Same thing, different platform

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Not entirely sure what to expect, I listened to the first episode of the Hardbound podcast (with Nathan Bashaw and Will Hoekenga) and was really struck by the notion that, despite the technological advances we have seen and new form factors available, we are still largely repackaging the same old types of content to make it fit a different sized screen.

We may have to think about layouts and font sizing in order to maximise the benefits of any given platform - responsive CSS is the tool du jour here - or work on how quickly things load by reducing their complexity - the AMP Project is a case in point - but this is just tinkering round the edges and not revolutionising the content.

Hardbound interests me because it is a new platform specifically designed to redefine how we tell stories on mobile devices and has amazing educational potential. In fact, all the stories published so far are educational in nature rather than what we would think of as literary ones.

The link between storytelling and education, of course, goes back millennia. Culture, history and legend were all passed orally from generation to generation by way of stories long before writing was ever invented and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that such platforms are a modern extension of this tradition.

But, as I've said before, all writing is storytelling, it's just a different kind of story, and stories require a certain flow, direction.

The visual web

There has been a genuine fear that visual consumption is taking over the web with engagement heading towards the lowest common denominator.

With the likes of Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, Periscope, and now the suggestion that within just five years Facebook could be all video the tide has been turning and some believe it may never come back in.

Yet, when faced with the written word, we cling to the same old formats that could just as well be column inches in a newspaper.

Why don't we do something different with blogs and articles? Why do we persist in creating stories in the exact same way regardless of delivery mechanism?

It's almost as though, when it comes to text, we are afraid to give up the old paradigm.

Maybe it's because it just works

We are used to linear progression, stories wouldn't work without it. Beginning, middle and end - just as our English teachers used to drum in to us every day.

Text in its traditional form works because we are telling a story, we are taking the reader from A to B, maybe stopping off to see some sights on the journey, but still leading them to a destination so that they might reach the same conclusions or better understand our point of view.

We could play around with more visual representations and, as Hardbound demonstrates, could still achieve a coherent narrative. So why don't we?

One reason has to be information density: more words often equals more information, more scope to tell our tale or make our point; just like the difference between a song and a rap.

But you get people like Seth Godin who can say so much with so few words or song writers who are able to convey such meaning and emotion in a few short verses. True brevity is a rare talent - the rest of us are stuck in loquacity.

I think there are two other factors at play: speed and talent.

It is obviously far quicker to just write something than to also illustrate and animate it. The news is obviously new and current, time sensitive, so any benefits gained by clever presentation are normally outweighed by the delay in publishing.

There is also the consideration that alternative means of presentation will be multi-disciplinary affairs requiring writers, illustrators, animators, and perhaps even coders.

Large news organisations will have the resources to try something different and we see them tread new paths on occasion, but this is the exception rather than the rule due to sheer pressures and timescales involved.

For casual bloggers it is all but impossible.

Generations

Perhaps long form text is just what we're used to, it has been our mainstay and some habits are hard to break. However, this could be a generational thing with older generations the last gatekeepers of traditional long form text - the picture may change over time.

We are in the midst of a communications revolution where emoji and gifs are used to convey more information and emotion than a few words ever could over our size constrained, mobile-centric delivery systems.

Yes, even with our large screen devices.

Update: changed “solo bloggers” to “casual bloggers” to better illustrate the skill sets at play.