This is an archive of a talk that I gave to Business Communication students at La Trobe University. It will not be updated. Dead links will be eliminated. Further information about this topic can be found in my tutorials.

Business Communications: Publication on the Internet

Everyman, a publisher

My name is Jonathan O'Donnell. For those who weren't here last week, I work for the Faculty of Art, Design and Communication at RMIT and my job is to help academics like Lynne to put their courses on the Internet.

This is the second of two lectures on the Internet. Last week I spoke about using the Internet for communication. This one is about using the Internet for publication. This lecture can be found on the Internet at:

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Lynne for inviting me to talk to you and to thank you all for coming.

Just one quick note before I begin. For the last week, my e-mail system has been broken. So if you sent me an e-mail in the last week, send it again and I should get it this time.


Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.

Walter Benjamin, 1928, One-Way Street, "Caution: Steps"

"Architectonic" - now there's a word that you don't hear every day. Yet it is a metaphor that people use all the time when they talk about the Web. "I built a Web site. This is my home page. I hope that people visit it." All architectural metaphors.

What are people doing when they build their Web sites? How does it work?

World Wide Web

Ten years ago, the World Wide Web didn't exist. Now, it is huge. Why? Part of the reason is that the World Wide Web allows you to publish information. That is, it allows you to publish information.

So the question is not what are people doing with their Web sites, but what are you going to do with your Web site.

Anyone with a connection to the Internet can set up a Web site. People will give you free software, free Web space and free lessons in how to do it. There are free search engines to allow people to find your Web site, free services to help you maintain it and plenty of free advice on how to make it better.

So what are you going to write? What is your message?

Writing for the Web

When I ask this question in training courses, most people just look at the screen blankly for a while and then take a peek at what their neighbours are writing.

You are the sender and you are sending a message. Anyone in the world can be the receiver. For some people, that is a hard thing to deal with. They can't imagine their audience.

So, think of it this way: someone in the world will be the receiver. Not everyone - just someone. So, start writing for the first person that will look at your page. Usually, that will be a friend or a colleague. Somewhere along the line, you are going to wander up to someone and say, "I've written a Web page. Wanna' have a look?"

Ask them what they think. Then, keep telling your friends and colleagues and keep getting feedback. Soon, you will be writing for a real audience.

Receiving from the Web

Think about how you react to the Web. What frustrates you? What do you like and use? Here are some of the things that most people find frustrating.


Delivery speed

The Web is far too slow. Most studies show that computers should react within less than a second. That is, there should be no discernible pause between clicking on something and getting a response. No Web page works that fast.

But it does give you the major rule for evaluating your own Web site: Speed is everything!

To make your pages appear on people's screens as quickly as possible, make them as small as possible. Keep your writing tight and your pictures small. Only use pictures when they mean something.

Speed reading

Write your Web pages in the same way that a journalist writes. That is, put the most important thing first, then the next important thing, then the next, etc. That way, people can look at the first line or two and decide if they want to keep reading.


Error 404: File not found

Don't you hate that? Most of the time, I suspect that the file is still there, but the author has moved it. They have given it another name, or moved it to a slightly different place.

Don't do that. People return to Web pages at unpredictable times for unpredictable reasons. If you move the page, you will just annoy them. They probably won't go looking for it. They will just give up.

Imagine a Web page is like your cat's food bowl. You refill it regularly and sometimes you put different food in it. But if you keep moving it around so that you cat can't find it, you will just end up with a hungry, angry cat.

Web pages work the same way. Keep a list of all the pages that you write and where they are stored. Then, never change the names of your pages, or their addresses. That way, whenever people come back to them, they will find a page there.

Error 666: The Devil made me do it

The other type of reliability is the reliability of your message. Who are you, and on what authority do you speak?

Is the person behind some kid doing a school project, or the Australian Duck Shooters Association. Are they Victorian Poultry Producers or the Frankston Waterfowl Fanciers Club? It makes a difference to how you read the Web page, and what weight you put on the information that you find there.

Always provide some background information on who you are. And remember, being famous in Frankston doesn't mean that the whole world knows who you are. For example, someone looked around the RMIT Web site for almost an hour the other day trying to work out what RMIT stood for. They were from overseas, and had never heard of RMIT before.

Always provide ways that people can contact you, like an e-mail address and a phone number. That way, if the message is unclear, they can send you a message, asking for clarification or more information. Often, they will point out errors or just thank you for a good site. Instant feedback! And more information about who your audience is.


"Resource discovery" is the fancy name for finding stuff on the Web. It is surprisingly difficult. Search engines, in particular, are unreliable and frustrating to use.

Here are some of the ways that people might find your site.


The address for David Jones is probably That means that it is the Web site for David Jones, a commercial company in Australia.

The address for the Queensland government is probably That is, the Web site of the Queensland (Qld) government in Australia.

The address for the United Nations might be The Web site for the United Nations (UN), an international organisation. Please note that international groups or companies, and organisations based in the United States often do not put a country code on the end of their Web or e-mail addresses.

There is a standard structure to addresses on the Internet. Once you get used to how it works, it is sometimes easy to guess what an address will be.

Word of mouth

"Gidday mate. I'm looking for a good site that deals with ..." "Just found a great Web site. Check this out!" It might be a phone message, or an e-mail, or just a note scribbled in a cafe and passed on from a friend or colleague. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.

Because of the immediacy of e-mail, word of mouth works really well on the Internet.

Business cards and letterheads

Just like your phone number, your Web site should be listed on your business card and your letterhead. Seems straightforward, but lots of people don't do it.

Most business people have a system of keeping track of business cards. They might enter them into a database or file them in a little box. Or they might throw them in a drawer and hunt through them when they need them. Whatever system they have, it is a good way of giving someone your contact information. And that includes your Web site.

