With 63,206 characters Facebook is our Gutenberg Press

Facebook has announced it is allowing people to post updates as long as 63,000 characters (word count has been made so quaint by Twitter, hasn’t it?)

I learned this, of course, from my Facebook subscription to Mashable’s CEO Pete Cashmore, along with a link to ‘Your new Facebook Status update: 63,206 characters or less. ”

“Oooh,” salivated another of Cashmore’s subscribers, “That’s a novel.”

As the news industry ties itself in knots trying to set its books in order, I’ve often said that we are applying a business model based on Gutenberg’s Press to the Internet.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how Facebook makes everyone a Gutenberg. Take Cashmore’s subscriber, for example, thinking first of her soon-to-be-classic epic.

(I admit to being quaint, and wondering how many words 63,000 characters might be).

Let’s also think about where I got this news – and indeed, where I get most of my news these days.

I work for a news organization (I will not  call it a newspaper) that puts out a daily newspaper, but I confess I only read the ink version on weekends – if I have time. I get my Ottawa Citizen news from our website.

Externally, I get my news from social networks, like Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, and of course, old faithful: Facebook.

I’m not alone. On the same day that 63,206 characters were added to Facebook status updates, Journalism.co.uk blogged that The Guardian’s Facebook app – launched only two months ago – is now delivering 1 million extra hits – a day.

Journalism.co.uk blogs:

The news outlet also believes that the app is engaging a younger audience, as over half (56.7 per cent) of the app’s users are 24 and under and 16.7 per cent are 17 and under.

Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group, said in a statement, “As well as increasing traffic, the app is making our journalism visible to new audiences. Over half of the app’s users are 24 and under – traditionally a very hard-to-reach demographic for news organisations.”

I use the Guardian’s Facebook app. (sadly, I’m not in the coveted 24-and-under demographic any longer) I also use the Washington Post’s Facebook app. And Yahoo Reader on Facebook.

I can’t tell you when I last sat down and entered The Guardian’s main URL into a browser. Same for The Washington Post.  But I read their stories daily – fed by RSS, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Students (still in that wonderful time-of-your-life under-24 demo) I’ve talked to tell me the same thing: They don’t go through the front door to read our news. They use social media to get our news. And a lot of it comes through their phones (take note, mobile unfriendly news sites).

In an interview with the New York Times, Journal Register Company CEO John Paton talked about ceasing print production at his company altogether. The Times writes:

A bearded man with a round, friendly face, Mr. Paton does not froth at the mouth or flail his arms when he talks about transforming newspapers, but he is absolutely convinced that if newspapers are to survive, they will all but have to set themselves on fire, eventually forsaking print and becoming digital news operations.

“That’s ridiculous!” A newsroom veteran said to me after reading the piece. “We’re not just going to stop the presses rolling.”

Who says our presses need to be made of steel, I asked him. I mentioned how many referrals we get from social media every day.

We need to start concentrating on the rolling newsfeed.

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