In last instance, wrapping up this project may lead us towards more questions than what we proposed at the beginning itself. Our project focused on the initial question: “how long is a longform?” and inevitably, we verted towards the investigation of the elements that define it, in order to analyse the possibilities behind them and the flaws that may arise. Two points of view guided our research: “how is the canonical format being displayed?” and “how is the INC dealing with its own longforms?”
The problematics we found common to both may be summarised in: building readership, multimedia interaction, level of experimentation, and regime of distraction.
In analysing some online articles (from The Verge, Pitchfork, etc.), we notice that the styles chosen are directed related to a fundamental editorial decision: how much text do we think our readers can take at a glance, without feeling too discouraged?
As previously stated, the length of a longform can vary, but it being finite and so enriched with multimedia elements, the reality is that the words count is not as dramatically high as it looks. Still, there’s a specific style guiding the format of each longform showcasing a deeper understanding and strategy behind the length of the text and the multimedia intrusion that keeps in mind its audience. Building a community around this specific format sounds more challenging in comparison to blogging in 400 max about any given topic, so that finally it takes a focused campaign act to address those who are actually interested in the topic more than the format — but can still handle both.
Although keen on thinking that the best longform is also the one that has more interactivity, the reality of things might be quite different. It is undeniably true that a well presented and extraordinarily built article might be visually pleasing, but the amount and the nature of its multimedia objects must reflect the nature of the topic. One example is given by our own longform on Digital Comics, that must of course carry within it visual examples and a higher level of interaction in comparison to other longforms. The methods of building an article not only change, but also require a deeper knowledge of the platform chosen for publishing. Can it sustain the amount of interactivity? Does it require maintenance? Does it involve the use of further plugins? Is the amount of work necessary to publish worth the shot?
Level of Experimentation
If all the above questions have led to a loud “YES”, then it is possible to get out of the comfort zone of WordPress For Free and actually involve a designer. Though, the more complicated a longform becomes, the more difficult it is to handle it. New problematics arise: how does it respond to multiplatform testing? What is the impact when digested by read-later apps? Does the longform disrupt the experience of the user when changing tabs?
‘With greatest powers, greatest responsibilities’ said the wise, but also greater amount of doubts. Instead of trying to adapt the text to its multimedia frame, it is fundamental to strategize in time. One way to experiment more wisely is to start anew by keeping in mind the design and only after provide a style guide to the author. In this case, problematics as excess of words in a page, or exaggerated use of multimedia will not arise: a clear style, a consistent format and a guided creation will make easy for the longform to be put in place even before its content has come to life. The medium is somehow dictating a direction, and the screen holds an undeniable power, until the experimentation manages to overcome its borders.
Regime of Distraction
Finally, the real demon in the house. The platform is built, the content is in place, the multimedia disruption is kept to a minimum (or a maximum, if that’s the choice), and the community is voraciously waiting to be fed with some spectacular experience. How to make sure they stick around, though?
Our research has taken into account all the problematics here discussed, but has come to a conclusion that the distractive experience of an online user is discouraging from writing a longform. The wish to write a better article, to present a nicer layout, and to attract the right audience, all come to having to deal with the annoyance of continuous notifications. Emails, texts, music, snack/nap break, gaming urge, etc. all lead us away from what we are reading, sometimes even leading to read something else.
The trick is then not to try to convince the readers to stick around as much as tempting them to come back.
Given this short analysis of what it takes to make a longform being brought to life, it is fundamental to think from a publishing point of view. As a reader it can be all fun and interesting to sporadically approach a long read when in the mood for a dose of highly cultivated and informative text, but as a publisher one must ask: at what price?
The claims around a low appreciation for long texts actually hides a much more worrying idea: that a valuable longform needs an insightful text, a committed team of professionals, and a dispendious platform.