Traditionally, online publishers have indulged the notion that we have fish-like attention spans, because their ad-funded models need feeding with briskly refreshed, cheaply produced content that keeps those hit counters ticking.
But last week, the website Buzzfeed — known primarily for aggregating bite-sized content that's heavy on cat antics and cheap 'lulz' — appointed former Spin editor Steve Kandell to oversee its foray into longform journalism.
"We're certainly seeing a correction," says Bobbie Johnson, co-founder of Matter, a longform journalism project that launched at readmatter.com. "It's clear that the amount of effort you put in (to writing an article) can be related to the value that emerges at the other end.
The complaints made by Matter in its pitch to investors — that many websites think that we're dumb, prioritise advertising and treat press releases as if they were news — won't suddenly be resolved by Matter's launch, or indeed the changes afoot at Buzzfeed. But the 'correction' that Johnson refers to does seem to be gathering pace, while putting to bed one of the most common .
misconceptions about our online reading habits. "It's been proven to be wrong," says Johnson. "It's an argument that doesn't really need to be made any more."
A mouse that lives up in the cloud. How very useful
We live in a technological world where the phrase "cloud-based solution" has become ubiquitous.
The idea of storing files remotely on a secure server thousands of miles away, rather than within a few feet of our desk, is regularly presented as a solution to problems that, in many instances, were never there in the first place. So, you might not buy into the cloud as a concept — but sometimes you're not even offered the choice, and the absurdity of one such case is currently causing a kerfuffle.
Razer, a company known for its gaming peripherals and accessories, has just introduced Synapse 2.0, an application that lets you store the settings for your gaming mice and keyboards in the cloud. But, crucially, the products that use it don't function fully unless they're connected to the Internet.
The idea behind Synapse 2.0 is pretty sound: if you're playing your favourite game on another computer, you can take your mouse with you and all your settings will be intact, allowing you to dominate the competition. But it also makes for a gadget that's almost pointlessly tethered to the web and imposes unnecessary restrictions on its users. So much for the "freedom" afforded by the cloud.
The TV that can count heads... and charge accordingly
An unintentionally hilarious patent was filed by Microsoft last week featuring televisions that are able to assess how many people are in the room watching. "Viewers may be uniquely identified and the count of the viewers determined," runs the blurb, "with the licensee then charged for each viewer accessing the content."
This suggests so many faintly comical scenes that it's hard to know where to start –—from someone wandering in the room while you're watching a film and accidentally costing you a fiver, to a wonderful error screen constructed in Photoshop by some waggish type on a messageboard this week, that reads: "SORRY DAVE — TOO MANY FRIENDS."
A real-life Babel fish whispering in your ear
After their iffy TV patent, Microsoft present us with something so magical, so wondrous, that we forgive them almost anything.
A video has popped up on YouTube featuring its chief research officer, Rick Rashid, demonstrating a system whereby his English speech is translated on the fly by computer into a synthesised version of his voice speaking Mandarin Chinese.
As each sentence is translated automatically for the crowd they go wild, envisaging a time where Douglas Adams' fictional Babel fish earpiece (above) becomes a reality.
Chrome wants to jam – does it know Stairway to Heaven?
Musicians have long dreamt of using the Internet to play together live, in real time. But unfortunately data takes time to travel, and any musical synergy you might establish when playing together in a room is brutally savaged by network latency. It simply doesn't work.