Later On

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Online literacy

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Very interesting article by Mark Bauerlein. It begins:

When Jakob Nielsen, a Web researcher, tested 232 people for how they read pages on screens, a curious disposition emerged. Dubbed by The New York Times “the guru of Web page ‘usability,'” Nielsen has gauged user habits and screen experiences for years, charting people’s online navigations and aims, using eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests. In this study, he found that people took in hundreds of pages “in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.” It looks like a capital letter F. At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. “F for fast,” Nielsen wrote in a column. “That’s how users read your precious content.”

The F-pattern isn’t the only odd feature of online reading that Nielsen has uncovered in studies conducted through the consulting business Nielsen Norman Group (Donald A. Norman is a cognitive scientist who came from Apple; Nielsen was at Sun Microsystems). A decade ago, he issued an “alert” entitled “How Users Read on the Web.” It opened bluntly: “They don’t.”

In the eye-tracking test, only one in six subjects read Web pages linearly, sentence by sentence. The rest jumped around chasing keywords, bullet points, visuals, and color and typeface variations. In another experiment on how people read e-newsletters, informational e-mail messages, and news feeds, Nielsen exclaimed, “‘Reading’ is not even the right word.” The subjects usually read only the first two words in headlines, and they ignored the introductory sections. They wanted the “nut” and nothing else. A 2003 Nielsen warning asserted that a PDF file strikes users as a “content blob,” and they won’t read it unless they print it out. A “booklike” page on screen, it seems, turns them off and sends them away. Another Nielsen test found that teenagers skip through the Web even faster than adults do, but with a lower success rate for completing tasks online (55 percent compared to 66 percent). Nielsen writes: “Teens have a short attention span and want to be stimulated. That’s also why they leave sites that are difficult to figure out.” For them, the Web isn’t a place for reading and study and knowledge. It spells the opposite. “Teenagers don’t like to read a lot on the Web. They get enough of that at school.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 11:28 am

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