So here's the TL;DR version of this article: Pressured by consumers' near-infinite selection of news to read, newspapers and other media companies need to consider summaries as the best way to earn clicks.
Found that helpful? Then you're on the crest of what may well be the wave of the future—the summarized Web. Let me explain.
TL;DR is an
acronym abbreviation for Too Long; Didn't Read. You see it mainly in forums, where a writer will summarize what she says in a long post so new readers don't need to spend too long to see what they're saying. (You also see it on my Facebook wall, when my friends let me know I'm being too wordy again.) It's a courtesy that acknowledges that a lot of people don't have time to make it through every little story when there's so much ground to cover on the Internet.
Media have begun acknowledging that problem of overinformation, too. Twitter, Facebook, newsletters—those are all being used as platforms for media companies from the Reader to Reuters as a way of breaking through the clutter to get directly to consumers who might not go looking for the news of the day. The NFL has a TV package called the Red Zone that flips to any game where a team looks like it's about to score—no more waiting around through the boring yard-by-yard
denouement rising action thanks to this instant highlight reel.
And now we come to the problem of news. Despite its handy inverted-pyramid structure, where information is sorted top to bottom from most- to least-pressing, the news isn't doing well because too few people are clicking. Could it be because there's no great place for eye-catching summaries, a bazaar of news bites? New third-party news aggregators are testing the water, hoping to serve as the front page of the Web through TL;DR summaries.
Joining apps like Pulse and Flipboard is TL;DR, a web-based aggregator designed to "give you the summary, the synopsis, the main contention and the entire idea into one simple paragraph. Enough to get you to skim them. Browse a week's worth of topics in a few minutes," according to its information page. The design is clean and simple, much quicker to skim than Google News's and without the kind of training other apps require. The selection isn't great right now, but it's already sourcing the New York Times, BBC,
USA Toady USA Today, Time, and more. Perhaps with some growth, this page or others like it could mine the best content from around the world and projecting glosses in front of a huge potential audience.
Taking a similar tack is a new plug-in for Google's Web browser called TLDR, which "summarizes long website content for quick and easy reading. The technology works with any web page, and enables users to browse to a page with long content, click the plugin button, and instantly view the summarized text as an overlay on the page," Forbes explains.
When an aggregation app called Circa launched last month, media people were pretty pissed for its burying sources, but I didn't think it was such a bad deal. The more people get excited about a story, the more they'll read about from different sources, and to get more context, they'll find those sources. Plus, aggregation panic is so 2009. Is the TL;DR trend "good"? Lucrative? A sign that the reading public wants more news? No. But unless you're hypernational or hyperlocal and already have a brand people trust, an aggregator is your best shot at getting the pageviews you need to survive. As long as there's no better model for reaching consumers directly, the media's going to need to figure out the best ways to summarize stories and get those summaries picked up. Keep it short, and they might just read long.