The power of enforced brevity

‘Quality, not quantity’ – that was a regular theme in predictions made for what would happen to social networks during 2009. In other words, attention would shift from ‘how many friends/followers/fans have I got?’ to ‘who can I drop so that I’m not drowning in information?’

So far, those predictions aren’t looking that good, because not only has much of the buzz about social networks been around Twitter and the huge growth in the number of friends and followers, but also there hasn’t been a growth in applications and hacks to help with culling – usually a sure sign that a behaviour is growing in popularity. (For example, imagine the scope for utilities which identify who of your friends on Twitter haven’t sent a reply or direct message to you in the last X weeks, and then lets you easily unfollow them.)

But scratch under the surface, and the situation is more nuanced. For one of the very reasons for Twitter’s popularity is its enforced brevity. With only 140 characters a message, you know that there isn’t going to be much padding and that you can skim through large volumes of messages very quickly. It’s one reason why you even get some people expressing a preference to be contacted via Twitter rather than via email.

(By the way, if you think brevity necessarily equals dumbing-down or being superficial, I refer you to the Roman poet Horace’s quote – not someone usually accused of either: “There is need of brevity, that the thought may run on”. More on that here.)

This all might turn out to be very good news for which pretty much does what it says; think of it as YouTube, but with a mandatory 12 second limit to the films. As with Twitter’s 140 character limit, at first this may sound ridiculously low but you can actually cram quite a lot into it. And you have the bonus again of enforced brevity: knowing the film isn’t very long can make people more willing to give watching it a try. After all, it’s only 12 seconds.

Brevity without culling brings many benefits. And the sign that this trend is taking off? Perhaps the publication by an American with a middle initial of a book titled something like, The Power of Enforced Brevity: the revolutionary way to re-engineer your life.

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