Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 4, 2012 9:53 PM

A Story With No End

How would you feel about reading an article in your local newspaper that never ended?

It seems like the latest buzz is all about creating content (books, magazine or newspaper articles) that never end. Well, I shouldn't say "never," but the power of these online publishing tools does create a world where articles, books and whatever can be constantly updated in an iterative fashion. From one side of the coin, this has to be one of the coolest innovations in publishing that we've seen in a very long time. Imagine the breaking news of a tornado and being able to see and follow how the story unfolds and get updated in real-time. It also speaks volumes to the power of correcting errors or clarify points of confusion. On the other side of the coin, who has the time for this type of consumption? What are the odds that a consumer is going to come back and check for updates and then be able to remember what was updated since the last time they were there.

It all seems a little overwhelming.

Yes, we want to ensure that our stories are accurate and up-to-date. No, we don't want to create a world where the story keeps changing every two minutes and it becomes hard to know/remember what you read last. The filters are not perfect and neither is the formatting. I have yet to see a news outlet or a Blog create a design/layout that makes the consumption of content that is constantly changing both pleasing to the eye and understandable at a quick glance. Having a little sentence that simply states, "last updated" with a date and time stamp doesn't cut it.

Design is the problem.

That's not true, either. Design isn't the problem... design is the solution. The challenge is that we haven't seen a compelling design that has then been applied universally so that readers can feel like they are truly part of the story. Not to get into Storytelling 101, but a great story has a beginning, middle and an end. If we can't clearly define those parts or if we start mucking around with them, odds are we're going to create more confusion than value... and that's the bigger opportunity here. Instead of constantly and iteratively updating and changing a story, why not create newer pieces of content and link them together and make it much easier for readers to flow through the stories separately?

Media as a process.

I'm as excited about the new opportunities as the next Twitter junkie, but this idea that books, magazine articles or newspaper stories never end is stressing me out. I feel like I have to digitally lug around all of this content and wait to be pinged for the latest tweaks, corrections and additions. Why? Is this a better consumer experience? Are we really appealing to new and interesting consumers with this or pandering to our own self-involved desires and beliefs that this is what the people really want? I don't know about you, but I'm fine with books ending and I enjoy the satisfaction of finishing a nice piece of long-form content (either online or in print) without the need to come back to it as the writer's process or whims continue to unfold. Perhaps we need to better define this new consumer and figure out who wants that much interaction with their media versus those who want their content to be brilliant, to be brief and to be gone.

What do you think?

By Mitch Joel