The Internet has fractured the traditional magazine and newspaper industries where once the editors would decide what the mass market readership would want, now people turn to the internet to seek the niches that interest them. Why risk buying a magazine with dozens of uninteresting articles and a mere handful that may get read, when scouring the internet for sites that interest you directly are plentiful.
Enter the Link Blog aggregator. These sites seldom produce their own original content. They offer brief opinions (some more well thought out than others) and are brief commentaries or at best poor percolations of other sites content: mainstream or otherwise. Rather than invest time in writing their own original content, pageviews are just as forthcoming from brief commentary and a link to the original site, and like it or not, pageviews are the only currency that matters on the internet.
Why have Link Blogs become so popular? There is no denying that John Gruber of Daring Fireball popularised the idea as equally as there is no denying he has built an impressive mini-empire based upon it. Where there is success for some, others will copy and there are many clones on the internet today. More interesting is the question of why he succeeded in the first place.
Access to websites and the internet when away from a desktop PC was not easily accomplished for the average user until the advent of the iPhone. With time on their hands when out and about people were then able to scratch the itch: “I wonder what’s happening with the Weather?” (Look at the sky maybe? Nope just check the smartphone). That leads to “I’ll just check to see if there’s any news,” Facebook, Twitter and yes, Link Blogs. Reading a link blog is a low-committment activity, no different than checking the weather. Of course one can not truly decide whether the long-form piece that was linked to was very good, but the link blogged summary makes up the minds of many who read it. Many don’t even click through to read the source.
This leads to a state of laziness where people are perpetually skimming through brief synopses of articles that don’t get the chance to be read and fully comprehended; then judged unfairly all too regularly. People become lazy with reading, with analysis, with thinking. The expression TLDR has become more common of late (Too Long; Didn’t Read) as if to suggest that longer articles are bad: could someone please provide a synopsis and a brief quip and put it on a link blog for me? [Thanks]
The effect is similar to the erosion of good diets. Many years ago sweets and chocolate bars were an occasional indulgence and one had to travel to a sweets shop to get them. Now with every supermarket carrying them and vending machines on most corners of our shopping centres, campuses and CBDs, temptation is everywhere and rather than stopping to have a proper meal people will snack on the sweets instead.
It is not my place to dictate what other people eat no more than I would tell people what to read, but just as you are what you eat, so to you are what you read.
Long form pieces should form part of the staple of every tech geek, lest their diet becomes riddled with “snack-like” link blog posts. If we succumb to link blogs and rely on them to aggregate for us, to summarise for us, to “think” for us, we will slide down a slippery slope towards lost comprehension. Link blogs may be skimmed in an instant, but many just waste our time. If you must read them choose carefully and digest in moderation lest your mind may atrophy.