Blurbs, Art, and Fashion

I recently found a site that satirized both PowerPoint and Edward Tufte’s critique of PowerPoint….which reminded me of Jim Chen’s interesting post on how blogs attract attention. According to EyeTrackIII, “[b]lurbs [snippets of text explaining headlines] encourage reading and scrolling on homepages [and boost] overall reading across the entire page.”

I have to wonder: do blogs with blurbs have only a positional advantage over competitors–i.e., they’re working now only because they’re different, and our eyes are attracted to the unusual? Or is this finding one small step toward asymptotically approaching an ideal mode of information-presentation on the web?

Perhaps this type of question is impossible to answer–especially as readers’ habits themselves may be changed by the way information is presented. But I’d like to tie it into an old debate over the distinction between art and fashion. Jean Cocteau once observed that “art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion . . . produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.” In other words, fashions of the times may not be terribly valuable (high heels vs. low heels is about as meaningful a choice as vanilla or chocolate), while timeless art contributes to our cultural store of aesthetic experience. In this case, we might think of blurbs as a fashion if they’re only attracting attention due to their difference, and an art if they manage to convey information in a better way.