Being brief

Interesting from Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab on giving reporters the implicit permission to write briefly.

000000;">So I like the idea of giving journalists a structure and permission to share little things — things that don’t need to be expanded into traditional articles, things that can connect a reporter’s knowledge to an audience’s interest without the templatized exoskeleton of modern web publishing.

It’s something I’d like to do more of here – sharing interesting links with a paragraph or two’s analysis. Not everything needs to be short enough to be a tweet or long enough to be a full article. Aside from the issues about it taking all the useful “byproducts” of reporting, as Benton argues, Twitter is a terrible medium for archiving, and not a great one for conversation; if either of those things are important in how you share little things, there are far better options for doing so. Tumblr, for instance.

Conceptualising CMS shortcomings as a “lack of permission” is particularly interesting – reminds me of poetics conversations around line length and form being limited by the size of the notebook or the eventual printed page. Form and content are still married. You can see that too in how hard it is for many news organisations to put up a story that consists only of a single fact. How do you break a single-sentence story in a traditional CMS where headline, intro and article must all say something?

Short is sexy

16/06/2009 - Magnetic poetry wall at the Cambridge Arts FestivalI’m a fairly recent Twitter convert, and at the moment there are two main reasons I’m sticking with it. First, it’s short, and second, it’s art.

I’ve failed to enjoy Facebook or work well with it for several years, preferring to do my moaning on my blog and my events management by email. Yes, I know, I should do better. That’s why I joined Twitter.

The interface is easy, keeping up with people you find intriguing or blogs you want to keep tabs on is suddenly very simple, and you can engage as much or as little as you fancy.

All of which is lovely, but it’s not why I like it so much – it’s not why it works. The best and most innovative thing Twitter has done is forced us to condense communication into short bursts – to crystallise. To be brief.

Twitter’s 140-character limit forces poetry from mundanity. It’s possible to build a tweet around a single thought, a concept, without over-egging it or forcing it. It rewards neatness. Even “pointless babble” becomes a crystal of meaning, complete in itself.

And people are using the microblogging format for all sorts of textual art, from condensing words down to fit within the strict limits to haiku to artistic political satire, such as William Shatner’s Tonight Show recital of Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed. The medium even spawned the world’s first interactive poetry competition.

Mashable laid out the reasons for loving the character limit very neatly and persuasively, but didn’t mention the possibility of poetry.

Twitter is forcing us to distill our words, and words distilled can make art.