Elderblog Sutra: 3

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Elderblog Sutra

When you walk, your typical step is a step along the path you’re on. Steps that exit down a new path are exceptions. On the web, exit clicks are the default, voice clicks — which keep you in the current conversational context — are exceptions.

This exit bias of hypertext makes it difficult to match the deepening-attention experience of the printed book. In a book, page-turnings far exceed book switches. A page-turner is a a thriller that reinforces the  stay-on-the-trail bias of print. Even the most difficult books tend to sustain 2-3 page turnings per session. Online page-turners by contrast — think Taboola listicles with one titillating nugget per page — fight a losing battle from Link One. Even if you don’t supply outbound links, there are always open tabs lurking in the background: competing books within thumb-reach.

My hyperlinking philosophy has always been to avoid fighting the medium. Successful online content works by deepening the stream of consciousness rather than fighting the exit bias. Three models do this particularly well: single-page longform, streams, and threads.

Single-page longform works like a meditative-attention gravity well that gets harder to exit the deeper in you go. My longest post is 14,422 words, 4x a typical magazine feature. It would need ~30 page turnings if it weren’t on a single page.

Streams work by letting topic-level attention go stochastic, and deepening conversation-level attention. Twitter and Facebook invite you to swim upstream in place, always in the now, modulo some atemporal algorithmic vorticity. The archives of an elderblog invite you to swim downstream into long-term settled memories via internal links.

The thread (sutra in Sanskrit) is the youngest and most exciting innovation. You deepen the stream of consciousness by working with the smallest possible chunks. Originally 140 characters.

Of the three, the thread is the most likely to disrupt the printed book.

Series Navigation<< Elderblog Sutra: 2Elderblog Sutra: 4 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. Do you suspect that there could be systematic bias between different kinds of people in their preferences for interacting with books, threads, streams, or long-forms?

    Also, it seems like some clear hacks show up. Example: If you are learning something that is a painful heavy lift, *get a book.*

    • Yeah, definitely. I think the spectrum is degree of conversationality of the format. Most people like more conversational forms.

      There are certainly hacks, though I don’t know if they generalize beyond individuals much.