Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 4, 2010 9:49 PM

Just Grazing

Many people felt that the advent of television was going to kill everyone's attention span. Many feel the same way about the Internet.

Just today, the same question/mantra came out in a meeting: "when do people have the time to go through all of this content online?" It's a fair question, but it's a bit of a non-issue. The reality is that most individuals are perfectly amazing at editing and aggregating their content intake. It's not a question of how many Blogs any one individual reads, follows and comments on, it's about what they retain. Some individuals can read one piece of content and retain nothing, while others can sift through hundreds of Blogs and retain almost all of that content. Beyond that, we're all perfectly capable of making the time for the things that are important to us.

Then, there are the grazers.

It's also probable that the majority of people online no longer spend a lot of time diving deep into one, specific piece of content, and that in a world where a 140 characters published millions of time every single day is real content, and our media inputs are everything from SMS text messages and emails to YouTube videos and Facebook status updates, we're becoming less about consuming every bit and bite and more about grazing lots of content, everywhere and always.

It's probably one of the main reasons that this Blog is not more popular.

Some of my Blogger peers have commented that my Blog needs more lists, shorter posts, pictures, punchier Blog post titles and more. Why? Because most people won't take the time to read 400-600 words of pure text content every single day any more. They just want to graze. They want to peruse, glance, speed read, etc... Proof of this was further validated today in the news item from CBC titled, Blogging falls out of favour with young people: "The proportion of U.S. teen and young adult internet users who blog regularly has plummeted to about 14 per cent from 28 per cent in 2006, according to a survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center." What's really happening is that there are more choices and quicker/easier options. For young people (and the older ones too), it's much easier to update your Facebook status or tweet than it is to formulate a Blog post and get it published.

Is your content primed for the grazers?

Because whether we like it or not, that's exactly what the majority of online content consumers are doing. With so many choices, platforms and options, they're changing their own consuming habits to adapt to the vastness of this content.

It's something to think about... So, what do you think?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Connie Crosby
    Mitch Joel

    I am very thankful for your longer posts. Even if I don't always have time to read all your posts in full, I know *you* have considered the subject in some depth, and when I am ready can read what you have to say more fully. In this regard, adding headings to break up your longer content is perfect for this type of grazing. I can get a good sense of it quickly and come back for more later.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nick Chertock
    Mitch Joel

    So true, I'm finding it's even affecting my ability to concentrate for long periods of time, and this is coming from someone who enjoys reading, most other humans do not. My fear is that everything will be video based in a few years or microblogs with links to extremely short articles which are big on bullet points, lists, charts, and other eye candy.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jason Dojc
    Jason Dojc

    Some content appeals to a mass audience, other content appeals to smaller niches. If grazers are the mass audience and that's who you want to reach, then by all means post "more lists, shorter posts, pictures, punchier blog post titles". But it'll only work if that style comes natural to you otherwise it will feel forced and the audience will leave. Go with the style that feels most natural to you. And if that means longer essay-like posts so be it. Your regular readers will enjoy it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lisa Hickey
    Mitch Joel

    1) Always interesting to me how most people see change as "bad". 2) I, for one, love the fact that grazing, sound bytes, and insights in 140 characters allows me to take in a far richer, more diverse array of content than ever before. My world-view has expanded exponentially. 3) And yet, the more in-depth information is always there. Or here. For when I want it. It reminds me of the day that someone first showed me a Hyperlink on the web and I went "ahhhh". It's as if the potential of that day has been truly realized, the way I go hopping around the online universe. 4) I also love the way some content seeks me out and other content I seek out. 5) Short. punchy. listed. content. Ok, by me, but I love long form as well. This was the year I finally got around to reading Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" in between blog posts.
    thanks, as always, Mitch, for your insights.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mack McLaughlin
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Back to your opening thought that TV would kill attention spans, what it has done is allow the mass audience to be introduced to so much more of their world than ever before and now the internet is flattening it even more.

    Just like TV's 30 second ads and Documentaries there is a place on the internet for everything from a tweet to a well written blog, I think most people will Graze but also have a few spots where the grass is sweet and they linger a little longer.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian M Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Don't change a thing, Mitch. I may be forced to unsubscribe.

    Actually, I've done that already (to a lot of people, but not you) - I just killed my entire Google Reader and started over, went from about fifty subscriptions to ten. A lot of this is because I found so many blog authors just aren't that interesting any more. There's far too much curation, not enough creation. I have a feeling this is part of why blogging is getting weaker, as a medium, for kids.

