These are going to be some dangerous confessions from a new media guy.
While we should try to make cool, new features, we should always keep an eye on what is useful. Written content is immensely useful. It can be viewed in a variety of formats, even mobile, and when written well, it delivers a form of immediacy that video, Flash and other online content cannot.
I suspect my preference for written content is not that far off of what the average Internet user feels either. It helps explain why 57 million Americans read blogs in 2006, while 50 million Americans still buy daily newspapers.
Now, when I say written content, I mean much more than just standard journalism writing with an inverted pyramid (And a lot, lot less feature ledes. Please?!?). I want writing with immediacy, impact and focus. A lot of what appears in newspapers does not fit that description.
One reason I love tech blogs like TechCrunch, Silicon Alley Insider and Engadget so much is that they are not encumbered by the legacy of journalism. Their posts are written with an amazing sense of immediacy, and their headlines are clear and concise. I can get in and out within a matter of seconds.
That’s news I can use in a fiber optic world. I’m a RSS loving, Google Reader using, on the go kind of guy. Do you really think I have time to watch video news reports?
Speaking of video, I can’t remember the last time I watched a newspaper video clip. Why watch a video at NYTimes.com when I can watch one at CNN.com? Although, often I just want to read CNN’s stories, instead of watching their long videos.
Even short videos take time to watch. So, they better be good and often they aren’t. With a written story I can get the gist of the story in under 10 seconds. I could never say the same about video content.
I confess, I’m not a big fan of Flash. I think some newspapers have hitched their futures to this technology for unclear reason. At it’s worst, Flash makes a user experience worse by causing users to wait for some slow loading content that has serious accessibility issues that adds nothing to a Web site. At it’s best, Flash be can an incredible, interactive info graphic or database-driven story.
Most uses fall in between. The problem with using too much Flash is that it is a resource hog. I keep around an old computer so I can do usability testing. Yes, I have a Core 2 Duo Macbook, but that’s not what the average Internet user has, and we should always keep that in mind.
Flash has an uncanny way of tripping up my older computer, especially when I have multiple tabs open on my browser. There is also another rule of thumb that newspapers have a hard time following: If it can be done with a standards-based solution, it should be.
Now this doesn’t mean there isn’t Flash content I like, because there is some that really gets me going. There is also Web video I like from news organizations. But it is to say that written content is still king.
This doesn’t mean we can keep writing like we have for decades in newspapers. It means we have to rethink written content on the Web. Many of the top blogs have the right idea.