Get Only the Good Google Results with Second Sear.ch

On Saturday, I had dinner with my friend Kelly Sutton, and one of the things we got to talking about was Google’s new algorithm change, designed to get rid of content farms and spammy links in your search results.

I said something to the effect of “I don’t really care, I’ve learned to just automatically go to the second page of results anyway, because that’s where all the good, not-as-SEO-friendly stuff tends to be.” Kelly goes “I want to build that!” And, genius that he is, he built it.

What he built is called SecondSear.ch. Here’s what he says about it:

This weekend, my friend David and I decided the world needed another search engine. You see, the world is overrun with content farms at this point. Google is tweaking their algorithm, but it still isn’t enough. Wouldn’t it be great if a search engine gave you the results whose writers focused on the content, instead of the content’s SEO?

Enter SecondSear.ch. It’s a search engine designed to give you the best search results out there by taking you straight to the second page. Every time.

No longer do you have to think twice about the results presented to you. Surf with confidence as you discover the surprisingly relevant second page of Google results for your most popular queries. But don’t believe us, try it out for yourself.

When you search, SecondSear.ch takes you straight to the second page of search results, where you’ll find actually useful results. It uses Google and all its goodies, so your search experience won’t be any different – just faster. Check it out!

The Feeling of Reading a Book

About two blocks away from my apartment in Brooklyn, NY, there’s a bookstore that’s closing down. (That’s nothing surprising at the moment, sadly.) The bookstore’s going-out-of-business deal was absolutely insane—fill a bag for $5. I did what any greedy book-lover would do: double-bagged a grocery bag (so I could hold more books, duh), and loaded up.

I scored big time (a bunch of novels and history books, some photography pieces, and books signed by Adam Gopnik, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Mitch Albom), though watching the face of the owner fall as he took just $5 for all those gorgeous books almost made it not worth it. (Notice I said “almost.”) I went home and immediately started digging through my treasure. In doing so, I had an experience I haven’t had in a very long time.

I buy books almost exclusively online, and mostly through Amazon. I read on my iPad, or my iPod Touch, or my Android phone; most of the paper books I own are little more than decoration, sitting on my bookshelf to make me look all literary and stuff. I love reading digitally because it means I can read anywhere, on a device I’d be carrying with me anyway, and I can have a ton of books to read at once.

But as I held books that were thirty years old yesterday, flipping the dusty pages, reading autographs and inscriptions, and admiring cover art, I realized I’m missing something. There’s something, something I can’t explain, about the way a book feels to hold and read that no digital version can match. Yesterday I felt like I was holding a story, an entire world ready for me to explore—I’ve never felt that way on my iPad.

I’m certainly not the only person feeling this way, but I’d never really noticed it until yesterday, after months of reading digitally and not picking up a paper book at all. I picked up a book called “New York in the World War,” that felt fragile, cared-for, and old. Five minutes of reading felt completely different than the same words would have on my iPad’s screen.

I’ve spent some time here thinking about the new trend of un-design. Every day, I use services like Instapaper or Readability to make things ostensibly “easier” to read—big fonts, consistent colors and flow, less distraction. But I wonder if we’re doing not only the creators of this content, but ourselves, a disservice. The color of the paper, the size of the text, the heft of the cover, and the brittleness of the pages as I turn them all affect how I feel when I’m reading a book. Sliding my finger right-to-left doesn’t capture how it felt to turn the page of a seventy-year-old book.

I’ve noticed a change in the way that I read, as well. As a kid, I read voraciously, and exclusively for pleasure—I’d sit down, and look up five hours later having missed meals, showers, TV and bedtime. Now, though I read far more than I ever have, I don’t read for long periods of time anymore; I read an article or a chapter here and there, but it’s been a long time since I was truly lost in a book. I wonder how much of that is due to my fractured attention span (which everyone seems to want to blame), or the fact that I’m not able to immerse myself in the screen of my iPad like I could in the pages of a book. After sitting with Garrison Keillor’s Love Me, I’d wager the latter.

