Short and shallow, long and deep

Whenever I spend a lot of money on something I look up reviews online so I have an idea what I’m getting. Let’s say, for example, I was interested in buying a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 headphones. I’d search Google for “Sennheiser HD 280 reviews.” At the top of the list there are some decent reviews by CNET and some guy named Dan. Third on the list is the Amazon page for the headphones, complete with 570 customer reviews. The first two are long, in-depth reviews while the reviews on the Amazon page are, for the most part, quite short. There are some middle-length reviews out there, but most of them fall either into the ‘short-spent a few minutes writing this’ category or the ‘long-sat down to conduct a formal and thorough evaluation’ category. When I want to spend my money well and get something that I’ll like, the latter sort of reviews are invaluable.

It seems unnecessary to say that something that’s more thorough would be more valuable. After all, diligence takes time. But this is also an age in which a website solely designed for posts no longer than 140 characters is valued at $10 billion. So which is more important: the long or the short of it?

In the January 2011 edition of Wired, Clive Thompson argued that the spread of short form writing à la Twitter and Facebook is actually increasing our desire for in-depth analysis. This doesn’t mean that we want to read an essay rather than a tweet about who you drunk-dialed last night; it simply means that when we care about or are interested in something, we want our interest satisfied. Sometimes it takes more than 140 characters to do that.

Somewhat-relatedly, I came across this video comic describing the Huffington Post’s model of aggregation, i.e. linking to content instead of producing it themselves. The video ends with Little Tommy following link after link after link until he realizes that the links, instead of leading to an actual article, just keep linking back on themselves; a modern simulacrum.