essay projectAnalytical Essay:
A Manifesto for Reading a Web Site

Write a six-to-eight-page essay that presents a manifesto that charts a new approach to conceiving, designing and interpreting Web sites. Throughout your manifesto, use the specific example of a Web site to illustrate your new method and its value.

Use Gregory Ulmer's theory of the manifesto as a template for your essay, following the steps that Ulmer says manifesto writers throughout history have used to structure manifestos in politics, the arts and society.

Writing the Essay

As part of employing Ulmer's structure, you'll do the following

  • Though you'll divide the parts of your essay according to Ulmer's "CATTt" steps, give these parts subtitles that reflect the content of what you're arguing in each section, not Ulmer's steps or some generic description of the part. For example, in the sample project I propose on the Ulmer page, I would title my first section something like, "What's Wrong with Being Useful?" rather than "Contrast" or "Introduction."
  • Illustrate and amplify the essay with very specific details and observations drawn from the sample Web site you choose. (use MLA citation and documentation format in the text and in a Works Cited section at the end).
  • Support these observations with "screen shots" from the Web page/site, focusing on and illustrating the key details you're discussing. See the note below about producing screen shots.
  • Quote and cite a writer or theorist in the opposing camp, or what Ulmer calls the "undesirable example or prototype" in his "Contrast" step. (Use MLA citation and documentation format for these quotations).
  • Quote and cite a theorist in Trend (or from our non-Nielsen readings on the Web) to detail and develop the principle or issue you're highlighting in the essay (also use MLA citation and documentation format for these quotations).

No Status-Quo Defenses

By definition, a manifesto can't support the dominant, standard, conventional, or common-sense approach to doing something. Your essay should champion an approach that is new, alternative, emergent, unconventional, contrarian, or (apparently) eccentric.

Don't write a manifesto simply arguing for the status quo, but also realize that the definition of the status quo is, to a degree, a matter interpretation and argument as well.

Screen Shots

Note: you can capture screen shots on PCs by viewing the page with your Web browser, hitting the "Prt Scr" button (Print Screen) on your keyboard, and then pasting the captured image into a new Photoshop document (control+n, control+v).

Use Photoshop to crop and scale your images to focus on the key details you're discussing in your text, and insert the images into the appropriate portions of your text using Word (Insert > Picture > From File). Also, please save and keep in your "Web Design" folder (non-www) the Photoshop files of your screen-shot images to make Web-ready versions later.

Some Sample Topics

1. A Rationale for Splash Screens. Critique Nielsen's commandment that "splash screens must die" and develop a rationale for judging wise and unwise uses of splash screens. As a positive example, look at the site Design for Marketing that uses a splash screen that effectively speaks to the tastes and culture of its audience, and creates an idea of itself.

Use Heim's notion of "eros" as a way of theorizing and explaining the success of this splash screen, and Design for Marketing's way of conceiving of its audience--as opposed to Nielsen's notion of the user who is motivated by by strictly practical needs for "information."

2. The Future of Web Politics. Cite and quote a newspaper article from the last presidential election, which assumes (wrongly, you think) that the Web will be a boon to the political parties in organizing and fund raising.

Argue instead that the old mode of politics represented by the parties is organized by geography (on concentric precinct, district, state and national levels), and that digitally mediated culture will supercede the political parties organized in such hierarchies, just as in Pierre Levy's "Collective Intelligence," "territorial" and "commodity" spaces are superceded by "knowledge space" (256-57).

Illustrate this emergent political force by looking at Michael Moore's site as an example of how these new modes of political organization will be organized around a combination of celebrity and populism, and how this new politics will depend on "glocal" identities rather than physical locales, economic classes, or professional affiliations.

3. Amazon's World of Mirrors. Look at's practice of customizing its home page according to the individual user's previous purchases, searches and wish lists. This was described in recent news accounts, and you can see the result if you visit and use Amazon's site regularly with the same computer.

While this kind of customizing makes perfect sense from a marketing point of view, argue in your manifesto that this represents a culturally unhealthy trend on the Web, realizing Heim's/Leibniz's vision of the "monad": "For monads," observes Heim, "there is no outer world to access, no larger, broader vision. What the monad sees are the projections of their own appetites and their own ideas" (79). In essence, such customization is the cultural, digital equivalent to heavy industry pumping pollutants into the air: it may be advantageous for the company in the short run, but the public has a right to oppose that practice and bring pressure to bear on the company, if it's not healthy for the society as a whole.

Describe your model of an alternative book site (a new form of commercial site) that nurtures not Amazon's commodified sense of self-focused "culture," but a more open, social and dynamic "community" (83).

All course materials by Craig Stroupe unless noted otherwise. See my home page.