No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

[fr] Une des grandes difficultés dans l'art de bloguer: intégrer des liens à son texte. D'une part parce que les liens rajoutent une dimension au texte, perçant en quelque sorte des trous dans celui-ci par lesquels le lecteur est libre de s'échapper, à la façon des "livres dont vous êtes le héros" de notre adolescence, et d'autre part parce que la nature hypertexte du web donne à l'intertextualité une place capitale. Un article de blog n'est pas une île isolée, mais un fragment textuel nageant au milieu d'un océan d'autres fragments similaires, avec lequel il a des liens plus ou moins proches, que la bonne maîtrise de l'hyperlien permet d'expliciter. Ceci nécessite, outre une habileté avec les mots (pour pouvoir retourner sa phrase dans le sens qui permet un bon ancrage du lien), une certaine culture des autres textes entourant le sien. Sinon, comment faire des liens qui feront sens?

Fellow blogger Adam Tinworth points to a leaked memo from The Guardian encouraging internal linking. He shares his astonishment on Facebook “that this still isn’t standard practice at most places”. I am not that astonished, I have to say.

During my many years as blog editor-in-chief and teaching blogging to students, I have seen again and again that from a technical point of view, aside from managing to write in your own personal voice, the most difficult aspect of blogging to master is integrating hyperlinks into your writing.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

I think this is because writing well with hyperlinks requires one to write differently. It is not just about “writing and then adding links”.

Adding meaningful hyperlinks to your sentences is going to have an impact on the way you construct them. You need to be comfortable shuffling the words around, or looking for others, so that you end up with a phrase that provides you with adequate anchor text for the link you want to insert.

Most people’s training in writing is probably in standalone texts. Offline writing, the type that worked well on paper. Your reader starts at the top, and finishes at the bottom. You may have footnotes and references, but nothing as dramatic as a hyperlink, which literally pokes a hole in your text.

I like to think of hyperlinks as adding an extra dimension to a text. Normal text is 1D. Just follow it through. Hypertext is 2D at least — remember those books we must all have read as teenagers? If you go right, head to page 16, but if turn left, run off to page 67?

So, the first challenge in writing with links is finding a gracious way to anchor all those links into your words.

The second challenge is less obvious, but even more important: intertextuality.

Intertextuality” is a rather vast topic, but it generally has to do with the fact that how you understand or read one text can be shaped by your knowledge of another. References or allusions, explicit or not, that connect different texts.

On the web, everything we write is swimming in a sea of other interconnected texts. It’s not called the World Wide Web for nothing, dammit. Everything that is published on the web is stitched together. The blog post you are writing now is not an island, it is swimming alongside all sorts of other pieces of writing. How you position your piece of writing amongst the others may be just as important as the writing itself.

Intertextuality in the world of hypertext is a crucial thing to be aware of.

What are you going to link to? What is there out there that complements your writing, or takes your reader further, or down a parallel path? What are the associations between parts of your writing and preexisting writing?

This requires, in addition to the will to connect one’s writing into this existing web, some degree of knowledge of what is out there. Culture. Or dexterity in the use of the search engine. Or both.

I agree with Adam: internal linking should be a no-brainer. I do it a lot on Climb to the Stars: whenever I’m writing a blog post, I’m wondering what else I have written in the past which is related to it. Am I building upon a previous post? Am I writing on a topic I’ve already touched upon? How can I work a link to this or that post into what I’m writing now?

I do it on Open Ears too. As editor-in-chief, I have read all the articles we publish. The difficulty is I often receive articles which are written as standalone pieces, so I have to either work with the blogger to incorporate a reference to another article, or do it myself as part of the editing process. But as I mentioned above, adding links changes the way you write and construct your text, so “adding a link” is rarely as straightforward as “just adding a link” — and in some cases can only difficultly be done if it wasn’t planned for from the start.

When I was discovering the web, one of the first sites I spent a lot of time reading was The Psychology of Cyberspace. It’s still online, and I encourage you to visit it: as the author explains, it is an online book, that is, written with hypertext in mind.

There is a table of contents, but in addition to that, inside the chapters, there are links to other chapters whenever there is a mention or a passing reference to something covered elsewhere. This frees the reader to wander around in the order they wish, and avoids redundancy — if you need to explain X again, just link to it. I think this was a very good learning example for me of how to build text online.

So now. How would you teach people the skills to do this, when it doesn’t seem to come naturally to them?

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1 thought on “No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

  1. You answer yourself your question : “if you need to explain X again, just link to it”. I think of links as something that allows the reader to go further in your topic, just as to wander around the topic you’re writing about as well, as you said : he has the choice. Claire

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