Long Content

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Long Content is a style of content creation where one has “perpetual drafts” that one improves over time. This is in contrast to a style where one publishes once and in the long term does not come back to edit/maintain the content. The term was first defined by gwern regarding his website. As gwern writes, the idea follows from thinking in the Long Now-style. Although the term was defined by gwern, the idea has essentially been brought up in other places as well.

For instance here is Leonard Woolf on Virginia Woolf:

All through her life, Virginia Woolf used at intervals to write short stories. It was her custom, whenever an idea for one occurred to her, to sketch it out in a very rough form and then to put it away in a drawer. Later, if an editor asked her for a short story, and she felt in the mood to write one (which was not frequent), she would take a sketch out of her drawer and rewrite it, sometimes a great many times. Or if she felt, as she often did, while writing a novel that she required to rest her mind by working at something else for a time, she would either write a critical essay or work upon one of her sketches for short stories.

It’s worth noting that while many authors/writers (and English teachers) keep telling people to rewrite, Bertrand Russell, for one, has found something else:

I conscientiously tried [to rewrite], but found that my first draft was almost always better than my second. This discovery has saved me an immense amount of time. I do not, of course, apply it to the substance, but only to the form. When I discover an error of an important kind I re-write the whole. What I do not find is that I can improve a sentence when I am satisfied with what it means.1

The essay also contains the anecdote about when Russell “proceeded to dictate the whole book without a moment’s hesitation”.

(Hmm, now this page is talking also about How to write and Revising one’s writings; perhaps these need separate pages.)

One problem with long content is that people often share links on social media, and if the content on the linked page changes too rapidly or dramatically, then two people who visit the destination may see different things depending on when they visit it. In other words, I think people often share with the expectation that what they linked to will be what others will see, which may be true with blogs that don’t update their posts (or, if they do, clearly mark what changed since the original publication), journal articles (and in general anything that’s published on paper), and sites that haven’t been updated in a long time, but isn’t necessarily true for sites that strive for long content. One solution to this for long content sites is to publish one’s site history along with the current version (like Wikipedia) so that it’s always possible to go back to how a page was at a certain point in its history. With this site, for instance, I keep track of everything using Git. It’s still a bit inconvenient to track down the exact version though, and this version moreover is in its raw markdown format, which may be too much work to parse for some readers.

See also

  1. Also I love this quote: “There was a time, in the first years of this century, when I had more florid and rhetorical ambitions.”↩︎