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When Less Is More

For reasons I don’t understand, people pay attention to Nicholas Carr. He made his name a bit back with the question, “Does IT [Information Technology] Matter?” (his short answer: no), which has been parlayed into punditry. I see links to his stuff all the time, which baffles me, because most of what he writes is crap. Or hackery. Or both.

A recent post exemplifies this. He laments the “shrinking” of our culture, the small chunking-ness, the bite-sized-ness lead by things like YouTube, finishing the post with the ominous, “we’re getting smaller, too.”

All of which is bullshit. The most obvious arguments (the success of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, the viewership of episodic serials like SOPRANOS and LOST) are well presented by Tom Coates and Nick Sweeney in the comments to the post.

I think there’s an important, and more subtle reality here, if you take a purely economic perspective to the issue.

Before the Web, it wasn’t economically feasible to distribute content in small chunks. If you did small chunks, it had to be collected with other small chunks (in a magazine, newspaper, sketch comedy television show). There wasn’t an economic model that really supported the release of a standalone 3-minute non-music video, or a standalone 1000-word essay. Essays had to be bundled with other things in order to get someone to fork over $3.95 to pay for it — even if the reader just wanted that one essay.

The Web has made it feasible to deliver 3 minutes of video, or 1000 words of text, on its own, without any bundling. I suspect it’s less a matter of the shrinking of our culture, and more a matter of the market simply providing more options for expression across a spectrum of delivery sizes, and people are taking advantage of them all.

YouTube isn’t shrinking our culture — it’s simply presenting another choice alongside many others.

  1. Nick Carr is a classic troll straight from under the bridge. I forced myself to stop feeding him a while back, but he keeps popping up on my radar because two otherwise-sane bloggers I enjoy reading, Seth Finkelstein and Scott Karp, seem to have banded together in a troll triumvirate circle jerk of punditry, linking to and commenting on each others’ weakest, most repetitive poking of the wasps’ nest.

    Nick disagrees with your entirely rational, optimistic take on the economics of content chunking because doing so wouldn’t tickle TechMeme’s link crawler.

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