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.

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How to be right all the time

Apple pundit John Gruber was interviewed on The New Disruptors podcast recently about how he made Daring Fireball into a full-time job. Around the 50 minute mark he says:

One of my primary obsessions is with trying to be right about everything all the time. Almost obsessively. Being wrong to me is horrible. I would hate to be wrong about something.

Daring Fireball readers won’t be surprised by this admission, but I really like how this informs his thoughts on transparency:

There is a way to be right all the time and that is to recognise when you are wrong, figure out exactly how you were wrong, say so and now you are right. Nobody is right as they go all the time, but at least in the track record you leave behind you can be right all the time.
John Gruber — ‘No Kind of Work for a Grown Man’

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Taiwanese animated news NMAtv report on Monmouthpedia

The Monmouthpedia project has been getting a lot of coverage lately, but you know they’ve made it when Next Media Animation feature them:

Monmouth is now a “Wikipedia town,” which means it’s riddled with QR codes that bring information to smartphone users with the click of a button. Monmouth, birthplace of King Henry V, is the first town to play host to project, hence the title, “Monmouthpedia.”

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said he was excited about the project. “Bringing a whole town to life on Wikipedia is something new and is a testament to the forward-thinking people of Monmouth,” raved Wales.

The QR codes are printed on long-lasting plaques to ensure they’ll be around for a while. Wikipedia will be using QRpedia, a mobile Web based system that uses QR codes to deliver Wikipedia articles to users. As articles can be instantly edited and updated, some believe this will be a good replacement for tour guides and maps.

Previously on Halfblog.net

The Data Journalism Handbook

The Data Journalism Handbook is intended to be a useful resource for anyone interested in becoming a data journalist, or dabbling in data journalism.

Data Journalism Handbook cover It was born at a 48 hour workshop at MozFest 2011 in London. It subsequently spilled over into an international, collaborative effort involving dozens of data journalism’s leading advocates and best practitioners – including from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Chicago Tribune, Deutsche Welle, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Helsingin Sanomat, La Nacion, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, Verdens Gang, Wales Online, Zeit Online and many others.

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List of rhetological fallacies

Appeal to fear icon Here’s a great list for your debating toolkit. Some of the examples given could use refinement, but it’s still a handy reference.

I’ve pinched these definitions from the research doc for an infographic on Information is Beautiful. Even more interesting is the identification of these fallacies employed in Cardinal Keith O’Briens disgusting ‘tyranny of tolerance’ Telegraph article. Continue reading

Retraction

This American Life are this week dedicating an entire episode to retracting their earlier episode “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” (an episode that became the most popular podcast in their history).

Ira writes:

I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

Mike Daisey has employed the ‘I’m not a journalist‘ defence: “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

The blame really does lie with the journalistic entity though, and in dedicating literally a whole episode of This American Life to apologising for and explaining their mistake, they will surely not lose, but gain trust and respect. Continue reading

Newspaper pictograms

Newspaper pictograms

London-based graphic designer Stephen McCarthy reimagined what newspapers would look like if they were purely in pictographic forms.

In his project ‘Pictograms: The Newspaper’, McCarthy reinterpreted a whole newspaper (namely, ‘The Sun’) in pictographic content.

Designer Reimagines News As Pictograms, So Don’t ‘Read’ All About It – designtaxi.com

“If I were a daily visitor to their site, I sure as hell wouldn’t put up with our ads”

Quote

More truth from The Onion:

Ford Looks Down On Website That Would Let Itself Be Plastered In Ford’s Ads

DEARBORN, MI—Ford Motor Company officials chastised news and commentary website Masthead.com Friday, conceding they were embarrassed to be associated with a publication that would allow the entirety of its award-winning content to be hidden behind splashy, distracting ads for the Ford F-150.

According to the car manufac­turer, Masthead‘s decision to allow the “garish” full-screen advertisement—in which a red pickup speeds across news articles, overrunning them with tire-tread marks until readers manage to find the tiny “close” button—suggests the media outlet has zero respect not only for itself, but also for the amount of work that goes into its astute political and cul­tural coverage.

“They should be ashamed of themselves for letting us come in, plaster our logo everywhere, and, for a measly 50 grand, pretty much destroy the reputation they’ve worked so hard to build,” said Erin Robertson, an ad buyer for Ford who scoffed when Masthead immediately agreed to all of her terms and even sug­gested its creative staff could write articles mentioning the F-150. “Their coverage of the debt crisis has been pretty insightful, but then they cheapen it by allowing us to completely obscure their writing with a video of a truck bounding over sand dunes.”

Ford Looks Down On Website That Would Let Itself Be Plastered In Ford’s Ads – theonion.com

Excerpting policy

From the Business Insider excerpting policy:

We excerpt others the way we hope others will excerpt us.