Our experience with a book or an article is hugely dependent on a number of small factors, most of which we’d never notice until they’re gone—like page-turns, dog-earing my current page, or how much more I enjoy reading on the sepia, off-white pages of most books than on the stark black-on-white of Instapaper.  We spend time making the experience more convenient that we might be missing some of the experience. I wonder, more now than ever, whether it’s a worthwhile trade.

Why CouchSurfing Works

This summer, I shared an apartment with a woman from Argentina, a guy from Georgia and his Spanish girlfriend, an Australian couple, and a former co-worker, and countless people from everywhere between New York and Bangkok that I can’t even recall.

My summer wasn’t a sitcom, nor did we all live there at the same time. Rather, what happened is that I spent the summer living with a friend (the former co-worker). He had a spare set of keys to his apartment, which he gave to a stream of people who found him on the Internet, and essentially applied to live at his apartment for a set period of time. They’d never met in person, had no mutual friends, and yet willingly became roommates for a few nights.

All this was arranged through a site called CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing is a giant community of travelers and hospitable people, and exists to connect the former with the latter. Users plan a trip to, say, Germany, and rather than looking for hotels or hostels find locals with a bed, couch or air mattress (the last, at my place) that they’re willing to open up to a traveler. It’s a wonderful idea, but one that always gave me the heebie-jeebies.

“So let me get this straight. You find someone online, ask to live at their house, and they just let you? Because you’re nice, you let anyone who wants to come in and sleep, do so? On a related note, why don’t homeless people use this all the time?”

I can’t tell you how fast I flipped on that line of thinking. I ate some of the best home-cooked meals of my life at the hands of these travelers, learned some amazing things and heard amazing stories, and traveled the world in two months without ever leaving the living room.

CouchSurfing is designed to create this exact kind of interaction—the site’s FAQ calls it “your ticket to explore the world — from the road or from your own home.” And CouchSurfing achieved what it set out to not by pure, dumb luck or because it only attracted good people (though the latter seems to be somewhat true), but because of how the system works.

Continue reading

Creating Content to be Read

This morning, the Wall Street Journal ran an article/poll/rant essentially ridiculing the idea that Twitter could possibly be valued at $10 billion, the number Google and Facebook are apparently using during low-level acquisition talks. The valuation is interesting (Felix Salmon does a nice job explaining the valuation, and refuting the Journal), but what caught my eye was a response by Jeremy Meyers, on Twitter:

People thinking content written to be found not to be read is a good idea are wrong.

The Journal, in this case, created an article that was meant to be found: that is to say, it’s written and optimized in such a way that people will find the article via search, particularly on Google. It’s also deliberately provocative, from the title to the pithy, quotable points, which makes it much more likely to be shared on Facebook or Twitter.

When stories like this one are published (and the Journal is FAR from the worst example of this), their being read isn’t important. Their being looked at is what matters. If I’m selling ads, I’m not selling the reader’s brain; I’m selling their eyeballs. If you come and sit on the page for six hours in deep thought, you’re exactly the same amount of profitable to the Journal as you are if you open the page, look at it, think “boy, is this person an idiot!” and leave.

So why, then, would anyone create content that’s made to be read? It’s more expensive, more time-consuming (The AOL Way sure doesn’t work if all the content is meant to be compelling enough to be sought out and read), and doesn’t make any particular difference to the bottom line.

My biggest fear as a journalist is that we never figure out a way to make reading more profitable than finding. If there’s no financial incentive to take the time to create something that readers want to read rather than skim, that will cause them to think, react, and maybe even come back and read other things from me, then why would anyone do it?

Readability: A Better Way to Read The Web

Readability has been around for a while, a wonderful tool that with the click of a button takes cluttered, ad-filled pages and turns them into minimalist, readable columns so that you can actually, you know, read. As of today, the site’s changed a bit, and its new game is even cooler.

Basically, what Readability is now is a way to support the writers and websites that you care about online. You sign up for an account, and pledge to give $5 or more every month. 70% of that money goes to the writers you’re reading—when you save a page, a portion of your pledge is given to that writer. Readability lets you read articles now, or save them for reading later on mobile apps from the Instapaper guy, Marco Arment.

