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May 25, 1999: and publishers would spread the news


I've complained about the fact that traditional media translate poorly to the web due to its impermanence.

A week ago I wrote a rant about what I felt was a particularly poorly-reasoned argument about the nature of violence in computer games. I realized I was being a little vehement about it; I don't think I'd get quite so worked up over the same article in a newspaper.

One of the powers of the electronic medium is that space limits aren't as extreme as they are on paper. It's easy to publish more stuff, or longer versions of stuff. Actually, the 'more stuff' becomes problematic if it gets to be too much more, since it becomes too hard to navigate.

One thing that is clear to me is that newspaper-style letters-to-the-editor sections are far more appropriate than free-form-forums. There's just too much information--too many opinions--in the latter. The selectivity (and editing) of the former guarantees narrow, focused, coherent responses. An article like the one I complained about last week would draw a few well-reasoned replies, which would get published, and that would be the end of it. Even slashdot has learned this lesson, adding a scoring system to their otherwise free-for-all forums to allow people to read only a few of the replies. But slashdot's system doesn't necessarily aim for a few balanced replies, and can't edit the responses down to the interesting bits.

All in all, I think the newspaper system, limited publishing space and all, works the best--since the publishing space is limited, the newspaper goes to a lot of effort to make sure it's used as best as possible. When you relax the space restrictions, sure, you can make a lot more material available, but people lose the ability to easily read just the best bits, and you may therefore lose value.

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