Hippies smoked my website

Via MediaSavvy (a site whose brand combines two of my favorite buzzwords of recent times), I found this article called The Web’s Hippie Period is So Over. It’s an amusing take on the usual web dev chitchat, despite its ahistorical spin on the recent past.

Gerry McGovern, the article’s author, is a content guy, web consultant, and author (hey, just like me!). He says that hippies (which he weirdly defines as graphic designers and programmers) may have pioneered the web when it was as creative free-for-all, but that the time for experimentation has ended and it’s time to clean the stinky hippies out of your Augean Stables of a server room and put soberminded writers and content strategists in their place. Or something like that.

Where to begin? For one thing I think we writers may have preceded the graphic designers as adopters of the web. Maybe I should be positive and mention what I agree with.

A very interesting bunch of people was attracted to the Web in the early days. They loved its lawless nature; it allowed them to experiment and express themselves.

Can’t argue with that.

These people tended to be techies and graphic designers.

Techies, sure, and graphic designers definitely saw the potential early, at least before a lot of consultants got it.

What you need today are writers and editors.

Sure, that’s true for the content-heavy aspects of the web. One thing McGovern doesn’t seem to realize is that the web is also used now to develop rich database-backed interactive applications. The web is not merely a publishing medium as we writers saw it when it first emerged. Yes, there is copy, nomenclature, information architecture, and content management issues involved in launching even a web app, but the role of techies (technical architects, DBAs, coders, production folks) and designers (including visual designers but also user-interface designers) has not withered away, even with the proliferation of cookie-cutter box-driven portals.

The Web was marketed as very complicated. It’s not. It’s about publishing. It’s about communication. The Web is made up of content, and information architecture (IA) is the discipline of organizing that content.

Simple in concept maybe, but often complex and idiosyncratic in implementation, if my experience is any guide. And much as I may wish it were true, the web is not “about publishing.” That’s a writer’s-eye view and reductive in the extreme.

The technical elements of a Web site are largely solved. The graphic design elements are relatively minor. The day-to-day job of the average site is writing and editing.

Uh, sort of. You don’t need to convince me that the ongoing life of a website involves mainly content (and sometimes user) admin, occasional database maintenance, and a revision cycle. I’ve evangelized about the need for building the content-management back end into something as robust as the cosmetic front end of any websit. Day-to-day maintenance of any site that’s more than just a billboard and a maildropin the long run takes much more manhours and management than the initial launch .

Let me tell you about writers and editors. They are generally technophobes and couldn’t care less about HTML or Java. They care about words and communication. They are a very different breed from those who built the Web.

Well, that’s a stereotype. And it’s true that writers and editors should be enabled to do their work without having to understand how the technicalities of writing and editing have been implemented under the hood. But some of us who helped build the web were (and are) writers and editors.

In fact, if I were going to characterize web pioneers and distinguish them from today’s web professionals, I’d say that in the early days we rarely specialized. We did not have the luxury and we early adopters of the web were generally interested in the whole shmear: look-and-feel, navigation, content, structure, and so on.

Overall, McGovern seems to conflate the web as an expressive medium (which it is, or can be) and the web as a business medium (which it also is, or can be).

Business, we now know, is about making money.

You don’t say!

A chaotic intranet is a productivity drain.

This is true. Near the end of the brief article, he talks briefly about intranet consolidation (IBM going from more than 7000 intranets to just one.) This is another hobbyhorse I’m happy to ride. Internal websites (sometimes called enterprise portals) should be consolidated. They are not the place for free expression and experimental creativity. But whoever said they were?

It’s time to organize your content in a professional manner.


Update: Fixing the typos harshed my buzz, dewd.