Grammar and Technology

file0002054526820One of the things I love about the English language is its fluidity—how it evolves over time. But as an editor and writer, that characteristic is also one of the most frustrating things about my mother tongue. For instance, how do we keep up with the rapidly changing terms we use to describe what has sprung forth from the computer revolution? Do we consult style manuals, major newspapers? Take a consensus from our peers? See what’s being used on the Internet? And should you even capitalize “Internet” anymore? Is it a registered trademark? Is Al Gore collecting royalties, or are they being swapped for carbon credits? Continue reading

More Reasons Why I Hate Your Website

A while back, I wrote a post about irritating website features. I’ve just done another round of heavy Internet research, and ran into more disturbing trends–not as much in the data, but in the execution. Maybe these features sounded like a good idea when you planned your website, but consider their effect on the user. Or at least on this user. Here are six more reasons why I hate your website:

1. Slideshows. Oh, how I hate slideshows. When I’m doing research, I’m on the clock. I want my information and I want it quickly. If I’m writing an article on cooking with insects, I don’t want to manually scroll through 45 separate windows containing a paragraph each on different ways to serve Madagascar hissing cockroaches. This makes me not only want to leave your site and never return, but write you a nasty letter demanding a refund for all the time I wasted going through all those slides. Yes, they can be fun and entertaining. But please, either limit your slideshows to ten panes or offer the information in a quick list form.

2. Save your surveys. Imagine that I’ve just arrived at your home page. I’m quickly scanning the information, looking for what I need. I find the right link, and just before I’m about to click on it–Bam! The entire window fills with an invitation to take your survey. I am not happy. I don’t know you, you’ve done nothing for me, but you’re asking me how I like your business. If I approached a brick-and-mortar establishment, and a salesperson stopped me as I was opening the door to ask what they could have done to improve my shopping experience, I’d wonder what she’d been imbibing during lunch break. If you have given me information, for instance, if I’ve downloaded something or signed up for your newsletter, if I’d spent a lot of time on the site or was a returning customer, then I’d consider your survey invitation more seriously. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. New Balance’s website, shopnewbalance.com, has this down to a science. They wait until you’ve bought a product to ask for your comments.

3. Readability, people! I was recently sent an HTML e-mail chock full of links. It was for something that I really wanted: a fun-filled day at ComicCon as a reward for attending a trade show last year. Unfortunately, these links were dark blue on a black background. I couldn’t even read them to figure out what I wanted to click on. Prevent this from happening by sending a preview of your HTML e-mails to someone over 40 before you blast them to your entire database.

4. The geek factor. Now, I love geeks. I am 70% geek, by my estimation. Even if your website was designed by your IT department, don’t make it look that way. Dead giveaways? Type that runs all the way to the edge of the windows. Lots of charts. Too many fonts and no apparent thought as to their alignment. More attention given to navigation than design. For the best combination of user appeal and user friendliness, your site should be designed by an artist who has been trained to create websites, rather than a technologist who has been trained to create art.

5. No means no.  Unless I’ve experienced a power failure, leaving your website requires a decision and a physical action. When, upon deciding to leave, various windows keep opening imploring that I reconsider my decision to go elsewhere, it smacks of desperation. I’ve made my mind up. Leave me alone. Okay, maybe I’ll tolerate one reminder in case I’ve accidentally closed the window. After all, my software says, “Are you sure?” to my decisions throughout the day, so I’m accustomed to one bit of nagging. But that’s all. I mean it. Don’t make me come down there.

6. Proofread. Just because you can make changes to your website any time you wish does not excuse you from throwing it up there full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. We’re all human (gasp, even me!) and we all make mistakes. But when the errors are excessive or unfortunate—for example, “pubic” when you meant to write “public” (yes, I’ve seen this, in an e-book)—it makes your pages unreadable and seriously undermines your credibility. If proofreading isn’t your thing, hire a professional. Otherwise, I’ll be navigating somewhere else.

What are you seeing lately on the web that ticks you off? Anything going on that you especially like? Let’s talk!

Why I Won’t Follow You on Twitter

As the publication date of my book draws near, I’ve been spending more time on social networking, mainly on Facebook and Twitter, keeping my friends updated and making new ones. On Facebook, it’s fairly easy for me to learn about the people I want to friend and those who want to friend me. (Did you ever think you would live in a time when “friend” would become a verb?) But Twitter goes faster, has less space (although it’s surprising what you can fit in 140 characters) and can be more abstruse.

Since I am meeting more people on Twitter, I’m getting more follows. I want to follow you back. Really, I do. So many of you post tweets that are entertaining, inspirational, and often so funny I have to avoid drinking coffee while I read them, lest it end up on my screen. But in the couple of years I’ve been on the site, running three different accounts, I’ve learned how to parse out the good from the life’s-too-short.

Here’s why I won’t follow you:

1. I know nothing about you. Twitter gives you 160 characters for a bio. If you leave this blank, I’m less likely to follow you. Tell me something about yourself. Unless you have something to hide.

2. Your avatar is Twitter’s default “egg.” Adding an image tells me that you care enough about your social presence to put a face on it.

3. You follow a lot of people but no one is following you. This tells me that you’re selling something not a lot of people want-it could be a link to a pornographic website or spam. I’m not going there.

4. You tweet in all capital letters. This is obnoxious, shouty, and difficult to read.

5. You BEG me to follow you back. BEG and BEG and BEG. Your desperation scares me off.

6. You are clearly only on this medium to sell me something. Yes, we all have something to sell, even if your only purpose on Twitter is to have fun. You’re selling your personality. But if you are hawking a product or service, the hard-sell approach will make me delete you. The soft sell (some media experts recommend never even mentioning where you can buy your brand-new book, for instance) works so much better. Let me get to know you before you offer to change my life, make me rich, or show me how to drop ten pounds of stubborn belly fat.

7. Your auto-responder is overtly spammy. Have you ever gotten one of these: “Thanks for following me! Come buy my product at XYZ.com right now! You’ll lose 30 pounds in a week!” While it’s nice to get a direct message after you follow someone, as it can be more personal than simply a blank follow, keep it short and simple. If you are meeting someone for the first time face-to-face, would you immediately leap into your sales pitch, or would you exchange a few pleasantries first?

8. Your tweets are awash with hashtags. I appreciate that you want to get indexed everywhere, but this makes your message sound like William Shatner is reciting it.

9. You tweet too damned much. Okay, a few at a time are fine. But I get frustrated when I have to scroll past your dozens of tweets about where I can get a free iPad before I can find my friend’s daily haiku. Unfollow.

Are you on Twitter? What makes you hit “unfollow” faster than Rhianna changes her hair color?