The social media time crisis.

# timeBrandon Werner left a comment yesterday which, for me, really illustrates the need for us to know both ourselves and our audience. He says that he is a victim - like many others - of the problems we have with attention in modern society and on the web. He says that we have reached the point where you can only effectively get your point across in short 'microbursts' and that if he writes more than three paragraphs on the same topic he notices a difference in the traffic and comments on that post.

It would appear that his audience is either unwilling or unable to read a long post. He says himself that he skimmed my post to get the salient points and this is a worrying thought and an obvious sign of the times.

Now, if you are investing the time to make a comment on an item that to me indicates that you have an interest in the subject but if you feel that you haven't got the time to read through the entire item then something is going very wrong.


I am lucky enough to converse with a number of bloggers who are really thinking about the online environment that they are engaging in such as Hutch Carpenter, Rob Diana, Julian Baldwin, Steven Hodson, Alexander van ElsasLouis Gray - there is a whole group now who strive to provide some comprehensive analysis rather than a couple of bullet points and let the readers sort it out for themselves. They are digging in to the heart of the matter and trying to provide some answers or, at least, lay the ground work and ask some pertinent questions.

As far as I am concerned, that is was online communication is all about. That is where we're heading with FriendFeed rooms and what they are designed to achieve; the ability to dive in to discussions in the right environment. It is what I've been saying all along about Twitter being the facilitator and not just Twitter.

Sow the seeds

The global conversation is the breeding ground where we sow the seeds and ideas grow, we then have to take those ideas and transfer them to the best environment possible in order to expand upon them and take them to their logical conclusion. The blog is obviously a great place to do this as it is totally under your control. There are no restrictions on what you write - you can be as in depth or as brief as you need based on the subject.

But, if the whole social web is facing an attention crisis then we can't possibly hope to resolve any issues. If all anyone can stand to read is three paragraphs how can you hope to convey all that you need to in such a short space. It's a mirror to the argument over discussions on Twitter as opposed to those on FriendFeed. The 140 character restriction on Twitter prohibits meaningful discussion either due to the lack of space in a single post or because parts of the conversation will become spread out in the timeline.

Three paragraphs may be considerably more than 140 characters but it is the same problem. You cannot use such a short space to identify an issue, provide related links or information, assess that information and then provide any kind of resolution or ask relevant questions.

How do we get round it?

Is it because we are trying to do too much? Is it because there is too much noise and we are either not filtering it correctly or haven't yet got the tools to do so? Where do our issues really lie? Louis Gray says that he lives in a permanent state of continuous parallel attention but not everyone can - or should - operate like that.

I know myself that I'll sign up for all sorts of services to see what utility they offer and if they will help me in any way but if they don't offer something to differentiate themselves then they can't warrant my permanent attention. Why should I waste my time updating too many duplicate services when I can far more effectively concentrate on a limited set and make a much better job of it. It's nice to contribute but we have to pick and choose where we will do so.

I like socialmedian for Jason's efforts to really make it a global service with a good degree of user control to differentiate it from other news sharing services. Toluu again differentiates itself by not being just another RSS application. Mark Dykeman asked for a reason to use it instead of other feed tools - the reason is that it is a feed discovery service which works in tandem with Google Reader rather than being another 'me too' service trying to compete with it. These are the types of service that I feel I should invest my time in.


simplify We need to streamline and to simplify. By all means try things but don't struggle on with them if they don't work for you. We mustn't be hung up on trying to be ever present on all services so must find a good base and which tools work for us. What utility they offer and what they allow us to do so that we can concentrate our efforts and really get the best out of them.

If we are not jumping between multiple services and duplicating our efforts we will have more time for reading, for research, for writing, and more time to concentrate on the important aspects rather than what tool we should be using or what site you will be hopping off to next.

This time is much better spent on planning what you want to say, what posts you want to comment on, how you feel you can contribute to the conversation. Just as Ryan posted in the second part of his communicating with integrity series, rather than jumping in with both feet as soon as we see a point we can relate to we have to look at all of the information. If it's a long post take the time, and show the decency, to read the whole post; if there are supporting links then visit them as they will be pertinent to the arguments. Read the reference material and get a full understanding of what the author is trying to say - only then can you craft the proper response that the post deserves and add value to the conversation.


If your audience can't (or won't) spend the time to properly go through what you are writing then you are pitching to the wrong crowd. You need to either rethink what you are writing or who you're writing it for. The intention is that we should all be writing for ourselves based on our passions and then find like minded individuals who will appreciate what you have to say - even if they don't agree.

