A List Apart № 419: Narratives & Conversations

IN ISSUE № 419 of A List Apart:

Do Androids Dream in Free Verse

by JOSCELIN COOPER

From ATMs to Siri to the button text in an application user interface, we “talk” to our tech—and our tech talks back. Often this exchange is purely transactional, but newer technologies have renegotiated this relationship. Joscelin Cooper reflects on how we can design successful human-machine conversations that are neither cloying nor overly mechanical. 


Building Nonlinear Narratives for the Web

by SENONGO AKPEM

The web operates in ways that can conflict with our traditional view of what a “story” is. Content is chunked, mixed, and spread across channels, devices, and formats. How do we understand story lines, characters, interactions, and the role of the audience, given this information sprawl? Cue nonlinear narratives—Senongo Akpem guides us past basic “scrolly-telling” to immersive, sometimes surprising experiences.

The joy of content creation (and the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox)

AN INSPIRING STORY of content creation, which is also, although this particular tale ends happily, a warning about the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox.

Stampylongnose makes wonderful videos about Minecraft (among other things) and is the first independent content creator in my young daughter’s world. She follows him like you followed your first favorite blogger.

In “1 Million Subscribers Special – From Then To Now,” he shares how he became an independent video producer on the web—how he lost everything when Google arbitrarily pulled the plug—and how the community that loved him, and one great Google admin, fought to restore his work.


“The independent content producer refuses to die.”

McGrane: Kill Your CMS

THE ERA of “desktop publishing” is over. Same goes for the era where we privilege the desktop web interface above all others. The tools we create to manage our content are vestiges of the desktop publishing revolution, where we tried to enable as much direct manipulation of content as possible. In a world where we have infinite possible outputs for our content, it’s time to move beyond tools that rely on visual styling to convey semantic meaning. If we want true separation of content from form, it has to start in the CMS.–Karen McGrane, WYSIWTF ∙ An A List Apart Column.

Creative Commons turns 10

HARD TO BELIEVE, but it was ten years ago that I first heard Lawrence Lessig give a talk at SXSWi about an idea he had to save content from death by copyright law.

At the time, copyright law and digital creativity were at odds, and tens of thousands of cultural artifacts were disappearing from the commons because of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, a copyright extension pushed through congress by the late Sonny Bono at the behest of the Disney corporation. Corey Doctorow, one of Lessig’s partners on the SXSW panel, memorably likened the destruction to the slow motion burning of the Library of Alexandria.

But Lessig had a plan. And, remarkably, it worked: “For a decade now, Creative Commons has made legal sharing and remixing easier for everyone. After ten years, it has become the default third way.”

Let’s help this good work continue. Please donate to Creative Commons if you can.

Design is Copy is Design

ART AND COPY have been joined at the hip since Bill Bernbach launched the creative revolution in the 1960s. But on the web, not so much.

It’s great that some of the brightest minds in our industry continue making the point that copy matters, and that “one of the most overlooked designers in any field is the copywriter.” But it’s sad that, whenever we make that point, the only examples we seem to come up with are 37signals and Apple. (Flickr used to be in there, too, but these days, sadly, nobody wants to talk about Flickr—even when they’re a canonical example of doing x right.)

Anyhoo: Great Design is Jargon-Free is another fine instance of a smart web person (in this case, the handsome and erudite Scott Berkun) making those points.

Big Web Show 78: Bloomstein on content strategy

IN EPISODE No. 78 of The Big Web Show (“everything web that matters”), I interview Margot Bloomstein, author of Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Engagement (Morgan Kaufmann, 2012), about her professional transition from design to content strategy; the vagaries of the consulting life; how mentoring and non-traditional academic backgrounds can fit into a web career; how to write a content strategy book for people who are not content strategists; and the beauties of Pittsburgh.

Content Strategy for Mobile three ways from Sunday

IT’S A Karen McGrane world! Today, as A Book Apart unveils Karen McGrane’s amazing new Content Strategy for Mobile, the entirety of A List Apart Issue No. 364 is dedicated to Karen and her vision for future-friendly web content:

Uncle Sam Wants You (to Optimize Your Content for Mobile)

Thirty-one percent of Americans who access the internet from a mobile device say that’s the way they always or mostly go online. For this group, if your content doesn’t exist on mobile, it doesn’t exist at all. The U.S. government has responded with a broad initiative to make federal website content mobile-friendly. Karen McGrane explains why this matters—and what you can learn from it.

Your Content, Now Mobile

Making your content mobile-ready isn’t easy, but if you take the time now to examine your content and structure it for maximum flexibility and reuse, you’ll have stripped away all the bad, irrelevant bits, and be better prepared the next time a new gadget rolls around. This excerpt from Karen McGrane’s new book, Content Strategy for Mobile, will help you get started.

Help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

Fifteen percent of sales of Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile and other A Book Apart books sold today will go to the Red Cross in its effort to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Leo Laporte interviews JZ

IN EPISODE 63 of Triangulation, Leo Laporte, a gracious and knowledgeable podcaster/broadcaster straight outta Petaluma, CA, interviews Your Humble Narrator about web standards history, responsive web design, content first, the state of standards in a multi-device world, and why communists sometimes make lousy band managers.

A List Apart news

Presenting Sara Wachter Boettcher, ALA’s new editor-in-chief.

WITH THE RELEASE on July 10, 2012 of the A List Apart Summer Reading Issue (a collection of favorite articles from 355 issues of the magazine), ALA’s editor-in-chief Krista Stevens has hung up her spurs and moved on.

Over six significant web years, Krista’s passion for great writing led to such extraordinary articles as More Meaningful Typography by Tim Brown, Orbital Content by Cameron Koczon, In Defense of Readers by Mandy Brown, Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte, and many others.

She helped ALA anticipate the important ideas in the rapidly changing fields of web design, web development, user experience, and content strategy, and continued the magazine’s tradition of pioneering and promoting best practices, while also broadening the kinds of stories we covered. Behind the scenes, she also updated our processes; coaxed the best work possible out of authors and staff; remembered birthdays and anticipated conflicts before feelings could get hurt; and more. She led us and mothered us, and she will be missed. You can follow Krista on Twitter, benefit from her user advocacy at Automattic, and continue to be enlightened by her via Contents Magazine. Thank you, Krista.


New editor-in-chief Sara Wachter Boettcher is a content strategist and writer who recently moved to Lancaster, PA, where she bucks the local Amish tradition by spending her days making, reading, and writing things on the web. She is the author of the upcoming Rosenfeld Media book Content Everywhere, a frequent conference speaker, and has contributed articles and essays to A List Apart (Future-Ready Content) and Contents (On Content and Curiosity).

Currently a consultant under her own shingle, Sara previously spent a half-dozen years working in agencies, mainly at Off Madison Ave, where she started as a web writer and became the director of interactive content and marketing strategy. Although her A List Apart editorship does not officially begin until August, Sara has already dived in behind the scenes. She is whip-smart and a pleasure to know.

Welcome, Sara!

Interacting Responsively (and Responsibly!)

AT AN EVENT APART Boston, “Scott Jehl discussed ways we can improve web performance by qualifying capabilities and being smart about how assets are loaded in browsers [and] shared a … new tools he helped create that can help address these issues.”

Enjoy Luke Wroblewski’s notes on Scott’s talk.