Ezra Klein's Trumpsplainer Is Excellent!

A Very Brief Sokratic Dialogue on Website Redesign

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Platon: So, Sokrates, now you have taken a look at and had a test drive of our forthcoming website redesign. What do you think of it?

Sokrates: May I say that piece of scene-setting inclueing is awful?

Platon: You can say what you want. You are Sokrates. But we do the best we can in limited space. Now, might you address the substance, perhaps?

Sokrates: The website all looks very good. A lot of thought and experimentation has clearly gone into it. If you ask me, it looks to me to have right now to have successfully nailed three of what I guess are the five essential requirements of a modern year-2015 website. And it may well turn out in the end to have what I guess are the other two requirements nailed as well. But that really depends on implementation. We cannot even guess at whether it has those nailed right now.

Platon: Three of the five requirements?

Sokrates: Yes, three. I call them: the flowing stream, the front-end cards, and the syndication.

  • The flowing stream: It is needed so that people who want to either read what is new or to treat the site as a weblog--that is, have a sustained engagement and conversation with the website considered as a Turing-class hivemind--can do so. Almost everybody values newness. Some people value engagement-over-time. The flowing stream is the only way to get that. You have that.

  • The front-end cards: The front-end cards need to be set up to give each piece of content a visually-engaging and subhead-teaser informative welcome mat. People need to look at the link to the piece of content, and be able to immediately grasp both at the verbal-subhead and the visual-gut level whether this is something they would enjoy diving deeper into. You have that.

  • The syndication: The syndication needs to propagate the front-end cards out to Twitter and Facebook and The One Who Is-only-know what else next year so that social media knows you exist. These days, just tweeting out 140 characters from the headline and subhead as a boring line of text does not do it anymore. If it ever did. You have that.

Platon: So you are happy with the redesign?

Sokrates: As I said, it does have those first three of what I guess are essential requirements of a successful 2015 internet-and-social-media presence nailed. And if my visualization of the Cosmic All is even half-correct, doing those three is enough to have a good website and a good internet and social media presence in 2015

Platon: Is your visualization of the Cosmic All correct?

Sokrates: Who knows? In the words of William Goldman, nobody knows anything. I think it is. If I did not think so. I would have a different one.

Platon: Is it a great website?

Sokrates: I do not know. My guess is that it is a great website if and only if the other two of what I guess you are essential requirements work. That you will only be able to tell as implementation proceeds.

Platon: So, Sokrates, what are the other two things you guess are essential requirements?

Sokrates: I call them: the stock, and the grammar.

The website needs a pathway--a pathway that actually works--by which people can pull things written in the past, and in the distant past, out of the stream's archives and see how shiny they are and how relevant they are to their concerns today. Building that pathway to the archives of the flowing stream is building the stock.

And the website also needs a grammar: The visually-interesting and subhead-teaser front-end to each piece of content needs to tell the truth about the piece, and tell it well and quickly. The front-end needs to lead the people who would want to and enjoy engaging with the content to actually do so--and it needs to keep others who would not benefit and not enjoy away. Whether this website will actually build a stock and have an appropriate front-end grammar is a matter of implementation, and not of design. I have no idea how it is going to go. And neither do you.

Platon: So you think it is going to work?

Sokrates: It might well. Once again, as William Goldman says, nobody knows anything.

Platon: Is there anybody whose degree of not-knowingness is even slightly less than the degree of not-knowingness of the rest of us?

Sokrates: I can guess. My guess is that http://www.vox.com--Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell and company--are most likely to be slightly less not-knowing than the rest of us. They have more money, are more focused, and have better judgment than almost anybody else in this business. And that triple combination means that if you simply follow along behind, watch what they are doing, and try to adapt and imitate it you are less likely to go far wrong than if you try anything else.

Platon: So, what are they doing?

Sokrates: I really do not know in any depth--I have a day job! But somebody should take a serious look at http://www.vox.com/2014/3/30/5564404/how-we-make-vox and the rest of Vox.com, and write up a 3000-word explainer on what Vox.com's internet strategy in this age of social media actually is, and what pieces of it have worked and what pieces have failed...

Platon: Any volunteers?