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Orwell’s Journal: How a change of format can re-engage audiences

In journalism and in SEO, we are told that “content is king”. It is true that killer content is what will draw attention and ultimately lead to an increase in readership/inbound links. But perhaps it is also important to pay attention to format as well. For example, WIRED is not nearly as fun to read online as it is in magazine format.

But then again, I have come across a wide variety of literary pieces via Google Book Search that I would have never sought out in a library. It is very important for businesses to look into what format they should use when providing information to users. The point is to engage audiences and draw attention organically with strong content distributed in the right format.

Take the George Orwell journal entries as an example. All of these entries could have been (and may be) already published in PDF format, downloadable via a website. However, they are being posted one blog post at a time, on orwelldiaries.wordpress.com, 30 years after they were written – to the day. After reading about it in the New York Times, I was quite intrigued, but then found the content to be mainly comments about the weather – not the most interesting of subjects for an Orwell fan. Today's entry:

August 26, 1938
Hot. Dense ground-mist early this morning. Many blackberries now ripe, very large & fairly sweet. Also fair number of dew-berries...
(read the rest)

I expect the content to get more interesting, but the format is still engaging to audiences as it accomplishes a number of things:

1. Gradual release. The entries are delivered to readers as they were written in the journal, one at a time, so there is some waiting involved every day and each one is “bite-size”. No one wants to read through a giant document.

2. Connection to writer. There is the temporal connection of the entries being written exactly 30 years to the date.

3. Format-ready content. As the New York Times article points out, his writing is suitable for a blog. Orwell may well have been a blogger if he were still around.

This example proves that content is not always king, that maybe it is queen from time to time, when format can really play a strong role in engaging an audience.

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