Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Does anyone really read anything online?

Not long ago, I tweeted a link to a very long story. Within 60 seconds, it received three retweets. Since the article would have taken at least 10 minutes to read, it is highly likely that those who retweeted it did not read it.

This phenomenon is not limited to Twitter. A couple of recent articles revealed some interesting data about what people really do online.

From Time magazine in early March: "A stunning 55% [of those who clicked into an article] spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. [emphasis theirs] The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend [sic] less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on."

Analysis of 10,000 articles shared on social media "found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content."

A Slate article noted that about 5% to 10% of those who open an article leave it immediately and 38% of people who click on it "bounce" [leave it] before the end of the first paragraph.

At a few hundred words into the article, about half of the remaining readers have left, and very few of the rest make it through to the end.

The amount of scrolling can also be tracked. "There’s a very weak relationship between scroll depth and sharing. Both at Slate and across the Web, articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren’t necessarily generating a lot of tweets."

On April Fools' Day, NPR published a story called "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?" There was no article [emphasis mine]—only the headline and an explanation of the fact that they wanted to see if people would comment anyway. They were not disappointed as many brainless comments rolled in. This Gawker post has the best of them.  

The Washington Post noted that in addition to diminishing attention spans, we are developing into a nation of superficial readers. “It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” said a graduate student in creative writing.

Attempting to stay with the trend, last week both the Associated Press and Reuters directed their reporters to limit stories to fewer than 500 words.

If anyone is still reading this, what it means is that I should not feel slighted that people are retweeting me without necessarily reading what I so carefully and lovingly select for dissemination. 

It's not me. It's you.

PS: I am aware that some people retweet things and plan to read them later. But how do they know that what they have retweeted is worthy? Or does it matter?


Josh said...

I'll admit I've noticed this in myself. Perhaps there is some 21st century mental laziness going on, along with the sensationalist article titles that have become en vogue, contributing to this. But another aspect, less damning for those guilty, is that the internet has made it too easy to seek information, and there is a kind of addiction to information seeking, and I will admit to this. You want to read the best most interesting articles, enrich yourself to your full capacity, and share interesting things with friends and loved ones. There is just not enough time to actually read the number of things that come across my screen per day. The downside being that our brains are being conditioned away from long-form reading, meaning that it will get harder and harder for people to pick up a good classic book and finish it or really comprehend it. Knowing you have a problem is the first step to recovery...

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the first few lines of this post, and I assume the rest was just as good.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Josh, thanks for the comments, I agree that time is a factor, and there is too much to read. From the beginning of my blog, I have tried to keep my posts to an average of 500 words.

Anon, too bad you bounced. The last part was hilarious. I hoped you tweeted a link to the post anyway.

Libby said...

I noticed that I have started skimming articles, a habit I started when I needed information for a class assignment. I found that some profs would ask questions and the answer were direct quotes not our interpretation of the information so I didn't actually have to read anything.
I did however read your post and I agree, Anon really missed the best part of it. I'm still chuckling. (how long can we carry on with this gag?)

Les said...

"It's not me, it's you"

Sounds like a bad relationship. I always try to read the entire article. I never forward a link to anyone unless I've read the entire thing simply because I don't want to be embarrassed if the content in inappropriate or incorrect. Also my friends are busy. Why clutter up their inboxes with more stuff? My approach is to bookmark the article if I think someone is interested in it, wait a day, look at the link again then forward it or not.

Maybe we are treating posts the same way folks treat great literary works. Leather bound volumes look great on the shelf whether they've been read or not. People who tweet links want to acknowledge this or that blog post whether they've read it or not the same way people used to acknowledge this or that novel whether they'd read it or not.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Libby, I think Anon was kidding. Or was he?

Les, you are right about forwarding content without having read it. It's a good way to get burned or at least look foolish. I agree with your analogy to great literary works. I may have more to say on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Probably because you are a fairly trustworthy person. I mean I can read something and pick up the vibe of the person.

"But how do they know that what they have retweeted is worthy? Or does it matter?"

Dr. Val said...

What I've noticed in medical practice is that few doctors read progress notes/H&Ps thoroughly anymore either. That's partly because the EMRs have littered them with extraneous, autopopulated crap, and partly because of the culture shift away from reading. The patients suffer higher error rates because of it. The devil really is in the details.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anon, thanks for the vote of confidence.

Val, I couldn't agree more. EMR charts are unreadable and unread. In addition to what you mentioned, progress notes and consults are way too long and repetitive, probably for billing purposes.

Christian Sinclair said...

Thanks for tweeting this older article out again. There is something to be said for visiting the archives of good websites and not just reading the front page or finding what you want on Google.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I have about 550 old posts now. You may be seeing a few more oldies.

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