The value comes when we build on what has been said, whether we refute an argument and give reasons why or expand on an existing idea and spin them off in directions we hadn't previously thought.

We need to be true to ourselves then find our place and find our audience.

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Images by sarmax and diva bex.

  1. I hardly ever write post with less than a 1000 words. I get carried away I guess ;-) Haven't noticed a difference in traffic. There is one exception to this. The posts that really drive traffic are those that discuss the habits of the tech elite. And that always makes me a bit sad. It seems we are more interested in our own little world than about the average web user who gets all these services thrown at him without the slightest clue what to do with that.
    But in the end it always works out best if you blog about the things you are passionate about. If it gets you a lot of readers that's great. If it doesn't, well, does it really matter? Traffic is never a good driver for good posts, it's got the be the other way around. So I definitely agree with you on this Colin. Good post.
  2. Louis Gray says: #
    Strong summary. One thing about long articles vs. short is the issue I mentioned a few months ago, where headlines can be a make or break for your site. For those of us who do peruse hundreds of feeds, your article may represent well less than 1 percent of our options to read. I write the way I do because I think it makes sense to be conversational and explanatory. The post should stand on its own instead of needing you to already be familiar with previous conversation and it shouldn't be fragmented. Despite writing more than a few paragraphs, I do believe visitors read all the way to the end. I know I did for you here and do so as often as I can.
  3. calebelston says: #
    Colin, thanks for the Toluu mention!

    As you point out, we are working to make Toluu a unique service, rather than a me-too service. There are so many opportunities for original thinking and new ideas. Google Reader and others are fantastic feed readers that continue to focus on what they do best, and we think we have the most to offer by focusing on helping people discover interesting feeds and sharing the feeds they read with friends.
  4. Mark Dykeman says: #
    It just occurred to me that you write in a traditional article style, as opposed to the "mark it up" blog posting style that a number of experts espouse. I think it's a differentiator, especially when you back it up with your analysis.

    It can be hard to switch from text scanning mode to true reading mode, but if more people did it, there'd be fewer misunderstandings.
  5. Colin Walker says: #
    I do have a history of having 'articles' in UK magazines so probably just keep going in the style to which I have become accustomed.
  6. tommyl says: #
    Most posts on my blog are longer than three paragraphs. But what I try to do is write a concise introduction so that readers can look at a few sentences and decide if they want to read on. A succinct introduction that spells out what you're addressing and how you plan to get there saves everybody a lot of time, IMO.

    I do like the point you made about taking enough time to read and understand something. But here, too, a well-written introduction can help smooth the way.
  7. Great post Colin. At the risk of being glib, here are a few things I try to do in my blog posts. (1) Break it up into smaller sections. Each section covers a different point, but I try to avoid going too long on any section. Not an absolute requirement, but I strive to do it. (2) Graphics. Yup, it's true. A picture is worth a thousand words. My graphics are kind of hacked together, but they seem serviceable. (3) Call-out quotes. I LOVE when someone else's observations can be used as part of a blog post. It makes the blog post part of a running conversation, a wider dialogue.

    God, I sound like Chris Brogan or something.
  8. I would love to have read all of this article instead of just jumping in and making a quick quip. I just don't have the time... I agree with Alexander. I admit I have written a post on my blog about a paragraph or two long. I also have a 1000+ word article about clichés on my blog. The blog topic is about researching the tools of the digital or net learner.

    John Seely Brown wrote an article here: and mentioned that the short attention span of the digital learner may be a good thing.

    I am of two minds about it. I can see both sides. On the other (third?) hand, I write entirely too long a post to commit to short attention spans.
  9. Colin Walker says: #
    @Hutch, not glib at all - they are all great ways to break up a post and used by many a blogger to add value to the post.

    @James, a perfect example of perpetuating the problem. How long did it take to make the comment? Was the comment necessary? Could you have used that time to instead read the whole post? Who's to say that you may still have felt compelled to comment after reading it all and whether the comment would have been different had you done so.
  10. I find myself hesitating sharing long posts even if they are good. Doubt people will read down to the next one in many cases.
  11. oldskoolmark says: #
    Interesting post. This crisis really breaks down the foundations which social media is built upon. The foundation that we are able to exchange thoughts, focus on a wider spectrum of the topic through sharing and generate more ideas.

    I find myself trying to reduce my posts to less than 500 words just to suit my audience. I guess our Google readers are too filled up that we just skim through the post... Tragic really...

    I think Tommyl's point of a good heading and introduction is a good point as that's what we see in our aggragators.

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