Digiday have recently launched TLDR: a nifty way of condensing longer content into bite-sized chunks. Is this a sensible response to changing reading habits, or a symptom of a growing inability to consume longer content?
‘But isn’t TLDR just the same as writing a teaser for a story?’ I hear you ask.
Not exactly. Where an article teaser will provide just enough information to tantalise the reader into exploring further, Digiday’s TLDR summarises the key facts and points in a 50-75 word version of the longer story.
Digiday’s choice of TLDR as the name of the content summary speaks volumes about who this service will be targeted at. For those of you who aren’t up-to-date with teen lingo, TL;DR stands for ‘Too long; didn’t read’ and is often used when someone makes a comment or post online that is too long to bother reading. For a while now, online commenters who may wish to make a longer, more complex argument will provide a TL;DR summary at the bottom to quickly summarise it for those who may not wish to read the whole post.
Above: A full Digiday article, and the TLDR version (inset)
The TLDR copy for these stories will be carefully written by Digiday’s reporters, and will also be used across their newsletters, Facebook pages and Instagram feed.
The logic for the move comes as Digiday have realised that many people accessing their content do so from a mobile, when they may be waiting for a train or having a quick browse during their lunch break. It is defaulted to off, but they are going to respond to the trial period, paying particular attention to whether it should be the default for mobile.
It’s not a groundbreaking change, but it is one that very few other blogging and news sites seem to have cottoned on to. However, many changes like this take a while to percolate through the industry. Like continuous scrolling, could we start to see TLDR-style interfaces rolled out across blogging and news sites?
Dropping attention spans
As the popularity of sites like Twitter have shown, we lack either the time or the inclination to read stories that are longer than a few words. As an example, how many of you have skim-read this far…?
For some stories, shorter summaries are perfectly acceptable. After all, the option still remains to read the full version for those who want a deeper analysis, and for a time at least, TLDR will be an option rather than a default. More importantly, it is a response to their audience’s behaviour patterns and increasing mobile usage.
But how much cutting down and summarising is reasonable? Some have said that 50-75 words is too short, and that condensing an article to 100-150 words would be much more effective. I am inclined to agree; the longer the word count, the less room there is for misinterpretation, loss of key facts or lack of balance. Realistically, a full 500-word article is not exactly a long read, and it is a little disheartening that some can no longer find even a few minutes to skim through a full story.
It will be interesting to see how the behaviour patterns shift on Digiday’s website if TLDR is implemented full-time. How many people will click through to articles that look interesting, or will simply continue on having already picked up the main points? What, amidst all the cutting down, will be lost?
A TLDR-style presentation of news and blogs on other sites is, like infinite scroll, inevitable. I can’t deny that it makes flicking through Digiday’s website on my phone for an interesting story much easier, and rather than ‘teasers’, I am getting the information straight up. The attention that Digiday’s writers give to these summaries needs to be replicated for anyone thinking of adapting a similar ‘short story’ alternative, as that is key to the quality of information being conveyed: this isn’t a process that can be automated.
Let’s have a go!
Digiday’s TLDR is a short summary of a longer post, and will work to streamline its content delivery. Although this seems to be a sensible response to its current audience behaviours (particularly with the rise of mobile), it remains to be seen what will be lost if it is adapted as a default mechanism. It may get you what you want, quickly, but will it be enough?
What do you think? How short is too short for a story? Tweet us @pagelizard or comment below!