The Rise of Short-Form

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Pew Research reports that people check their smartphones 100 times a day on average. At the same time this current generation’s attention span continues to dwindle (increased ADD). Of course the world is totally over-saturated with media, to an extent that people no longer seem willing to consume any form of media in-depth as it were. This generation of consumers is what I designate ’Skimmers’ - they only consume media superficially really and at great haste.

 

Examples of this include the move away from Albums to Singles and onto the now dominant format of playlists. You could say that Twitter and Snapchat / Vine were also a natural evolution of the Skimmer lifestyle. Hand-in-hand with ’Skimming’ of media, you have the increasingly important role of ’Curation’. It’s as if people need an army of personal assistants to expressly help them to the most pertinent of soundbites. Apps like Yahoo News Digest and The Economist’s ’Espresso’ make a virtue of curation. The idea is that you can absorb the key news and business stories in just 5 minutes - perfect for the busy executives on the move, just waiting to board their plane, train, limo etc.

 

In the world of the soundbite, no one does it better really than the Kings of ’Clickbaiting’ - I mean Buzzfeed of course, who continue to wreak merry havoc on their more traditionally motivated counterparts. The lessons for all media companies really is that they must master the new Short-Form standards to stay relevant. People are no longer prepared to search through an index or scrolling news feed, they want personalised highlights served up to them on a plate. All publications need to take a leaf out of Yahoo’s and The Economist’s approaches and do something similar with their own content. This does not mean the total death of Long-Form, just a a total change in how it is delivered. Companies need to get used to delivering content in incremental soundbites. In jourmalism we all know about the inverted pyramid and how all the essential facts are contained in the first paragraph of an article. News and media organisations will need to evolve new drip-feed methods for disseminating this type of information in the most appealing and easily absorbed formats.

 

Several of my nephews’ and nieces’ generation have a preference for consuming all their video needs via YouTube - they watch the occasional movie for sure, but not that much TV (certainly not live TV!), they like YouTube clips and following video bloggers like Zoella and Alfie Deyes. All these are perfect examples of short-form.

 

In tandem with the growth of short-forming, we also have an enormoulsy increased use of pictograms and infographics. We all know that pictures can paint a thousand words, and so there is an increased importance placed on short-hand image formats. You could argue that Dorling Kindersley have been pioneering this sort of approach for years. Fairly recent times have whittled Slideshare presentations down to 20 x 20 second PechaKuchas, but this is still too much - the new paradigm is gossip-magazine-style photo-stories or 4-5 frame illustrated / cartoon strips.

 

Of course not every magazine, periodical or media service can rely on the public downloading yet another app. I already have an abundance of apps on my phone, and I consider very carefully the impact of adding yet another one. Media aggregators which combine short-forming with curation - like Flipboard gives consumers a uniform access to several content providers. Most publishers though must rely on responsive-designed, mobile-first websites which provide a Yahoo News Digest -alike environment perfectly adapted to skimmers. Publishers must think from a perspective of lists, playlists and soundbites as this is all anyone has time for today...

 

Here follow the essential facts in short-form format!:

  1. Lists | Listicles | Playlists - Numbered or bulleted lists a la Buzzfeed and Spotify
  2. Soundbites | Tweets - Think news headline tickers and breaking story feeds
  3. Digests | Highlights | Executive Summaries - Like Yahoo News Digest and Economist Espresso or Lyst even
  4. Curation | Personalisation - Serving selected soundbites on a targeted platter
  5. Video Blogs - YouTube Video Bloggers and Clips
  6. Sub- 10 second video - Snapchat, Vine, Instagram Video - the shortest of short-form video
  7. Photo-story | Comic-strip - PechaKucha presentation down to less than 10 images, 5 ideally
  8. Pictograms | Infographics - Diagrams, Vistas, Flow-charts and Graphs
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