Reading online

A friend of mine posted a link to an interesting article about what people actually get rewarded for as they wade through the murky interwebs:

Because reading is fundamentalJeff Atwood, on Coding Horror. We’ve got it all wrong rewarding people for how often they post/comment (talk). We should reward them for how much they read (listen).

I agree with my friend’s summary and the linked article. Especially where Jeff Atwood reminds us: “The best conversations are with people who spend most of their time listening.” As he then elaborates, in the context of the internet “listening is equal to reading”. There is no need to encourage those who like to mouth off in the comments section.

Jeff suggests some ways to motivate reading over mindless comments:

  • Remove pagination or other interruptions within an article
  • Display estimated read times
  • Give rewards such as badges for reading a long article
  • Provide real time updates of conversations about the article.

I definitely agree with removing pagination within articles, that’s just plain obnoxious. I’ve tend to ignore estimated read times on articles, though it could be that they may have some kind of subconscious effect. The rewards idea seems interesting, but in practise is annoying. I can’t comment on improved commenting systems as I avoid leaving or reading comments.

What surprised me by its omission is any mention of advertising. I know that many website owners like to earn some money to cover costs of maintaining their sites and there are many ways to do this. Advertising would have to be the most significant impediment to thoughtful reading online. Why else would services such as Readability, Instapaper or Pocket exist?

Even print newspapers give more consideration to readability of their articles when they place adverts than most websites do. When did you last read a novel that had adverts down the side of each page?

I did break my own rule of not reading comments for Jeff’s article in the hope that such an article would elicit some more thoughtful responses – it did not. But at least one commenter (samjschoenberg), suggested that perhaps the best way to reward reading is by writing better. I think that is the key, an exceptional writer will hook the reader in and keep them wanting to read more.

Thanks Chris for some food for thought.