29 September 2009

Merlin Mann posted a long (long, long) video rant today, following up on a much shorter and funnier one he posted yesterday (note: neither video is safe for work, but the second one is much more egregiously so).

One of the things he talks about (the main point, I think, of his rant) is that there are tons of advice blogs that threaten purport to help you with lots of little bits of information, and that these can be really dangerous because they won't tell you to stop when you've had enough—indeed, it's in their best interest that you go on benders as often as possible.

This mirrors a change in writing that's taken place with the internet. 20 years ago, you'd get your advice from a book, a piece of a defined length which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The author, in the course of writing a book (if they did it well), starts at one point, walks you through all the things they want you to get through, and ends. By its very nature, the book tells you to, forces you to put it down.

Websites don't do that. They're not like books: they go on and on serving up bite-sized pieces of content for as long as whoever maintains them can keep up the pace, hour on hour, day on day, week on week. It is, in some sense, the nature of the internet to cater to that frenetic "advanced beginner" stage of understanding.

Obviously, the solution (to the extent that this problem needs a solution) isn't to go back to books. But I'd be thrilled to see a format for publishing on the web that abandons the hyper-current pace of the blogosphere for a more careful, deliberate, considered approach, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The model for the internet thus far has been newspapers, magazines, and periodicals. Maybe we should think about making it like books?