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Can you believe it?

(One of the books assigned to us in Communications class is Brian Carroll’s Writing for Digital Media. I’m going to be responding to it throughout the semester.)

As I said in my introductory post, anyone in the world can publish content to the Internet! For the first time, ordinary citizens can disseminate information just as fast as the major news networks, if not faster. Indeed, there is a multitude of information out there, but like Arthur said in the video above: how do you know if any of it’s true? After a devastating tsunami hit Japan in 2011, I was reading Twitter and came across some disturbing news:

The creator of Pokemon died today in the #tsunami, #Japan. RIP: Satoshi Tajiri. #prayforjapan.
@HeckYesLovato
Demi Lovato

This tweet really hit home for me, because I was walking to Gamestop as I read it to pickup Pokemon Black, and the creator had just died. I decided to check the details for the tweet, and found that over 200,000 people had retweeted it, confirming in my mind at least that it was a fact. I retweeted it as well, meaning that everyone who follows me will get the message as well. I did some Googling and found a few bloggers already confirming the fact, based only on the tweet. I found reputable news blogs linking to the tweet as their source. There was no doubt in my mind as I walked into Gamestop 15 minutes later that the creator of Pokemon was dead; killed in the tsunami.

That is, until a random stranger responded to me with something along these lines:

NOT DEAD! Yuko Yamaguchi (Hello Kitty) + Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon) creators are alive. Please stop spreading death rumors. #earthquake #japan
@lacarmina
La Carmina

Well drat, I got myself caught up in a rumor. Turns out this tweet was real, and the previous one wasn’t. Still, how can I believe this tweet without doing some fact checking? I checked the same blogs, and found that many of them had redacted or changed their stories to reflect this new information. Why should I trust them at all if they can’t make up their minds? Why should anyone trust me if I’m spreading these rumors as well? I retweeted the first tweet! I’m part of the problem! I quickly deleted (detweeted?) the false tweet from my timeline, but how many hundreds of people had read it? Enough for someone to reply directly to me to tell me I was spreading lies.

In his book, Brian Carroll quotes Phillip Meyer as saying “the more users rely on Weblogs, the higher their assessment of credibility.” I’d agree with this statement, as in my case whenever a news story breaks, I’m on Twitter searching for reactions. I tend to read the same technology blogs day by day, and have come to generally trust anything said on the bigger ones, or ones from people who’ve written quality articles in the past. Still, however, I have my limits. Carroll argues that if a website looks unprofessional or requires you to pay or register to view its contents, you’ll probably doubt its overall quality. I mentioned in my earlier posts that content is king, that even if you have a really poorly designed website, if you write excellent content you’ll still have a chance. I’m not so sure anymore, as it does seem that well designed sites appear more credible. Consider an e-commerce site that looks like it was designed by a middle-school student or doesn’t have SSL encryption. Would you trust them?

Page design aside, Carroll also discusses how when you’re writing for the web, you should write in a way that can be easily scanned. The average web reader skims content vertically as well as horizontally, and may not want to search long prose to find their answer. At almost 600 words so far, I’m not doing a great job of keeping my writing concise, but I am trying to bold the main points. Carroll points out that abstracts are great because they satisfy impatient web users who want the main points as fast as possible.

The web should be interactive!

Image credit: Tumblr

Unlike in print media, Carroll points out that we have the power on the web to send out unlimited amounts of color images, sound, and video. Since we have all this power, we should take advantage of it. In fact, people expect us to take advantage of it, and they might go elsewhere if we don’t deliver. Many times I’ll find myself searching for information on the Internet and will come across multiple articles covering the same thing, but one of them will happen to be in image or video form. I’ll almost always take the video rather than a long article. They tend to deliver all the information I need in a shorter amount of time with fewer words and more enthusiasm. Exactly what I need when I’m trying to get information right away.

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