Letterhead is equally important. If you send someone a letter, they might want to find out more information from your Web site before they reply. If they do, they will probably save you time in the long run.

And, as you do more business by electronic mail, make sure that all the information that would normally be on your letterhead appears in your signature file.

Amputating a Web address

The Web address for this page is:

If you want to find out more about me, just cut off the last part of the Web address and go to:

To find out more information about the organisation that stores my Web pages, Virtual Moreland, just ...

I'm sure you get the idea.

Search engines

If you don't know where to start, try starting with a search engine, like "Inference" ( You type in a few search terms and it will try to find every page that matches those search terms.

The problem is that most people don't understand how to construct a good search. They just type something in and hope. This approach often returns nothing at all or thousands of results, most of which are irrelevant.

Almost every search engine offers helpful advice on how to construct a good search. Fifteen minutes spent reading this advice will save you hours in wasted search time. It will also stop you from getting frustrated.

Searching is a whole topic in itself. If you want to know more, I ran a training course for RMIT postgraduates on finding information on the Internet. You are welcome to have a look at that and then ask me questions.


Navigation within a page

When people are looking for something on the Web, they will just scan the links on a page. This is a quick way to get a feel for what the page is about and where it will take you.

That means that phrases like "click here" are more than useless. They actually slow people down and annoy them.

Click here for information about the Foozel.
To find out about the natural enemy of the Foozel, click here.
Or, if you want to buy Foozel food, click here.

A much better example would read something like this:

I have collected some information about the Foozel, and its natural enemy, the Black Pigeon.
Please remember to buy food for your Foozel.

Almost exactly the same information but better links, which leads to better scanning.

It also leads to better navigation. Think of a link as a tiny window into the page that it leads to. That is, it should give people a reasonable idea of what they will find when they get there. Make your links meaningful.

Navigation within an organisation

If you are adding pages to an organisational Web site, please remember that you are part of an organisation, with a structure and a logo.

If you don't tell people what organisation you belong to, and where in the organisation you sit, they have no way of judging the value of your information.

Often, they will have followed a link from another site or a search engine. They end up coming to your site with little or no context. If you show where your Web page sits within an organisation, they will quickly work out whether they are in the right place or not.

Navigation out to the Web

Remember that the World Wide Web is one giant resource. You can point to any other page on the Web.

Research has shown that a good referral from your Web page to another Web page will think well of your site. And that means that they are more likely to come back and use your site again.

So, if you know of a site which answers questions that you don't, point people to it. They will thank you for it.

Satisfying your audience

If these are the things that annoy people, what are the things that people like about the Web? Part of it comes down to the things that they can do with the Web that they can't do otherwise.


There is one sort of "message" that you can deliver via the Web that you can't easily deliver in any other way. That is a service. For example, the Yellow Pages Web site (you guessed it: provides a system that tells you what the time is somewhere else in the world. If you are trying to contact someone overseas, that is a really valuable service.

If you are selling something via the Web, offer your customers a currency converter. That way, they can work out what it will cost in terms that are meaningful to them.

One of the most common, and commonly used, services that organisations offer is the humble telephone directory. On-line, it can be searched or browsed and often provides both phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

These sorts of services are examples of how the Web can carry a message which cannot be conveyed by traditional publishing systems.


A Web site often works as a simple way to introduce new customers to your organisation. Often people will use the e-mail address at the bottom of a Web page to contact you.

This is one way that "a little kid with a Web site and a major corporation" do really differ. The little kid will probably write back to you.

Recently, a dozen or so of Europe's top companies were tested to see how long it took them to respond to an e-mail sent via their Web site. Almost none of them responded. When the researchers made enquiries to see why they didn't respond, they found that most of the e-mail wasn't going to anyone at all. It was just disappearing into a black hole.

A little kid usually wouldn't be that rude.


There is no point in putting up a Web site if you have nothing to say. More importantly, there is no point in putting up a Web site that doesn't say anything useful.

"Brochureware" is the term used for a Web site which is really just a bunch of electronic brochures. Advertising copy which doesn't really tell you anything useful.

For example, let's say that Lynne is planning to make a Web site for Business Communications. She could put up a little page, describing the subject, or she could put up past exams and examples of good reports that students have written.

I know which one I would prefer as a student.

What will they think of next?

Layout is optional

One of the big changes that has occured with the Web is that the author and the publisher have lost control of the layout of the message. On the Web, the reader can alter the size of the text, the font, the colours. They can turn the images off. They can have the whole page read out to them if they want.

The author still has control of the structure of the message: what bits are text, what bits are headings, what bits are headings, what bits are links and so on.

I think that is a really sensible way to set things up. As an author, you cannot predict who will read your message. That means that you don't know if they are old or young, male or female, from Footscray or from France. They might be blind, deaf, colour-blind or arthritic, for all you know.

So you don't know what people need to do to get your message. They might want the pages all displayed in a huge font. The might need the computer to read to them. They might have changed the colour of the text to white on a black background.

All of these changes are changes that affect the layout of the page. The more freedom that you give people to change the layout, the easier it will be for them to receive your message.

If you want to know more about seperating structure and layout, the World Wide Web Consortium are developing Cascading Style Sheets, which will help enormously with this problem.

By the way, if you want to be on the cutting edge of Web development, explore the World Wide Web Consortium's site. They are some of the people that are setting the standards for the Web. And international standards represent the real cutting edge.


There are two major rules to remember when you are dealing with the World Wide Web.

These two rules represent profound changes in the way that messages are published.

Thank you for your patience. If you are interested in more information like this, I have drawn many of my ideas from Jakob Neilsen's Alertbox, one of the most authorative guides around.