Are Tweets And Text Messaging Actually Increasing The Appeal Of Long Form Writing?

from the entirely-possible dept

To hear Nick Carr explain the internet these days, you’d think that it was killing off interest in long form reading. Of course, that’s not actually true. Carr made a classic error in the thesis for his last book, not realizing that a large segment of the population used to do no long form reading at all — and the fact that many of them are now reading something is actually showing increased readership, rather than decreased.

Clive Thompson has now stepped into this debate (not directly naming Carr, but it certainly sounds like he’s referencing him), suggesting that all this tweeting and texting has actually increased an appreciation for long form writing, though potentially decreased interest in middle form writing. His argument is anecdotal, so I’d really like to see some more data on it, but it does match at least some of what I’ve found. The crux of his argument is that people who just have a little bit to write now use things like Twitter to pass that along, rather than writing a short blog post, which are all almost always longer than your typical tweet. But, they do save up the “big ideas” and write much longer posts. And he notes that many bloggers have found that those longer, more in-depth posts, seem to get more attention.

To some extent, we’ve seen the same thing. While we still do have shorter “mid-form” posts, the posts on Techdirt are now a hell of a lot longer than they used to be a few years back, and the longer ones do seem to get more attention. For years, I ridiculously tried to keep to a rule that all Techdirt posts should fit within one paragraph. The idea was to keep them short and focused, but at times, when explaining deeper concepts, this got silly and made for exceptionally cramped blog posts (hello, wall of text). At some point I realized that was pointless, and switched to a style that went to what was appropriate. And it was about that time that Techdirt’s traffic shot up and we actually started building a decent following. I can’t say that there’s direct cause-and-effect, but at least my experience seems to mesh with what Thompson suggests.

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Comments on “Are Tweets And Text Messaging Actually Increasing The Appeal Of Long Form Writing?”

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The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

It’s not a difficult concept really. Tell people they can’t have something and they’ll want it. In this case it’s that 141st character (and no, i don’t mean the null character that terminates the string) and beyond.

Limits of most any kind are frustrating as hell and make people want to go beyond them; it’s just human nature. Speed limits, 140 character limits, drinking age, copyright length limits, non-unlimited Internet plans, only enjoying as much media as you can afford to pay for…

Craig Garber (profile) says:

Long form writing

Hi Mike, great topic.

I’ve been involved in direct-response marketing for over 11 years now and this topic is often discussed in these circles under the guise of, “Which works better, long or short-form sales letters?”

And the consistent answer has always, and will always be, “The ones with the best content work better.” If people are interested in what you have to say, they will read as much INTERESTING and compelling content as you are willing to provide.

The issue isn’t whether or not there is too much copy – only whether the text is too boring or not. The problem with Twitter (which I never use, even though I have a presence there) isn’t the 140 characters, it’s the sheer lack of meaning and purpose of 99.9% of all the posts.

Nice post, thanks! Craig

Anonymous Coward says:

Umm, 3 paragrahps of text is not “long form”. There is very little on TD that would be considered long form. It’s either short form (one angry paragraph) or medium form (upwards to 10 fuming paragaphs). It is very rare that TD goes past that point.

For the most part, the modern world is a short attention span thing, we all run around in huge shallow pools of information, getting our feet wet and rarely being interested to go past that. In many cases, searching Google for information is meaningless, as Google is popularity based in much of what it does and quite simply, people tend to link to short stories.

If you are use to writing in 140 characters, perhaps a couple of paragraphs seems long.

Do we have any proof to support this one, or is this just the TD opinion about someone else’s opinion again?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


“long form” is clearly a subjective term. By internet reading standards, once you hit a thousand words it is fairly “long”. But it’s all relative and honestly I think you know that and are just being difficult – in the context of Techdirt and similar blogs, it is entirely clear what Mike is talking about.

Do we have any proof to support this one, or is this just the TD opinion about someone else’s opinion again?

There are like two or three points in this post where Mike admits that this is just some anecdotal musing based on small correlations he’s observed, not any sort of firm assertion he’s making based on data. You see, some of us come here because we enjoy reading and discussing interesting ideas – even ones in their early stages – not just because we desperately need to find a hole in every single post.

Anonymous Coward says:


It may all be opinion and subjective terms, but the next time this story is referenced on TD, it will likely be the old “we have already shown that tweeting makes people read more long form material”. This is just one of those simple examples of how TD takes opinion, puts some opinion on top, let’s it simmer for a while, and declares it fact or “already shown”.

