Is blogging dead? It’s a fair question. From my perspective, it might be something to cheer about.
I’ve actually been mourning the death of blogging since around 2008. I might have mourned it sooner, but that’s when I really started to notice that the scenic byways of the “Information Superhighway” had become littered with billboards and tourist traps. Of course blogging is no more “dead” than the Interstate. It’s just been going through an ugly phase.
Part of the ugliness is that we’re all afraid to click links. The World Wide Web was built around this notion of hypertext, and now – we’re all terrified to click a link. Or we’re blind to the links – we no longer notice them at all, because we’ve been so assaulted and bombarded with them over the years by people desperate to sell us crap we don’t need. (I’m still waiting on the “triple your money back” guarantee on some penile enhancement product – I plan to retire when it can’t grow me one.) The term “hypertext” dates back to – trivia question: How old is the term hypertext, and who first coined it?
My first experience with “hypertext” came in the early 1990’s, designing Microsoft Windows Help. I was working for a small software company that was busy producing its first Windows application, and I was trying to establish a documentation plan. “So…do you want online Help, too?” Little did I know, I was opening a can of worms that was considerably more complicated than I’d anticipated.
The developers’ faces lit up. “That would be great! You know how to do that?”
“Well…no. I thought you did.”
“Oh. Nope. No idea. Just a user’s guide would be fine.” They looked mildly disappointed, but clearly they had never expected the technical writer to develop an online help system for their application.
I almost abandoned the idea altogether, until it dawned on me that every little freeware or shareware app written by some teenager and uploaded to a BBS had online Help. It couldn’t be that hard, surely. I called an online friend, Rick Ruhl. “How hard is it to create online Help for Windows? Is it something I can do, without any real programming knowledge? Can you teach me – like, yesterday?”
I’ll never forget his answer. “You know how to code RTF – rich text format?” I knew that RTF was a file format and one of the output options of Word. I’d never actually looked at it without a word processor as intermediary. I had a habit of cycling between WordPerfect and Microsoft Word every few years; at this point in time, I was doggedly determined to run Windows 3.1 in a window under DesqView. But okay – I saved a file as RTF and then opened it in a text editor. What came out of my mouth next was unprintable, but involved several colorful swear words and the phrase, “Life’s too short for this sh–!” A traditional, printed user’s guide is what the company would get.
About an hour later, Rick called me back. “Okay, you know how to use Word. Can you format text with an underscore?”
“Double-underscore? Hidden text?”
“Hidden text?” Well, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to, but if it was a formatting option under Word…sure. I could figure it out. Rick sent me the Help compiler and a few basic instructions. Creating Help was easy; watching the compiler run was about as exciting as watching paint dry. It did train me to make fewer mistakes. After all, I didn’t want to have to run that for thirty minutes just to fix a minor typo.
I eventually got playful and creative with Help, making stand-alone Help systems for fun. Birthday cards with clickable candles. I tried adding MIDI files, and blew away the Windows kernel. I have no idea, to this day, how I managed that. I knew just enough to be dangerous. I have some brilliant friends who would probably say, “Not much has changed in twenty years, eh?” Or, as one colleague wrote in a LinkedIN recommendation:
Holly is one of those rare individuals who doesn’t allow a lack of specific technical expertise get in the way of accomplishing some very technical objectives. I have found her to be tenacious and extremely thorough, ensuring that the end result is either exactly what was requested or as close as the available technology can deliver. She is an asset to any organization fortunate enough to have her as part of the team.
Which I think means, “Holly is that rare thing: A natural blond with brains who will grab hold of a problem like a rabid dog if it piques her intellectual curiosity long enough to hold her attention. She will then beat her head bloody against a technological brick wall until the technology rolls over and begs, ‘I give! U-N-C-L-E!” I view technology as a tool – a means to accomplishing a goal, not necessarily the goal itself. I get really annoyed when it doesn’t instantly bend to my will. I remember telling my dad I’d never work with computers. Man, did he have the last laugh.
Anyway, how hypertext works isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the fun I can have with it. So it’s always a little disappointing to me when I realize no one clicks the links on my blog. I don’t add them randomly. I don’t use in-context link plug-ins. My links are hand-crafted. Sometimes, they will lead the reader down rabbit holes; sometimes, they add humor or irony to the post. Sometimes, they’re there for your convenience. But I know that some would generate comment if anyone clicked on (or even just hovered briefly over) them, so I know how few people do. And it makes me sad. In the early days of the World Wide Web, links generated curiosity. They were the strands of a wondrous Web, indeed. Now, too often, they make the Web look like it was spun by a spider on crack.
There’s just so much you can do with a well-spun Web! You can learn a new language, you can find instructions for doing all kinds of crafts, you can learn how to end a war, or how to start a war. But no, those wily sploggers and scrapers and other lowlifes of the Internet have made readers too wary to click! It’s a tragedy. I say we fight back against scammers and bloggers who would litter their online homes with booby-traps of cheap, mass-produced, possibly dangerous, useless, and misleading linkypoo.
I realize it may be very “retro,” but I’d like to see a hypertext revival. Let’s not let it die or be killed off.
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