    Similarly, do you watch CBC's Doc Zone? As I'm typing this, I'm watching a bit on hyper parents, and the information is fairly shocking. The changes in kids' behaviour is changing at a fundamental level, so it really -shouldn't- surprise us that the things we middle-generational people like, just aren't going to fly with other groups.

    I'm seeing a lot of blogs become self-contained echo chambers. Sadly, a lot of podcasts too. There's far too much "Me, we, us, apoplexy, aneurysm" going on. Too much fable, not enough moral to the stories.

    There's something to be said for consistency. But there's also something to be said for changing things up. The trick is identifying when that change is worth making permanent. To break an adage;

    "I know half my linkbait is working - I just don't know which half."

    Reply
  • Posted by Renaud
    Mitch Joel

    Please don't change!
    Your posts are actually not on the long side?? I am a bit surprised to read this. Maybe it's because you don't make a paragraph or every sentence you write, like others do... Don't worry, the bold subtitles work just fine. I prefer your way!

    Reply
  • Posted by Penny McKinlay
    Mitch Joel

    I'm not sure that the situation has changed all that greatly. There has always been a large percentage of the population that would rather repeat gossip or the latest newspaper headline rather than read an in-depth account of history or politics. Provocative, interesting ideas may be easier to absorb if the writer makes skillful use of communication techniques, but style will never replace content.

    Reply
  • Posted by Brian Frankson
    Mitch Joel

    Who is it you are writing to?
    What is your message?
    Your platform will define itself if you are true to your message.

    It is true, if you are needing to attract volume you need to go where the volume is.
    It is also true, that you can't judge the quality of a master by the volume of the students.

    I read every blog post you make Mitch your message is informative, often thought provoking and appreciated.

    best regards

    Reply
  • Posted by Melanie
    Mitch Joel

    I'm sadly a grazer, but when you call me out I usually stay. :D

    I'm such a bad grazer that I'll often unsubscribe to blogs that don't give me full posts/pictures in their feed. I eat with my eyes for sure!

    Reply
  • Posted by Tim Kastelle
    Mitch Joel

    I think that we need to write short, punchy blog posts with catchy titles and pictures if we're trying to appeal to everyone. But not all bloggers are trying to reach everyone. I think that is is easy to get caught up in our metrics, and it is a huge mistake to start writing to maximise our stats instead of maximising our impact. Impact comes from creating the best content possible. For Seth Godin, that's 300 words a post, for you a few more. I subscribe to some blogs where the average post length is well over 1000 words - it all depends on the content.

    Reply
  • Posted by Alex Hunter
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch, I love a nice long read and can't abide short, sustanceless blog post. They're like weak teaser posts with nothing to actually get me thinking.

    I've only just found Six Pixels, but it's my favourite podcast (love Media Hacks!) and I'm enjoying going through the blog. Keep it the same.

    Oh, also, a note about Media Hacks profanity. Got no problems with it. Personally, it cracks me up, the rants. I even recommended it to my boss (with a small warning) and I'm sure they'll love it too.

    Reply
  • Posted by Peter Pallotta
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    your style seems to write for long continuous reads so why change it?

    From a 'business' perspective if you want more traction then yes you might have to change but is that who you are?

    P.S. I enjoy your blog and look forward to more 'meat'.

    cheers,

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Lorenc
    Mitch Joel

    Actually, what I'm most interested in is the phenomenon of the "length" and thoughtfulness of these comments.

    My wife just emailed you yesterday, Mitch—and you responded. She was emailing on behalf of both of us because the single *feature* we most like about this page is the spaciousness that invites these comments. Yes, your framing, your prompt, invites this. But just look above—from this line where I'm typing now. The layout, the font, the space invites thoughtful comments. People use their real names. I actually read others' comments here (since I discovered this place two days ago).

    Ordinarily, I could give a rat's ass about reading comments on a blog.

    But I'm a writer and teacher. And I hate power-points. Power-points are like underlining with a yellow marker. What they really say is: you're stupid enough to think that the rest of the novel's unimportant.

    Yes, people's attention spans are shrinking. Does that mean we should be universally capitulating to the decline? Attention—not rigidity, but a spacious, generous attention—is teachable. If the internet continues to universalize sound and sight-bites, it will (continue to) be soma. But there will still be someone hiking in the mountains, munching on an apple, and reading a novel.

    What will finally be exciting is when there are places on the web that simultaneously bring people together (in one way) while consciously teaching *against* themselves in another. That say: "Yes, we've gathered here for a moment. Now go outside and play."

