Sunday 26 September 2010

"Too long; didn’t read"

Someone asked: what’s with the tl;dr at the start of every post? My first reaction was surprise that they’d even read any of these posts. After all, logging is a prosaic, even mundane subject – well beneath the radar for many developers. There’s definitely more fun to be had thinking about NoSQL databases, or high availability, or templating systems, or web application frameworks, or (your favourite topic here).

But people do arrive here via search engines, not knowing what they’ll find. Even when people actually come here looking for information about logging, there’s no reason to suppose that every post is of (equal) interest to them.

In these days of ever-shortening attention spans, many people are only interested in tweet-sized chunks, but unfortunately there are some things I can’t cover in 140 chars or less. A reasonable treatment of some topics does require some descent into detail; and, while developers are generally masters of detail, they are often picky about which details they want to be bothered with. You’ll also see that I’m somewhat inexperienced at writing blog posts – though I do hope to get better over time, my writing style might seem more than a little prolix to some.

So it seems like simple courtesy to advertise at the outset what a post-with-detail is about, so as to avoid wasting your time if the topic is of no interest to you. It’s just like the abstract you get at the head of academic papers. While it might seem whimsical to call it a tl; dr, it definitely seems pretentious to call it an abstract. To be fair, I don’t put it at the start of every post :-)


  1. And even after four paragraphs, I'm still not sure what it means... Does it mean you didn't read your own post? That would be nonsensical, so maybe it means someone else didn't read it. But you wrote the tl;dr too, didn't you? So does it actually mean "too long; don't read". As in, it's a warning to people not to read the post?

  2. I'm talking about the tl; dr I put at the start of some *other* (longish) posts, "to advertise at the outset what a post-with-detail is about, so as to avoid wasting your time if the topic is of no interest to you."

  3. You could just call it a "summary".

  4. True - I'll do that from now on.

  5. FWIW, I appreciate the use of "tl;dr". "tl;dr" started out meaning "too long; didn't read" and has grown to mean "here's a short summary for you folks who don't feel like reading the whole thing." It's used in places like Reddit, although typically at the bottom of the post.

    While it's true that "Summary" is more standard, "tl;dr" says the same thing and is a nice in-joke for some folks.

    tl;dr: I say keep the "tl;dr".