A Guest Post By Alex Aizenberg
First, a definition and origin, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is an adage stemming from an old Chinese proverb, popularized by several 1920’s articles from Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, promoting the effectiveness of images and graphics in advertising, a campaign that also appeared on the sides of streetcars.
What jumps off the page for me is the word “OLD,” and it is the age of the phrase that leads me to this conclusion: the further away we get from the present, the more impressive pictures, as an idea, become… today however, the phrase is growing more stale with each day.
Whether looking at timeline of art (from sharp focus of renaissance pieces, to nearly moving impressionists subjects, all the way to modern art’s avant garde ideas) or broadcast technologies (from telegraphs, to radios, TVs and the internet), pictures as a novelty have been losing steam while words have steadily been reclaiming their rightful place on top. This makes all the more sense today, given the fact that the ‘content currency’ of the social networking and social media catharsis that is Twitter, is built off of verbal descriptions of activity or initiatives (visual or otherwise), truncated to 140 characters or less.
Even still, this shift back to words does not deter visual search offerings – like ambitious www.searchme.com, or inclusive http://spezify.com and cutesy http://visibletweets.com/, among many others – from emerging. As a tool though, visual search is entertaining more so than useful, and often kitschy. The condensed forum of Twitter however, provides the ability to mine real people’s verbalized conversations and opinions for direct feedback (read: 6 Reasons Why Twitter is the Future of Search). Words, and character limitation, gives everyone the same modus operandi of driving content creation; add ‘real time’ and you have a boondoggle of information begging to be sourced… nearly all of it is words.
Of course, pictures still reign under certain circumstances. Take this powerful image of an Iranian protester… it was pictures, videos and other continuous chatter like this, via the #iranelection hashtag, which triggered a U.S. State Department call for Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance during the protests, to keep the information flow going.
The more time I spend on Twitter, the more I think of pictures as being very finite without as much as a caption attached to them, it’s almost as if you can’t say that much with just a picture anymore. I’ve always said that I’m in PR because “I can make words dance,” and now because of Twitter’s mandate of editing for conciseness, we all have to learn to tango.
So, is a picture worth those 1000 words… or at most 100 characters and a link?