Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 5th Feb 2014 12:21 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

Jonathan Mahler, on 'long-form' articles:

What's behind this revival? Nostalgia, partly, for what only recently had seemed to be a dying art. And technology: High-resolution screens make it much more pleasant to read a long piece online than it was even a few years ago. Also the simple and honorable intention to preserve a particular kind of story, one that's much different from even a long newspaper feature, with scenes and characters and a narrative arc.

Up until the moment I read this article, I had no idea there was a specific term for long(er) articles, let alone that some consider it a genre. I realised that virtually all of my reviews are apparently "long-form"; the Jolla review, for instance, was 9000 words long. I've done much crazier than that, though - the Palm article was 22000 words long.

However, in both of these cases, I never intended for the articles to become that long, or in fact, to achieve any specific length. When I start out, I just have a number of things that I want to discuss, and I won't stop writing until all of those things are in the article. I will make a distinction between things that get lots of attention (say, the gestures in Sailfish) and things that get a passing mention (e.g., the backplate), usually based on some sort of combination between what I personally find interesting and what you, the readers, might find interesting. Since the gestures in Sailfish are at the core of the user experience, it gets a lot of attention; because the backplate and its hardware potential offers little to no benefit right now, it gets a passing mention.

I also like to pick some sort of overarching red thread, like the whole The Last Resort thing in the Jolla/Sailfish review, to tie everything together and frame the article. This can be a dangerous thing, since it's usually very personal and can easily be misinterpreted as pretentious or have other unwelcome side-effects. Originally, I framed the Jolla/Sailfish article using Manifest Destiny, but I quickly realised that its pitch-black consequences were unacceptable in a mere technology article.

Combine these things, and the article is done. Whether the resulting article turns out to be 2000 words or 10000 words is irrelevant to me; if it contains everything I want to convey, it's done. If it leaves things out just to be short and more digestible, it's a bad article. If it contains useless, irrelevant crap just to pad the word count, it's a bad article. Years ago, when both my best friend and I were writing our master's theses, we ended up with very, very different word counts - mine was 27000, hers was a mere 8000. Both contained all the required information; nothing more and nothing less. Both were graded positively. Word count is a measure of nothing.

By now, some of you might be wondering why the sales pitch for the Palm article did contain the word count - which seems to contradict the above. My reasoning there was simple: we were selling the Palm article. I figured that since I was asking people to pay money for an article that was freely available on that very same page, I should at least give them information about what they were spending their money on.

Long articles like the ones mentioned above are not for everyone. In fact, their potential audience is much, much smaller than, say, a three paragraph jab at software patents. While those jabs are fun - sort of - it's these long articles that are by far the most fulfilling to write. The Palm article alone took months and months of work - research, making notes, educating myself about low-level stuff, devising a structure, setting a tone, organising the six hundred different subjects I wanted to cover, the actual writing process, revising it all, while also doing my regular job, and so on - but it is by far the most rewarding experience I've ever had for OSNews.

I'll never forget getting emails from former Palm executives and engineers - big names - congratulating me on a job well done.

Writing articles like that is not easy, with my biggest enemy being a lack of time because OSNews is a hobby, not a full-time job (I wish it was!). A few weeks after publishing the Palm article, I started work on a similar article about Psion and Symbian, but due to work and personal life (which was rather tumultuous in 2013) sucking up a lot of time last year, I never found the time to continue work on it. With things having settled down since December, I'm making plans to dust off the Psion and Symbian material, possibly take a few weeks off work, and finish it.

That article could end up being 8000 words, or 50000 words. I don't know. The goal is not be long, but to be comprehensive, and this is my inherent problem with the term "long-form". This term puts the focus on length instead of content, which absolutely baffles me. A good article is not defined by its length - or lack thereof - but by its content.

