Whenever I’m tempted to slag off some Big Dumb Agency move, I think of something Clay Shirky wrote, comparing our era to the advent of publishing: "We’re collectively living through the 1500s, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it." And I try to remember that pointing at the broken things is sometimes just too easy. Maybe it’s more helpful to highlight some of the hints of future poking through the rubble, like adventurous new weeds at the end of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie.
So, I want to tell you a story of short, medium and long. The long starts us with a business called Matter. It’s trying to invent a new way of doing science and technology journalism – one that’s native to the digital tools of today. It started with a successful Kickstarter launch, raising enough money to get off the ground, and now it’s publishing regularly. One high-quality, well-researched, properly edited, long-form story a month, delivered to you for 99 cents on whatever device you fancy. It’s not the only way that journalism will get saved, but it’s an interesting start – an ingenious plant thrusting into the light.
Williams’ businesses point at one way the future of writing might sort itself – by duration rather than form factor
The medium takes us to a company called, well, Medium. It was started by Ev Williams, who became famous through a company called Blogger. He has got pedigree in the world of digital publishing and Medium is an attempt to create a future for thoughtful writing "to build a system optimised for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention." Medium has just acquired Matter – that points to something interesting going on.
And the short is Twitter, because that’s how Mr Williams can afford to go around buying businesses such as Matter – he is a co-founder of Twitter. And his portfolio of businesses now points at one way the future of writing might sort itself – by duration rather than form factor. Writing has freed itself from the physics of ink and paper but not from the way our brains like to manage our attention. And Matter and Medium might be a hopeful new hybrid.
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service