So my comments are relevant, it’s just an opinion, the term long form is being used to describe something that would have been considered a summary a few years back, and so on.

It isn’t really informative, because there is nothing of substance. I didn’t learn anything, except perhaps that it was a “slow news day” in the tech world.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


It’s not “informative”, but it raises an interesting concept that some of us feel is worth considering and discussing. It’s really, really, really easy to just skip a post that you aren’t particularly interested in – you should try it some time.

And when Techdirt refers to old posts, it always links to them. Perhaps there are times when the phrasing of the reference could be called misleading – though it has never struck me as intentionally so – but the breadcrumb trail is always there for anyone who wishes to delve deeper and understand the chain of facts and assertions. If you take the phrase “we’ve already shown that…” at face value, that’s your problem – especially on an opinion blog where the full statement “we’ve already shown why we believe that” seems pretty implicit to me.

Anonymous Coward says:


The links within techdirt aren’t just misleading by accident, they are built that way on purpose. The entire idea is to create a collection of opinions, often supported only by other people’s opinions, and let them age a bit. After a while, you point at them as “facts” even though they really are not, and continue to build on top of that foundation.

The idea is to create a sort of alternate reality, where actually digging down to find the true sources of these facts is all but impossible, because each step only points you to another, older, post, which in turn does the same.

Example would be the patent story that talks about the idea of a 5 year and then no more appeals limit. That is only a suggestion, a muse, by a single person who happens to be for more patent protection. The reply from the other side is from someone who is agressively ant-patent. The way it is shown on TD suggests that some great conspiracy to lock patents after 5 years was hatched, but was magically squashed by anti-patent crusaders. It is very likely at some point that the story will be referenced as “we have shown how patent maximalists tried to lock the patent system up” or some similar nonsense. The reality is it never happened, it was two opinion pieces tossed together to look like controversy, where little or none exists.

the full statement “we’ve already shown why we believe that” seems pretty implicit to me

It may seem implicit to you, but the omission is exactly how opinions are turned into quasi-facts that much of the TD realm is built on. Truthiness, I think it is called. Or perhaps the old “if you repeat something often enough, it becomes the truth”.

Over time, people stop adding the “we believe” or “our opinion is” and start accepting it as fact. After that, it’s all downhill.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard this argument a million times. Our old friend The Anti-Mike liked to call it “bootstrapping” (you wouldn’t happen to be him, would you?)

The problem is, I don’t buy it. Once in awhile there are situations which, I can understand, might raise that suspicion to a degree – but those seem rather incidental, unintentional and far from the norm.

Let’s look at your example.

That is only a suggestion, a muse, by a single person who happens to be for more patent protection.

Well, that’s just plain not true. The post espousing the 5-year limit was written by Dale Halling, a high-profile patent lawyer, and it begins by calling it “one of the best ideas [he has] heard” – then goes on to make a detailed argument, including case law. I’d hardly call that “a muse”

But more importantly, the “a single person” part is either a lie or a demonstration of the fact that you didn’t even read the material. Dale Halling was commenting on an idea originally proposed by Gene Guinn of IPWatchdog, a popular IP law blog.

So already we have two influential lawyers supporting that idea. That hardly counts as a “muse” and, last I checked, two people are not “a single person”

The reply from the other side is from someone who is agressively ant-patent.

Now this is just silly. If Mike can be described as “aggressively anti-patent”, then Quinn and Halling can definitely be described as “aggressively pro-patent”. How come when they express their opinions it’s simple harmless musing, but when Mike responds with his own it’s an aggressive attack?

The way it is shown on TD suggests that some great conspiracy to lock patents after 5 years was hatched, but was magically squashed by anti-patent crusader

Where? How? Here’s the quote from Mike’s post:

“So it seems almost laughable, then, to hear a suggestion that things should move in the other direction. However, some of the patent systems loudest defenders are now proposing that patents should become incontestable after a period of five years”

Seems entirely accurate to me. It was a suggestion proposed by high-profile patent defenders. Where does this say, or even imply, otherwise?

I think you should shine your flashlight on yourself for a second, since your description of Techdirt tactics seems more like your own: you keep repeating the same few accusations over and over and over again in the hopes that people will start to believe them.

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