Friday Brainstorm 12 🧠

Engaging meaningfully with long-form content

Hi friends,

Happy Friday and welcome back for the twelfth issue of Friday Brainstorm! This one is going to be a slightly shorter than usual.

I wanted to share some thoughts on the future of long-form content (books, articles, podcasts, shows, you name it) and how we’ll be engaging with it.

We know that bite-sized, easily consumable content does well on the internet. It’s easy to look at this as an existential threat to long-form, but it’s also worth framing this is a challenge to embrace. In some sense, the bar has been raised — content creators are better than ever at engaging their audience. At the same time, people worry that this content is becoming more shallow.

Here are the two questions I want to explore:

  • What is the future of engaging with long-form content?

  • How do we make sure that people are engaging deeply?

Let’s get into it.


Is an animated podcast just a show? 🎙️

There’s a new animated show on Netflix called The Midnight Gospel, and it’s a little different from what you’re used to.

Clancy in The Midnight Gospel

Pendleton Ward (creator of Adventure Time) and Duncan Trussell (comedian and host of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast) have joined forces to create a trippy hybrid between an adult cartoon and a podcast.

“The result is a legitimate visual podcast. Sure, many podcasts offer supplementary video footage, but The Midnight Gospel creates a world of its own where its dialogue can flourish.” — Joshua Robinson

The show is highly experimental, turning the medium of podcasting into something you can watch. It features conversations taken directly from Trussell’s podcast, touching on heavy themes of spirituality, mindfulness, mental health, hope and death.

What podcasting represents to me is that authenticity and vulnerability that’s sometimes missing from shows on TV, so I think it’s really good for people to see that -- you realize you’re not as crazy as you thought.” — Duncan Trussell

Let’s think about what this means for a moment.

Despite the overall trend towards bite-sized content, podcasts have exploded as a new long-form medium in the last few years. As a platform, podcasts have normalized the intimate and thought-provoking conversations that have never had a place in the media landscape before.

At the same time, podcasts do have their limitations:

  • people who are visually-driven might have a hard time tuning into the audio without something visual to focus their attention on

  • podcast are typically something you listen to alone, on your commute or whenever else you might have downtime

Midnight Gospel hits two birds with one stone in this sense — not only is there a bizarre cartoon to compliment the conversation, but it’s also a Netflix show that you can watch in a social setting.

Going forward, I’m excited for podcast-style content to continue to take on new experimental forms.


The silver lining of 15-minute book summaries 📚

If you remember SparkNotes or CliffNotes from high school English class, this is going to sound very familiar — the Blinkist app gives you 15-minute book summaries (text or audio) from a library of over 3,000 popular nonfiction books.

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When I first heard about Blinkist, I was not a fan.

There’s no way that a quick summary can substitute taking the time to engage with a full book. At best, it gives people the illusion that they’re smarter because they feel like they’re finishing a book every day. If you asked them to elaborate on the concepts they learned a few days later, I imagine that most people would only have a vague idea.

That being said, there’s potential for platforms like Blinkist to nurture meaningful engagement with non-fiction books. Let’s explore a few possibilities.

Book previews

Before you dive into a non-fiction book, you might want to see if it’s worth reading. This is the ideal scenario for taking advantage of a 15-minute book summary — listen to the main ideas and decide whether you want to read the book.

Ideally, these summaries would actually be created by the authors themselves. Even though many people will probably never make it past the summary, it’s a great way for authors to hook readers that wouldn’t have otherwise found their book to begin with.

As an additional benefit, this will disincentivize authors who write 250-page books filled with fluff when they only really need 10% of that to get their idea across.

Built-in review

The main drawback of Blinkist is the low retention rate of concepts learned.

To counteract this, I would love to see the integration of spaced repetition — a powerful memory system that ensures retention. The basic idea is to repeatedly review a piece of information until it is committed to your long-term memory (learn more).

Lucid, a Blinkist competitor, has a feature where there’s a mini-quiz after each chapter to make sure that you’re paying attention and retaining the content.

In the future, authors might create a set of review cards that are meant to test your understanding of the book and compliment the reading experience. Even after finishing a book, these cards would occasionally be surfaced for review so that important ideas can stay embedded in long-term memory.

In summary

As our world gets increasingly digital, I imagine that authors of the future will want to provide create online experiences to accompany their physical books. Platforms like Blinkist or Lucid (or their successors) have the potential to provide authors with a set of tools to enrich the reading experience - from high-level summaries to review cards.


Newsletter recommendation 🧠

Since this issue is a bit shorter, I wanted to give a shout out to Clayton Mansel’s Synapse newsletter in case you were looking for more neuroscience-inspired writing.

Similar to this newsletter, Clayton aims to write thoughtfully about neuroscience in a way that doesn’t fall victim to the typical pitfalls of pseudoscience or pop psychology. So far, he’s written about consciousness, memory, and gender bias in neuroscience. Definitely check it out!

👉 Synapse Newsletter 👈


I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Friday Brainstorm! What did you think? Anything that stood out or sparked your curiosity? Let me know by replying to this email.

—Shamay