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Is Digg destroying the Internet?

February 26th, 2007 · 5 Comments

When was the last time you read a 2000+ word article online? I’m not talking about skim reading, I’m talking about actually sitting down and reading word-for-word everything that the author had spent hours crafting for your enjoyment?

The chances are that you haven’t in a long while. One reason might be that reading long articles online isn’t a natural thing to do but perhaps it’s something else. Something more sinister.

Michael Gray hits the nail on the head in his article Blogging in a Sound Bite World where he talks about how the rise of social media now means that “most people don�t read the story, they vote on the title and snippet“.

So is Digg destroying the Internet?

Like Michael, I have a pretty low attention span so I tend not to read lengthy articles online unless I’m a fan of the author or the title and opening paragraph has hooked me. This weekend was a good example. In between trying to install Xoops again, I caught up with my RSS feeds. According to Google Reader I “read” over 800 articles this weekend. Did I bollocks! I probably only read around 10% of that figure, a further 10% have been “starred” to read at a later date but the majority ended up being binned without a second look because they either didn’t have a good hook or they were too long.

At the beginning of the year Darren Rowse went on vacation and left ProBlogger in the hands of Tony Hung who wrote a series of posts about how to get the most out of blogging. Now don’t get me wrong, Tony is clearly a knowledgeable guy who knows a lot more about blogging than I do but I didn’t read a single one of his posts from start to end. Why? Because they were too long. The shortest post was 1300 words and the longest over 2600 words. They’ve all been “starred” but the chances are I’ll never read them because a 2600 word article is a huge investment in time.

As I mentioned the other day, Aaron Wall recently wrote an excellent article entitled Optimal Word Count & Web Page Copy Length where he looks at page length from a search engine optimisation perspective.

A page which has 500 words on it will overlap many more keyphrases than two different pages that have 300 words each. As long as you can put your AdSense ads in a prominent position that gets a decent clickthrough rate without sacrificing your linkability I would recommend going with 500 to 600 word articles.

Now this seems like common sense regardless of whether you are writing with one eye on the search engines or not. To my mind, 500-600 words is pretty much the optimum length of copy for the web. Anything more than that, as I suggested in an earlier post, becomes uncomfortable to read off the screen.

So how exactly is Digg destroying the Internet?

Assuming that 600 words should be accepted as the optimum length of copy for the web, let’s now take into consideration Michael’s comment that most people vote purely on the title or description. This article on Pronet Advertising says as much and Neil is considered by many as a master of getting Dugg so are people now judging you and your sites worth purely on its Diggability?

I read a number of posts from different sites over the weekend that were geared towards getting a post onto Diggs front page. Not one of them focused on writing good quality content as being the cornerstone of appearing on the front page. It was all about optimising your title, subject matter and description. So long as you’re writing about Firefox being a better browser than IE and you have a punchy title and tag, you can watch the Digg traffic roll in. So long as your 350 character description rocks, it doesn’t matter if the article is a piece of shit.

By using Digg as a metric for success, people are limiting themselves to the “sound bite blogging” that Michael refers to. Why bother with long articles exploring your topic in great depth when you’re only going to be judged on the title and description? There seems to be a mentality amongst a number of bloggers that content is no longer king. Getting on the front page of Digg is their sole objective and if they can do that with as few a words as possible then all the better.

Time magazine praised the public for seizing the reins of the global media and filling the web�s virtual world.

The explosion of social media has meant a shift in the balance of power on the Internet. It’s no longer run by the mainstream media, it’s run by us. Let’s not forget that the reason that Time Magazine made us Person of the Year 2006 was for filling the web’s virtual world. The only problem is that we’re filling it with complete crap. Garbage content aimed at getting a couple of thousand hits for short term gain and kudos is not what they had in mind but whilst people place so much value on getting their content to rate highly on sites like Digg, it’s not going to stop.

Alright, it’s unfair of me to lay all the blame at Diggs feet. We’re living in a content rich, time poor society that has adapted to form opinions and make decisions quicker than we did, say, 10 years ago. In 1997 mainstream media still hadn’t embraced the Internet so the only information sources we had available were traditional newspapers, TV and radio. Today we have more information at our fingertips than ever before so it’s natural that our decision making process has evolved but what I’m seeing now is a move towards a sound bite culture where it doesn’t matter what you’re saying so long as you’re saying it right.

The move from the static, rarely updated web pages of yesteryear to todays dynamic, user driven content is something we should embrace but not at the cost of quality. The Internet and, more specifically, social media sites are an excellent way to interact and share knowledge. As any Knowledge Management expert will tell you, knowledge isn’t power – knowledge sharing is power. However we are in serious danger of screwing things up if the pinnacle of our knowledge sharing amounts to only 350 characters.

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Tags: Blogging

5 responses so far ↓

  • Rory // Feb 26, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    I wonder whether people have a short attention span because people just aren’t interested any more.

    I loved Tony Hung’s articles for ProBlogger, read every word and them for reference. But then, I’m new to this game. I wonder when you saw the length of those posts, you thought, “What the hell can he say in 2000 words that I’m not going to know already?” I wouldn’t be surprised if your (and I mean that broadly – other “Blogging” bloggers included) Feed Reader is packed to the hilt with Blogging- and SEO-related weblogs, which all pretty much say the same thing over time.

    I mean all this with no disrespect whatsoever, because I liked this post very much. It was very thought-provoking, and I find your writing style easy to read. You seem personable. I’m going to take this with me and remember it when I occasionally get verbose.

    I don’t know why your Writing For The Web article didn’t get more comments – it was excellent.

  • Mike // Feb 27, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Rory,

    Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to respond to each point.

    I’m not sure that it’s a lack of interest, I genuinely do believe that we live in a content rich, time poor society where we are bombarded with information 24/7 and tend to skim read more than we used to.

    I’m certainly interested in reading Tony’s posts at some point but, realistically, I’m unlikely to purely because of their length. Although I regularly post about blogging, I’m still very new to all of this so would most certainly learn something from them. The problem is that the size of the articles is daunting. It’s much easier to read five 400-500 word posts than one 2600 word post.

    The echo chamber element of reading a lot of blogging/SEO/marketing sites is huge so maybe it does play a part in my reading behaviour. Good point.

    I appreciate the feedback on the writing style. I try to make things as easy to read for my benefit as much as my readers!

    Generally speaking less than 1% of visitors leave a comment on here. That’s probably worthy of a post in itself…The Writing for the Web article was one of my early ones so, I guess, not a lot of people have read it. Another good reason for cross posting 😉

    Thanks again for taking the time out to leave a comment.



  • Rory // Feb 28, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks for replying, Mike.

    I do get what you mean about long posts – I was confronted with one this morning.

    What is the answer? Be more concise? Is “page 2″ the kiss of death? Or, maybe, split it into two – Part 2 tomorrow. Perhaps you could do a post on how to handle long posts…

    And commenting – that is an interesting subject. I read a fair few blogs, but only comment when I feel particularly moved to.

    Oh, and while we’re on the subject of long posts – I noticed that Darren Rowse at ProBlogger put his “digg this” button half way down his recent post. Why not just stick it right after the Title, and be done with it!

  • Mike // Mar 1, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    I’m pretty much the same regarding comments, to be honest. I’ve got over 100 sites I regularly monitor yet I can probably count on one hand the sites I regularly comment.

    I’ll get round to writing my view on splitting posts over the weekend.

    Thanks again for stopping by.


  1. How long should your blog post be?