Every day, a handful of WordPress.com bloggers are featured in Freshly Pressed. Each week, we take a close look at one post and why we thought it was Press-worthy.
The simple answer is of course “start at the beginning and read to the end.” In the hypertexted world of the internet, that kind of simplicity is under siege. Blog posts contain hyperlinks we’re subtly encouraged to click before we’ve finished scrolling down the page. Photo-essay slideshows distract us from the main event. Our eyes (and our focus) slide around like our attention spans are on ice — and that’s often how we’re meant to be behave.
Web content designers up on digital narrative theory are increasingly throwing intentional interruptions, digressions, and diversions in our way, and they’re doing it because it works.
In short, we like to click around, and the more we do, the more we’re hooked. (Yes, that’s what the internet has done to us.) It’s this ethos that MoonUnderWater has firmly embraced with his post “Once Upon A Click.” Here’s why we loved it.
The first thing you’ll notice about the post is that it deliberately sends you elsewhere. At the end of the first paragraph, you are prompted to click the link to continue — and when you do so, you jump to a different section on the same page. A later link will send you to an entirely new page. If you didn’t choose to go along for the ride, this post wouldn’t make much sense — but follow the internal links as you’re meant to and it turns into an argument for non-linear storytelling. In the finest tradition of “show, don’t tell,” the very technique it’s using to keep you reading is the one it’s championing. We liked that a lot.
Links give internet users agency over what they are reading. Rather than turning pages sequentially, users are allowed to explore freely at their own will and their own pace. So the experience of reading online is thus a vastly different experience to its analogue counterpart. Digital media encourages the user to hop and jump around, and become more engaged with a piece of text than hard-copy media.
MoonUnderWater manages this neat literary trick using internal anchor tags — the same ones Wikipedia uses to help you navigate to the precise sub-heading you’re looking for.
What’s the lesson here? As we’ve said before, it’s important to make your blogging easy on the eyes. The best way to do this is to keep paragraphs short and left-justified. Break up paragraphs with well-chosen images. This post does all these things, but it adds unpredictability to the mix. You don’t know what’s next until you click the link that sends you there.
If you want to keep people reading, it pays to surprise them once in a while . . . and maybe make them work a little for their next paragraph.
It’s Well Researched
Non-linear narrative is a literary form that predates the internet. Have you ever worked your way through one of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, or the UK’s equivalent, Fighting Fantasy? MoonUnderWater directly acknowledges his debt to these pioneers of interactive narrative, and to the text adventure video games that paved the way for modern epics like World of Warcraft. He also touches on the wider nature of digital media consumption.
As a multidisciplinary introduction to a broad topic, it’s a winner — and shows the value of using your research without swamping your argument in quotes and references.
A wizard appears from a cloud of smoke and turns you into a cat for never having played these games. You can continue reading by clicking here, but don’t forget that you are now a cat and can’t really read.
In less sure hands, this could become a dry, overly academic piece of theory. MoonUnderWater gets around this with a little geeky humor.
This is particularly typical of my own habit of diving into Wikipedia where I start around here and end up around here for no discernible reason other than hyperlink-frenzy (something this paragraph encourages strongly!).
A blogging voice with a wry tone (used appropriately and intelligently) is an effective way to keep a reader engaged. If your writing can make someone laugh — or smirk, or giggle — they may follow you with a sense of loyalty they’d rarely bestow on someone who merely informed them.
For its interactivity, for its use of background research, and for its playful nature, this is one post where we all clicked to continue.