Evaluating web writing
Environmental sustainability is one of my principal interests and so I decided to have a closer look at three different websites in this field. One of the most famous sites is from the USA and is called ‘World Changing’. I also discovered a lesser-known site from Australia called ‘EcoVoice’ and an English language site from Japan called ‘Japan for Sustainability’.
At the top of World Changing’s website there are constantly changing quotes about the site. E.G ‘Worldchanging offers readers “solutions-focused” reporting on innovation’ – NYTimes’ and ‘2006, Finalist for a Webby for Best Blog’ are a couple of the sentiments that instantly inform potential readers that this site has been validated by reputable sources. The main page is split into three columns: ‘Feature articles’ (including very small, tactful photos related to each story), ‘The Daily Blog’, and ‘Top Stories of the Week’.
World Changing has a team of writers and this is shown by a consistent flow of new content; ‘The Daily Blog’ is updated daily (Who would have guessed?), and usually with more than one new article. However, like many News sites, some of their content is taken in full from external sources. Like Google’s eponymous search engine main page, the site is uncluttered, yet space is filled with necessary topical content. There is no distracting Flash animation, but a human touch (not to mention an ‘attention grabber’) is the one simple photo or video. This photo relates to a specific News feature article, and underneath is a short blurb summary. There’s also a link that takes readers to a list of older features.
Next to the site’s short, simple and effective title is a subtitle that expresses what the site hopes to achieve, ‘Change your thinking’. There’s a range of button links for article categories. Then, there’s a slightly larger button that says, ‘Donate Now’. This is obviously how the group gets at least a portion of its funding, as ugly advertisements and garish banners are kept to an absolute minimum here. Two Google ads in one column, and a couple of small book ads here and there (of which relate to the topic) don’t distract from the content.
I found a link on the main page (short summary included) and read a tagged ‘political’ post entitled, ‘China Gradually Improves Environmental Transparency’. The article itself isn’t too short, but it also doesn’t force the viewer to scroll endlessly downwards, or to click onwards to more pages. As we know, ‘making readers scroll to get to the rest of a story is generally preferable to making them click.’ (Dube, 2001) Throughout the story many external links are included, which take readers to reputable sources where information was originally ‘penned’.
At the end of the blog post, there’s a list of links to related topical articles written elsewhere on the World Changing site. There’s a place for people to comment, and all the buttons for sharing information via social networking sites like Delicious and Digg.
Interestingly, this article was taken from a different website, which is linked to at the end of the piece. This can create curiosity or doubt about what percentage of articles come from elsewhere, as opposed to editorial produced by World Changing’s own team of writers. One other point to mention is the inclusion on every page of an ‘Official Workspace Sponsor’. One can presume that a good amount of funding comes from this source. It’s good to see some transparency in a News site, as readers can tell if articles are influenced by financial interests or otherwise. ‘There must be some sense of journalists working for the sake of humanity.’ (Williams, 2005, pg.6)
The site contains a box for people to give their email address in order to receive a newsletter. Next to this box is the apt message, ‘Get good News for a change!’ This small textual addition is both original and fun; it can make a reader feel like the organisation truly cares.
The article is written very professionally. It has a large bolded headline that includes relevant keywords, limiting any use of generic terminology. It’s definitely written for an audience who desires professional reporting backed up by reputable sources.
Next, I’ll look at the Australian site called, ‘Eco Voice’. Right from the start I was blown away by all the imagery on the Main Page. One is forced to scream, ‘Where’s the text?’ It’s very difficult to discern between images that link to parts of the site, other external sites, sponsors, or advertisements. ‘Too often web pages end up isolated fragments of information, divorced from their context through the lack of essential links and the failure to inform the user of their content.’ (Lynch, Horton, Web style guide, ch.9, pg.1)
The only means to get to any real News (It’s called ‘The Environmental Newspaper’) is to click on the very large ‘Latest Eco News’ link. The Main Page lets people know who supports the site and who’s selling related stuff, but no content is actually there. Big mistake! We want content. If we have to click through, without being given any information beforehand, there’s an equal chance we’ll click away to look for someone who deems their own content to be of importance.
