Web World: Going E-Postal

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The Web flows two ways. There's the stuff you create, and there's reader feedback. The more sites you produce, the more feedback you receive. Some will tell you you're a genius for writing, "I had a cheese sandwich today," while others condemn you to hell for it. There is little middle ground.

Web publishers become feedback junkies or feedback-phobes. Some spend so many hours answering e-mail they no longer have time to create anything worth e-mailing about.

Then too, web publishing invites responses undreamed of in traditional media. After reading (or watching) Hannibal, fans may confide their cannibalistic fantasies to author Thomas Harris (or to director Rid-ley Scott), but they hardly expect a reply. On the web, they do expect a reply. As a web designer, you respond gently even to obscene provocation, because these people can find you (http://networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois). And because, no matter how much they hate you, you want them to return. A yearning for page views is the soul sickness of web designers, as a desire for Gold is the plague of art directors.

Just once we would like to reply in kind to e-mail that begins, "Dear asshole." Instead, we write, "Sorry you had a bad experience at the site," and suggest a solution to the reader's problem, which is almost always self-generated. Like, the text will look larger if they set their default font to 12 point instead of 7 point. Or the site will work better in a web browser released after the Nixon presidency.

For frustrated creatives, the personal website initially seems a dream. No suits to slip you up. No clients to sell, no committees to please. But create a halfway-engaging personal site, and you'll find yourself toiling for a horde of sometimes appreciative, sometimes insanely hostile bosses. They are called readers, and they know where you live.

Jeffrey Zeldman (zeldman.com) is the creative director of A List Apart (alistapart.com) and the author of Taking Your Talent to the Web, published by New Riders.

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