You get to have a great reading experience, without ads or clutter. Plus, you get to support the writers you actually like. It’s a situation where, finally, everyone wins. I don’t have to bombard you with ads to support myself, and you don’t have to choose between killing my revenue or killing your reading experience. My one worry is that this might not be conducive to helping the few sites I read, on their site, on purpose, because I love the design or the typeface of their site—but I’ll try and remember. Adding something to Readability could quickly become part of my reflexive reading activity, much like adding things to Instapaper is now.

Speaking of Instapaper, there’s an update coming to the service that will support the same systems that Readability is building. Using Instapaper will allow you to support your favorite writers in the same way. I’m thrilled about what Readability could do for the Web, and for independent writers. I’ve pledged $20/month, and though I’m fairly certain most of it’s going to go to Shawn Blanc and Dooce, hopefully there’s some for all the writers I love.

Readability put together a great video of how it all looks and functions:

I’ve already signed up as a publisher, which is easy to do, so if you want to support Digitizd, the best possible way to do it right now is to sign up for a Readability account, and then click the Read buttons at the top of this and every post. Six or seven hundred times.

Share Your Photos in Style with Picplz

Post by David Pierce. Find me on Twitter.

Odds are increasingly good that you don’t really use a point-and-shoot camera anymore. If you’re super-serious about your photos, you probably use an expensive D-SLR (and more power to ya—I’ve been using one for about a month, and they’re incredible), but for the average amateur photographer I’d bet more pictures are shot on your cell phone than on your camera. Which is now dusty and withering away in a closet somewhere. Alone.

Anyway, there are huge advantages to taking pictures with your phone, in addition to the fact that your phone is so easily accessible. One of the biggest advantages is that you’ve not only got a camera, but a live Internet connection. You can shoot a picture, and send it to a friend or a million friends, in a matter of seconds. Or, if you’re using Picplz, you can do even more, even faster.

Picplz is a free Web application that’s all about making your photos better, and making it easy to share your photos. It’s available as a Web app (so you can upload photos from your computer), or for Android and iOS devices—iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The application couldn’t be simpler to use. On your phone, just fire up the app and you’ll automatically be taken to the camera view. Find your shot, and take it—that’s the boring part. Now the fun really begins. Picplz has a whole bunch of filters you can apply to an image to change how it looks: you can make your photo black and white, like it was shot with a 70s-era camera, like you really need to go to the optometrist, or a whole bunch of other things. The filters make your images look cooler and more fun—but if you’re psyched about what you shot, you can leave it exactly as it is.

Fun over, the usefulness of Picplz kicks in. With one tap, you can simultaneously upload your spectacular new shot to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous, and Foursquare. God be with you if you use all of those services, but you can upload pictures with captions to as many or as few of those as you want to. (For a photo project I’m doing where I shoot and share one photo, every day, for a year, I upload to Flickr and Tumblr simultaneously). You can also link Picplz with a Dropbox account, so your photos (both the original, and the filter-applied photo) will be uploaded and stored in your Dropbox where you can easily access them later, and store them somewhere more permanent than your phone’s memory card.

It’s all free, all simple, and all designed to make your impromptu photo-shoots look nicer and be shared better. Now, for the love of everything holy, go and take thousands of pointless photos and spam the bejeezus out of all your friends and followers. No, just kidding. Please don’t be that guy. Always Picplz responsibly. But do use Picplz, and I bet you’ll notice how quickly you start to look for the photo op in everything. I know I do.

Music in My Ears: A Review of Bose’s MIE2i Headphones

Post by David Pierce. Find me on Twitter.

For the longest time, I didn’t particularly care about my headphones. I had two basic requirements—playing music, and no just kidding that was it—and beyond that, I didn’t really think about them.

Then, by virtue of working at PC Magazine, I got to try out some actually good headphones. You know, like $1,000-plus headphones. And I realized, quickly, that headphones are one of the few things where you definitely get what you pay for. The difference between the Apple headphones that came bundled with my iPod and a pair of decent, $100 headphones, is absolutely astounding: music is clearer, louder, crisper, more accurate to the recording, and is a much more enjoyable listening experience.

