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Think Web


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Tim Norris:

I clicked my first web hyperlink in October 1993.

It profoundly changed my career, my work, my interests, and my way of thinking. And it was that power of connection between different nodes of information that excited me, that I could decide how to create paths within content I created, and other sorts. I git inspired to try and help other people do it through a tutorial I made called Writing HTML. (The language of the web is HyperText Markup Language).

I cannot help but link.

This is not to brag nor to show you how old I am (but you can do some math). At some point I imagined my dreams were in HTML.

These days most people do not interact with this layer of the web… we compose web pages in tools like blog platforms or social media sites that handle the technical side for us. But it is there all the time— just look for the View Source option in your web browser. it may appear as gibberish to you.

But I am not writing this to urge everyone learn this language. It can help you. There are larger issues that people are in encouraging a level of web literacy which means a conceptual understanding of how the web works.

Back when I started we had to say “World Wide Web” and even then people had no idea what it was. We can shorten it today to be just “the Web” and many people at least have the experience of it to know what you are referring to.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Josh Lewis:

The thing I have trouble understanding is when you work with people— who navigate the web regularly, following hyperlinks, seeing media in web pages— when they sit down to write web content, they have lost that frame of reference.

To me it matters less that people know how to code the web, but that they more understand how to think like the web when they create content— two elements that are important to me are writing hypertext and embedding media in your web writing. And your web thinking.

It’s not a web without links. When you write, you should think what would help a reader. If you mention an organization, you should link to it. When you reference a paper, or someone else’s work or idea, you should link to it. If you use an acronym or a special term outside of common language, you should…. repeat after me, link to it.

How much linking? That is a judgement call, too many link might be distracting. You do not have to link every possible thing. But, IMHO,  if you are writing on the web without hyperlinks, you are not doing your part to make the web a better place for other people.

And the linking should be on the words in a sentence that make sense. If you just make the hypertext link on a URL, it really does not flow with the act of reading, nor does it give any contextual indication of the content you are linking to. 

The virtue of linking is to give credit to the work of others, an act of being a part of a networked culture is giving credit. The link is the best way to do it. Some web content platforms will actually get a “ping” (an electronic notice, when you link to their work. That makes them curious to look at the source of that link.

Bingo! A connection comes back to you.

The other attribute of the web people do not always think about are using embedded media. You may notice I almost always use a photo in my writing, often as a metaphor if not for being a specific example.

I also aim to use content that people have shared with an understanding that it can be used by others if you give credit for the source, or under the licenses of Creative Commons.

If I share a photo under creative commons, it still means it is my intellectual property, but I grant use to other people if they provide credit to me, via attribution, a photo credit text or a hyperlink back to the original (as I have done in the photos above, which are not mine).

Why do this? I get a lot of use out of other people’s photos, so for me, it is a return of the favor. I rely heavily on the creative commons collection of photos on flickr — the way flickr works is that other sites can build tools that work with the flickr library of media (millions? billions? of photos). The site I use to search is called compfight - just make sure o check the box to search for creative commons licensed content, and skip the stock photos above the line (this is how the site makes money)


Search for images is a bit more nuanced that searching for content in Google. If you want to learn more about my approach, I have some workshop materials at Upping Your Image Quotient


Because I use flickr so much, and I wanted to have an easy way to generate the creative commons attribution (the captions below the first two images), I built a free browser tool that actually adds a cut and paste attribution string to every creative commons licensed photo page— see the flickr cc attribution helper.

For other kinds of media, videos from YouTube or vimeo, audio from sites such as , even a message on twitter, you can embed them directly into your web site. If you are trying to raise interest in your project, don;t you want people to stay on your site? Do not just send them away with a “click here to see this video on youtube” why not keep them right in your context and content?

I might want to say how I had never realized the impact of all the bottled water in the stores or that get handed out at events. This video changed my thinking.

Learn how to embed media into your web content - it is less of the idea of “keeping” people on your site, but being better able to contextualize the content in the video.

This is a bit of a long ramble, but I would hope the students new to blogging in Project Community start practicing “thinking like the web”. It is like becoming more proficient at anything- music, sports, knitting socks- you get better at doing it by doing it more often, but also being more reflective and thoughtful of what you are doing.

It not get to the case I have where I see HTML in rocks, but you ought to aim to think different about writing for the web than other kinds of writing.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Alan Levine:

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This post was originally published at the Project Community blog: CogDogging It (Alan Levine ProjComm 2013)
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