This post is based on episode 187 of the ProBlogger podcast.
The internet landscape has changed a lot of the years. In the beginning, nearly all the content was text. But these days we can get our message across with videos, podcasts, infographics, animations and more.
Which begs the question: What does the future hold for written content.
But before we start talking about the future, let’s talk briefly about the past.
The primitive web
As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I started my first blog back in 2002. It’s no longer around, but thanks to the Internet Archive I got to see what it looked like all those years ago. (Well, once I remembered what its Blogspot URL was.)
Now, I’ve never considered myself a web designer. But believe me, I was even less of a designer back then. I almost cringed when I saw how ugly it looked. Then I started reading it and cringed again at all the spelling mistakes, and in some cases the naivety of what I was writing back then.
But it was well worth the trip down memory lane because I immediately noticed the complete lack of visual content. The front page had ten posts on it, and all them were just text. The only visuals were the tiny 100x100px images I’d put in the header of my design (and that had taken me days to get there).
Of course, back then we were all using dial-up internet connections, which made it hard (if not impossible) to upload images. Even uploading those 100x100px images was difficult. And if I did include an image in a post then I’d get complaints from my readers because it took forever to download.
And nearly all bloggers were in the same boat, which meant only a few were including images or any other form of multimedia.
Another reason most people were sticking to text back then is the tools simply weren’t around to create anything else. We didn’t have the hardware or the software to create videos or podcasts, and even the graphics programs back then were pretty primitive.
The modern web
Things are a lot different on ProBlogger. Every blog post on both of those sites has at least one image. (We have a rule that no blog post goes up without one.) We’re also doing live videos on Facebook and embedding some of them into our content as well. And we also have the ProBlogger podcast, which adds an audio element to the blog.
Creating audio and video content has become incredibly easy. I can pick up my phone and go live on Facebook in a matter of seconds. And thanks to the tools available it’s easy to extract the audio to create another medium.
But recording audio on its own is just as easy, if not easier. Plug in a cheap microphone, hit record and you’re away.
It’s getting to the point where people are expecting something more than just words. They want the complete audio-visual experience, or at the very least something they can see. And so some people are relying less and less on the written word.
So will we reach the point where written content will be abandoned completely?
The need for words
Throughout history we’ve seen technology come along that provides another communication medium – newspapers and magazines, radio, television, CDs, DVDs, streaming audio, streaming video, and so on. And while the percentages of what mediums everyone uses may have changed over the years, they’re all still alive and kicking.
Video is definitely popular right now, as podcasts were a while back. That may be because we now have the bandwidth and the tools that make creating and distributing video possible, if not easy. But I believe that just as written content has always had a place in the real world, it will also have a place online.
For a start, a lot of people prefer written content to anything else. When I launched the ProBlogger podcast I got some great feedback. But I also got some feedback that was quite negative. A lot of people sent me emails saying, “I don’t listen to audio”. And when I started adding Facebook Live video links to the newsletter I got emails from people saying, “I don’t watch video”.
Now there may be technical reasons for this, such as having slow internet speeds or not wanting to blow their download quota. Or perhaps they don’t want to have to download an app just to listen or watch. But some people simply prefer the written word, which is why we have a transcript of every episode of the podcast.
Another reason written content won’t be disappearing any time soon is search engines. While Google now includes videos and other visual mediums in its search results, most of what it’s indexing is text.
Written content is also far more scannable than audio or video. You can easily search for a word or phrase in a page of text. It’s much harder to find specific information in a video or audio recording (unless the creator has either provided a transcript or an index with time codes).
And written content is easy to create. Yes, audio and video equipment is becoming cheaper to buy and easier to use. But it still takes time to set it up and learn how to use it. It’s much easier to open up a WordPress document and type straight into the editor.
And speaking of editors, words are a lot easier to change compared to audio and video. Occasionally I’ll listen to a podcast episode and think, Oh no! I can’t believe I made that mistake!
Of course, I could go back and edit the audio. The tools to do it are getting better all the time. But splicing and rejoining audio is a lot more difficult compared to editing text.
Striking a balance
Now I’m not saying the written word is the best medium for communication on the internet. And I’m definitely not saying it should be the only medium. (As you probably know, there are things you simply can’t put into words.)
What I am saying is that I don’t think it’s going to be disappearing any time soon.
I like to think of it as one of the tools in my communication toolkit (along with video, audio, images, etc.) that I pull out and use when the situation calls for it. And there will be situations when a given tool will be a better choice than the others.
For example, video is great for showing your personality and who you really are. And that can help you build trust and credibility, which in turn can help you become a credible authority in your niche.
It’s also great for explaining how something is done. What would you prefer: reading a list of instructions telling you how to build something, or having someone show you how to build something?
But some people do really with text because they’re great writers, such as Seth Godin. Seth writes really well, and his articles are short and punchy. His blog may look like mine did back in 2002 (all text apart from the image of his bald head and glasses), but it’s very popular and deservedly so.
And sometimes the ideal solution is to combine several of these tools. Colin Gray of The Podcast Host once did a talk about ‘content stacking’ as a way of communicating more effectively. He talked about bringing the written word, audio, video and visual content together to create a stack of content that leads people through a learning process.
The not-so-final word
The written word has been around for centuries. And it’s just as relevant today, despite the other forms of communcation that have come along.
And the internet is no different. While video is now the flavour of the month, I believe written content will always have a place, either as an alternative or an enhancement.
What do you think? Will written content go the way of the dinosaur? Or will it always be part of the internet? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: Annie Spratt