I should say this before going any further: if you don’t want to spend money on a decent pair of headphones, that’s fine, but don’t even test out a nice pair. Once you hear what good headphones sound like, you won’t be able to go back. I couldn’t, and that’s why I started shopping around. I landed on the Bose IE2: in-ear headphones, with controls for Apple products and the fantastic StayHear tips. But more on all that in a second.

I’d been vacillating back and forth on buying IE2s for a few weeks, when all of a sudden a pair showed up at my door courtesy of The Greatest Girlfriend In The World (my girlfriend Claire). She bought them for me, and they just showed up. The pair I got was the MIE2i, which include an in-line microphone and iPod controls. I’ve been using them almost non-stop for a few days now, and have put them through all of my tests (the names of which I totally didn’t just make up):

The “Does It Stay?” Test

The most important thing for me with a pair of headphones, more even than how they sound, is whether or not they stay in my ears. I need to be able to walk around, go to the gym, or get the cord a little caught on my zipper, and not have them fall out of my ears.

Thanks to Bose’s proprietary StayHear tips, the whole IE2 line passes this test with flying colors. The StayHear tips are made of silicone (they come in three sizes), and they sit in the bowl of your ear and create a super-snug and comfortable fit that’s much better than most in-ear headphones. Running, jumping, or just during normal everyday use, the IE2s always stayed snug—they feel a little loose, but that’s a sign of how comfortable they are. They’ve never fallen out, except when I wanted them to.

The IE2s don’t actually go in your ear canal—they poke into the canal, but don’t actually seal in there. It’s a much more comfortable solution for your ears, and are much easier to wear for a long time than most. Even if there were nothing else notable about the IE2 headphones, I’d still recommend them because they’re so comfortable—if you wear headphones for hours at a time, you can’t beat these.

There’s an extra bonus, too: the IE2s have a shirt clip on the cord, and the cord is crazy-long (45.25 inches), so it’s extra easy to keep the IE2s connected and secure, even if you put your iPod in a bag or a backpack. Clip the earphones to your shirt or strap, and it’s a perfect fit.

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The “Sounds Like…” Test

As with all things Bose makes, the sound of the IE2s is the hallmark feature. And the headphones do sound great—they need less volume to play music at listenable levels, and they don’t distort even at extremely high volumes.

Bose has a tendency to accentuate the bass a little on its headphones and speakers, and the IE2s are no exception. Bass is heavy, but I haven’t found it to be too much. PCMag’s audio analyst, Tim Gideon, a Guy Who Knows These Things, is much smarter about the intricacies of sound quality than I am, so read his review of the IE2s for more on the sound quality.

The other thing I really like about the IE2s is that they don’t leak a lot of sound, meaning I’m never that guy on the subway playing embarrassing music that everyone around me can ear. They leak a bit, and at really loud levels the headphones are audible from a distance, but at moderate volumes (all that’s normally needed, since these are loud headphones), they leak little to nothing. Most in-ear headphones have at least a bit of a leaking problem, and the IE2s aren’t the best available, but they’re far better than the Apple earphones I’ve been using for forever.

The “Say What?” Test

Sometimes—particularly on the subway, on a plane, or when I’m at work and my co-workers are especially obnoxious—I need to be able to pop in my headphones and not hear a darn thing. The IE2s aren’t really designed to be noise-canceling, and they’re certainly not as capable of it as some other headphones, but they get the job done. Low rumbles and the like come through a bit (meaning they’re not the ideal thing for blocking out plane noises), but as long as I have music playing the headphones drown out talking and most other ambient noise.

Noise-canceling headphones are typically a lot more expensive than $99 or $129, and if that’s what you want most these probably aren’t the right one for you, but the IE2s are a totally serviceable way to drown out distractions around you when you need to focus.

The “Can You Hear Me Now?” Test

When headphones have a microphone in-line, the obvious test is to see how it works with your cell phone. For me, the unfortunate answer is that it doesn’t—well, not completely anyway. If you buy in the IE2 line, you get three options, all with trade-offs: you either get the headphones without any in-line controls (the $99 IE2), headphones + microphone that supports most phones (the $129 MIE2), or headphones + microphone + audio controls (the $129 MIE2i). No matter which model you buy, the headphones work with anything you plug them into, but the controls don’t always work. The MIE2i, for instance, won’t control volume or phone calls on my Samsung Fascinate, but audio sounds as good as ever.

