World wide web of instruction sets

As we are all aware, the Internet is rapidly changing and evolving, while culture and human behavior are forced to adapt at the same speed. Each of us choose how and where to engage online: posting Facebook updates, sharing music on SoundCloud, Skyping, blogging, uploading videos on Vimeo, and infinitely on. We communicate digitally 24/7, and all online genres, including electronic instruction sets, must keep up with the conversation. In the simplest terms, Stuart A. Selber’s article “A Rhetoric of Electronic Instruction Sets” discusses what the title implies: “as a species of technical communication, instruction sets provide step-by-step procedures for accomplishing a physical or mental task” (2010, p. 97). To break down this genre, Selber describes three interconnected branches of sets: fixed (self-contained), user-generated (embedded), and evolving (open) content. The conclusion Selber wishes to make after analyzing each category is extremely interesting to my millennial mind.

To summarize, Selber first breaks down the three instruction content branches and then describes how they connect and affect one another. Self-contained content is the least flexible regarding engagement, typically consisting of strictly formatted manuals describing how to set up a product, such as audio podcasts on Macs. Next, embedded content, like YouTube video demonstrations and user forums, are a step towards interaction. This category relies on user-generated content which builds upon the original instructions. Open content, Selber mentions, relies on users to create/edit instruction sets. Sequentially, you can see how each content type builds on the previous to create a more interconnected and user-run digital world. I find the Internet to be such a powerful and productive space where all perspectives, opinions, and expertise are valued and have a place. Selber emphasizes this sentiment as well, as he projects the evolution of instructions moving from print to digital spaces.

What I find particularly intriguing, as a SMAD major, is the user-generated aspect of embedded content. Selber considers the World Wide Web to be a platform for “sharing expertise,” where anyone can post and/or give feedback on instructions of any kind. While this fact is highly applicable to social media marketing and brand/consumer interactions, it can also be applied in the technical communication field (which happens to be my second major). Feedback is crucial to almost any space found online; with feedback comes improvement to website interfaces, business strategies, outreach, and consumer engagement, and digital communication in general. Additionally, the invention of “microformats,” blogs, discussions, and reviews can be categorized for search engines and tracking pages, increasing the effectiveness of internet searching in a grand sense. Selber puts it, “This deep level of interactivity encourages a steady practice of reinterpretation and revision” (2010, p. 113). In the end, this article is relevant to my education in SMAD as well as in life in general; the digital platforms of today heavily shape our culture’s meaning making, storytelling, instructing, and communicating.

To keep with the theme of this article, I now turn to you, my readers, to pose a question and spark a new conversation. “What are the social, cultural, and organizational requirements for texts that can be changed by users?” Selber and I ask (2010, p. 107). In other words, how does user-generated/user-contributed content affect the texts of our culture? What requirements must be for texts to be altered by internet users? Comment below and let me know what you think!

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