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.