If you’re primarily going to be using them with an Apple device, there’s absolutely no downside to the IE2 line of headphones. If you listen on something else, you’ll lose the in-line controls, but still get the great audio. For me, someone who listens to an iPod much more often than on my phone, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff to have to actually, you know, hold my phone to my ear sometimes.

If you’re in the mood to upgrade something in your tech arsenal, headphones are a great choice. For $100, you can take a giant step up from the headphones that came with your phone or music player, and you’ll notice a huge difference in your music experience.

My Foolproof Productivity System: 18 Months Later

Post by David Pierce. Find me on Twitter.

In July of 2009, I wrote a post called “My Brand-New, Foolproof Productivity System: 4 Apps and 4 Habits.” That post detailed, essentially, a system I had devised to get things done better. For the first time since I started caring about such things, it was working.

I got a comment on the post the other day from Adam, a new reader:

1) As it’s been a year since you wrote this post, how has this system been working for you? Have you been keeping up with it? Have you changed anything? In hindsight, do you have any tips/ advice about implementing a system like yours or going paperless?

2) I’m through with Omnifocus since it doesn’t allow multiple contexts, which I find frustrating. I was leaning towards using RTM. Are you still using Things? Is it really worth buying?

3) I still have to figure out how exactly to make it all work, but I love the idea of using Evernote as my one inbox for everything. Do you use it as your only inbox or do you still have others? I saw you mention that you like Shovebox in another post and I was wondering how you use it in relation to Evernote? To me it seems like Shovebox is just a much more limited version of Evernote and therefore unnecessary… or am I missing something?

Since things have changed in the year and a half since  I wrote the post, it’s time for an update to my productivity needs and tools (because, as ever, I doubt I’m the only one thinking about it). I’ll answer Adam’s questions in order.

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  1. My System

    My system works much like it did then, but with some minor changes. Dropbox and Evernote continue to be where I store everything, remember everything, access everything; they keep me functional. Gmail I use the same, save one minor change: I’ve stripped out everything possible, and learned to use it only for communication. All three apps are crucial to me because they provide me access to everything, everywhere I am, without my ever having to think about it. They’re primarily cloud-based, and they integrate beautifully with all the devices I use regularly (currently an iPod touch, Samsung Fascinate phone, iPad, Macbook Pro, and Dell laptop). I’m never without the thing I need or out-of-date because I forgot to sync.

  2. To-Do Apps

    I stopped using Things—there’s no Android app, and no over-the-air syncing (you have to always have your iOS device and your Mac on the same Wi-Fi network to sync them), and that became a dealbreaker. I’ve converted back to Remember the Milk (which I used for a while before switching to Things), and though I still have some issues (mostly aesthetic ones), it’s the best option I’ve found. It syncs to any device you can think of, and is as simple or as powerful as I need it to be. Things really is great, and you won’t regret spending the purchase—unless cloud syncing is as important to you as it turned out to be for me—but my recommendation is to spend $25/year on RTM Pro, and the extra goodness that comes with it.

  3. My Inbox

    Evernote remains my inbox for everything, more so than ever. Since I got a phone with a decent camera, I’ve started taking pictures of everything: business cards, beer labels, funny signs, and anything else I can think of. Everything’s accessible in Evernote immediately, and available everywhere. I still use an “Inbox” folder, as well as collections of blog post ideas, reference lists (things to watch, read, buy, etc.), and much, much more. Evernote is the one thing in my productivity system that I absolutely couldn’t live without. Apps like Shovebox are great for temporary storage and organization, but Evernote is very much able to stand on its own.

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Here’s how my system works, in a nutshell:

  • Everything comes in through either Gmail (emails from other people) or Evernote (everything else)
  • If I’m corresponding with someone, I deal with it in Gmail. Otherwise, it goes to one of a few places: something I need to do goes to Remember the Milk, things I want to hold on to go into Evernote, and anything I want to read goes to Instapaper. I clear my Evernote inbox and my email inbox every day (or try to), and start over the next day.
  • All my files (all the important ones, anyway) live in Dropbox, where I can access them from anything with an Internet connection.

