Applying narrative theory to web-based communication is a relatively new concept, one that makes sense of the perspective of the author. With the increase in web-based communication the study of how an author portrays their story is crucial in understanding what a user responds to and what is effective when it comes to communicating with a digital audience. There are far too many websites and blogs in the virtual world in order to review them all, so this case study will be focused on the comparison between Nathan Bransford’s blog, and real actual Hilary (formerly Intern Spills)’s author blog, and the way their perspectives help shape and convey their narratives.
A case study allows someone to apply knowledge from a course or field of education to something deemed to be of the real world experience. Often, there is research and a high level of interpretation involved. This application to case study is called methodology and has been applied to the comparison of these two chosen blogs.
1. Visual Design
Colour. Contrast. Design. These are some key elements that make up a web page’s aesthetics and are the ‘first impression’ a reader has of the domain. It is likely that if the overall visual design is displeasing, and their needs are not met immediately, a reader will move on to something more appealing. This subjective view is impossible to predict but there are certain ‘rules’ that can be followed to allow for an impartial reaction.
Real actual Hilary, follows the majority of these conventions and provides a clean, uncluttered section above the fold. Visible is her banner (plain black lettering), her avatar, and the first blog title and content paragraph.
Real actual Hilary however, does use a lighter grey text on a white background that could be clearer in plain black, and have a large date stamp above each post. These choices were made consciously by the author in order to determine her sense of perspective to the blog design.
Nathan Bransford has taken a completely opposite approach. His above the fold page is bright orange, has a large amount of blog post visible, and both sidebars have an image take precedence, as does the beginning of each post. Where the real actual Hilary’s blog would be considered ‘clean’ Nathan Bransford’s is busy and almost chaotic, a direct reflection of the author’s life.
The first thing to direct attention is the typewriter and the author’s name. This immediately let’s the reader know what type of blog they have discovered, and the type of content they can expect. This is conventionally acceptable however the remainder of the author’s sidebars are consumed by the mass over-load of information. The left-hand sidebar is reserved for ‘how-to’ posts, a blog archive, other literary industry blog links (most of which lead to archived or abandoned blogs), and the links he uses on his post that allow readers to easily find his page through google. The right-hand sidebar has the colourful covers of his middle-grade books, his twitter feed, his GFC (google friend connect) and various blogging awards he’s been credited with. The information provided within these visuals is structured, however the sheer amount would overwhelm new readers and has the potential for these new readers to close the page down and look elsewhere.
2. Text Based Design
The content provided within this text is the reason readers view a blog. The information should either inform or entertain and should be capable of catching a reader’s attention during their first ‘skim’ of the page. Whichever medium the blog contains, it should be evident without having to scroll down. The content should also have a personal feel i.e. the author has a clear voice that connects with the reader. Dry, large chunks, of text are favourable to no one, and are a quick way to lose readership.
The above is an example taken straight from real actual Hilary’s blog. She uses single spacing between lines and has a single space between paragraphs. No indenting. The majority of her posts either feature bullet points, a bolded one-line summary of the paragraph, or a number of other methods to break up the text. This design element supports the author’s straight-forward approach used to ‘dish out’ the ‘goss’ on the world of literary agents. This is quite successful because she opens the door to a world previously inaccessible by her target readers. This narrative of her exploits into the industry are communicated and filtered by her own personal experiences and up until a month ago, her identity was kept a secret, preferring to be known only as ‘The INTERN’. Her posts are incredibly opinionated, and rather than relying on images and graphics to tell her story, she illustrates meaning through her use of words, and creates a personality by the purposeful misuse of grammar and punctuation, juxtaposed with her superior language and authority on the subjects of which she blogs. More importantly, her posts contain a beginning, middle and end, generally with a message mixed into the narrative.
Nathan Bransford takes a far more journalistic approach, which is reflective of his career with CNET. The majority of his posts are accompanied by a quirky visual that support the text-based content. For his content, he uses the inverted pyramid structure, and starts by giving the important information, discussing it in detail, and concluding by a repeat of the aforementioned start. From there, he generally asks for the opinions of his readers and by doing so, opens up a level if interactivity with his readers that real actual Hilary lacks. This interactivity is further developed by the author’s responses to the comments made to his posts.
Despite the busy visuals of his blog, Nathan Bransford’s posts are structured and give a lot of useful information to writers of all levels. The typography is in a normal sized, easy to read font, possibly Helvetica, which takes the confusion and stress away from his reader and doesn’t distract from the content.
3. Information Design
There is a large amount of content online that it can be difficult to know how to share it in an effective and efficient way. Certain modes are also heavily relied upon to create a uniformity that meets a reader’s expectations. Minor things like underlining words that are not a link can cause a reader to lose faith in a blog. Information design is incredibly subjective however, and while one person’s habitus might draw them towards a brightly coloured, fun-looking site like Nathan Bransford’s, another may prefer the simplicity of real actual Hilary’s. There is no one way of ensuring each readers needs are met but there are some things that can be done to ensure the information design is beneficial to the author.
Real actual Hilary rarely includes links in her content, and when she does, they only ever navigate to her site and to posts similar to the one the link is included in. She has a ‘popular posts’ section in her sidebar but other than that, there is very little information to overpower each post. This ensures the reader stays absorbed within her page whilst giving the illusion of progression and ‘moving forward’.
Within Nathan Bransford’s blog however, there is a large amount of information. His blog contains four pages; ‘home’, ‘blog’, ‘about’, ‘forums’. These four areas give the reader both accessibility to each other, but also another platform on which to know the author. This personal approach to the information he supplies has resulted in his high number of followers and the author rarely seems concerned with his readers remaining on his page, rather he uses his page as an anchor for the information they are after. By including a large number of links within his posts and on his sidebar, to blogs that may be supplying information similar to his own, it ensures the reader remain on his site while they browse the usability of the alternate blogs.
He also ensures he blogs quite regularly so his readers know when to check back with his site. This method develops a habit with his reader and the more times people view his site, the more likely they are to work through the copious amounts of archived posts he has listed in his sidebar.
Both blogs compared in this case study have taken a vastly different approach to the art of interactive narrative. By comparing ‘blogger’ sites as opposed to ‘wordpress’ sites, there was a difficulty in the level of personalisation the author’s are able to give their blogs however, by focusing on the actual content, and the positioning of it, this case study was able to provide the view that the perspective of the author plays a large role in web based communication. These two blogs, whilst vastly different, where both good examples of the way an author uses narrative to convey perspective. Both blogs had a strong following and were effective in their use of the nine principles of communication. While real actual Hilary follows closely with convention, and Nathan Bransford breaks free from it, both blogs are a direct and detailed reflection of the person creating them. It is only through a combination of their perspective, and the reader’s habitus, that the story can be understood.
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