The Internet gave rise to a plethora of short-attention-span content — one need only look to blog platforms, status updates, and the number of people skilled in writing in 140-characters. In recent months, however, we’re seeing an uptick in the desire for (and production of) deeper, quality content and long-form journalism on the web. Last fall, Sarah Lacy noted the shift in a post at PandoDaily:
“It seems good quality work has come raging back into vogue. There are a handful of upstarts the raison d’être of which is reporting, writing, and long form work — we’re part of that, as is NSFWCORP, and even The Verge produces some long spectacularly written stuff. Meanwhile you have companies you’d least expect investing in it. Buzzfeed, which already enjoys a schizophrenic life as a purveyor of cat photos and political scoops, announced it’s going to focus on long-form journalism, and now Tumblr, which isn’t even a content company, is getting in on the act.” (Links added.)
Also last fall, Ev Williams, CEO of The Obvious Corporation and co-founder of Blogger and Twitter, launched a publishing platform called Medium. Williams noted in a post about the launch, “Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. … It’s not too late to rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimized for quality, rather than popularity.”
I had an opportunity to sit down with Williams at the recent TOC conference in New York to talk about Medium and the rise of more thoughtful long-form writing on the web. He said we’re seeing more of all kinds of content — short, long, and everything in between — and that long-form writing is counterbalancing short-form content for both readers and writers:
“There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple years about longer form as a natural balance to what came before — and what still gets a tremendous amount of attention — which is the shorter and shorter form, faster to create, faster to consume, disposable landscape of media. People want to counterbalance that, both in their consumption habits and maybe in creation. People still care about knowledge and ideas and stories that have a little bit more meat to them. I wouldn’t say we’re done with the throw away disposable stuff and now we’re ready for a good healthy meal. At Medium we don’t kid ourselves that we can make people eat their vegetables, but we do want to give important ideas a place. We want to lower the barrier for creating and publishing ideas, and separate that from the idea of having to figure out how to build an audience or how to design a web page. There is a process of maturation, but also it’s just growth. The Internet is consuming everything, so there’s more of everything.” (At the 3:45 mark.)
You can view Williams’ full interview in the following video:
All keynotes and video interviews from TOC NY 2013 can be found on the TOC 2013 YouTube playlist.