Betting against conventional wisdom: Long isn’t wrong

A paradigm-shifting report released this week by the Pew Research Center challenges conventional wisdom when it comes to what and more importantly how much mobile users are willing to read. Poytner breaks down the report, which outlines online reader behavior by analyzing more than 100 million mobile phone “interactions” on content from 30 news websites, last year. The findings abruptly pivot from conventional wisdom when it comes to producing content for mobile: keep it simple. The study found readers spend “more than twice the amount of time reading and scrolling through articles longer than 1,000 words than they do on short-form stories”—bombshell number one.

For so long the tendencies of mobile consumers seemed to transcend the possibilities of the medium. Online sheds the constraints of space and length that shackle traditional media, yet content is relegated to being short, brief, compact. But should that be the case? This report would suggests it should not. On Facebook, there are virtually no limitations on how many words or characters a user can fire off in a post, but Twitter limits users to a crisp 140 characters. One would think that suggests Twitter users have shorter attention spans than their Facebook-using peers, but this Pew study finds the opposite.

While Facebook drives more traffic, Twitter tends to bring in people who spend more time with content. For longer content, users that arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds, compared with 133 seconds when they come from Twitter. The same pattern emerges with shorter content: Those arriving from Twitter spend more time with that content (58 seconds) compared with those coming from Facebook (51 seconds).

Bombshell number two.

Both of these major revelations counter the findings of Naomi Baron, the professor and author featured during this week’s discussion. Baron’s take on how we consume information, her “F pattern” theory of skimming text, seems to be defeated by this research. The findings are the opposite of my initial reaction. Apparently, the brevity of texting and social media platforms like Twitter aren’t affecting attention spans and how we consume information, after all.




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