Now we’ve reached a ‘Contents’ page. There’s still nothing to read, listen to or watch. Here we get a list of potential topics listed under categorical names like ‘Eco Awards and events’, ‘Climate Change’, ‘Habitat’, ‘Forums’ and ‘Book Look’. If there is any valid content about environmental sustainability, it’s buried beneath detritus and other extraneous sludge. Why are ‘Eco Awards and Events’ so important?
I’ve finally reached an article. Clicking through from the Contents page, it has only taken me three pages to get what I came for. The article in question is called, ‘Ganges River Dolphin In Dire Straits’. A relatively short piece, this article is definitely not as professional as the story at World Changing. I wanted to look at high quality sites, but after seeing something of top quality, errors and glaring omissions jump out at me like…dolphins jumping for a fishy dinner. This article does have its main point summarised in bold under the headline, but it doesn’t have any links to other News sources or information resources to let readers know where the ideas originally came from.
There are some quoted people’s names written in bold where one would expect a link. Strange. As there are quotes in the story, I presume the writer interviewed the people. That’s not such a bad thing; it means they’re willing to produce their own News via their own research. ‘A participatory culture in which most of the population see themselves as creators as well as consumers of culture is far more likely to generate freedom and wealth for more people than one in which a small portion of the population produces culture that the majority passively consume.’ (Howard in Wesch, 2009) It’d just be nice to get a few links to related articles or sources. The article does have a couple of good images to go with it, but one can’t help but be distracted by the moving Flash advertisements that sit right next to the text.
The third site I analysed was the Japan For Sustainability or (JFS) site, of which is written in English as well as their native tongue. On first approach, the Main Page looks like a newspaper from seventy years ago; it’s very plain, not colourful and some would call it boring when compared with a more visually stimulating web page. One has to draw a line between stagnant and overdone when it comes to the use of colour, images and Flash animation. There’s also a photo of the Moon in its banner, but I have to wonder about its direct relevance, as a denuded object with no life whatsoever mightn’t be the best symbol for a site dedicated to helping the planet survive into the future?
This site states its meaning for existence in a straightforward, simplistic and almost bureaucratic manner (very Japanese). ‘The latest information on environmental topics from Japan to the world.’ Some article links have images attached, but not all, which makes for a very unprofessional feel, as tiny ‘No photo’ icons sit next to the article headings. There are also quite sizable sections of the page dedicated to links about how JFS have Twitter and a Youth Action Page. I can see the relevance of the latter, but such a large portion of the page dedicated to a Twitter link makes it look like the web developer is confused about what content is most important; maybe they aren’t a contributor? Something small like this can put a site’s integrity under question. ‘Copy needs specific goals to accomplish.’ (Kissane, 2008) The web designer should know that the site’s News articles are more important than information obtained elsewhere.
There are a few cool-looking little image links to topics such as ‘Manga’ (Environmental Manga!), Encouraging Quotes, and a map of Japan with ‘Interesting Eco Spots’ marked out. I thought these were both appealing and added some fun to contrast the administrative-type feel of the site’s main banner.
I read the article, ‘Car-sharing Stations Established near All Stations on Yamanote Line by ORIX’. This is a short and to the point written piece accompanied by a great photo. My only criticisms would be that there could have been more substance, and that source links should have been linked to by article title, instead of including the whole strange URL link with all its arbitrary numbers and letters. For me, this shows that the writer hasn’t got a full grasp of blogging technology, or doesn’t realise the aesthetic importance of clean text .The post is tagged with a couple related terms, when if clicked on take you to other posts on the same site with similar content, as well as their being a ‘Related article’ list at the bottom of the page.
Overall, World Changing is the most successful site, but you have to admit it takes time, effort, experience and ‘manpower’ to create a News site of integrity. The others don’t fail their job; they are readable and contain interesting content. It’s a matter of fine-tuning, but in the short attention span lifestyle of modern society, being ‘adequate mightn’t get you second chance.
Dube, Jonathan, ‘Writing News Online’,
Kissane, Erin, ‘Writing Content that works for a living’, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/writingcontentthatworksforaliving, 2008
Lynch, Horton, ‘Web Style Guide’ 3rd Edition, Ch.9 Editorial Style, 2008
Wesch, ‘Participatory Media Literacy: Why it matters’
Williams, Dr Rowan, “The Media: Public Interest and Common Good”, speech, 2005.