Next year will be my twentieth in digital news. From the start, I had an underlying disposition that digital news consumers — sports or otherwise — wanted their content easily digestible: brief, formatted, convenient.
Five years in, that was the inspiration for the Daily Quickie, my column on ESPN.com. Ten years later, that was the soul of Quickish — a startup built around a quick-hit stream of editor-curated “money quotes” on the biggest news topics.
That was my biggest bet yet that news was reaching a terminal velocity of format — the “atomic unit of content” in the form of, say, a tweet (or, as Quartz’s Zach Seward has put it, a Thing.)
I misjudged — I didn’t think nearly radically enough. The quick-hit stream of Twitter or the Facebook News Feed is giving way to a largely agnostic, mostly opt-in “notification layer” on top of the phone screen.
And yet even that notification layer feels larded in the context of the single-most-interesting media-industry detail from yesterday’s Apple presentation: We are about to enter the era of “glance journalism.”
“Glance” is the name of the feature of the Apple Watch that let Watch-wearers skim through a series of not-quite-notifications. Maybe they are notifications, but only as a subset of a new class of ultra-brief news.
“Atomic unit” was a helpful metaphor, but we’re now talking about the proton/neutron level. Glance journalism makes tweets look like longform, typical news notifications (and even innovative atomized news apps) look like endless scroll, and Seward’s list of essential Things (chart, gif, quote, stat) look unresponsive.
What a wonderfully evocative word: “glance.” Apple’s capital-G appropriation of it — and the primordial display on the keynote screen — is what set my mind spinning. A “glance” is not merely a “swipe” — how logy! The watch’s Glance function involves a psychological and physical flick. Not up and down a fundamentally cohesive stream, as with Twitter, but across entirely distinct news inputs.
That is the user experience that the news industry has a pending opportunity to address — the message delivered must be that clear and concise: I’ll describe it as a “neutron of news,” which — if done right — is enough for that moment.
While the phone screen — at any size — may remain the preeminent platform, the foreshadowing of the potential of the Watch was evident. And that watch screen demands constraints like journalism has rarely dealt with. (The industry has its hands full figuring out what kind of journalism best fits the mobile screen.)
I’m not talking about one-bit communication like Yo (good news, Yo: Apple Watch’s heavy emphasis on one-bit affirms your vision of the value of one-bit; bad news, Yo: Apple Watch makes Yo itself unnecessary). There is room — not much, but enough — to offer more.
The pending challenge for writers, editors, producers, and product teams is how to deliver compelling news in the “glance” format, because — as we know from the past decade — the audience wants to go faster. This can’t be solved with responsive design; it demands an original approach, certainly at the start.
The exciting part is that the opportunities and solutions are wide open, even if the platform is no wider than your wrist.