Monday, July 27, 2009

Do good blog posts come in small packages?

Today I had a (very civil) altercation with a Gen Y blogger who argued that people won't read blog posts of more than a paragraph, or a few paragraphs at most.
'You can write more than that if you want,' he shrugged. 'If you want to waste your time. But people won't read it.'

I admit that I was pretty passive in this discussion. Most of my comebacks consisted of skeptical looks and a lack of enthusiasm in my agreement to write blog reports of a paragraph or so for him. This was partly because I'm an anonymous blogger and thus couldn't argue using my own experience; partly because this guy does online communication for a living, so I couldn't help wondering if he was right and I was wrong. (And yes, I admit that I have a tendency to go on for too long in my posts, one that nobody calls me on because I am - dangerously - my own editor.)

But still ... I couldn't help thinking about the Meanjin blog, Spike, the ever-prolific Angela Meyer's Literary Minded, James Bradley's fantastic blog, City of Tongues, and Mark Sarvas's The Elegant Variation. All of these blogs combine short posts with longer, in-depth thought pieces or examinations of writers, writing or other topics - and they're all highly successful blogs. And writers like Penni Russon and Rachel Power use their blogs to explore thoughts and issues or to share snippets of their lives, in a very readable and engaging way. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to follow sites like these free of charge, often accessing writing I'd be happy to discover in the print media.

And writer/bloggers Krissy Kneen and Christopher Currie, both from fabulous independent bookshop Avid Reader in Brisbane, have both recently won publishing contracts from Text for books that began life as stories on their blogs.

I don't know if I agree that form necessarily dictates content. It's true that it's nicer and easier to read long pieces in print; but one of the huge benefits of new technology is that it provides a forum for intelligent discussion and exploration of all kinds of topics, without the writer needing funding to create a platform for communication, or to place their story with the right editor at the right time, with the right angle and style for the chosen publication. I think there's a place for snappy news blogs and websites - like Genevieve Tucker's Reeling and Writhing, Jessa Crispin's Bookslut and Canada's Bookninja. But there's also a place for longer writing that takes advantage of the free and easy platform the internet provides.

That's what I wish I'd said to my Gen Y friend today, instead of just looking unhappy.

But I'm really, really curious to hear what other people think. Is shorter better online? For certain kinds of online writing, or certain audiences? Or does it depend on the writer and the topic and the day?

Afterword

I've just come across this argument for my side from the denizen of litblogging, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut, interviewed by Hackpacker:

"For a while, the only writing about literature you could find online was short, highly opinionated blogs. I remember being told that people don't want to read things of length online, you can never publish quality original content online. I thought, bullshit. I went ahead with publishing 5,000 word interviews with authors, 15-minute videos, etc. I've been proven right, because more lengthy content gets posted online all the time: podcasts, videos, long form essays. Even from the same people who said no one would care."


Still, please do tell me if you have another opinion. I'm genuinely curious to see what people think on this.

23 comments:

Enny said...

I do get a bit impatient with really long posts (in the same way I get impatient with only partial feeds!) but I think a lot of that has to do with the amount of feeds in my reader at the moment - I'm planning a wedding so there's always a backlog of that stuff in there.

That said (and I promise I'm being honest and not suck-uppy!), I like your posts more the longer they are, because I like what you have to say and how you say it. So I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Penni said...

I'll read anything long as long as it is well written (that was a terrible sentence - good thing it was short).

This whole it has to be short soundbytes with lots of white space and bullet points doctrine of online content actually drives me crazy - I would love an online Australian newspaper that has long reflective news articles instead of lots of 'WORLD, HELL, NO HANDBASKETS' and here's Sam with an indepth report in short pithy paragraphs and sentences of no more than 10 words with why single women are frigid sluts.

I think long will be the new short.

Penni said...

Sorry, I'm all over the place today. Have lost all ability to communicate with wordage.

Ariel said...

Yes, I know that I sometimes read short posts when I'm tired and gloss over longer ones. But that doesn't mean I won't come back to them later, or that I don't get a lot of the longer ones, just as I get more out of an in-depth 1000 word review than a 150 word 'bite', even though I skim the short ones first.

