How we read online.

Culture and technology.
June 13 2008 1:00 PM

Lazy Eyes

How we read online.

You're probably going to read this.

It's a short paragraph at the top of the page. It's surrounded by white space. It's in small type.

To really get your attention, I should write like this:

  • Bulleted list
  • Occasional use of bold to prevent skimming
  • Short sentence fragments
  • Explanatory subheads
  • No puns
  • Did I mention lists?

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What Is This Article About?
For the past month, I've been away from the computer screen. Now I'm back reading on it many hours a day. Which got me thinking: How do we read online?

It's a Jungle Out There
That's Jakob Nielsen's theory. He's a usability expert who writes an influential biweekly column on such topics as eye-tracking research, Web design errors, and banner blindness. (Links, btw, give a text more authority, making you more likely to stick around.)

Nielsen champions the idea of information foraging. Humans are informavores. On the Internet, we hunt for facts. In earlier days, when switching between sites was time-consuming, we tended to stay in one place and dig. Now we assess a site quickly, looking for an "information scent." We move on if there doesn't seem to be any food around.

Sorry about the long paragraph. (Eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to skip large blocks of text.)

Also, I'm probably forcing you to scroll at this point. Losing some incredible percentage of readers. Bye. Have fun on Facebook.

Screens vs. Paper
What about the physical process of reading on a screen? How does that compare to paper?