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Comment by mr_pinsky
by mr_pinsky on Wed 5th Feb 2014 12:44 UTC
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Reply Score: 9

RE: Comment by mr_pinsky
by oper on Wed 5th Feb 2014 19:26 UTC in reply to "Comment by mr_pinsky"
oper Member since:

One executive summary could be:
When writing, the goal for Thom Holwerda is not to write a long article, but to be comprehensive.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Comment by mr_pinsky
by MatsSvensson on Thu 6th Feb 2014 09:52 UTC in reply to "Comment by mr_pinsky"
MatsSvensson Member since:


Reply Score: 1

Spanish quote...
by sergio on Wed 5th Feb 2014 12:48 UTC
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"Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno"

"Good things, when short, are twice as good"

Baltasar Gracián

Reply Score: 4

RE: Spanish quote...
by Kochise on Wed 5th Feb 2014 13:19 UTC in reply to "Spanish quote..."
Kochise Member since:

Women tends to disagree...


Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Spanish quote...
by WereCatf on Wed 5th Feb 2014 13:36 UTC in reply to "RE: Spanish quote..."
WereCatf Member since:

Well, it's not the size of your..particulars, it's how you use your wallet ;)

Reply Score: 6

RE[3]: Spanish quote...
by Kochise on Wed 5th Feb 2014 14:32 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Spanish quote..."
Kochise Member since:

A wallet twice bigger than mine is still more interresting.


Reply Score: 2

lost in translation...
by sergio on Wed 5th Feb 2014 23:01 UTC in reply to "RE: Spanish quote..."
sergio Member since:

well... the problem is that the word "short" in english is generic and It can be used with several things and meanings... like the one you thought hehe

but the original quote in spanish doesn't use exactly the word "short", it uses "breve". "Breve" means a short period of time. I think the most accurate english word would be "brief" instead of "short".

So... a bad translation ruined a wonderful quote. ;)

Reply Score: 6

RE: lost in translation...
by Morgan on Thu 6th Feb 2014 17:27 UTC in reply to "lost in translation... "
Morgan Member since:

Ah yes, "brief" which in (American) English can refer to one's undergarments as well. Somehow we always end up back in the nether regions...

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Spanish quote...
by Soulbender on Thu 6th Feb 2014 07:32 UTC in reply to "RE: Spanish quote..."
Soulbender Member since:

s/women/insecure men/g

Reply Score: 3

Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Wed 5th Feb 2014 13:13 UTC
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I take "long-form" to mean "full of entertaining prose for people who are entertained by reading prose." Some people enjoy Reader's Digest. Some people enjoy reading novels. Most of us just want to get in and get out because we have better things to do.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by Luminair
by WorknMan on Wed 5th Feb 2014 17:02 UTC in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
WorknMan Member since:

Some people enjoy reading novels. Most of us just want to get in and get out because we have better things to do.

For me, it depends on the topic, but I'd usually prefer a small 'tl;dr' paragraph at the top. For example, if I'm reading a review for a phone (or whatever), do I really need to read a 4 page review, only to find out that the UI is laggy, the display is terrible, and it has marginal battery life?

Oh, and to those sites who like to split 1,000 word articles into 10 pages, as someone who uses a screen reader and listens to articles being read while doing other things, you have my permission to eat shit and die ;)

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by Luminair
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Wed 5th Feb 2014 18:50 UTC in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:

That's closer to the truth. It is filled with prose for people who like prose. But it also has a broader scope in general. So Thom's reviews are long, but they aren't necessarily long form, even if there is a lot of prose in there. Some of his industry overviews, kind of are.

The best examples of longform are on grantland, sportsonearth, and Sports illustrated ( when marked as longform). Its easier to tell what is and is not longform in sports. You have stories about games ( not long form). Stories about strategy ( not longform). Stories about a player's on-field production ( not longform).

And then you have stories about people who happen to play/coach sports in an outstanding way (can be long form). The long form sports articles may touch on philosophies of the sport as well as philosophies of life and show the long term impact of sports on us and them. Its as close to sports as Hemingway's 'old man and the sea' was.

Reply Score: 3

Maybe articles could be more concise
by charlieg on Wed 5th Feb 2014 13:39 UTC
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But then again maybe you lose clarity and meaning. I like the quality and thought you put in Thom. More long articles beats fewer shorter ones. I like your approach so am glad to hear you have no intention of changing it.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by Fergy
by Fergy on Wed 5th Feb 2014 14:33 UTC
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Arstechnica is the only website where I think the articles are too long. 20+ pages for apple products...

