Sep 7

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Medium Changes the Preferred Format

Here's a thought-provoking question: How many people see the Academy-award short film nominees each year? I don't know the answer, but I'll bet it's a tiny fraction of the number who've watched the top short films on YouTube. While the studios were worried about piracy of full length feature films, they missed the economic opportunity that was implicit in the fact that every new medium changes the type and format of content that becomes popular.

We see this at O'Reilly in the changing mix of our bestsellers. Many of our popular series, like our programming cookbooks or the Hacks series, are actually collections of shorts, rather than full-length connected narratives. Each cookbook entry, or each hack, could just as well be a web page, and the book is a playlist from a longer database of selections.

I think we'll see this phenomenon all over publishing: the rebirth of short-form content and collections, with the user in charge of the playlist.

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Comments: 3

  Taylor Venable [09.07.06 06:39 AM]

This seems to me very similar to the growing popularity of iTunes three-minute single downloads over full hour-long albums. But why is this?

I postulate that it comes from the modern American (and other countries, too) lifestyle that we've formed for ourselves out of hectic schedules and ever-lengthening work hours. It's the same reason why the number of families who eat dinner together has dropped off over the last decade. We are constantly moving on to the next activity, trying to get as much work done as possible. We can't (or don't) make the time to sit down and enjoy a two-hour movie as easily as we can a five-minute YouTube clip. The same goes for books: the Hacks and Cookbooks publications allow us to get our jobs done fast, so we can move on to the next thing.

This isn't all bad, but it isn't all good either. A five-minute YouTube film cannot change your thinking the way a good two-hour drama or documentary might. Forgive me for being a little unscientific, but short clips are not as refreshing to the mind as it is to submerge yourself in a long work of film artistry. And, again, the same goes for books. A page or two on a specific solution for a programming problem won't open your mind nearly as much as a longer dissertation on the nature of the problem itself, historical solutions to the problem, different approaches for solving it, etc.

So while short-form information is useful for getting a task done right now, it may not benefit you as much in the long run. It won't be able to contribute as much to your overall mode of thinking, or your global problem-solving skills.

If there's a lesson to be gained in all this, I think it's this: Moderation in all things. Short is good for some things, but bad for others. Longer works cannot be completely replaced.

  nate archer [09.07.06 06:48 AM]

very true point, we are seeing more of the value of the media not in the content creation but in the repackaging and bundling of media to fit the needs of the user.

  brad burnham [09.07.06 03:32 PM]

Tim - I agree with your observation. It is interesting to think about the drivers behind microchunking. One possibility is that online media will be microchunked because it is more useful to its consumers. First because it can be more easily assembled into dense collections of relevant insights and secondly because the more atomic the media the more useful the meta data and therefore the more useful the social navigation tools, like, that use that metadata.

It will be interesting to watch what happens with video as tools emerge that let users easily "quote" video by chopping it into even smaller pieces than are posted on YouTube today.

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