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On the value of conciseness

Lately I’ve been thinking about the length of my blog posts. I humbly assume that they’re somewhat interesting to my readers, given the numerical growth of my audience, but almost each of the articles is a long essay or analysis that takes up a fair deal of time for both me and you. I believe that this prolixity is often entirely worth it, just as I don’t mind investing time in reading essays by Paul Graham or Steve Yegge. However, I’ve been wondering if I’ve set this expectation of writing something in-depth or not writing at all, for myself. The downside is that busy readers may have to skip quite a few of my articles, and I end up posting less frequently and necessarily limiting the number of subjects I can touch on.

With Twitter’s boom, an entire field of people with short attention spans, and very busy lifestyles being common, it is clear to me that people tend to prefer information in small, easy to swallow pills whenever possible. That’s why nano-publishers, who technically don’t add much to the discussion, tend to be so popular. 3,000 word articles are nice, and sometimes required, but perhaps I’ve been missing out by not allowing myself to post short considerations, incipits of discussions or content that can be quickly read, even if it’s never going to become a classic must-read computer science paper.

The inspiration for this came to me when analyzing my feeds. Out of hundreds of feeds, the only blog I constantly end up reading post-by-post is the one by Seth Godin. The ironic thing is that if you ask me what I think about it, I would tell you that what he says appears to me as common sense. I agree with him most of the time, he thinks out of the box and provides inspiration in the form of good suggestions, but his blog is not a Purple Cow. Yet, a lover of long essays like myself, follows his blog because the format that he’s adopted is simply effortless to read. He proposes small bites of thought and usually nothing more, but they are good bites, and that’s often enough. I’m busy yes, but I can spare those few seconds that it takes me to read Seth’s posts.

I wonder if I should adopt a more “relaxed” style for this blog, in which short thoughts about programming get published alongside longer ones. This post contains 417 words, in case you are curious.

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5 Responses to “On the value of conciseness”

  1. If you feel like writing 3000 words then write 3000 words. If you feel like writing 50 words then write 50 words. In the end it won’t be the length but the interest in the topic at hand that matters for your audience. Some topics require a lot of words some dont. Don’t restrict yourself by setting up some kind of pointless convention on how long posts are going to be in this place. It’s your blog, just write about stuff that interests you within the realm of programming in as many words as are needed, no more, no less.

    Thanks for keeping on posting your stuff. And by the way, I’ve been following this blog for quite some time and I’m still curious about the connection to Zen you have. It’s up there in the title but never really mentioned in your posts.

  2. Al says:

    I think there is definitely room for both long and short posts, the key is that in either format you provide your users with good content.

    If you can manage that and I’m more than confident that you can, you’ll free yourself from having to always write ‘long’ posts.

  3. Taryn East says:

    Agreed. Nothing should stop you from posting – don’t censor yourself based on whether a topic seems worthy of a long post. Short posts are just as worthy – and they are valued, much as the daily news is valued, even though it isn’t a PhD thesis on the cultural history of a region. :)

  4. Jeff Waugh says:

    Speaking of concision, the title should be, “On the value of concision”. :-)

  5. Masci says:

    Two points:
    1) Style. Can you write as Seth does? If so, write!, because reading Seth is often quick and fun. Otherwise, write as you can, I like the way you write as I’m sure other readers do!

    2) Contents. Have you got stories to tell which can be embedded in few words? If so, write about them!, because nowadays people have to select, and often tend to apply a shortest-jobs-first policy. Otherwise, don’t strip your essays just to keep them short!

    Hope this comment was not verbose… :-)

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