I am one of those historians who believes that history can (and should) be written for broader audiences than university professors and specialized scholars. And, I’m sure a similar opinion informs many decisions to publish scholarship on the web. But, just because something exists on the web doesn’t mean people will read it, and in a space of infinite pages, they may never even find it. I appreciated then the readings this week; they highlighted a certain deliberateness- a certain order- about the web that is not often apparent to the user. For example, the semantic markup of a page may not make any visual difference and may seem irrelevant to the viewer who lands on that page, but, as James Williamson points out, “browsers, accessibility devices, and other user agents will notice the difference.” How we tag our pages matters, especially to search engines that are charged with sorting endless amounts of data; knowing how to identify and define page content can help us direct traffic to our sites.
Good coding might help users to land on our sites, but then what? What do users do once landed? Do they even stay? Duckett cites Google Analytics as a great tool for learning more about those who visit our sites and how our sites are used. Analytics can help us understand how users are finding our sites, but perhaps more interestingly, Analytics can tell us what users are looking at once they are there (or not looking at.) Granted there are many factors that might encourage a viewer to stay or leave a site- it may not have the information that they were looking for or maybe the background color is the wrong shade of blue for some- but we can likely draw some conclusions from Analytics trends. Data can show which pages users are visiting most frequently and what pages they are spending the most time on; this can help us determine what users of our site are interested in and influence how we author our sites moving forward. By the same note, “Exit Pages” data can help us determine which pages are discouraging viewers and ultimately leading them to other sources. As a historian who believes that history can be written to appeal to broader audiences, I think that tools such as Analytics might help to achieve such an end. And wouldn’t it be great, as a historian, to write something that people actually read? To build something that people actually used?
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