in Storytelling

The Double-Edged Sword of Writing Online

Content creation on the internet has suffered from one perennial problem: how long should content be? Do the shorter attention spans of those wired-in reward shorter content?

Websites like Cracked.com thrive on short bursts of content that users just eat up. When I was looking around Cracked, this article on the implications of Harry Potter was trending and showcases the craft of short content design. “6 Horrifying Implications of the Harry Potter Universe” gives users content in a list format that makes it easy to skim. Not only that but the information under each category is broken into very short, succinct paragraphs with rather simple sentences. This style is nice for making users remember content since the readers have an obvious delineation of ideas and content.

But sometimes that style of writing is not appropriate for everything. Though users will want to get their information quickly and succinctly, the shortest way is not always the best, especially when people are looking for things like reviews on products. Reviewing the new Kid Icarus offering for the Nintendo 3DS, the reviewers at Pikigeek.com flirt the line between short enough to keep attention spans and long enough to present all the information possible. In this particular case, it is more important for users to understand the minutiae of the topic (in this case a game which users may or may not be familiar with) than to just issue a quick dose of laughter or information.

Even looking at a modern news network online, Al Jazeera (English), pushes the boundaries of the length of content for a news article. The article linked talks about growing tensions around the immanent North Korean launch of a missle of dubious intent. None of the paragraphs are more than two sentences long while still maintaining clarity and conveyance of the most information possible in such pithy statements. Combined, the article is not terribly long but the formatting makes it look longer than it really is, which is a visual trick used to make something appear more meaty and full of information than it really is.

What it all comes down to is what one is trying to aim for. If you intend your readers to bounce quickly from article to article or to get sucked into to lots of little content, then it is better to aim for something short. If you are shooting for people to get something out of an article, you are just better off with writing an average sized article. Really, like anything on the web, it just matters on what you, the creator, want and the tools you choose to make it with.

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