Why You Won’t Finish This Post

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a Slate article entitled “You Won’t Finish This Article: Why people online don’t read to the end” and it’s told me everything that I’ve been doing wrong with this blog for about the last 410 hours. Now, this doesn’t even take into account that, by linking to something potentially more interesting on a well-known site, I’ve now buried the bottom of this blog post altogether because a number of you will follow the link and, despite me asking it to appear in a new window, you will never come back to this article. (This has quite obvious implications for the teaching materials we put up, so it’s well worth a look.)

Now, on the off-chance that you did come back (hi!), we have to assume that you didn’t read all of the linked article (if you read any at all) because 28% of you ‘bounced’ immediately and didn’t actually read much at all of that page – you certainly didn’t scroll. Almost none of you read to the bottom. What is, however, amusing is that a number of you will have either Liked or forwarded a link to one or both of these pages – never having stepped through or scrolled once, but because the concept at the start looks cool. Of course, according the Slate analysis, I’ve lost over half my readers by now. Of course, this does assume the Slate layout, where an image breaks things up and forces people to scroll through. So here’s an image that will discourage almost everyone from continuing. However, it is a pretty picture:

This graph shows the relationship between scroll depth and Tweet (From Slate and courtesy of Chartbeat)

This graph shows the relationship between scroll depth and Tweet (From Slate and courtesy of Chartbeat)

What it says is that there is not an enormously strong correlation between depth of reading and frequency of tweet. So, the amount that a story is read doesn’t really tell you how much people will want to (or actually) share it. Overall, the Slate article makes it fairly clear that unless I manage to make my point in the first paragraph, I have little chance of being read any further – but if I make that first paragraph (or first images) appealing enough, any number of people will like and share it.

Of course, if people read down this far (thanks!) then they will know that I secretly start advocating the most horrible things known to humanity so, when someone finally follows their link and miraculously reads down this far, survives the Slate link out, and doesn’t end up mired in the picture swamp above, they will discover…

Oh, who am I kidding. I’ll just come back and fill this in later.

(Having stolen a time machine, I can now point out that this is yet another illustration of why we need to be thoughtful about what our students are going to do in response to on-line and hyperlinked materials rather than what we would like them to do. Any system that requires a better human, or a human to act in a way that goes against all the evidence we have of their behaviour, requires modification.)


3 Comments on “Why You Won’t Finish This Post”

  1. Sam Y says:

    Just with regards to your last paragraph, are you sure you are using the correct verb aspect? I’d refer to Dan Streetmentioner’s reference, the Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations.

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  2. The data analysis seems to assume that there is a causality between “read” and “tweeted”. It may well be that heavily tweeted articles are read in less depth, because a lot of people are directed to an article by a nearly contentless tweet, get to the article, see it is uninteresting, and leave. The tweeters may have read the article fully, or not—there is no way to tell with the provided data. (I would have left this comment on the original Slate article, but I don’t like having to create new accounts just to be able to comment.)

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