Longform; it’s long but finite!

The longform is an online article with a word count of roughly 3000-8000 words. After that the definition of the term enters a realm of uncertainty concerning the level of interactivity, appropriate length and potential engagement. It usually presents a varied amount of paratextual elements – they can include images, GIFs, and videos which usually break up the primary text providing continuous pauses during the reading.

Our project focused on the question: “how long is a longform?” and the concerns around the distractions that often interrupt the reading flow. We approached the format and content of longform from the perspective of a reader on a screen which interactive surface and string of notifications can easily inhibit personal engagement with the text. Bearing this in mind, we decided to visualise the paratextual elements that contribute to facilitate or even enrich the reading process without becoming themselves a form of distraction.

The objective of our project was to highlight through the analogical artefact those elements of interaction that are purposely employed to reinforce and reiterate the content. For this purpose, we searched online for a suitable longform article that would allow us to visualise its different features, and we eventually decided on the article ‘Cracking the elaborate code why body language holds the key to virtual reality’ by Ben Popper for the online magazine The Verge.

In order to grasp the visual impact of the longform article we printed the text in different forms: plain text on A4, the web version of the article on A3 and the navigational image zoomed in that we printed on A3. Once we began to work with the visual aspects of these three forms we were able to play around with the structure of the different types of paratext featured on our longform. We proceeded to build our artefact in the A3 format which spans six metres in total and ultimately visually respects the concept of the longform.

By layering the corresponding images, GIFs, marginal quotes and video accompanying the main body of the text, we came up with a ranking system that highlights them in 3D fashion. The project allowed us to reflect on the level of engagement between the text and the visual objects, and consequently on the impact on the reader. As shown in the video, the effect produced replicate the digital form in a physical realm, making the longform walkable and therefore measurable at one glance. The conclusion is that the longform is really not about its length after all. By embracing its unusual size for the web, it is enriched by the choice of becoming even longer with a variety of interactive elements so that you will not only want to read it, but also listen and play with it. And in our case, walk on it too.

Longform from PublishingLab on Vimeo.