The Culture of Snippetry



One of the question on the survey I’m currently running (TAKE IT NOW) asks you to think about how many blogs you read regularly. Even  when writing up the survey I hadn’t thought about this in a long time. So, I went to my trusty Bloglines page to count them up: 70, exactly. Fifty-five of these are wine blogs.

I check these blogs, all 70, daily. It’s a testament to the power of "skimming", a way of accumulating information that Bloglines and other information aggregators clearly endorses.

The fact of the matter is I could probably keep track of double this number of blogs given the way I can skim a head line or first paragraph of a blog post and easily determine if I want to read further. But it occurred to me that there are hints all about the media of a move to endorse "skimming" as a way of taking in information, as opposed to reading–particularly reading in full an entire article.

I think this trend is particularly clear in newspapers. More and more will bold out the first paragraph of a story, giving it even more importance that it already is required to have by standard journalistic conventions to carry. In fact, some newspapers have gone to adding a single sentence or combination of words between the headline and lead paragraph that is not a subhead and not a lead paragraph, but rather an invitation to "get the gist" and move on.

As for books, tell me if you’ve noticed this: with non fiction it appears chapters are getting shorter, include more headings throughout the chapters and now often have pull quotes in boxes on the page.

Have we fully become a Culture of Snippets?

Of course the standard wine review is the ultimate snippet. The vast majority of wine reviews in magazines and newsletters and even on blogs is either a snippet itself, usually no more than 100 words or is made up of a string of even smaller snippets.

It’s all about our attention span, isn’t it?

I don’t know enough about brain biochemistry to really know if they can actually be "re-wired" or if they can become accustomed to taking in data in a particular way or in a particular format. But if they can be, I wonder if many brains are becoming wired to take in and more effectively digest data in small bursts…in snippets.

I once seriously considered becoming involved in a publishing venture in which on bi-monthly basis we’d deliver a journal-like publication (think "The Paris Review" in size) that examined in depth 5 wines. It would have  been the ultimate "wine review" that started with the history of the grapes, region and winery in general, went on to specifics of the vineyards, winemaking, cellaring and marketing, and concluded with a contextual and complete evaluation of the wine. Those of us considering this venture realized that each of the five "reviews" in each issue would easily span twenty pages.

Given the Culture of Snippetry in which we seem to live today, I’m guessing this format for examining wine might attract 12 subscribers, 6 of them "mercy subscribers" based only on friendship.

I’m both a victim and practitioner of snippetry. So I’m really in no position to decry this development. But it does have implication for the way we bloggers compose our posts if we want them read and for readers of blogs who want to scan many blogs. The fact this, this post alone has probably run too long by a factor of five.



5 Responses

  1. Ryan - July 10, 2007

    You can add subscriber #13 to that list if you ever move forward with that venture. I too am a skimmer, but that doesn’t impair my ferocious appetite for information (and detail). I find it nearly impossible to get exactly the information you are describing without reading reviews (more blogs than Parker) as well as winery websites, followed by additional data seeking on the origins of the vines, regional weather, etc.

  2. Alfonso - July 10, 2007

    I hear you Tom…I’ve been experimenting with a comic strip panel or two, gotten more hits than any other time, except when I signed up for
    go figure
    nice psot, enjoyed it

  3. Josh - July 10, 2007

    I skim and I dive into detail. But only for the things I’m passionate about.
    I think that there is room for the publication you describe in the market. The key is to take it to the extreme, just like you describe. 20 pages per wine. 5 Wines an issue. Everything there is to know about the vines, history, producers and the production of the vintage itself. Epic.
    Your subscriber numbers would be small, but they would be fanatics – just the sort of people who would spread the word about the magazine and pay the 20+ bucks an issue that it would cost to produce.

  4. Jo - July 11, 2007

    I call it “Sesame Street mentality.” While raising my kids, Sesame Street was an important daily function. It touched on this, it ran to that, it had a daily number and letter focus that popped up throughout, so you never forgot what was up, but you didn’t have to constantly keep it top of mind… And, it’s still on today. We’re still raising kids with Sesame Street Mentality… 1, 2, 3… 4, 5, 6… 7, 8, 9, 10… Bet you know the tune…

  5. Joel - July 11, 2007

    This is probably a good post but I only read the first couple of sentences…

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