    That is, what will finally mean something is when the web isn't surrogate reality—but in a self-conscious dialectic tension with the still (and always) pre-existing reality in which all of us live.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dykeman
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, the phenomenon that you describe (grazing) is more the way a whale feeds: by swimming through clouds of plankton and catching the edible bits in their baleen. Not very sexy, but neither is grazing.

    However, to your point: undoubtedly some people prefer the shorter form stuff and there's much more of it (that's easily accessible) than there was 3 - 4 years ago. Generally speaking, I'm in agreement with what Lisa Hickey, Ian Rountree, and Tim Kastelle wrote in their comments (although I won't unsubscribe if you mix in shorter content.)

    I tend to write longer posts on my blog, but more often that not I try to keep the individual bits bolded, with bullet points, etc. to break things up. I think there's value in that and you must, as well, because you use headings within your posts and occasionally bold a word here or there.

    I would draw the line at highlighting, however.

    Reply
  • I love your blog ! Just long enough. Oh, I do not read it every time. I scan it first and dig in if it fits my mood and preoccupations. But toot long? Nah....
    I write long blog myself (http://www.aliterconcept.com/blog). I have a loyal following but once in a while , one of them drops out because...they feel that 500-1000 words are too long to read. Too bad for them. I read 20-40 books a year, 4 or 5 at the same time. (your book is next on my list) on top of newsletters and magazines. Reading is IT.
    Do not stop. Do not change a thing. Keep the good work!

    Reply
  • Posted by John McLachlan
    Mitch Joel

    If you asked people 75 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago or today, if they are overworked with not enough time to do what needs to be done, I bet the answer would be the same. We often tend to think that today is so different than yesterday.

    I wonder if the same is not true for the "attention span" debate that we are so often engaged in? Maybe we make too much of it.

    As for longer blog posts, for me it depends on the material. I truly love ones that are more than sound bites sometimes and at other times, I like ones that are short. As is often the case, the answer is "it depends."

    Reply
  • Posted by Nathan Hangen
    Mitch Joel

    To be quite honest, I don't want to create content for grazers, as they aren't likely to be loyal or to buy anything I sell.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bill Rusnak
    Mitch Joel

    I'll respond in two ways:

    1 - Grazers will stop and eat more if they love the quality of the grass.


    2 - The way I see it, spending longer at a blog or website and consuming the news/advice/opinion etc... is similar to the pay wall theory.

    If an individual or organization creates valuable content or content that has a specific flare that readers choose over another site, then the Grazers will spend more time reading it (or paying for it with the use of their time).

    Tweets are great for getting a snippet. Short blog posts are also great for the same reason. However, when you want to learn more about a theory, a news story, etc... it's the sites and people that offer up the best quality grass that will capture the most grazers.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rosemary ONeill
    Mitch Joel

    Put me in the "don't change a thing" category. I "graze" subject lines and tweets, and often linger where the content intrigues me. I always end up reading your entire blog post, and I'm starting to be quite annoyed by the "5 incredible steps to social media dominance" blogs. As a previous poster said, keep giving us the meat! By the way, tangentially, I finished reading your book last week and it was a wonderfully meaty read as well.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    First off I want it to be know that I appreciate your and others longer format content. Coming from the old school media world it’s not surprising to me that we are seeing people spend less time on ‘longer’ format content. Personally, I like to have the option to dig into subject matter at whatever level I feel is appropriate. If I just just want or only need to know the top line - think winter blizzard is coming this afternoon - it is great that this is available. In the filmed content world, primarily cable networks, we are seeing that people’s appreciation of top flight content has grown while two other interrelated phenomena takes place. The public’s tolerance for the lesser quality (B and C) content has fallen off the cliff. Secondly, they desire first-run content and will search for it. Could it be that the current trend for real time content rippling through the online world is a manifestation of this same quality expectation?

    Reply
  • Posted by Richard Becker
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    It really depends on the intent of your communication. If your intent is to feed grazers, go right ahead. But since you seem to deepen conversations and provide insight, then it seems to me it would be a shame to make your insights a slave to popularity.

    Best,
    Rich

    Reply
  • Posted by matt Searles
    Mitch Joel

    I don't know about this data that says we are grazers, I think its more complicated then that. I think there are times I want to graze, times I want the long form stuff. So the question I think is interesting is why. Not why as it is so often answered.. but like.. actually digging deep into the question of why.