What does that mean? It means that if you think our stuff is worth bringing to your readers’ attention, we are honored and grateful. Please excerpt it as liberally as you want. In return, please just give us clear credit, links back, and an incentive for interested readers to visit our site. (Not all readers–some.)

This is an issue I agonise over a fair bit, and it’s interesting to learn that BI are actually somewhat more permissive in this area than I would expect them to be.

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The Telegraph thought councillor thought cloud computing depended on rainy weather

Telegraph fail Today The Telegraph reported that a (non-existent) ‘Councillor thought cloud computing depended on rainy weather‘ (dead link). A quick Google search reveals a forum post on this same ‘story’ from 2009, and blog post from four days ago. Both of these places found the story and quickly identified it to be a hoax. Neither of these places are a national news source.

Making this kind of mistake is embarrassing, but I find it unconscionable that any organisation that even pretends to have any journalistic integrity considers it acceptable practice to simply remove stories from their website, with no retraction, as though the mistake never happened.

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Using A/B testing to find story ideas

I’ve been reading In The Plex, recently, so naturally I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use data in interesting ways. This post appealed:

Earlier I read this post via Hacker News on testing startup ideas. It got me thinking about whether or not you could do something similar in your newsroom. I’ll call it A/B Testing for News Coverage.

via Using A/B testing to find story ideas – andymboyle.com

In a nutshell: Write some spec articles, run AdWord campaigns for them, see which ones are most popular. You could get the value of this without running any ad campaigns though. All webmasters – especially those with newsy content – should pay attention to their analytics to learn what content has proved popular, what searches brought readers in, and be on the look out for spikes of interest in particular topics.

When I clicked through to read this blog post, I was expecting it to be a post about A/B testing fiction story ideas. Imagine a kind of choose your own adventure story where the author writes the opening of the story, then two or three different continuations. The most popular branch becomes canonical, and the author continues the story from there.

I doubt that’s an idea that’d appeal to many authors, but some variation of this could be a fun experiment.

Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public

Scientific term Public meaning Better choice
enhance improve intensify, increase
aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle
positive trend good trend upward trend
positive feedback good response, praise vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle
theory hunch, speculation scientific understanding
uncertainty ignorance range
error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number
bias distortion, political motive offset from observation
sign indication, astrological sign plus or minus sign
values ethics, monetary value numbers, quantity
manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing
scheme devious plot systematic plan
anomaly abnormal occurrence change from long-term average

Table from Communicating the science of climate change – physicstoday.org
(via Scientists are from Mars, the public is from Earth – blogs.discovermagazine.com)

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Hospital Porters Against the New World Order

Conspiracy theorist says he’s stuck in the Matrix – walesonline.co.uk

IT WAS after the birth of his daughter that Ben Emlyn-Jones started believing the world was not what it seemed.

Sixteen years on, he has created his own professional organisation dedicated to peddling his ideas – Hospital Porters Against the New World Order.

The conspiracy theorist is convinced the world is run by secret powers, the moon landings never happened, Al Qaeda was not behind 9/11 and that we live in a matrix.

“I feel a bit like Neo in The Matrix,” said Aberystwyth-born Ben.

I think my last dregs of respect for Wales Online have gone now.

Permanews: Old news is good news

Most news outlets, including TV news shows and networks, newspapers, news websites, and blogs are targeted at news junkies: they never want to miss a story, and they want to be the first to report it to you.

If you look back on these stories even one week later, the majority of them seem unimportant or redundant in retrospect. And if you stop consuming the firehose for a few days or more, you’re lost — there are very few publications that give a general overview of what has happened, especially when venturing outside of mainstream front-page news and into a subsection, such as technology news.

I want last week’s news, but only what I need to know, and only if it has proven to have relevance beyond the day it was published.

(via More ideas than time: Last week’s news – marco.org)

I had an idea in this vein a few weeks ago, but neglected to blog about it. I called my idea permanews. Instead of being delayed arbitrarily, the news would stick around until it genuinely started to become irrelevant.

On the Permanews site, every story becomes one story, wiki style. As the story develops, the article grows and changes. There are revision histories and links to related stories etc, but at any point you should be able to visit the story and get a chronological breakdown of what happened.

Critically – and this is key – stories with pending outcomes are flagged for follow-up. If some MP promises some reform by ‘this time next year’, then 356 days later the algorithm promotes the old story as fresh news so it can be checked and updated.

Stories are promoted as headlines based on importance (activity/upvotes), not because they are current or ‘breaking’. (Presumably though, you could filter the stories any number of ways).

The algorithm would be key here: ‘Importance’ would need to trump ‘popularity’ somehow (if that’s even possible).

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