Friday, August 2, 2013

140 Characters: More? Or Less?

I was reading the news online yesterday and soon found myself checking out a new website for reading and writing: The site is being led by Ev Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, and is designed to take over where Twitter left off. "Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends," Williams writes on his site.

So as a blogger looking to to grow his readership, I joined and was quite impressed. The text is clear and easy to read. The ability to comment in the margins of articles allows for focused conversations about each post. And while not everyone is allowed to post yet, the ones that I checked out were good reads.

But there still is one feature that I found a bit odd: each post is labeled with the number of minutes it should take to read. Aside from the fact that everyone reads at a different pace, the timing of writing raised a basic question: if we're worried about how much time it will take to read, why not stick with Twitter?

As someone who worked as a newspaper reporter and has witnessed the demise of both print and long-form journalism, I always thought that people just don't read as much anymore. Skype, Twitter, text messaging, and mobile phones have all replaced writing letters and sending postcards. So are we moving back into the golden age of reading? Are people going to suddenly start checking out 20 minute articles and books, and discussing them with their friends? Or are photos and six-second videos going to become the way we keep in touch? I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do believe that as a society we will find a happy medium.

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