Why Shaquille O’Neal Would Say Don’t Auto-Truncate Content

Interactive TV and mobile apps have to make do with limited screen space. One workaround is to just automatically truncate headlines until they’re short enough.  If the headline is 50 characters and you only have room for 30, just let the computer cut it off at 30. What could go wrong?

I would encourage product teams to resist the temptation to take the easy way out.  Why? Because stuff happens.  Sometimes important words and letters are left out.  It’s like playing Russian roulette with the alphabet.

Just ask Shaquille O’Neal.  I saw this story last week in the Business Insider iPhone app. The main screen showed one headline. The full story had a different headline.  The two implied completely different stories.

Here’s the main page headline that was evidently auto-truncated to fit the app’s screen:

“Shaquille O’Neal Might Have A Sex Tape… And His Gang Member Buddies May Have Beat Up The Guy”

The full headline on the story adds some key missing words (emphasis is mine):

“Shaquille O’Neal Might Have A Sex Tape… And His Gang Member Buddies May Have Beat Up The Guy Who Has It

Shaquille O'Neal Truncated and Full Headlines Tell Different Stories

Moral of the story: Make sure headline fields have the same size across all apps and screens. Otherwise, take the time to rewrite headlines by hand when they’re too long.

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