The illuminated letter P in the Malmesbury Bible.
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Despite the emergence of video online, text still rules. It rules practically (people like to read it) and functionally (metadata, links, and programming are rendered in text). Steve Rubel has an interesting post on why text still dominates information exchange. He lists a number of good, plausible reasons:

  • Text is scannable, so you can assess it at a glance and pick your entry point
  • Search engines like it better
  • Professionals can defend reading to their bosses (watching videos has a social stigma)
  • Text works better on mobile devices
  • Text is easier to distribute

All these reasons add to the dominance of text. I’d propose a couple of others, such as efficiency for literate users and rhetorical flexibility (achieving the equivalent of rhetoric using video requires some Peter Jackson-like ability).

Still, the rise of video is undeniable, yet without metadata (text), video itself fails. It needs to blend with text, which points to the fact that we are in an increasingly hybridized world — formats mix, blend, compete, and cooperate. Google’s Universal Search was created in recognition of this hybrid.

Illuminated manuscripts were the multimedia of their day. Text and images have blended ever since. Now, the hybridization of text and video is occurring as computing meets television and movies. How CNN and Facebook teamed up to cover the inauguration is a case in point. You could watch what other people typed while video played. It’s pop-up video in the social networking world.

Text rules because it is fundamental, familiar, and functional. It bends to our will very readily. But it is no longer alone on a major scale. It is being hybridized.

And that shows once again how flexible and fungible it is.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


1 Thought on "Why Text Still Rules"

How about, playing a loud video in the middle of a crowded office/airplane/whatever annoys the hell out of your co-workers/co-travelers/co-whatevers, whereas reading to yourself doesn’t?

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