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by Fergy
by dnebdal on Wed 5th Feb 2014 15:08 UTC in reply to "Comment by Fergy"
dnebdal Member since:

Arstechnica is the only website where I think the articles are too long. 20+ pages for apple products...

Only the major versions of the OS.
And in a way, I'm ok with that: If a huge team has been working on it for a year or two, spending enough pages on it to enumerate what's actually changed both visibly and technically seems fair, almost respectful.

I'd just wish they did the same thing for windows releases; a comparably solid teardown of the changes from xp/vista/7/8/8.1 would be interesting to me (though I might well be a minority).

Reply Score: 5

by Sparrowhawk on Wed 5th Feb 2014 15:43 UTC
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Interesting, thanks Thom. I really enjoy your longform articles, even (especially?) when it's on a topic that I am not very familiar with, such as Palm's history.

Also, I'm very much looking forward to your Psion article if you get the chance to finish it, having been a huge fan of Psion products from its software days on the Sinclair machines (ZX80/1, Spectrum and QL) to its organisers and palmtops and ultimately onto the mobile phone stuff.

I have various Psion series 3a and 3mx computers in my cupboard (including a rebranded 3a, "Acorn Pocket Book") and an 8Mb Revo. Lovely little machines, I still play with them occasionally to program casual apps in OPL.

They and the superb Series 5 were all over the UK at one point.

Reply Score: 3

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal,
by No it isnt on Wed 5th Feb 2014 18:25 UTC
No it isnt
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I apologise for having written so long; if I had the time, I would have made it much shorter.

Some specialists of the long-form are nothing more than masters of needless wordiness. However, they're not the reason for its spike in popularity.

Reply Score: 4

RE: To paraphrase Blaise Pascal,
by dionicio on Wed 5th Feb 2014 21:53 UTC in reply to "To paraphrase Blaise Pascal,"
dionicio Member since:

That guy Pascal...

Reply Score: 2

RE: To paraphrase Blaise Pascal,
by cfgr on Thu 6th Feb 2014 10:33 UTC in reply to "To paraphrase Blaise Pascal,"
cfgr Member since:

"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I've always liked that quote, especially in a functional programming context. Some of those functions are true perls, defined by their simplicity and completeness.

Reply Score: 4

Short = popular, but Long has its place
by benali72 on Wed 5th Feb 2014 19:33 UTC
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Detailed longer articles are valuable when well done. But most people want short articles... some won't even read articles if they're long.

Just look at the way they crapped up NBCNEWS.COM today. Big pictures, a lot less content than before. Much less valuable, IMHO. And probably much more popular, now.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by ilovebeer
by ilovebeer on Wed 5th Feb 2014 20:55 UTC
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Who is your target reader? Not every article needs to contain every detail that can be mustered. Content is certainly of more value than length. But, that doesn't automatically mean a longer & more in-depth article better serves the reader, especially if the reader is looking for more of a summary rather than a detailed report.

Reply Score: 3

The Mark Twain's teacher style...
by dionicio on Wed 5th Feb 2014 21:51 UTC
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Somewhere, sometime I read about it.

Something along this:

"Break in half, then break in half, latter break in half".

Everybody can write an article
that essentially says:
"It's good, or it's bad".

Just how little is needed to transmit the essence?
To write the best article?

Reply Score: 1

Trade Lingo
by mutantsushi on Thu 6th Feb 2014 06:57 UTC
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I think the point of the phrase "long form" is not as a literary genre per se,
but as lingo of the trade for those who make a living out of writing.
There it obviously has relevancy for what type of work is being commissioned or expected by the editor/publisher.
It's relevance as a genre is subsumed to that commercial function.

Reply Score: 2

Clicked on some more ads
by Lennie on Thu 6th Feb 2014 08:58 UTC
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So I clicked on some more ads on the OSNews site, I like the content. I know how little this helps, but I hope some day Thom can work at least part time on the site.

But I doubt it:

Reply Score: 2

Symbian article
by sjeffree on Thu 6th Feb 2014 13:23 UTC
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I thought your Palm article was great & I can't wait to read your Symbian one.

It'll be great to see such an article written by a European, rather than the Americans who normally write these things from a distictly insular American perspective

Reply Score: 2