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iT was a dark+stormy Nite . . .


Online, George Washington University student Eliot Danner weighed in on the State of the Union address. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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People write shorter, and they lead readers to other sites through clickable links, he says. By definition, this link-sprinkling distracts the reader, drawing him away from the writing.

"There always was tension about whether to put links directly in the text," says Jodie Allen, Washington editor of Slate from 1996 to 1999. "The fear was that people would jump away and not come back."

People do jump, so new forms of grabby writing are springing up.

Nielsen explains that the cost-benefit ratios of reading something online and reading something in print are vastly different. On the Web, "you have literally billions of pages of info at your fingertips." It doesn't pay to spend a whole lot of time with each page.

"The Web doesn't have Nobel Prize-winning content. It doesn't reward you with incredibly deep insight," Nielsen says. So you surf to the next site. "The cost of moving on is minuscule."

Compare that experience, Nielsen says, with reading something in a favorite magazine. The magazine has been edited to meet the reader's expectations. "The style and content and topics and quality are all going to be to my liking," Nielsen says. "The benefit is likely to be high."

The cost of finding another magazine that is of equal benefit, however, would be great. You'd have to get in your car and go to the newsstand and buy another magazine and come back home and return to your chair before you could begin reading another story.

The cost-benefit analyses vary wildly. "The difference is so big. What you would think of as being the same medium," Nielsen says, "is not."

Sure. Old forms abound on the Internet.

Epic poems and sonnets and haiku. Here's a haiku from the Genuine Haiku Generator (, an online program that tosses words together according to syllable:

formlessly laughing abyss emerges mildly patiently, nude dead Okay, so it's not Basho. But it does adhere to traditional form.

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