Why people online don’t read to the end

Farhad Manjoo has written a condescending article for Slate about how we have short attention spans online:

You Won't Finish This Article

I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.

I better get on with it. So here’s the story: Only a small number of you are reading all the way through articles on the Web. I’ve long suspected this, because so many smart-alecks jump in to the comments to make points that get mentioned later in the piece. But now I’ve got proof.

You Won’t Finish This Article – slate.com

The article fails to mention sites – like Slate – that arbitrarily split articles into multiple pages. I have to imagine that a huge percentage drop off after page one, which would have had a massive impact on the findings (whether secondary pages were included or ignored in the stats!) so it’s odd not to mention it.

(The big spike at 100% on the ‘percent of article content viewed’ chart is for photo stories – most visitors will scroll through an entire photo essay.)

It’s also worth pointing out that Slate’s multi-page article design actively encourages readers to leave a comment before reading the whole article by effectively placing them in the middle of the article.

Sites are partly to blame for making their own content the least interesting thing on the page

The blame for the flighty behaviour of readers can also be at least partly attributed to design choices made by Slate and similar blogs. In addition to the main navigation, the top of the page is overloaded with calls to action to other stories, Facebook, videos to watch, distracting ads etc. Later in the article Manjoo complains that people share an article before reading it, but the sharing icons are right there at the start of the article.

Meanwhile, the Slate article itself is visually unappealing. The photograph at the top is both unnecessary and entirely uninteresting while the article is small text, thankfully broken up by colourful charts.

Of course, people are fickle and easily distracted, including myself. I follow many links only to decide when I arrive that I’m not that interested. Perhaps as readers we should be more disciplined – some of these uninteresting stories we click on are important – but these sites are partly to blame too for making their own precious content the least interesting thing on the page.

Debatewise: A good system for constructive debate

Debatewise.org is a site I think about every time I see an argument on Twitter or in a comment thread on some blog or other. The reality of the site falls very far short of the promise on offer:

[…] a place where the best possible arguments for one side are listed next to the best possible arguments against. These arguments aren’t created by one person, but by like-minded individuals collaborating to form the strongest case. This allows people both to easily compare the pros and cons and also to come to a decision safe in the knowledge they have the best information to hand.

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Internet access CAPTCHAs

Site administrators use CAPTCHAs to prevent automated scripts from performing certain functions, such as creating an account, sending email to a distribution list, or participating in a discussion thread.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. But, frankly, I’d also like to see certain people on the Internet prevented from doing certain things. You know, like: logging onto the Internet.

And so, a modest proposal: Internet Access Captchas, built right into browsers, designed to greatly reduce the overabundance of youtube commenters, MySpacers, and bloggers.

via Internet Access CAPTCHAs – defectiveyeti.com

Yes please!

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Feeding the trolls

James Delingtroll

In the early days, I admit, I used to get quite upset by the horrid things trolls said about me. I mean, I’m just a blogger making a case. It’s not like I’m misusing public money in the manner of, say, a UEA “climate scientist”; it’s not like I’m a politician making bad laws or some rent-seeking landowner blighting my neighbours’ views with wind farms. But it’s OK, I’m over it now. What I’ve since learned to appreciate is that the problem with trolls is not my problem: it’s theirs. These are psychologically damaged creatures, eaten up with an awful lot of rage and sense of their own inadequacies.

via Seven types of troll: a spotter’s guide – blogs.telegraph.co.uk

This Telegraph blog post is a marvellous example of a writer complaining about internet trolls, while at the same time baiting them so hard he surely must be doing it on purpose. Even his bio (which appears right at the top of the page, before the post) is a masterwork in baiting.

James Delingpole is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who is right about everything. He is the author of numerous fantastically entertaining books including 365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy, Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work, How To Be Right, and the Coward series of WWII adventure novels. His website is www.jamesdelingpole.com.

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Another variation on the slider CAPTCHA

Last week there was a blog post by LukeW proposing a sliding alternative to CAPTCHAs:

[...] the sign up form on They Make Apps uses a slider that asks people to: “show us your human side; slide the cursor to the end of the line to create your account.” Moving the slider to the right completely submits the form and triggers error validation just like a standard Submit button would.

But why stop there? I just spotted this super geeky variation on the same idea on the Adafruit Industries blog:

It seems that it’s their own creation, and is offered as a WordPress plugin:

We are thrilled to release a solve-the-resistor CAPTCHA plugin for WordPress! This plugin will draw a random 5% or 10% resistor and four color band sliders beneath it. The commenter needs to match the colors on the sliders to the colors on the resistor. Commenters don’t actually need to know how to read resistors, but this will help them as they post comments on site that use this plugin.

Resisty – Resistor CAPTCHA – solve the resistor values to post a comment!

Of course, as with the slider alternative the resistor reading could still be easily worked around using crowd-sourced labour, but it’s still a fun idea!

Some common sense about comments

I don’t see my writing as a collaborative effort, and I don’t see my site as a community in which I need to enable internal discussion via comments.

I also disagree with the widespread notion that comments are “discussion”, or that they form a “community”. Discussion and communities require mechanics such as listening and following up that are rarely present in comments.

via Comments – marco.org

How do you improve the quality and quantity of comments on your blog?

Make it harder to see the comments! I love insights like this.

That chart is, for news organizations seeking to tame their commenters, perhaps the best evidence yet that adding a few obstacles for those seeking the leave their mark on a web page can actually lead to more comments. And better ones, too.

(via Nieman Journalism Lab)