It’s the simplest system I’ve ever had, and it’s really working for me. I’ve got everything I need, everywhere, and I can organize, check, add, and edit all of them as necessary.

Tell me about your system! Mine’s good, but that’s boring: what’s cooler?

Turning Tweets Into Essays

Post by David Pierce. Find me on Twitter.

In this month’s Wired, Clive Thompson considered how the proliferation of short-form, reflexive blast thoughts (like those we constantly put into Facebook, Twitter and text messaging) is affecting long-form thinking and writing. And his conclusion’s a little different than I thought it would be:

When something newsworthy happens today—Brett Favre losing to the Jets, news of a new iPhone, a Brazilian election runoff—you get a sudden blizzard of status updates. These are just short takes, and they’re often half-baked or gossipy and may not even be entirely true. But that’s OK; they’re not intended to be carefully constructed. Society is just chewing over what happened, forming a quick impression of What It All Means.

The long take is the opposite: It’s a deeply considered report and analysis, and it often takes weeks, months, or years to produce. It used to be that only traditional media, like magazines or documentaries or books, delivered the long take. But now, some of the most in-depth stuff I read comes from academics or businesspeople penning big blog essays, Dexter fans writing 5,000-word exegeses of the show, and nonprofits like the Pew Charitable Trusts producing exhaustively researched reports on American life.

I’ve thought more about this over the last few weeks than just about anything else, and my conclusion has been similar to Clive’s. The majority of my writing, the majority of my communication, takes place a few words or sentences at a time (that’s even partly what this site has become). But I still crave the long-form: it’s most of what I read, between books and Instapaper articles; it’s what I enjoy writing the most; and it’s the only place where I get to sit down, consider something, and actually think a thought through to its end.

I’m certainly not the only one who likes to read these considered takes, either. Sites like LongReads and Longform.org exist because people want to find great examples of researched, thought about, edited writing. Instapaper and the Kindle exist because people want a way to read them that’s free from distraction and surface-skimming that comes with Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to get sucked into the short, impulse-driven stuff, and it’s a welcome deep breath to spend time with a piece of writing.

But for me, and for countless others that I follow and admire, the long-form and short-form actually play nicely, rather than competing for attention. Short-form tools are a place to test out material, to get instant feedback on an idea, and to create a conversation that is for some reason much easier to elicit from five words than five thousand.

Take David Pogue, for instance. He’s one of my favorite writers, period, and probably my favorite tech writer. He writes books, columns, blog posts, and who-knows-what-else-es. He’s also constantly on Twitter polling his followers, asking questions, and looking for suggestions. He then takes those quick conversations, and turns them into something much larger, much better-thought out, and much more interesting because the feedback loop began before the content ever did.

Access to these networks is a useful tool for one wonderful reason: people engage. People are, for whatever reason, compelled to be active on blogs, forums, social networks, and anywhere else people gather. People love to be asked, love to be considered, and love the chance to talk about the things that interest them and that they know about (hence the 5,000-word Dexter exegeses that Thompson mentioned in the article). As Paul Ford aptly put it, the web is a customer service medium, and those that spend the time asking questions are rewarded with new viewpoints, new ideas, new information, and a better finished product.

We want to know what’s happening right now – that’s why the Web moves so fast. But we also crave to understand what it means, why it’s happening, who’s involved, and how it affects me. That’s where the long-form writing comes in, and I’m thrilled that more and more people are engaging in spending the time to answer those questions.

Thompson hits the “what does it all mean?” question in his article:

The real loser here is the middle take. This is what the weeklies like Time and Newsweek have historically offered: reportage and essays produced a few days after major events, with a bit of analysis sprinkled on top. They’re neither fast enough to be conversational nor slow enough to be truly deep. The Internet has essentially demonstrated how unsatisfying that sort of thinking can be.

It used to be that we tried to understand a few things, relatively well. Now, thanks to the Internet, which allows us to go as deep as we want on any subject we want, we tend to do it a little differently: we skim the surface with a vast number of things, understanding headlines and bullet points, and then we dive deep into a few select things. Not the big stories of the day, but the big stories of my day.

