For many years, I started my daily commute in Brooklyn, at the Bergen Street stop on the F Train. Which means that for 40 minutes, until I emerged at 42nd Street in Manhattan, I was WW — without wifi. Most of my iPhone apps were useless. It can make a news junkie like myself simply desperate, and there was a dark period in my life when I read, and re-read, cached emails and got really good at Fieldrunners. Let’s not talk about it.
Then the wondrous offline reading device called Instapaper changed everything. That addictive “read later” button in my browser let me collect a near-endless supply of stories from The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and other publications that I never used to read at all — tl;dr. Suddenly, that 11,000 word piece on Haim Saban looked like the perfect length for my 40-minute ride from Cobble Hill to 42nd Street.
The next problem arose quickly: Finding more stories. I ran out of material. So I started a Twitter feed — @longreads — and a hashtag — #longreads — and asked the Twitterverse for help. Readers and Instapaper addicts from around the world emerged to share their favorite long-form nonfiction, to make a contribution to the #longreads library.
Today, more than 7,000 people follow @longreads, many of whom have helped surface more than 1,200 stories in the past 18 months. And today I’m excited to unveil longreads.com, an archive of every story that’s ever been tweeted — searchable by media outlet, author and topic. Here’s something else: All of the articles are tagged by length — in words and approximate reading time. (Fun fact: The average person reads 250 words per minute.)
The site also features the #longreads raw feed — that is, a real-time feed of everything that people tag with #longreads on Twitter. In many ways, Twitter’s human curation — and the irony of 140 characters helping save long-form journalism — makes it a perfect forum for the great work of writers like Chris Jones, Joe Posnanski, Atul Gawande, and others.
NOW: WHY THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING IS LONG
Here’s a problem that we, People of the Internet, should solve: The web is not yet organized in a way that recognizes that there is more than one type of text-based web content. There’s quick, snackable stuff, formulated for 5-minute scanning between checking your email and getting some real work done. But then there’s the long, in-depth content better suited for the couch, the commute, or the airplane. Most sites jumble these two types of stories together. When I click a headline at NYTimes.com, I can never tell whether I’m going to get a 200-word blog post or a 10,000-word epic. At work, I want the former; at home, the latter. But my browser doesn’t care. Graydon, you would never ask me to read the Vanity Fair cover story standing at the newsstand. Yet that’s precisely what VanityFair.com and others do.
Now that I have the ability to “read later,” I will. It’s time for publishers to start recognizing this need for “time and place”-specific content. I humbly offer up “Longreads” as the tag by which we, The Internet, will understand when content is meant not just for scanning but for reading, savoring and digesting.
Can’t we all see where this is going? The online world no longer needs to be 500-words-or-less. Instead of killing long-form journalism, the internet can help save it.
Now that we have a time, a place, and a format where the best journalism in the world can thrive online, the appetite for it is obvious. It’s on the iPhone, iPad and Kindle. It’s on apps like Instapaper, where you can read offline and on your own terms. And it’s from writers and reporters who can expand our worldview and move us to tears — or better yet, action — in 7,000 words.
Some publishers get this already.
The Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, Esquire, Vanity Fair and others are now tagging their big pieces with #longreads, and The Awl and Capital New York have dropped the “longreads” tag onto their own sites. (Easy access to Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, just like that!)
These outlets understand what others don’t: This is the future of online publishing. The world is ready for more longreads. Publishers, make your longreads easy to find, and we will hang out with you on the couch all night. Friends, fellow commuters, news junkies, and readers, continue to share what you’re reading, and let’s do everything we can to find and support the work we love.
SOME FINAL NOTES
To maintain the high signal-to-noise ratio of the @longreads Twitter feed, I’ve never said this, and it’s long overdue: Thank you to everyone who has ever tweeted a contribution to Longreads, retweeted someone else’s, or even just clicked through and opened a link. You find incredible work from amazing writers, and through this experiment I’ve become incredibly optimistic about the future of journalism and online content.
Finally, some fun facts from the now-live Longreads archive:
Most-tweeted media outlets (not too surprising)
Most-tweeted writers (also: not too surprising)
Most frequent Longreads contributors (2009-present)
First tweet: Sven Birkerts, The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (found by @jeffdegeorgia)
A huge, giant thank-you to Kjell Reigstad and Mike Rentas for their amazing work in helping put this site together.
**NOTE: The archive data is still a *wee-bit* dirty, so if you see broken links, screwy word counts, etc., drop me a note.