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The Length in 2010

December beach

Well, here we are, you and I, grossly in the future according to SpamAssassin. Welcome, and let’s skip the joke about the flying cars, shall we?

As RedMonk spins back up, coming off of our customary two week holiday slowdown, a quick word on post length. As those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware, one of my downtime holiday projects was running Alex‘s WordPress scripts against the database that runs this site. The results, while not surprising, were not encouraging.

The post total has fallen off in the last two years, but a.) at 151 on the year that’s just shy of 3 posts a week and b.) it’s as much a function of my experimentation with del.icio.us alternatives and the shift of content to channels like Twitter as anything else. So no real concerns there.

The bigger problem is one that many of you are already painfully aware of: bloat. Here’s the length of my posts, by character count, chronologically from 2005 to 2009: 3341, 3705, 4435, 5183, 6349. While brevity’s never been a personal strength, that trendline is not sustainable, for me if not for all of you.

Recognizing that there will remain occasions where the extended, long form commentary is not only appropriate but essential – occasions such as the acquisition of Sun, for example – the average post length simply has to come down. Which I’ll be working on; witness this piece.

I am curious, however, as to what all of you think? What would you like to see around here? Multiple smaller pieces tackling the same subject? Serial coverage, if you will? Or do you still prefer slightly longer pieces that consolidate coverage? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter. I can’t promise to take requests, as it were, but I’ll sure as hell be reading them. Even if I don’t have the space to write about them all.

Categories: RedMonk Miscellaneous.

  • http://www.pageonepr.com Jennifer Cloer

    Happy New Year, Stephen! Some of your longer, more analytical posts are some of the best in this space, imo. But with more and more blogs to keep up with – I’m in favor of brevity. I’d request a balance of short commentary on important news and/or findings and longer pieces on topics that require deeper explanation. Does that help at all? :) I guess it comes down to my general philosophy on all things: balance.

  • http://blogs.adobe.com/jd John Dowdell

    Thanks for asking. Overall length may be less important than the reader quickly and clearly understanding what they will earn for reading the lengthier pieces.

    If the first screenful or two of text doesn’t clearly establish the value in reading the rest, then readers tend to drop out. (I rebelled against this when first reading of it in TheWell-era “Rules Of The Net”, but it’s true… reader time is not infinite, and we’re constantly making choices.)

    A clear summary — not just of the intent, but of the real action/result — also helps readers point their friends to the essay.

    Other ways to think of it: Tell them what you’ll tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. Work at multiple scales, so that value can be received with varying investments of reader time.

    tx, jd/adobe

  • James

    I did wonder where the delicious links went. For me, a link with a good summary/observation is as good as a short blog post, although others might skim past them.

  • http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~davidt/ David Terei

    I’m personally a big fan of the Q&A style posts that give a nice overview. I would love to see more done in that style, although as those tend to be your longest posts, perhaps they could be drastically scaled back if done a little more frequently. He, not sure if that really helps with your goal but at least you know now what I keep coming back for :).

  • http://dberkholz.wordpress.com/ Donnie Berkholz

    Posts should be as short as they can be to retain the points you want to make. Sometimes that just takes more space — as long as there’s value in the space, that’s perfectly fine.

    I’d certainly rather read a short, value-packed post that makes efficient use of my time, but I don’t want to lose out on anything important either.

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  • http://bartongeorge.net Barton George

    Im in the less is more camp. I think breaking longer entries in to several posts can help (thats what I do when I find my posts getting longish). The other thing for those entries that do require length is to put some type of exec summary at the top in bullet or paragraph form so people can get the main points and at the same time decide whether they want to read the whole enchilada.

    The mountains, the mountains,
    BG

  • http://redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    @Jennifer Cloer: Happy New Year to you too! i hear you about the volume, it is more and more difficult to keep up. the balance is something, you’ll be happy to know, i’ll be shooting for.

    whether i get there or not is questionable ;)

    @John Dowdell: yep, we can’t bury the lede with so much content out there. time is short, and we need to use it well.

    @James: i think you’ll see them come back, gradually, but using other services and/or switching back and forth between browsers has impacted my usage, no doubt.

    @David: not to worry, David, the Q&A’s aren’t going anywhere. i think i’d lose everyone around here if i quit those. breaking them up has been discussed.

    @Donnie: that’s the trick, isn’t it? getting everything in is difficult, particularly when some of the issues we tackle are quite involved. but we’ll shoot for shorter, definitely.

    @Barton: seems like you’re in good company looking for less. i’ve considered exec summaries before, but they’re difficult to execute properly on some topics. we’ll see what we can do about that.

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