of forests and trees 10.24.2007, 11:42 AM
posted by ben vershbow
On Salon Machinist Farhad Manjoo considers the virtues of skimming and contemplates what is lost in the transition from print broadsheets to Web browsers:
It's well-nigh impossible to pull off the same sort of skimming trick on the Web. On the Times site, stories not big enough to make the front page end up in one of the various inside section pages -- World, U.S., etc. -- as well as in Today's Paper, a long list of every story published that day.
But these collections show just a headline and a short description of each story, and thus aren't nearly as useful as a page of newsprint, where many stories are printed in full. On the Web, in order to determine if a piece is important, you've got to click on it -- and the more clicking you're doing, the less skimming.
Manjoo notes the recent Poynter study that used eye-tracking goggles to see how much time readers spent on individual stories in print and online news. The seemingly suprising result was that people read an average of 15% more of a story online than in print. But this was based on a rather simplistic notion of the different types of reading we do, and how, ideally, they add up to an "informed" view of the world.
On the Web we are like moles, tunneling into stories, blurbs and bliplets that catch our eye in the blitzy surface of home pages, link aggregators, search engines or the personalized recommendation space of email. But those stories have to vie for our attention in an increasingly contracted space, i.e. a computer screen -? a situation that becomes all the more pronounced on the tiny displays of mobile devices. Inevitably, certain kinds of worthy but less attention-grabby stories begin to fall off the head of the pin. If newspapers are windows onto the world, what are the consequences of shrinking that window to the size of an ipod screen?
This is in many ways a design question. It will be a triumph of interface design when a practical way is found to take the richness and interconnectedness of networked media and to spread it out before us in something analogous to a broadsheet, something that flattens the world into a map of relations instead of cramming it through a series of narrow hyperlinked wormholes. For now we are trying to sense the forest one tree at a time.
bowerbird on October 24, 2007 12:10 PM:
the problem is _not_ one of forests and trees.
the problem is one of needles and haystacks.
and again, the answer is collaborative filtering.
"interface design" -- while not unimportant --
is just putting lipstick on a pig if all we get
is what the corporate newsrooms want us to hear.
ben vershbow on October 24, 2007 12:19 PM:
Collaborative filtering is definitely the other part of it. A big big part. And I'm holding off for the moment on the question of where the news is coming from -? that's another (important) discussion. But the interface is vital and carries its own politics. The personalized info screen, though it looks on a vast network of possibilities, seems to me at odds with notions of a public sphere. These are paradoxes inherent in the technology. I'm trying now to swim a bit in the amibiguities. You seem to want to shut the discussion down.
bowerbird on October 24, 2007 6:18 PM:
> I'm trying now to swim a bit in the amibiguities.
you can't even _spell_ ambiguities... ;+)
(that's a winky-smiley. it means i'm poking fun.
but i'm laughing _with_ you, ben, not _at_ you.)
but more seriously...
i think all of us are aware of the news "forest".
there's more news out there than we can absorb...
and i mean _real_ news, not the britney updates
that the mass-media seems hell-bent determined to
cram down our collective throat on a daily basis.
fortunately, this very focus on the "fake" news
sensitizes more and more of us to the fact that
the corporate newsrooms are quite intentionally
putting blinders and earmuffs on the populace...
so the answer is not "skimming" their newspapers.
that's nothing but a surrender to their agenda...
the answer is making a user-controlled interface
that delivers what each of us considers to be
and believe me, when it gets boiled down to that,
you _will_ be able to read it, even on an iphone.
end the war. stop violence. feed the hungry.
tell the truth. treat each other with kindness.
you don't need a full broadsheet for elaboration.
and, to get even more serious, if i may...
one problem with "swimming in the ambiguities"
is that you start introducing them unnecessarily.
look at your recent direction: as if "the book
of the future" wasn't a complicated enough thing,
your institute is now branching out into "analog"
(i.e., non-digital) entities as well. what for?
well, far as i can tell, to introduce even more
complexities (a.k.a. unnecessary ambiguities)...
you haven't solved the first thing on your list.
so why are you adding more stuff to your agenda?
is it so you can continue to write blog entries
and continue to get invited to conferences and
continue to get funding and continue to continue?
not criticizing -- people gots bills to pay --
just sayin' there's still lotsa work to be done
on your first task of "the future of the book".
> You seem to want to shut the discussion down.
why would i want to do that?
more specifically, how is the making of a comment
"trying to shut the discussion down"?
there was no discussion here until i made a post.
i thought that you were missing the point, so
i disagreed with your analysis. i still do...
Gary Frost on November 10, 2007 10:43 AM:
In my view BowerBird is not trying to shut down the discussion. In my view BowerBird is just mentioning that the negotiation of the future of the book will never get anywhere on-line.
The endemic features of screen reading are word processing and field sorting; finding patterns in random information. These tools are just not that relevant to evaluation of the future of the book. They are much more relevant to evaluation of the future of screen based reading.