My first encounter with the concept of “usability” came with writing titles for my blog posts. I had started my blog on creative writing craft last October, and had been happily posting away rather oblivious to the “feed” that Blogger was broadcasting to the rest of the world. Then, recently, I learned that a writer friend had put my blog link into her blog’s sidebar. So, after writing my own blog post for the day, I went to take a look. I should mention here that my new post was entitled, “What Prose Writers Should Consider When Reaching for that Metaphor.” Okay, a bit long, I remember thinking, but reasonably apt. So, I got to my friend’s blog, and — sure enough — there was my own blog listed, Kim’s Craft Blog, prominently displayed on my friend’s sidebar. Imagine my surprise, though, when I saw what was coming through beneath only the following three-word heading on the RSS feed: “What Prose Writers...”
Oh no, I thought. My blog title and the first three lines of my new post headline, when taken together, conveyed absolutely no information - either about my blog or the subject of my post. In fact, the whole entry sounded more like crafters asking questions. The rest of the day, I imagined a group of knitters sitting around, their needles clicking, asking, “What prose writers? What prose writers?” - as if they were discussing what to read at their next book group. I had just learned the first rule of text usability on the web: That you have to be very careful writing titles, headlines, descriptions, and other so-called “microcontent,” because information on the Internet is often displayed out of context, and is frequently cut off to just the first three or four words coming over an RSS feed.
Jakob Nielsen, the guru in this area, has a wonderful quotation on his website. “On the web,” he says, “usability is a necessary condition for survival.” And he isn’t kidding. If people can’t tell from your titles, descriptions, and headlines what you are writing about, then there’s absolutely no chance they’ll click on your work and read it. It was too late to change the name of my blog. But I did add the words “Fiction, Memoir, and Creative Writing” to my title, to get me out of the knitting section. And I revised the headline of my post to convey maximum subject information in the first three words. The post’s new title is, “Metaphor & Simile: What Prose Writers Should Think About When Reaching For That Comparison.” On the RSS feed, you now get the words "Craft," "Metaphor," and "Simile," which even taken out of context readers will probably surmise means that I’m writing about creative writing craft and comparisons, and not about crewel work and book groups.