(And thanks Enny, that's lovely of you.)

Penni, agreed. I'll read anything as long as it's well written. I like a piece to be as long as it needs to be, no more or less. Which varies enormously. Salon.com is a great example of intelligent, readable, GOOD online content. There's some short and snappy stuff, but also some great longer reviews, interviews, etc. And it's just plain good writing. Philipp Meyer (American Rust) and Curtis Sittenfeld are two excellent writers who've contributed to Salon.com in their early careers ... and written at length.

cristy said...

Sometimes I get sore eyes reading long posts or articles on my iPod (which is how I do most of my online reading - because it is easy to hold in one hand while feeding a sleeping Lily). However, I generally prefer them to the superficial short posts that are so common.

Some people are excellent at the short, pithy, witty post (i.e. Thirdcat, Zoe...), but many short posts don't really have much of a point and get tiring. That said, some long posts could do with a good edit, but generally that is just because their authors could do with a little more practice with the written word (an issue that doesn't really effect you).

As you say, so long as the right number of words are used to express the idea - not too many more or less - then the result will be worth reading (if it was ever going to be). And when this happens, well the longer posts are often expressing more complex and, often, more interesting ideas.

Not sure that I am making sense. Trying to cram all my typing time into Lily's bath time.

Ariel said...

Thanks Cristy. And yes, you're making excellent sense. I did think of ThirdCat's wonderful short posts after writing this (and yes, Zoe does it well too). Some people are masters of the short form and can say a lot with very few words. But not many.

And cyberspace gives you the gift of the space to say what you want to say, in exactly the amount of words you feel you need to say it. That's not cited often enough as a reason why the net is ideally suited to the long form.

Ariel said...

And the annoyance of reading on-screen is a balancing argument for why the net is ideally suited to the short form. Arguments on both sides.

Kath Lockett said...

Um, yes and no. One of my favourite bloggers, Mr Miles McClagan from Jungs Programme Notes puts hugely long posts up. I have to be 'in the mood' to read them (ie a cup of coffee, lots of time etc) but always love it when I do.

Someone like Franzy, on the other hand, might only write a sentence but it's normally one where I think: "Oh, that's brilliant. He's such a clever little bastard."

Also, if they're someone I like and visit regularly, I'll read their stuff whether it's long or short. Yours, Ms Jabber, are always worth reading....

Bluestalking said...

How serendipitous to run across your blog post when I've been puzzling over the same conundrum myself. I mix my blog up with some shorter posts, some longer and several in which I post either one photo or a series. I'm not sure how many actually read my longer posts. I've wondered that a while. Sometimes I get comments on them, sometimes not. But of course not everyone who reads comments.

It probably depends on how the blogger grabs the reader in the beginning, and how the topic itself resonates in determining how many read longer posts.

Good thoughts on this.

R.H. said...

Always make it short. Cut it down. Some of these net fools (fans especially of that Blackadder thing) imagine drawn-out prose with pompous language can make something funny. Good heavens, I won't even read them. Language itself isn't funny, content is what you remember.
I don't mind your postings being long, they move at a good pace, and they're interesting -that's the thing. Mind you, the dialogue is corny (Miss Garner has the same failing) but I can forgive it.

LiteraryMinded said...

Yes, I defiantly post long author interviews and sometimes reviews, because I want my blog to have a place in the wider cultural sphere of literary commentary. I also like the fact that (in an interview) I don't have to cut or censor the author. I agree with you that there is a place for both short and long form content on the web.

The Blakkat said...

Just as long as it's interesting, I don't care how long it is. Short posts are good to read when you're just browsing or blog surfing. When you're familiar with a blogger's 'work' and you like what they write, then you're more likely to stick through a longer post - if you're in the mood.

Thanks for the links to those literary blogs, too - they're great.

Hackpacker said...

I'm actually leaning towards a mix of long and short. There's a lot of stats about time on page that are frankly rather bleak, but I think lit types do want to read online.
But some stories are best told short.

Ariel said...

Thanks all, again.

Kath - it's all about the mood sometimes, isn't it? And some people do short so well. (Just like some writers perfectly nail short fiction.)

