The John Hodgman Approach to Web Content

Angie King

First, I admit it. I have a not-so-secret crush on John Hodgman. Don’t know him by name? Picture the cuddly geek who plays the PC on those Mac commercials. Yeah, this guy:

My crush is not physical. It’s intellectual. John Hodgman is one of the smartest, funniest men on earth right now. Plus, he knows a thing or two about content strategy and information architecture.

The organized truth of a fictional reference book

In his book, More Information Than You Require (the second in a trilogy of almanacs about fake facts), Hodgman realizes his lifelong dream of writing a page-a-day calendar.

Each page includes a date and “an interesting historical fact that did not occur on that date.” Pure fiction.

Besides being hilarious, the facts are perfectly placed on the page. They appear as insets—a sidebar of sorts. It works because the facts:

  • Do not interrupt the flow, nor have anything to do with, the chapter in which they appear
  • Do not need to be read chronologically
  • Are there for those who, indeed, require more information

For example, in the chapter “Even More More Information Than You Require, With a Special Emphasis on Food and Animals (A Kind of Food),” we find this gem:

July 3

1983, NEWTON, MA: The first suburban white child breakdances.

This fake fact has nothing to do with food. Or animals. Yet there it is. And I love it.

Typically, I wouldn’t applaud an author for providing aimless fodder, but each one goes perfectly with the book’s overall theme. It just doesn’t fit neatly into a chapter.

How I applied Hodgman’s genius to web content

I thought of Hodgman’s book during a client meeting recently. While reviewing the client’s sitemap, I was having trouble understanding the position of a particular page. It seemed out of place.

After asking a few strategic questions about the page’s planned content, it became clear to me that it included “nice to know” information. The content was related to the site’s main purpose, but did not fit the overall story.

So, I took a page—not literally, though he encourages it—from Hodgman’s book. I suggested placing this content outside of the site’s main navigation, perhaps as a sidebar throughout the site. That way, the information would be there, but it wouldn’t get in the way.

My client loved this suggestion. They created a new sitemap and new wireframes to reflect this direction. And I wrote a little sidebar that linked to the “nice to know” information.

I doubt my copy will crack people up the way Hodgman’s phony historical tidbits do, but his approach worked on my client’s site.

More information about John Hodgman

I encourage you to develop your own crush on my little Hodgy. Perhaps you will discover more ways to apply his methods to web content.

Here are some links to help you stalk him from afar: