Audience Online

We’d been talking about internet readers of late, so this article from A List Apart caught my interest today. “In Defense of Readers.” Brown talks about how we can design to ensure that pages are readable. She draws an important distinction between reading a text and looking at a text.

I was also reminded of a Slate article that Melody provided a few weeks ago, “How we read online,” in which the author plays around with many of Nielsen’s claims and in his analysis of internet reading practices.

How do we conceive the reader of a web text? Do we generalize about an “internet reader” or “ideal reader”? (For example, there’s a very long tradition in theological circles of the Ideal Reader of scripture, much like classical Greek and Roman discussions of the Ideal Orator.)

Do we analyze a particular audience that we know and have in mind, or do we construct an audience and hope that our readers will go along with us? Here I’m thinking of Ede & Lunsford’s “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked,” it’s a little dated, but I like the questions they ask about what our assumptions are about how audiences work and how we balance different types of audiences in particular rhetorical situations.

Or do we simply use semantic, linguistic, and (in our cases) visual cues to define roles we wish the reader to adopt, as Ong argues in “The Writer’s Audience Is Always a Fiction”?

Is our audience addressed or invoked? real or fiction? Probably somewhere in-between. Perhaps the better question to ask (not just to you, but also to myself) would be: How, specifically, am I designing with multiple audiences, multiple readers, multiple contexts in mind?

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