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Screenshorts: Problem or opportunity?

Posted on: July 3, 2015

Yes, screenshorts. Not just screenshots.

Screenshorts are images of text, images, or whatever happens to be on your device’s screen. The Buzzfeed article embedded above describes screenshorts as a way to overcome Twitter’s 140-character limit.

This is a sociotechnical phenomenon. There is a technical barrier (the character limit in Twitter) and a workaround (you can embed a picture of practically anything in Twitter). A few people started embedded pictures of longer form text and more people adopted the practice because it worked.

I use this strategy to provide a hook, summary, or concept bite of a larger resource I share. It might help to think of this as serving up a movie trailer and a direct link to the movie.

My favourite tool for creating screenshorts is OneShot because it allows cropping, highlighting, and auto-finding the URL of the article. The last feature is not always accurate and you have the option of using the URL copied to the clipboard.

However, the problem with screenshorts is that images in Twitter do not help the visually-impaired. While we have optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it does not seem to have extended yet as a web or mobile standard.

So a solution that helps many seems to have become a problem for some. But that problem is an opportunity.

The maker of OneShot suggested that screen readers for the visually-impaired be further developed to include OCR of screenshorts. That could be a parallel effort alongside a longer term solution of web and mobile standards to decode and tag screenshorts.

In the meantime, there is already a commonly employed workaround. Instead of just taking screenshots, sharers also include a link to the original source. This is not a solution in that the original source is larger than the shared selection. But it is a workaround in that a screenreader is likely able to process the original source.

As with most things, technology outpaces human readiness. It is important to realize that we invent the technology and we create the problems that arise. But these problems might be opportunities for even better work. We need only treat them as such instead of complaining.

2 Responses to "Screenshorts: Problem or opportunity?"

SzeYee: RT @ashley: Screenshorts (not just screenshots) are an opportunity in edu-tweeting… #edsg via


Kwan Tuck Soon: RT @ashley: Screenshorts (not just screenshots) are an opportunity in edu-tweeting… #edsg via


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