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Writing for mobile

January 2, 2020

This headline is likely the only thing you read…

I have seconds to make you stick with this, and it’s not looking good. Two million stories were added to the Internet today and — nothing personal — but human brains are smaller than they were 20,000 years ago, so we’re not exactly keeping up as a species.

There’s also a 75% chance you’re on a phone. Why read words smushed into a tiny screen when you can watch strangers dancing on Tik Tok? No contest, right?

But here’s the thing: that fizzy high from Tik Tok is going to leave you empty. Give this story two minutes and you’ll know how our monkey brain is using a little phone to see a very big and growing world. You’ll amaze your friends. Family gatherings are going to be lit.

The Zettabyte People

That’s us. We’re the first people to count the world’s information in zettabytes (imagine a 1 followed by 21 zeros). There’s about 40 zettabytes of data now. Doubling every two years. And to process all of this new knowledge, we’re armed with a noggin that forgets people’s names and walks into lamp posts.

But we humans have a superpower better than any animal — and any machine too.

We always see the leopard

We’re absolute beasts at pattern recognition. Splatter an image with all kinds of visual noise and we still know it instantly.

This power goes way beyond CAPTCHA where we tick all the boxes with traffic lights to prove we’re human. (Speaking of which, if AIs can’t identify traffic lights in CAPTCHA, why are they driving our cars?)

Anyway, we’re really good at this kind of thing. And it’s because we’ve been finding leopards in the grass for millions of years. Different leopards behind different grass at different times of the day. Doesn’t matter. After a child sees one leopard, they can see it anywhere.

And just as we intuitively recognise a threat, we also intuitively know what we like. This is our killer app.

How killer? We can identify an image — like a picnic or smiling couple — 20 times quicker than it takes an eye to blink.

Skim and scroll

So maybe using a mobile phone to interact with the world isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Instead, maybe it’s the perfect tool for vacuuming up massive amounts of information throughout the day – at breakfast, on the train, in the lift (but not ours, there’s no reception).

Next time you’re lining up at Starbucks, look around. Those people glued to their phones aren’t anti-social tech-addicts with no attention span. They’re digital superheroes skimming and scrolling through some of the 5 million emails that were sent in the same time it took to read this sentence.

But just like Aquaman leans on his trident and Captain America looks lost without his shield, our superpowers need a little help to finesse the gap between us and all that information.

The end is near

What kind of help? Most of Silicon Valley is dedicated to that question. It’s a big one. But I promised you this story would only take a couple minutes and if you’re reading at the typical 250 words a minute, we need to wrap it up.

So, with the end in sight, here’s why mobile rules the Zettabyte Era, some downsides, and some of the tricks that keep you engaged.

Going mobile

We’re social – Instagram, WeChat and Tik Tok are designed just for mobile. And with 1/7 of our waking day spent on social media, there’s no going back.

Asia’s calling – billions of Internet newbies in Asia are leapfrogging PCs for phones. By 2025, about 75% of us will access the Internet with just a phone.

Because Google says so – they’re ranking the mobile version of websites ahead of desktop. They control 93% of searches. Who’s going to argue?

The downsides

The cat sat on the mat – to keep us skimming and scrolling, studies show the ideal reading level for mobile is sixth grade. Embrace your inner child.

Slow, slow, slow – mobile pages load slower than desktops due to dodgy connections. We’re not waiting. Most of us tap away after 3 seconds.

Hello ADHD – over 80% of us read the headline and nothing else. Very few people make it to the end. (Hello, anyone here?)

Tips and tricks

I need some space – we read more when there’s less to read. Excuse me? That’s right. Crowd the screen with text and people bail. Put big spaces after short paragraphs and they stick around.

Same with fonts – fonts such as Open Sans with their tall letters and big spaces are easy on the eyes.

Ask Hemingway – short, crisp words pack a punch. Hemingway knew this, so does the Hemingway app that cleans up clunky prose.

Long links – our thumbs are bigger than most words. We like our embedded links spread across several words for an easy tap.

Read more from Click2View:

  1. Have you ever wondered what’s the right social media platform for marketing in Asia?
  2. Reach Asian millennials with podcasts
  3. Leverage customer business stories for powerful B2B content

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Click2View is Southeast Asia’s premiere full-service independent B2B content marketing agency servicing clients like Microsoft, Google, Visa, Prudential, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.