It’s encouraging that the word longform has been reclaimed by online audiences the past few years, but also strange. Strange because many people never considered lengthy, thoughtful writing to be an exotic lost art. Meanwhile others have been been lulled into believing longform can’t coexist with the re-mashed, attention-deficit writing that the web tends to foster.
Two recent experiences at SXSW proved it can, and made me regret neglecting longform in the first place: one was seeing the excellent “The Death of the Death of Longform Journalism” panel and the other was seeing Page One, a documentary about the New York Times’ struggle to adapt. Both reminded me that there are smart, optimistic audiences for whom longform never left.
For me, using Readability has been about rediscovery. The love I had in college for both rock journalism and personal memoir came alive again after reading this piece in Salon. My weird fascination with Scientology kept me glued to this New Yorker article for nearly a week, reading the first third on my iPhone on the subway, second third on a bus, and final third in my dentist’s waiting room.
Just like the magazine writing that meant so much to me growing up, I realized there were other forms I had been neglecting—classic short fiction, poems, lyrics, transcriptions of speeches, even user-manuals for devices I’m exploring—simply because they weren’t portable enough.
Readability has changed all that. I haven’t read John Cheever’s The Swimmer in 15 years but this week I added it to my my reading list and read it on the subway. Soon I’ll re-read Lyndon’ Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” speech and my favorite David Berman poem. The Readability algorithm is smart enough it can slurp text from just about anywhere and you’ll always have it saved for later.
Since launch, it’s been exciting to watch what people are doing with the app. Like Twitter, Readability began with a single purpose but ultimately it’s the community who will shape it. It’s also been great to watch writers and curators spring up around their appreciation for journalism. We’re seeing longform redefine and rediscover itself at the same time readers are finding innovative ways to discover it.