Contents Magazine: reading #longform

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

Contents Magazines‘s latest issue ‘began’ on 16 January, and is due to roll out during the next six to eight weeks. As part of my exploration of long form I’m blogging its development here.

This is the fifth issue of the magazine. I’ve skated over previous ones on the basis of tl;dr, but also because articles look a little over-written for my taste. According to the Contents Tumblr collections of previous editions are forthcoming as epubs – I’ll use that opportunity to revisit them.

The theme of this issue is the archive, which chimes in with the need to get away from the constant stress on the now and the new. Read the editor’s note for their take.

A second article sees the launch of the Contents Book Club. I have doubts about ‘social reading’ but the concept of a book club still appeals in theory. The book under discussion is Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night – new to me, but I’ve ordered it from the library (of course!), and there are various ways of participating (is this a theme for 2013? see #oldsmooc) – in Readmill, via a Kindle, Twitter (hashtag #contentsbc), on your own site or by leaving a comment on the page.

Update, 27 January: interview with the team behind The Appendix, “a new online journal collecting documents, stories, and analyses that might otherwise slip away…the sort of stuff that gets cut from academic history writing”. Articles in The Appendix, on narrative and experimental history topics, are long, but there is also a blog and presences on Twitter, Tumblr (pics), Facebook and Pinterest. All very quirky.

The interview was in need of some heavy cutting and/or re-writing in my view – I found it hard not to scan and felt I wasn’t really getting to find out what it was all about. Paragraphs rather long on my default screen set up. A word count/estimated reading time might help.

Update, 29 Jan: not much book club action so far, but links to interviews with Alberto Manguel have been added on the Contents Tumblr. I’ve picked up the book from the library.

Update, 1 Feb: a couple more articles have popped up, The library as a map, on the Prelinger Library (arranged for serendipity) and its digital archive, and On the virtues of preexisiting material, a reprint of a 1897 2007 essay by one of the Prelingers.

It’s didn’t go well with your actual reading. Not sure how much this is to do with my screen set up and how much with the content. The articles just don’t feel appealing, rather library library oriented so far, and to be frank, not very fresh. I’m also not convinced by the interview as a device. Plus the design looks like it needs a dust. Maybe they are taking the library and archive metaphor a bit too far – it doesn’t have to be new, but it should be interesting.

Another issue is the fact that articles just pop up if and when. I’d like some idea of how many are forthcoming, broad subject area, etc, and perhaps periodical wrap-ups, a newsletter? Stream presentation for #longform isn’t working for me – can we have some tags and a decent browse interface please? All rather odd from a magazine aimed at “readers who create, edit, publish, analyze, and care for the contents of the internet”.

The elephant in the room is cultural difference – everything feels very American.

Update, 9 Feb: oh dear, rather like the early days of podcasts I’m beginning to realise the skill that goes into writing a long article which you want to read for leisure. This week we have Notes from the Participatory Digital Archives Conference – just how exciting does that sound? Turns out it’s about archiving social media, if at a rather abstract level. The conference site is pretty opaque too.

Another thing I’m missing is any sense of community around the articles: “We aren’t doing comments on most articles, but we love to hear from you, and we’ll be publishing selected emails at the end of each issue.” So that’s something to look forward to.

Over on Tumblr there’s an article about the design concept for this issue, which I described above as dusty.

And re the book club, The library at night looks over-written to the max. I’ll give it one more chance before it goes back to its spiritual home.

Bookclub update, 11 Feb:  it’s gone back. Quite an impressive round-up of activity though.

Update, 22 Feb: two more articles I’m never going to read: Reading between the texts and The Windhill Bequest.

Update, 29 Feb: is this the last week? If so, finishing with a bang – in The archive is a campsite the co-author of Longform looks at the news vs the archive. If the news item is now the basic unit of communication a better interface to the past is needed, a serendipity machine based on the taste of others. A second article looks at how content strategy can help. Great stuff.

Updates, March: and there’s more…another round-up of book club activity plus an interview with Alberto Manguel, then articles on Dark archives we no longer have access to and Giving fiction a home, looking at the offerings on bookseller websites. When will it end? Not in April – 41 Ferry Street, This City, on “the archive of secrets, aliases, and traces we try to hide”  popped up on the 11th, and apparently there’s one more week to go.

Update, 18 April: “Issue № 5 ran 16 January 2013 to 17 April 2013”. Phew.


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