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The Commandment of Context

On Monday swissmiss posted her 10 Commandments of Web Design. I try to avoid lists of 10. At best they incite argument. At worst they are confining and dogmatic. Besides, I much prefer lists that go to 11.

For what it is, swissmiss's list is fine, offering a reasonable checklist of things toward which most Web designer's should strive. But, as early readers of this blog know, she lost me at 10: "Thou shalt make content king." Perhaps her definition of content and mine are different, but I still argue that no matter how one might want it otherwise, context will always be dominant.

The proof is in the Web itself. Some of its content is good. Some of it is bad. Most of its seemingly endless content is not very well sorted. However, the Web's ability to serve up content quickly, through such tools as Google, is a major reason the Web is putting a serious dent in other media. I doubt anyone would argue that the content of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post is inferior to what's on the Internet, but it's available when I want it and is just good enough to make a trip now to the newsstand and later to the recycle bin not worth it.

For further evidence, revisit how Wikipedia dismantled Britannica. Or ask a blind person if content or context is king. I suspect even the best content delivered in any context other than braille or audio would be useless. Or look to the Visual Thesaurus, which swissmiss has deservedly won kudos for designing and has changed the way we think of thesauri through its interface, with or without better content than Roget.

Update: Joshua Porter has a really good post on his blog, Bokardo, about how people and the technology they create co-evolve. Very McLuhanesque. About a few new technologies he has adopted, he writes:

It’s interesting to note that these technologies are late-comers by a long-shot. Many, many solutions had already existed in the marketplace supporting the exact same activities for a long time before they showed up. But this software is designed so smoothly that it actually pushes the state-of-the-art forward…changing the way we do those activities.
Although not directly related to my point about context, Porter's post led me to think: content is the reason why we do something, but context will always determine how we do it.

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