We don’t stand in the four-foot section of the pool – we stand in the shallow end until we decide where to dive in, and then we jump off the high dive. Newsweek lives four-feet deep, and no one wants to be there anymore.

Has the Web changed how you read and write? Has it changed what you read and write?

The Instantization of Communication

This week, in the New York Times, Matt Richtel looked at the difference between communication tools like email, and Facebook and texting.

The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours. And sign-offs like “sincerely” — seriously?

Lena Jenny, 17, a high school senior in Cupertino, Calif., said texting was so quick that “I sometimes have an answer before I even shut my phone.” E-mail, she added, is “so lame.”

Much has been made of this shift in communication priorities, because of what the explosion of texting, and what Facebook is doing in the space: namely, to make Facebook a place for a computer-based tool for fast, instant communication. Its new Messages system looks essentially like email, but with a number of clever additions (or, more appropriately, subtractions):

The company decided to eliminate the subject line on messages after its research showed that it was most commonly left blank or used for an uninformative “hi” or “yo.”Facebook also killed the “cc” and “bcc” lines. And hitting the enter key can immediately fire off the message, à la instant messaging, instead of creating a new paragraph. The changes, company executives say, leave behind time-consuming formalities that separate users from what they crave: instant conversation.

There’s very much something to be said for this kind of communication: 90% of the conversations I have, and am having today, are by text. It’s the most efficient and fast way to ask a question, chat with a friend, or find out what I’m doing tonight. Facebook’s integrating that one-off, twitch conversation into the rest of my social platform, is brilliant. My social calendar is already largely on Facebook, thanks to events; my whole friend graph is there as well. It’s where I upload photos of the things I do, and where I share things with my friends. So why not add the conversational tool as well?

Where all these things fail, and where I fear the demise of email, is in their ability to promote and foster real conversation. Not to sound like my Mom or anything, but I rarely have useful discussions via text. Not because I can’t, or because the people I text are stupid, but because it’s hard to have a conversation 160 characters at a time.

I frequently think, and talk, in paragraphs (like right now, for instance). I don’t have any pen-pals, because I don’t write letters. What I do have is a group of people I frequently send emails catching them up on my life in a deeper way than to just tell them I’m fine, and that I debate ideas with, share things with, brainstorm with, and so on and so forth. Fleshing out an idea with those people, or talking about an important subject, takes both time and space. Email forces me to take the time, and gives me the space, to think in a much longer-form way.

When the Enter button is rigged to send the message rather than start a new paragraph (like on Facebook, Twitter, texting, and IM), the goal is not long-form thought. And, most of the time, I appreciate that. I appreciate not needing a subject line (it’s where I spend 60% of my time on most emails, frankly. Trying to decide how to write an email asking for something, and deciding whether “Hello” or “Question” or “I Want Your Money” is an appropriate subject, is seriously hard work.) or to sign off with “Best, and Thanks, and Sincerely Yours in Great Perpetuity, David.” But the speed of those tools makes me think faster, and without the depth I need sometimes.

My problem is not with seeing u l8r instead of seeing you later. My problem isn’t even with the entire length of the message being those three words. My problem isn’t really even a problem – it’s just a worry that, if email starts to go the way of the dodo, there won’t be a place conducive to thinking longer than 160 characters.

What I wish for is the right combination. Something that allows me to be fast and instant when I want and need to be (which is most of the time), but that allows me the space to sit down and write something real about my life and my thoughts when it’s appropriate. There won’t be the formalities associated with emails (I unequivocally think that sign-offs need to die), or the rushed feeling that comes with texting – it can be as fast as I need it to be, or as slow.

Facebook is inching closer to this vision (here’s a look at the Messaging overhaul), as is Gmail – they’re combining texting, IMing, email, and even phone calls into a single communication medium that makes more sense. But neither one is there yet. Facebook is trying to make every medium faster, and Gmail has too many fields needing filling before things can be sent. My biggest worry is that, as we become accustomed to the instant gratification of a thousand three word responses, the days of thinking, writing and reading 3,000 words at a time is over.

What do you think? Are our communication habits changing because the medium is changing? Or is the medium just becoming more like the way we’d rather communicate?