March 6, 2014 11:45 am
Updated: March 6, 2014 10:29 am

Brevity matters: Got a minute? A shortlist of great reads

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Attention Economy: At 140 characters the price is right

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When you’re in a rush, how long is too long — for an email, a news story, a social media update? One paragraph? One sentence? 140 characters? When online conversations and stories exceed the emerging norms of digital brevity, the results are predictable: we bounce, we next them, while unapologetically admitting TL;DR (“too long; didn’t read”).

As Joe McCormack the author of Brief observes, our attention spans are shrinking — from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2014. Is it any wonder that most professionals stop reading an email after 30 seconds?

Curious, but out of time: stories for infosnackers

In their 2014 Things to Watch report JWTIntelligence identified the “minute to read it” trend. No longer is it good enough for marketing and media producers to distribute mobile-optimized content. Today they must also demonstrate value in 8 seconds or less, if they want to convince smartphone users to trade that most precious of commodities — time, for information and entertainment.

As a result, more digital publications (such as Huffington Post, Mashable, and Slate) and eReader content (such as Amazon’s Kindle Singles or Byliner Originals) are purpose-built to attract time-poor audiences. In our attention economy, that means explicitly stating the time investment required to consume an article, podcast, or book chapter — up front and down to the minute.

On-the-move: Media and the glance economy

For your smartphone, lunch-break, commute, Starbucks or Timmies queue, here is a shortlist of microcontent, minute-to-read-ready:

  • Penguin’s Short Reads: “the perfect size and length for travel”
  • NPR’s 3-minute fiction: a contest challenging writers to submit stories that can be read or listened to in T-minus 180 seconds
  • UK’s The Week delivers news in 60 seconds
  • Harvard Business Review — daily stat, daily idea, tip of the day — take your pick or if you’re feeling time-rich, opt-in for all of these tidbits of business insight delivered to your inbox. If you have 10 minutes to invest and prefer podcasts, grab your phone and subscribe to the HBR IdeaCast on iTunes
  • Love eBooks but never finish them? Snack on Star Dispatcheslong form journalism from The Toronto Star, tells the story behind the story in 30 minutes, $1 each

Too Long, Read it Later: Web bookmarking

What about all those TL;DR articles? Read-it-later apps EvernoteInstapaperFeedly, and Pocket help busy content grazers bookmark articles to read sometime, when there is more time. These “DVR-for-the-web” type Internet bookmarking services reassure the most time-starved among us that all the webpages you were too busy to read today will be stored in the cloud, waiting patiently for you to double back and dive in tomorrow.

Of course archived must-read lists of links compete for attention with a daily torrent of fresh microcontent.

So much interestingness, so little time.

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