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 accommodate 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 is guess. I have to assume things about you. Assumptions I make based on the other people in 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, or 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 not 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.

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

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Mentions around the web

Chris Krycho
I’ve been reading through a number of @Mappletons' essays over the last couple days — they’re great! — and just discovered she's using Assumed Audiences (…): and I shouted “Yes!” And her explanation is at least as good as my original!
Assumed Audience: The audience for this piece is one that enjoys reading exploratory thinking-out-loud. They have an interest in history and what, if anything, can be learned from specific moments in history. In this article on the first-ever pop star Charles Dibdin, it’s noted
Anna Grigoryan 🇱🇹
This is a @Mappletons appreciation tweet. I listened podcast episodes where she's a guest, and binged articles on her blog. Recommend this entrance into a rabbit hole 🍀 It's amazing that there are thinkers and creators like her on the internet 🙌
Assumed Audience: In writing this piece, I assume you have enough interest in publishing your own notes online that you’re looking for a detailed step-by-step of how I do things. I also assume that your interest is primarily on the “how” and less on the “why”. If you visit pers