Monday, 5 March 2007

Not doing one thing right!

I've made myself a personalised Google home page and the feature I like most is being able to see the latest feeds in my Google blog reader. Which is where I came across Doing One Thing Right: Couchville, by Michael Arrington on Tech Crunch. It's a review of a TV guide service that doesn't try for bells and whistles - just does one thing right. Great - except that the review does something wrong. In the text of the article the writer to refers to Coucheville (note the additional e) including a link to There is no such address.

Over at, don't wait up for the surge in traffic - it ain't coming, except from nit-pickers like me that can't help spotting typos. We all make mistakes, but the headline which implies that a sub-editor spotted the error but didn't make corrections to the body text - that's not just a simple mistake, that's poor process. If readers are to trust online sources, writers must be consistently accurate and check sources and references.

I don't know anything about the editorial processes at Tech Crunch - maybe this is a rare case that slipped through usual checks - or maybe they rely on writers to police their own accuracy. I'm sure they will act to correct the mistake.

This trivial error (unless you are couchville, of course) reflects a general issue affecting the credibility of web content. Now that we are all self-publishers, a couple of issues are emerging which affect the value and nature of online information.

First there is the issue of accuracy: Much as we all love Wikipedia, it can be prone to manipulation and should be taken with a pinch of salt. The things we enjoy most about self-publishing - the immediacy and freedom - are also its greatest weaknesses. To coin the old adage - with freedom comes responsibility, but many bloggers don't know the simple rules of grammar and journalism - why should they?

Second, there is the issue of clarity: As social networks and globalisation take people across cultural boundaries, there is an ever-growing need for people to use simple, clear language which is easy to translate. Any designer will tell you that simple doesn't mean easy. One happy outcome is that writers must move on from the awful practice of ization - when "How will you make money?" is turned into "How will you monetize?", or "developing products" becomes "productization". A possible victim of cross-cultural communication will be the conditional tense - because words like might and should translate badly, will they disappear? I read once that native american languages have no tenses perhaps it's not a bad idea to lose a few.

Looking forward, the semantic web aims to ease data sharing between applications and communities based on the Resource Description Framework. While transparent to users, the semantic web presents a big new learning curve for writers and other content developers.

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