The Instapaper Effect-Or, The Dilemma of Long-Form Writing on the Web

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a new “minimal blogging tool” intended to separate the information in a blog post from any particular blog publishing system or media property. Tentatively called My.ReallySimple, Winer’s prototype system is a database that stores the body of a post and an optional title and link, and can then export that post to any other platform via RSS, a format readable these days by almost any browser or device. That’s all it does—it’s like a staging area for thoughts that might eventually make their way to Facebook or Twitter or your personal blog. The way I understand it, it’s supposed to maximize the portability of information by minimizing the fencing around it.

Winer comes at this meta-blogging project with a specific ideology about information ownership. He decries “corporate blogging silos” (referring, presumably, to hosted blogging, microblogging, and social bookmarking platforms, from Blogger to Twitter to Delicious) and writes that “The important thing [about My.ReallySimple] is that you and your ideas live outside the silo and are ported into it at your pleasure.” That’s fine, but what interests me is the potential of a system like My.ReallySimple to become a way station between commercial publications like Xconomy and all of the new devices, like the Kindle and the iPad, that are making long-form reading easier.

Winer thinks people will want to use My.ReallySimple to store Web clips that they might want to share in multiple places later. But what if publishers could use it too? If the reference version of every newspaper, magazine, and blog article lived inside some kind of platform-agnostic database like Winer’s, it could still be ported from there to a publication’s content management system for viewing on the desktop Web, but it could just as easily be sent to a news reader, a cell phone, a Kindle, an iPad, a text-to-speech program, or whatever reading contraption is popular a few years from now. In this world, readers wouldn’t have to seek out an external tool like Instapaper every time they wanted to bridge the gap between the Web and their handheld readers—they could just subscribe to a publication’s feed and have all of that publication’s content delivered to their platform of choice.

Maybe it’s silly to rest my hopes in a yet another technological solution. And obviously, whenever you separate content from its traditional containers, it raises big revenue and business-model questions—which is fodder for another discussion. But I’m encouraged by word from New York Times Magazine editor Gerry Marzoretti that tens of thousands of people, sometimes hundreds of thousands, read the magazine’s cover stories online, despite their great length (8,000 to 15,000 words, occasionally more). “The conventional wisdom that the Internet was not friendly to any piece of prose longer than a few hundred words has not been borne out at the Times Magazine site,” Marzoretti said in a 2009 address. “Our most popular pieces are the longest.” Someday, I hope to be able to say that too.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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