Literary Minded, it's funny, I think I used you & Genevieve & Jessa Crispin as examples of newsy sites with good short posts, but when I think about it, all of you mix that up with longer posts.

Blakkat, your observation is really interesting ("Short posts are good to read when you're just browsing or blog surfing. When you're familiar with a blogger's 'work' and you like what they write, then you're more likely to stick through a longer post "). I think I agree with this, it's pretty spot on. Short posts are good additions to the mix for drawing new readers - or making quick or small observations. If I happen across a long post on a topic I'm interested in though, then I'll follow it through even if I don't know the writer or the blog. But it's the same concept - you're drawn by knowing you'll be interested in some way to follow a longer post.

Bluestalking, I really love your 'name'. And your blog - I just visited for the first time and will definitely be back.

RH - I'm weirdly flattered that I'm in Garner's company for corny dialogue. Ah well, I can live with that.

HP - "some stories are best told short" - true.

R.H. said...

I find Garner's writing weirdly interesting, someone's always washing the dishes or going to the dunny and there's a wire screen door at the front and two women on the veranda, an ex and a current, slyly checking each another, until the numbskull of it all: Bearded Derek (as cardboard as Kellogs) comes rolling out the wire door on cue...Really!
Well it's awful but I like it. I don't know why. Maybe because it looks easy but is hard to do. It's easy to read, that's for sure. And so are you, and no less interesting. Maybe you could stop saying "Um..." and "Hon", in your dialogue. Miss G would be awfully jealous.

R.H. said...

And don't be so nice all the time; let rip on the Dad, trot out some dirt.

Watershedd said...

Writing is a such a personal thing and we'll each use a voice, pace and tenor that is particular to ourselves. It's sheer laziness to never read a long post. Sure, there's times when they may be more of a challenge: end of the day when your mind is weary, trying to catch up on other stuff and only have a short window to read the blogs. Reading short posts only really fits with the concept of Gen Y being into immediate gratification. I may not comment often, but I still read what I can. It's one way of getting a different perspective on the world and detail of a longer post often enhances that view.

Jess said...

Thanks for the mention Ariel! We're very much enjoying Jabberwocky over at Spike. Do you have an email we can contact you on - if so drop me a line at jjmau@unimelb.edu.au

genevieve said...

Great post on posting, Ariel, and terrific discussion. I have no hassles with being newsy - am delighted and chuffed that it is so.

I think it doesn't hurt to turn non-narrative posts into sections of about 800 - 1000 words for blog delivery (as distinct from a news-site.) However a story (whether true or otherwise) should only be serialised in cases of dire emergency, like denial of service or ISP cockups.

By the way, I got 'ryngled' as a captcha the other day. And then John Hughes died. Brrr.

David said...

Hello, I hope you don't mind a stranger from the other side of the world commenting. But, as someone who instinctively writes long blog posts, I was immensely cheered to read yours. A piece of writing should be just as long (or short) as it needs to be to say what it wants to say -- simple as that.

Ariel said...

Thanks Watershedd! And Genevieve ... I was sad about John Hughes. More so than most celeb deaths, which usually leave me cold. Maybe because those 80s teen films were so much a part of my adolescence.

David, of course I don't mind! Thanks for weighing in, and I am chuffed that you found me via Overland's link to Spike too. Nice blog, btw.

Helen said...

When he says "people", he's thinking of people his age, and people unlike himself, whose ways he hasn't learned about, because he's young.

Not Gen- anything, just young.

He doesn't realise there's a world out there of Zukys and Twistys and Baristas and (sob) (formerly) Hilzoys and such, who write more substantial stuff. He'll learn.

Nice to see new posts, I'd nearly given up on the Jabberwock

whisperinggums said...

I guess it depends a bit too on the definition of long and short - and, perhaps how fast a reader you are! I generally prefer tight and short - and by short I mean under 500 words. That said, probably half of my posts get up to 600-800 words, with the occasional one longer.

What I'll read does depend on the quality of the writing, but overall I have so much I want to read (and blog myself) that I just can't afford the time to read lots of long posts. It's a practical thing really!