Speedster's-eye view of a Chicago street.

It’s astonishing how short the Internet’s attention span is these days.

Last Friday I made a point to post my photos of Endeavour’s final flight as quickly as possible. The shuttle’s carrier landed just before 1:00pm, and I put off grabbing lunch until I had uploaded my best pictures. My Flickr traffic jumped up by a factor of 5 that day…and was back to normal on Saturday.

A few years ago, I could post convention photos a week or more after the event and people would view them in significant numbers. If a convention ended on Sunday, I usually tried to put my pictures online by Monday or Tuesday, then add them to groups over the course of a week. These days, if the photos aren’t up during the con, no one seems to care. And even if they’re up, they’d better be labeled and submitted to groups immediately. Sure, there’s a bump, but by Tuesday, interest is already dropping off.

Sometimes it seems like even waiting until evening to transfer photos from the camera is too long. If it’s not pushed straight from your phone to Instagram within five minutes, your potential audience is already moving on to the next thing.

I used to review Flash comics at Speed Force, but it became clear that whenever I missed the day of release, I got half as many readers, and if I didn’t have the review up by the end of the weekend, only regular readers would even see it. And there wouldn’t be any discussion, because everyone had already hashed things out on other sites.

A while back, I wondered, β€œIs now better?” I guess I have the answer: β€œYes, if you want people to actually see it.”

I spotted something interesting while walking to lunch, took a photo with my camera, and then took a photo with my phone so that I could post it to Twitter immediately.

Then I thought: why?

  • Is it breaking news?
  • Is it going to be any less interesting if I wait?
  • Would it add to an in-progress conversation?
  • Really, is there any reason that posting it now would be better than posting it later?

And on the flip side:

  • Does the photo quality matter?
  • Does it need more explanation than I can provide at this time?

I decided that in this case, it was self-explanatory, and neither the timing nor the quality made much difference. But since I had the better photo, I might as well wait until I could upload it. (Sometimes the photo quality really matters, though: my phone’s photos of that rainbow cloud just weren’t worth the effort, so it’s a good thing I rushed back to the office for a better camera.)

There was a time when if I wanted to post a photo online, I had to finish a roll of film, send it to a photo lab, wait for them to develop it, and then scan the print. I really like not being limited by that, whether it’s because I’m posting about a current event like Comic-Con or an election, or just because I think something’s fantastic (or hilarious) and really want to share it.

Sometimes it’s really useful to be able to post photos online instantly. Other times, it’s worth asking: Is now better?

A bit of craziness: I wrote this post in June 2010, about this sign. Then I decided it needed a bit of work before I posted it…and forgot about it. Interestingly enough, the post is still just as valid as it would have been a year ago, and it demonstrates that sometimes, now isn’t better, even if it’s not worse.

Of course, it also demonstrates an advantage of posting immediately. There’s no chance of forgetting about it that way!

Twitter writes that link length shouldn’t matter, but the zillions of URL shortening services out there show that, for now, it does.

But why?

There are two main reasons to shorten* a link:

  • There’s a technical limit, such as SMS message length or email line width.
  • You expect people to manually enter the URL.

Right now, with Twitter messages limited to 140 characters and links forced to share that space with the rest of the post, URL shorteners are critical. But they’re working on a plan to accept longer URLs, and specifically shorten them for SMS messages. The full link will be available on the Twitter website, desktop clients, and other platforms that don’t have that hard and fast limit.

That will cut down on the demand for shorteners, but they’ll still be useful.

For one thing, there are other microblogging platforms out there like StatusNet.

For another, there’s email.

IIRC, the first URL shorteners launched because email programs often break up really long lines, including really long URLs. In plain-text messages, that leaves links not just unclickable, but inconvenient even to copy and paste, because you have to copy each line separately and paste them together. This will continue to be an issue as long as people continue to put visible URLs in email.

And then there’s the human factor. It might not be easy to remember http://is.gd/cGE8V, but it certainly takes a lot less time to write it on a scrap of paper than http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/06/07/hard-to-port-eject-goose-eject/.

Which of those URLs would you rather type on your keyboard? Or worse, on your mobile phone?

*In this case, I mean making it really short and cryptic. There are plenty of reasons to keep links readable and sort of short.

I always feel somewhat embarrassed when I find a typo in one of my old blog posts, and try to fix it. I’m a little less concerned with forum posts, since they tend to be more ephemeral anyway, and I should probably treat Twitter updates and Facebook status the same way, but I’ve made my share of “Oops, I meant to say ____” posts.

How about you? If you stumble on one of your own online posts and find a typo, what do you do about it?

Fixing Old Typos: Poll Results

The poll is open through June 8. And yes, I know there’s a typo in the question. I didn’t notice until after several votes had been cast, which meant that Twtpoll won’t let me fix it. πŸ™

Okay, so it took a few months more than I expected…but I’ve finished the Twitter digest cleanup on this blog that I started last August.

I’ve deleted redundant or trivial items, split some digests by topic, tagged, categorized and titled the rest, fixed typos and expanded abbreviations, reformatted quotes, links and lists, imported photos, and more…all in an attempt to make the archive a little more useful.

After trying to unify some of the more eclectic mixes of unrelated one-line remarks and links, I’ve decided it’s time to stop automatically importing “tweets” to the blog. Sure, the digests maintain quantity, but I think it’ll be better to keep the quality up instead. What makes a good status update doesn’t always make a good blog entry, and I’d frequently find myself either staying up late to edit that day’s “Line Items” post or rewriting it the following day. (Plus I was always worried about a bug in Twitter Tools that would cause a duplicate post about 30-50% of the time.)

I think the blog will be better off if I copy, expand or skip stuff from Twitter at my own pace and put it in a more suitable format to begin with.