Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Last week I tried an experiment. Instead of posting bits and pieces on Facebook as I encountered them, I compiled everything into a single daily blog post which appeared first on the Web, and then on Facebook as a note. It was a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of FB posts I make: I know I post a lot, but that’s because I keep stumbling over all sorts of interesting things. The journalist inside me wants to share them with you, but I’m wary of bombarding people with stuff they don’t want to read. I also wanted to try writing slightly longer pieces, but not as long as the short essays I usually put on my blog.

The blog experiment revealed several interesting things.

· The number of comments and likes dropped off almost to nothing. Most of my posts get some reaction. The blog posts, which typically contained 10-15 items, got almost no response. I suspect this is due to the following reasons:

  • Most people simply don’t read the longer posts. They’re not good to read on a phone, for example and they demand a lot more commitment than short 240-character posts. It’s also really easy to skim through your Facebook feed and see what looks interesting, whereas this is much harder with a blog. No readers = no reaction. Simple.
  • The layout Facebook gives to links is actually very effective: a short summary, an obvious thing to click on to see the item (and you can view videos right in the post without leaving the page, and an easy mechanism to make a comment or like a post, again, without leaving the page. In a blog, it's much less obvious whether you're going to like what you get, and you actually have to look for the link, so people don't click through as much.
  • It’s much easier to react to a single post than to a long post. It’s clear what you’re reacting to, rather than having to explain in your comments which bit you mean. If I post about three films I've seen, it's so easy to click "Like" on the one where you agree with my comment, rather than write a comment saying "Yeah, I didn't think much of BLAH movie either."

· Blogging is hard work. It would typically take me an hour at the end of the day to write up one of those posts with all the URLs I’d saved, add in all the links, find images, and so on. Clicking “share this” is so much easier. Click the button, add a quick comment, and get back to what I was doing. It takes less than a minute.

So, in other words, compared to Facebooking, blogging is more work for me, and is less effective at communicating this kind of information to you. Sure, blogs are great for longer pieces like this, where you need to hold someone’s attention for a few minutes, but that’s not what Facebook’s for.

What we seem to have created is a smorgasbord of what I've taken to calling "infosnacks": tiny morsels of assorted information that we can help ourselves to all day long every time we fancy a little nibble. There’s an endless supply of it out there, and we can survive on it quite happily.

You could argue that a non-stop diet of infosnacks is bad for us, and initially, that was how I felt. Surely spending time reading proper, well-written articles has to be somehow “better” than lots of stupid little postings.

On reflection, though, I’d have to disagree. Infosnacks are a fine metaphor, but it’s not the same as subsisting on a diet of chips and chocolate. There's no requirement that our daily information intake has to be limited, or contain certain vitamins. And infosnacks aren't all we consume anyway. We can, on occasion, easily find ourselves drawn to sampling more weighty, nutritious fare: someone posts a small taster, we follow it up, and next thing we know we’re reading an informative article about something quite in depth.

It all depends who your friends are. It’s more like a conversation, where people are quite happy to contribute a few sentences here and there, rather than a debating society where everyone takes turns to hold the floor for half an hour and make a speech. And because it’s so easy to post, you may find that your friends post some quite surprising and interesting things, which actually makes for a pretty damn good conversation.

So, it’s back to Facebook posts for the little things, and blogs for longer, more complex thoughts that won’t fit into 240 characters.

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