Attention Span of the Internet

“The biggest fallacy of writing on the web is the idea that there is unlimited space,” says GigaOM founder Om Malik on his blog. “The true limitation of the Internet is attention.”

And when all you have is a “minute and a half of someone’s attention,” it takes a great deal of creativity to make a persuasive argument, tell a compelling story, or deliver a factual news piece.

But the obverse is also true: in a world of 90-second attention spans, it takes an even greater deal of creativity to grab hold of that attention and not let go!

This is the philosophy of Atavist, a digital publishing app for long-form writing and multimedia storytelling. And its goal — a world where there’s space for attention.

Cofounder and CEO Evan Ratcliff recently spoke at XOXO, an arts and technology festival in Portland, Oregon. It’s not your average conference presentation. Instead he employs a narrative style that evokes — and references — the very kinds of storytelling you find on Atavist.

It includes surveillance footage of a $150 million helicopter-assisted heist of a vault in Sweden; a 7-year old’s diary of her troubled childhood; Brian Wilson’s original recordings from the making of Smile; a graphic novel chronicling a young boy’s escape from slavery in Ethiopia to a job as a retail clerk in Long Island, New York; and the time Ratcliff tried to vanish, like people who fake their own death.

When Ratcliff gives presentations about Atavist at publishing conferences, the reaction is often cynical.

“The publishing industry assumes that there’s a relationship between size and editorial control; that in order to do things that are high quality, that involve great writers, you need editors, and to have editors you need a huge building on Park Avenue that has twenty floors.”

Maybe the biggest fallacy of writing not on the web is that there is a direct correlation between overhead and quality.