As far back as the final June of the preceding century, we were explaining, as if patiently, that the essence of the Web is text (or, as we put it more properly later, graphic design).
Now Rob Norton at the mighty Nua makes the same declaration, on the topic of animated online advertising:
People who permit dumb animation on their websites show that they misunderstand the nature of the Web as a medium. Despite all the hoopla about broadband and multimedia, the Web, as it exists today, is primarily a print-like medium. People spend most of their time on the Web reading – if you define reading in its broad sense. Just as people reading a newspaper or magazine will look at photographs, illustrations, and advertisements, so will web readers.
We expect an avalanche of praise (and client bookings) to bury Norton now that he has declared (a) the bleeding obvious and (b) what we were talking about half a lifetime ago in Internet years.
But we don’t want to sound bitter.
It gets worse: Elsewhere, Norton recommends using “world English,” that is, “American English,” in all your pages. How audacious! How ill-conceived! How ignorant!
The reason for using American conventions isn’t that they’re right or wrong (whichever you were taught as a child will seem right). It’s simply that the number of Web readers familiar with American spelling and usage is vastly larger than the number familiar with British style, so you will generally offend fewer people by using American spelling and style conventions.
A supporting reason is that British speakers are used to encountering Americanisms and recognize them as such. Many Americans, however, are not used to Britishisms, and will assume they are mistakes, or – worse yet – will misunderstand completely. Take the sentence “I went looking for my mate.” In British English, where mate is a synonym for friend, the sentence could mean that I left the bar to see where my pal had gone. In American English, however, mate has only one meaning, and the sentence would mean that I had set off in search of my life partner.
The article is strewn with laughably unlikely and exceptional “examples” of this sort. All that’s missing is a reminder of the difference in meaning of “knock you up” in British and American English. Or of course the distinction between private and public schools, and exactly what the kids get up to in the latter.
As ever with these high-powered yet clueless consultants, where do we begin?
Today English, tomorrow the world!
If your first goal is communication, not cultural ideology, you should write in the simplest, most universal “World English” that suits your content.
Newsflash: There’s no such thing as a World English any more than there’s a World Culture or a World Government (the efforts of Jack Valenti and the Pentagon notwithstanding). Homogenization cannot possibly “suit” our “content.” (Why the wiggle room, Norton? Why give us a choice of a World English that “suits” our “content”? Is there one World English or isn’t there?)
And the punchline? Norton banged out his credibility-shredding litany of malapropisms for Nua, and Nua is an Irish company! The Irish, as we all know, aren’t even British, let alone American.
Posted on 2001-03-13