[T]o put it in one bleak sentence, no medium has ever survived the indifference of 25-year-olds.
That’s Clay Shirky, explaining to Decca Aikenhead in The Guardian why the print edition of The Guardian (and presumably just about everything else) will be as anachronistic as a telegram in 15 years and gone for good in 50.1 And here's the layer cake of stuff that has been baking in my brain for three weeks or more.
I didn’t read it in the print edition of The Guardian.
I didn’t read it in the online edition of The Guardian.
I didn’t even read it on Phil Gyford’s stunningly wonderful reimagined Today's Guardian. 2 I read it on my iPod Touch, thanks to two of my favourite discoveries of recent months: Instapaper and Long Form, the strawberry jam and clotted cream of teh interwebs; utterly delicious and made for each other.
Instapaper makes it easy to read web content, online and off, by getting rid of all the cruft that obscures the words. A few images sometimes remain, but mostly it’s the words. It bridges the gap between finding something interesting on the web, which can happen more than once a minute if you’re working at it, and having the time and inclination actually to read what you've found. That might be while still at the computer some time later or, if you have one of the mobile devices Instapaper supports, when you’re waiting at the dentist.
Longform.org removes the need to look for interesting things to read on the web, should you be feeling like takeout, by collecting good stuff, not just recent good stuff, and making it available with a click. There's a nifty “Read Later” button too, that you can use to send good stuff that you've found to Instapaper to, er, read later. And they were indeed made for each other, according to the creators of longform.org.
Both of them also have mechanisms for submitting sites for the editors’ approval, and while there is some overlap, it is by no means complete. To be honest, I’m not that crazed a surfer that I often stumble across really good stuff that nobody else has stubbed their toe on before, but perhaps I should try harder. Does either site, I wonder, monitor the things that people are saving on their own, as it were, to spot things that might be interesting to others?
Which brings me back to Clay Shirky, The Guardian, and 25-year olds. I haven’t been 25 for 35 years, and I don’t really like the online presence of most newspapers and magazines. That may be because the notion of a magazine or paper has eroded well-worn grooves in my neuromusculature. Whatever the reason, while my RSS reader is chock full of stuff to skim lightly across every morning, I’ve never developed the habit of checking any online news site directly. Until, that is, Phil Gyford went back and analysed in wonderful detail what it means to read a newspaper in order to create an online newspaper site he wanted to read. Luckily, the result suits me very well too. It's actually a dream. Sure, it isn’t the whole paper, for rights reasons. But if something is really attractive, Today’s Guardian makes it easy to go to the original.
Just one problem. You cannot mark any page to Read Later with Instapaper, but that’s OK too, as I never want to read it later. I read it then, or not at all.
So, do I care whether the paper Guardian survives another 15 years. Well, yes, because at the moment it is the only source for the online edition, and that’s the only source for Today’s Guardian. But I’m sure they’ll solve those problems as they arise. And am I, now, satisfied? No.
Could we please have This Week's Economist?
2021-08-02: I’ve stopped using Instapaper, mostly because I couldn't easily get it to play nicely with Pinboard. Now I tend to use Paperback for things that I send to Pinboard to read later.