“Well, this is embarrassing.”

It’s practically a meme. Some of them are quite good. I’m talking about the 404 error page, of course.

If this doesn’t seem like “science writing”, let’s consider the general category they fall under: the “let’s make the Internet a friendlier place for dummies” type of wording on many pages.

For instance:

1. Google releases comics documenting its new technology. Incidentally, I just found this lovely little book on how the Internet works, courtesy of your favorite neighborhood search engine.

2. Facebook’s fairly detailed explanation of privacy settings, which have almost never been enough for those who’re bent on letting The Users know how they’re being subtly taken advantage of.

3. Grooveshark, like many other popular websites, keeps a nicely informal — but still pretty informative — blog.

4. Pandora, even with the annoyance of ads, strives to develop a certain pal-iness with the user: “Cool. We’re glad you like it. We’ll be sure to play more songs with similar musical qualities.”

I can actually remember my family’s first ever computer, a chunky Acer which I thought was the best thing in the world, so I think I can say this with some authority: the geeks are getting nicer. In a sense, that’s helping out the people who are still wary or unused to the Internet by providing something more than an impersonal facade to interact with. And, what with the explanations and transparency, I think this sort of friendlier content is really a niche arm of science writing, in a sense; it’s trying to make clear the gears and wheels of the process, or at least humanize some of them.

Which makes sense. The Web is becoming more of a community than a hierarchy, at least in that the content being developed gets extensively supported, vetted and vetoed by the users. That’s power right there, so it’s only fair and sensible that the most user-friendly sites reach out to their (overall younger) users in an attempt to get them involved in the process.

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