When arguing about the utility of weblogs with a friend, I was challenged to explain how a disjointed series of postings could constitute a ‘narrative’ in any meaningful sense. Mark Bernstein ventures an explanation…

We see narrative everywhere. It’s a primitive urge, a way to tie cause to effect, to convert the complexity of our experience to a story that makes sense.

. . . Narrative experience should grow naturally from the site’s message and purpose. It’s a mistake to invent narratives—human-faced “tour guides” to your site, for example—that don’t flow naturally from the site itself.

The world abounds in stories. You don’t need to invent: the story is already there. For a cause or a crusade, the story is the struggle. For a corporate site, the big story is the story of the company—its trials, its fortunes, the challenges it faces and the way it responds.

. . . Many sites today pretend to be about the reader. They imagine that the way to make an experience involving is to get readers to talk about themselves, to fill out questionnaires or polls or express their opinions on bulletin boards. But narrative takes us outside ourselves. We spend much of our existence thinking about ourselves, our problems, our feelings; drama takes us away from these daily worries.

Directly addressing the reader, peppering your audience with choices, surveys, and customization opportunities can increase the psychological distance between your message and your audience. Like a too-chummy, backslapping salesman, a website that asks too much also forces the audience to think about itself. The narrative experience shatters; and the reader, recalled to a host of deadlines and worries and errands, clicks elsewhere or switches off. Each of us is the hero of his or her personal dramas; sometimes, we want someone else to be the protagonist.

::Mark Bernstein, A List Apart: The Narrative Web: Beyond Usability and Design

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