Assumed Audiences

Naming your invisible audiences to free yourself from unspoken obligations

Assumed Audience

Active readers and writers of the web. Particularly ones frustrated by context collapse and the proliferation of generic articles that try to accomodate every possible audience online

The Context

Readers are a problem for every writer. Writers have to write for a specific person. That specific person is almost always imaginary. Anytime you put writing in public, posted somewhere a vast range of people might happen upon it, imagining the reader becomes an exercise in desperate speculation.

Who is truly reading this? I haven't a clue.

All I can do it guess. I have to assume things about you. Assumptions I make based off the other people my Twitter neighbourhood and extended gardening network.

This includes how much you know about the history of hypertext. Whether you're caught up on the latest JavaScript framework gossip. How much you can tell me about embodied cognition and its role in interface design. Whether you know who Clifford Geertz, Bret Victor, Ted Nelson, and George Lakoff are.

If I assume incorrectly, I'll lose you in the middle of a sentence – either because I'll assume you know more than you do, and drown you in unfamiliar words and alienating jargon. Or I'll assume too little and bore you with basic, repetitive definitions of things you personally helped invent.

If I don't make clear who I'm writing for, and you don't know who should be reading this, we're far more likely to end up in an unsatisfying reader/writer mismatch.

The Pattern

At the beginning of many of my posts, I have a small informational box that tells you my assumed audience – who I think I'm writing this piece for.

A few examples to illustrate the point:

Assumed Audience

JavaScript developers who have some familiarity with data visualisation, interactive narratives, and/or scrollytelling articles.

Assumed Audience

People who understand the basic historical arc of postmodernism, post-postmodernism, the rationalist movement, and the post-rationalists. Would describe yourself as Very Online.

These small boxes free both of us of unspoken obligations and expectations. As the writer, I am now free to write for an informed audience without defining every term and qualifying every statement. We can jump straight to the gritty details and contentious debates rather than doing a full literature review of the field.

You still might no have a clue what I'm talking about, but you were forewarned. You have chosen to venture into this article as a bemused voyeur – willing to sacrifice comprehension to feed your curiosity.

The same way you might eavesdrops on a conversation between two Dev Ops engineers vehemently fighting over the practicality of kubernetes. None of us know what they're saying, but the jargon is to die for.

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