers article seemed to have the complete opposite idea, and indeed divided the commentators into two camps.

    Well Nick Usborne, I hope it gave you a big enough ego boost for that day?

  64. You forget that, in the days where hardly anything on the internet is free anymore, making sure that “all those company and organization sites had closed down” would have cut off millions from their email and blogging sites. The engaged people that “were reading and writing. Frowning and laughing. Crying and cheering. Agreeing and disagreeing.” are just the elite few who can provide those services for themselves. And society is not just composed of the elite.

    I would certainly think that the research universities that contructed the internet and were there long before the companies and organizations, now count as companies and organizations since they count on the dollars too.

    I understand that your fable tries to say that content is king, but there is a whole monstrous infrastructure built to support that content and without the support the lattice collapses. After all “frowning, laughing, crying, cheering, agreeing and disagreeing” never paid the bills.

  65. I pretty much agree that the content is very important, but, and lets use ALA for example. What first drew me to this website was the great articles, but I also loved th images and title/headers that it used to have before the articles. Clever stuff.

  66. I think it’s about what we use the internet for:

    etc etc etc

    Good design makes it easier for us to do these things. Bad design hinders it but doesn’t stop it. If a badly designed site has what I need, I’ll still go there – if I can find it. So yes, design is important, but content is what drives the internet and always will – whatever form it comes in (words, pictures, sounds, good, bad or ugly).

    Part of the article that I really appreciated was pointing out that there is so much more to the internet than its commercial face. Often, in this other, larger area of the world wide web, the people that create the sites (aka the designers) are also the people that create the content (aka the writers). The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

  67. Just before reading your article, I changed from a modern X Terminal to the oldest text terminal our students’ union has to offer. Why? Because I wanted to *read* some interesting things without being distracted by fancy layouts, graphics or all the possibilities a GUI offers. And, just after having changed my seat, I happened to read your text — it describes my situation perfectly.
    However, I was sorry to see that one of the posters in this forum was worried about the impact of the words “wet dreams” on people in his company. The so-called “political correctness” is a very disappointing example of what can happen if the power of words is overestimated. As hard as it may sometimes be, one should never forget that readers *do* have a brain of their own. Don’t try to force your opinion on them, let them judge for themselves. If anyone actually feels hurt “automatically” everytime a derogative sentence is used, I feel sorry for that person.

  68. People often forgot what the Web was made for – the transferrance of data. Not borders, color, images, sounds, etc. Just data. And people want to go mess that up?

    Bravo on that article. It struck me as one of the best articles I’ve read on ALA. And the irony is, the people who said they didn’t “get it,” were rather well enjoying themself by *reading* the words. 🙂

    Note: Swapping MP3s and such isn’t really part of the Web..it does transfer information, but P2P is *not* the Web.


  69. Every time someone comes talking to me about how interactive and blinking they want a site to be I ask: Which is the most visited website in the world. I get that blank stare and answer (it was a rhetorical question, anyway) Google.

    Does Google blink? Does it have flash? Funny sounds?

    It only gives you what you want, best, faster, more effectively than anyone else. For today, that is.

    The web is about content, every one knows, from Dvorak – that said this (more politely) long ago, to my mother that gets lost when things aren’t too damn clear. It is about knowledge, content, comunication, people. Enterprises have got it all wrong, and probably will take a long time for them to get it right.

    Mainly because you can’t build a community online just because you want to. You have to make people want to be part of what you are creating, and that is a difficult alchemy.

    But the web is an infant medium. It is, say, 20 years old. How old are books? Theater? Movies? Music? We all have a long way to go before the web is a solidified medium, old enough to have it’s own set of rules, that everyone knows and can implement them or break them, as they wish.

  70. All language is code and symbol.
    May we all learn to see behind the Smoke and Mirrors in the Land of AZ-ZA

  71. Thats brought a grin to my face in the last couple of minutes of my working day.

    Very well put. I’ve been bounced about over a few companies over the past two years and theres no denying, if you don’t have content worth reading, people won’t come and read it, and if you fail to keep that content current people will lose interest.

  72. No, you did not introduce a mind-boggling concept. But, you knew what you wanted to say, I think I got the point and I actually went to your website. If that is not enough reason for people to like your article whilst illustrating your point… I don’t know. But I will remember this article.

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