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HomeRants > Goodbye documents, hello objects! > Moving content from paper to the web

 

 

The problems with massive content

Mark up that text!

Why documents don't work on the Web

What objects do for you--and to you

Moving content from paper to the web

Shifting from paper to the Web makes you think more seriously about the structure of what you write. You ask yourself more consciously, "What is the form I am going to fill?"

Traditionally, we wrote whole documents, following loosely defined but fairly conventional structures.

Different sections may have addressed different groups and served different purposes, but all those sections were bound together to form a single unit--a book, a manual, a data sheet.

But when we post hundreds or thousands of these documents on a Web site, our software often has trouble locating the particular passage a person wants to read.

Turning documents into collections of objects helps us find what people want.

To help software locate specific chunks within these documents, so people do not have to read through a lot of irrelevant pages, we now identify each part of the document as a distinct object, tagging each element we write, labeling this one "a procedure," and that one "a product description."

But in a giant pile of information, tags are not enough.

We must also organize each document, and each component object, according to a clearly defined structural model, so that the software can anticipate exactly where each element will appear, and skip all the intervening material.

Gradually, our idea of the document is being decomposed into its constituent objects, and the document itself comes to be regarded as just another object, containing other objects nested within, like painted wooden dolls within dolls, endlessly.

Downsides for writers

As we write in this environment, our method of discovering and arranging material, becomes more routinized, more conventional, less improvisational.

The group we work with sets up a model structure for each type of informative object, defining which pieces are required or optional, in what order, and we have to write the objects that will fit, like blocks, into that architecture.

Upsides for writers

Each class of object has a purpose--to answer a particular type of question, deal with a common request, or satisfy a fairly widespread need, wish, or whim.

The abstract structure reflects the team's best idea of a satisfactory response.

And each new object we create following this model is designed to serve as a virtual reply to our visitors, in this odd conversation that takes place over the net, and through the screen.

Arising, then, as a way of coping with the huge amount of information accumulating on the Web, this new way to come up with ideas, explore topics, and organize our writing necessarily focuses our attention on the individual building blocks that software assembles into Web pages, customizing them for niche audiences, or personalizing them for individual visitors.

Subtly nudged by XML and an object orientation, by customization and personalization, and by the sheer volume of content, we are being led to worship at the altar of structure.

Related articles:

A rhetoric of objects

Complexity theory as a way of understanding the Web

Structuring complex interactive information

What kind of thing am I creating? (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 728K, or 12 minutes at 56K)

 

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