Do you think the internet allows for a better sense of your public (because of social networks, discussion forums, etc.?) or do the few hours of flickering online attention following publication not c

The problem here isn’t that the internet disallows concentration, it’s that its applications are specifically engineered to keep your attention. Facebook isn’t a driver of distraction, it is actually a driver of intense concentration—on Facebook. We haven’t tested this, but I assume that the traffic we see from Facebook is generally of lower duration, because people are likely to flip back over as soon as their next notification pings. So to some extent your question is correct, that our role becomes less to have our own online audience and more to engage with a segment of Facebook’s audience. Which is fine, although lately I think we angered them and we feel like we are being punished by the algorithm. So it takes some of the fun out of that job.

The interesting thing about interacting with audiences online is that you get data back and then tell yourself stories about that data. Like what I just said, it’s just a story. Another story is that it feels like our community likes it when we publish rigorous and meaningful texts even if they don’t read those texts. Which is also fine. At this moment in time, that is what writing for Facebook seems to manifest as: the longread. I wonder what else it can mean, how that might change if we started telling ourselves a different story about our engagement metrics.

Does publishing online change your approach to any of the following: length of piece, breadth of research, images you include, references to online sources?

Not necessarily. I mean, the internet has allowed much easier research access, and has allowed me to put my hands on truly obscure primary sources that would have been nearly impossible to source in the past. But I’ve used those sources for both online and print.

One funny thing is that I guess it feels like the collective awareness cited above makes it more likely that I’ll challenge myself to push further than other people would on research, to try and make a meaningful contribution to a topic. But it’s possible that this is the wrong lesson to draw, that the real goal is just to make a tiny contribution.