WORKING ALONGSIDE THIRD LEVEL STUDENTS who are constantly inundated with Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter DMs, e-mail exchanges, text messages, and push notifications, I stress the need to carve out time to read 5,000-word essays on our creative multimedia curriculum.
I'm watching the decline of long form reading in LIT-Clonmel and I know it's the same across the Irish university sector because our slavish uptake of technology is often a distraction from long-form journalism.
I'm trying out a system where I push out long-form content in such a way that systems like Evernote, Read It Later and Instapaper can make it easier for students to share long form items for viewing in times and places more convenient for them. Just the act of opening a link in Twitter and then using the phone's or browser's sharing capabilities can help carve out attention. The secret lies in the apps themselves because they help focus attention on the long-form content.
I used to just shovel stuff onto Delicious with a few tags then sneak back into the tagged clusters to update my lecture notes. Today, I'm a little more rigourous when I use Pinboard's auto-harvesting and Evernote's Clearly page stripper as tag team partners. They're the power tools that let me save, share and organize URLs. Evernote's Clearly strips and saves entire pages for me to review when offline. I can save PDFs and PPTs into my Evernote collection and have them offline and fully searchable.
If you cannot easily save stories and then search your stash for content, the stuff you value can easily getlost among other things you gather while spending time online. This runs counter to a lot of publishers I've met who want to know why they should permit subscribers the option to read things stripped of advertising and inward links. It runs counter to Mashable's model where nearly every article points only to things inside Mashable. Knowing that, I don't click on Mashable's links. When I scrape something from Mashable and read it later in my Evernote collection, I get more control, focus more on the content and often tag it with specialised terms of reference.
I'm trying to integrate buttons for sharing into all the content I create. It's just a matter of setting aside time to manually edit the templates I use on Typepad. I can already see people coming from Read It Later and Instapaper when they visit pages on my blog. To have any hope of being read, sites need sharing buttons connected to all the popular social reading sites. I also want to tag content blog posts longer than 800 words with the longread tag so I start to show up on Google searches for that term.
I find time to dive into things I've saved on my mobile phone while I'm standing in queues or sitting on public transport. It's a lot more focused activity for me, especially when compared to my distracting laptop. Long-form content requires attentive reading. I can't dive into meaningful content while simultaneously listening to a podcast.
Saving and sharing long-form content enables a community of people who love narratives. Data from Boxcar tell me that more people mark as "favorite" links I tweet to long articles either directly or by sending a link to @longReads or hashing #longreads. This is self-selecting behaviour that has evolved during the five years I've used Twitter. I'm also connected to people who stay in touch via their online Delicious archives. We share things across the Delicious network, using the for: tag. This isn't a common behaviour anymore because of how Delicious is revising its bookmarking system.
If Twitter makes it to its tenth anniversary, I believe part of its sustainability will be down to publishers and authors respecting the driving force of Twitter for content. And related to the power of a tweeted link is the evolution of ways for people to organise the web in ways that it's easier to save and locate interesting things. That's happened for me with Evernote and Read It Later.
Hopefully, more people will discover easy apps that help them drive traffic to long-form journalism via their web browsers, via Twitter and via mobile apps. When this happens, publishers will have greater incentives to produce long form content. We need to reverse the trend to making everything fit into 140-character snippets and 40-word teasers. About the only way that will happen it by generating more traffic. Increased traffic will justify the level of effort that goes into writing and reporting the long-read content that elevates discourse in society. And that is a good thing.
Mallary Jean Tenore -- How Technology Is Renewing Attention to Long-form Journalism" on Poynter, August 12, 2010.
NPR -- “'Hamlet's BlackBerry': To Surf Or Not To Surf?"” on Morning Edition, July 20, 2010.
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