Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The Long and Short of It

My website is a creative outlet for me; not just in terms of content but also in terms of the presentation of that content. I regularly re-work the design although there is less striving to achieve “the perfect layout” these days, and more modifications which are intended to change how visitors interact with certain aspects of the website.

In order to make people aware of new content on the website, I use a number of different channels. A questionnaire to regular readers on the subject of a possible newsletter gained little feeback, but that which came in indicated that it wouldn’t gain many subscribers; hence rendering the effort required to produce such a newsletter inefficient. So, I decided to continue to post updates through the following channels, where it is well received and where notification does its job.

Gaining attention for articles

I have a “Facebook fan page“, which may sound a little self-obsessed but which is merely an area within the social network where people interested in my website and photography can see what I’m up to. I post regular links to my Twitter account, where friends and those who want to follow my daily online activity can see when new entries come online. I post new photographs regularly to Flickr, where I choose to draw people to my website by placing links to additional content or larger, more detailed articles. Lastly, and as an automatic process provided by the publishing system I use, an RSS feed is available, through which subscribers receive automatic notification when a new article comes online.

Most of my traffic these days comes to the website via Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, with a healthy dose arriving from search engines such as Google.

To summarize or not to summarize

Stephanie Booth posted some questions and comments online last night and earlier today to provoke a response from her contacts on the subject of “content syndication”. Namely, whether one should share the complete content of an article or just a summary, when posting to external website sources.

I am a strong believer in the centralization of content on the web, which comes from my background of newspaper and online publishing. The unnecessary duplication of content, which is prevalent where articles are lifted and re-published 1:1 in secondary, tertiary or any number of alternative locations, allows people to find this information more easily, particularly if the original website is a poor performer in search engines. However, the content is strewn widely through the internet, often mis- or unattributed, which leads not only to a range of sources for the same information but also the potential for information to be taken out of context.

I post excerpts of my articles in other locations in order to provide a quick summary of the article for people to see. Then, if they’re interested in the subject, they can choose to visit the specific and individual location of that article, right here on my website. Once here, they can see photographs, videos or written articles in a layout which I have optimized through more than a decade of digital design experience. The photos are presented in a way which shows them in the style which I feel is best; legibility for the articles is preserved and visitors have the option to enter into discussion through the comments section.

I have chosen to display all of my articles in a common format (and indeed choose to style my writing and images to fit into the layout of the website, in many instances), but other authors choose to go one step further and not just write their articles in a common format but also style each individual article in a specific way. Through this technique, they make the layout and display of each individual article a complex part of the article itself. Jason Santa Maria’s website is a prime example of this technique, which raises many interesting design discussions. (Check out the overview of articles “By Design Tag” to see examples of how different articles are grouped not by theme, but by layout.)

I can totally understand why other authors want to spread their articles more widely through the internet; whether in order to gain recognition or publicity for their work. Both of these reasons are totally valid but I personally believe that my website is a collection of my work. What some would call a portfolio. By spreading articles out into the internet and sharing them through several websites, visibility is gained but only at the cost of losing value in presenting all of the articles as a whole. Sure, I could gain recognition for a particular article and gain from that, but my website is intended to work as a whole: showing not just an individual article, but a large collection of articles and galleries, in context.

Long or short?

The final argument is that of posting entire articles in RSS format, instead of just excerpts. I choose to post a summary of each article so that people can see whether they are interested in the topic, then visit the website to read the entire article or view the gallery and images. Many people use RSS feeds to read articles, which is fine for many websites. The articles I choose to publish, though, are not suited to being displayed entirely in RSS readers. Many readers support embedded images, but I don’t want images which I’ve spent a lot of time working on being displayed soley in such a small, low resolution. I would rather people not see the image than see it in an online environment where it is degraded by placing it in an environment where its quality and detail are compromised.

Sometimes, the frame is just as important to an image as the picture itself.

As in the rest of the internet, and many other design decisions, there are several “right ways” to proceed. The trick is to review precisely what you’re trying to achieve, what your goals are and what solutions are available. Then, choose the solutions which help you achieve your goals. There are no fixed rules for creativity in the internet, just ways for you to reach the result you are trying to achieve.