    I think underlying our consumption patterns are a number of factors. First what is it that which is guiding our taste.. what makes us hungry? What makes us curious about x? To this I would say there is an underlying ecosystem inside consciousness.. that is all the different things that drive us one way or another in life.. and the challenges and conflicts.. all the whatever.. and out of this ecology, and our relationship to this ecology, pops are will. Nietzsche would tell you you don't have free will.. you have a whole bunch of wills, and which ever will is dominant enough to carry the day you then identify as your will.. so.. we are talking here about the underlying will structure.. or something sorta like that... Complicated stuff..

    Then we have something like the structure and form of content and how it relates to this will structure.. the structure and form of our curiosities, tastes, and whatever... thats driving us.

    See the thing is we evolve to our environment, evolve our environment to us.. and particularly in a pull media scenario.. what we pull into us is like pulling in an informational environment.

    I wonder if a grazing consumption pattern is a "creative pattern." Another words.. there's all these problems that people are collectively dealing with.. and what we have to do is synthesize the solutions they've found for a variety of different things.. and bring them together for our particulars.. and so grazing is sorta more optimized for that job. If you have long form content on subject X and only part of that content is applicable.. then you could say it has "a lower value density" for me as an individual. But my point being that its a creative thing in our own becoming that then drives a preference for shorter form content do to an issue of something like value density.

    I mean maybe not.. but I think these are the kinds of question we need to be asking. If we were to go along with this hypothesis then we might see a reason to go with long form content designed with high value density... well I suppose a hire value density to who? Would the more long form content then create a more powerful engagement?

    Frankly.. this bull shit about lists and whatever.. so many of your peers I don't read cause it's all so.. well low value density to me. Its like the children of Seth Godin have now decided they don't give a crap about the people who really care about thing X, what they really care about is the numbers.. they have mass media envy.. the social media cool aid they helped to formulate once upon a time is not the dog food they are eating?

    In any event I think its an internet strategy 101 that you like.. draw a circle around what consumers want, a circle about what the business wants.. and for the web site, where the two circles overlap you build the core functionality.. so from a strategy point of view.. its very possible that longer form content could serve your ends better then the shorter term content, depending on your own particular aims.. And if the game of social media has the effect of creating way more short form content then long form content.. and there are still people, or reasons.. why people would go for the long term.. then at a certain point there needs don't get met.. and if you're differentiating on this point.. for whatever reason.. that might actually work.

    I can tell you about my consumption patterns of your content. I subscribe to the podcast.. I list from start to finish.. I seem its been a while since I missed an episode.. I don't necessarily travel to the blog that often.. but I must say that something in the high 90 percentile.. of all the content you produce.. I'm finding a very good value density...

    MOST of the blogger folks whom are super popular / successful.. at least of the ones I'm encountering lately.. I had a conversation with a PR friend about this last night.. "great you're a rock star, why aren't you doing anything interesting with this?" We went around to different people we knew.. and you and Steve Garfield rated quite well. Sometimes it feels like people are famous just for being famous..

    Most of the list crap.. well here's something to consider.. The bulk of folks into this social media stuff.. are they Post Oprah coming to twitter? What's the value of that kind of readership.. if one of the things you're after is learning and growing from your engagement.. versus folks who've been around for a while and are bored to tears by the conversations we first started having like more then 5 years ago?

    I don't know, maybe I'm just a little grumpy today.. point is.. I like that you're a little different

    Reply
  • Posted by Jon Buscall
    Mitch Joel

    Yes, I've seen a trend amongst bloggers to write shorter pieces and there is some curation going on. But I think really good content marketing in blog form uses a variety of styles and post forms. Great content, whether it's a long post, a spikey vlog or a bulletted list will win through.

    If the content answers the need of the reader, no matter the form, it will win through.

    For the record, Mitch. I really like your thoughtful longer posts.

    Reply
  • Posted by Daphne
    Mitch Joel

    "The win is not in creating something that appeals to the masses." A smart guy said that . . . . in fact, it was you!
    Personally, I love your blog, Mitch. And I do save the posts up for when I have some extra time to read them - not necessarily because they're unusually long (I don't think they are), but because they are so packed with interesting, thought-provoking stuff that I want to make sure I have time them mull over.
    And I love your book - bought it for myself for Christmas, and I've been slowly working through its content! Superb! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Jamie Favreau
    Mitch Joel

    I guess it depends on the content and what kind of mood I am in. Sometimes I read the entire story like the story on Brian Burke's son Brenden. It was a heart breaking story but I read it to the very end.

    Sometimes I just graze and bookmark. So I guess you need to write the way you do because there are different audiences and you can't please everyone all the time.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rick
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with one of the above comments that some content is intended for specific audiences -like a literary blog for example. I read your posts all the way through because I learn something new each time. But I also graze through many blogs in my reader account.

    Reply
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