tl;dr is, as Seth Godin says, an acronym for “too long; didn’t read”. He doesn’t like it at all. In contrast, the citizen intelligence world sees it as a business opportunity. All of journalism is about fitting a piece into an available slot. The bottom paragraph of a traditionally built newspaper story had the most detail in it. The main points all were covered very early in case a late ad placement required x column inches be chopped out. At least the main points would still be covered and the story would still mostly make sense. Commercial interests sliced and diced the detail out of stories every day. Once they tyranny of the page or the broadcast schedule was overthrown storytellers could go in depth without the fear of an exacto knife (or video equivalent) excising their copy.

This liberation of content creators has increased the amount of long form work and helped usher in an inevitable backlash, tl;dr. You see the beginning, you see the end. There’s enough distance between the two that you don’t feel like investing enough to cover the distance so you pre-empt and just pass on the story entirely, tl;dr.

Any particular tl;dr standard is not meaningfully fixed. It is variable by time, date, place, and mood. But what if you gave the reader the old school exacto knife and allowed the story to be tailored on the fly to the needs of the space available? This time it would be the mental space of reader attention not the tyranny of the advertiser that would determine what was excised.

What if the end isn’t announced, but rather it’s where you’ve gotten enough? That’s the beauty of the dashboard drill down story style over the narrative. Every top level entry point signals that there’s an issue, a story, and gives you generalities that may suffice or may cause you to climb down a branch, to read the particular story, drill down screen by drill down screen. You drill down to the point where you get the payoff of the story. There are no boring parts because the act of drilling down is always voluntary and you never are obligated to go to the next level down or follow all the branches down. In this world tl;dr the complaint disappears while the tl;dr ethic rules. You self-curate in a way that a narrative story just can’t match because in a classic narrative story, there is a fixed story arc. There is no way to adjust on the fly. There is no way to personalize the experience because personalization occurs during the act of creation. With the dashboard/drill down model, personalization also occurs during the act of consumption. You are never expected to consume all screens, traverse all branches from top to bottom. The form gives you permission to tl;dr as an ethic, paradoxically reducing the actual incidence of conscious tl;dr.

I suspect that such a method of information consumption increases in depth information reception because it reduces the visible distance between beginning and end. You never know how deep drill downs go. If the story is easy to understand, the depths plumbed will be shallow. If the story is interesting, even remarkable, you’ll drill all the way down and go traverse the entire subtree but each step will be another iteration of “but wait, there’s more”.

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