Location, location, location

Effective writing is like real estate. It is all about location — location, location, location.

I was recently asked to give a presentation on open technologies and k-12 education. When I started I faced the choice of document format. The usual form is Powerpoint charts but this was an external presentation. I also thought of using Open Office, lest someone ask why I was using a proprietary format to present about the various open technologies such as open source and open data formats.

In the end I decided to use the same format I have been using for close to a decade to prepare presentations — plain old HTML. It’s good enough for me.

But once I had finished the presentation — Open Technology Solutions for K-12 Education — I realized that although I had made the choice out of convenience it was also the logical thing to do.

Once you have finished a piece of writing that you would like to be widely read, what is the best thing you can do to make it widely available? You should put it up on the web to give it a location in the form of a URL so if someone asks you how they can get a copy you can just point them to it. You won’t have to send an e-mail with the text or with the document included as an attachment.

There are two kinds of documents: those that are publicly available on the web and those that aren’t. Which do you think will have more readers?

This is the first of the three locations important to your writing — a location on the web.

But it’s not enough just to make the document available on the web. You also want people to be able to locate it. You should make it easy for search engines to locate and scan the text of the document. Which means you don’t want to post the document as an attachment in a format such as PDF or as a Powerpoint presentation or even as an Open Office document since you want the search engines to add your writing to the vast body of available writing so that people will be able to find it.

This explains why plain old HTML is much more effective than PDF or other formats that require posting a separate file. HTML is the language of the web, the one format that all search engines know how to read. Plain old HTML also means that anyone can read your writing once they find it. They won’t have to download or purchase any software to read it since they can just use their browser.

This is the second of the three locations — make it easy for people to locate your document, either directly by searching for it or, more importantly, indirectly when they search on a phrase and one of your writings comes up as one of the matches.

Last, and perhaps most important, since you wrote it you want people to know you are the author when they read it. The best way to do this is to post it on a site associated with you, not your employer or some other organization, either as a post in your blog or as part of a site you own or in which your authorship is evident.

It is only if people know that you are the author that you will get the credit for it. And if you have written something that people find interesting, hopefully so much so that they link to it, then your reputation — and your network — will grow. And of course they can only link to your writing if it has a link, if you have given it a location. And since that location includes your other writings, you have increased the odds that a reader chancing upon just one of your writings will go on to read some of the others.

That is the third location — you. The document’s home on the web should be as part of your home on the web, to help you grow your network.

I suspect this explains in part the power of blogs. A blog post has a location as a web address that exposes the text to the search engines and which is directly associated with you as the author.

“Location, location, and location” and “World Wide Web” each have three words, and to be an effective writer you should join them:

Location: World Publish your writing to the world.

Location: Wide Make your writing widely accessible by making it easy to locate and read.

Location:Web Make your writing part of your own home on the web. You don’t have to pay a dime for that home. Just set up shop on WordPress — it’s a great neighborhood — and start building your own home, word by word.

One Comment

  1. Posted May 24, 2007 at 15:42 | Permalink | Reply

    Google indexes .pdf files, and will even offer to ‘show as HTML’ for .pdf files you happen upon in search results.

    My main gripes with HTML are:

    – you’ll never have a nice print story, if you want one

    – you won’t be able to use standard images if you want to ship a single file around. Nor javascript libraries, external .css files etc.

    For ‘shipping things around’, I find PDF is the best, but then I’ve also had IBM execs complain to me about shipping PDF vs PPT, as they are much more familiar with dealing with PPTs than PDFs.

    And, there’s no nice option for converting HTML to PDF, other than ‘print to PDF’, which is often not what you want either.

    And I will of course quibble with you (again) over the issue of ‘not using your employers site to host things’. Especially since people are using google or some other indirection (feed aggregator / reader) to get to your content; as long as the content is identifiable as yours, I don’t think it matters too much WHERE it’s posted. Because no one cares, or even notices! The only real issue I have with posting things at IBM (my blog, for instance) would be the case of my leaving IBM; what’s going to happen to my blog then? hint: I have copies of all my posts.

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