Does stating how long it will take to read online articles make for more ‘engaged’ readers?
The Pool, an online magazine aimed at women that was launched last year, puts labels on all of its stories and videos saying how long they will take to consume.
Subject feeds, under ‘News & Views’ and ‘Fashion’ for example, promote articles with a headline, summary and a circle saying ‘1 min’, ‘2 min’ etc. The articles themselves have these circular signposts as part of their headings, sometimes appearing right under the title. The drop-down panels in the primary navigation also use the device for featured stories.
We can see the appeal of signposting reading or viewing times for online stories, where attention is scarce and infinite scrolling automatically invites the question – ‘when will I get to the bottom?’ The scroll bar used on most sites does the same thing but less explicitly. As a reader, there is a comfort in knowing ahead of time how long it might take to get through a piece.
Time stamps could be appealing in a corporate context (and we have seen at least one corporate online magazine using them). However, clicking around the Pool even briefly, all of the signposts can start to make the site appear unduly preoccupied with time, although this may play into the brand’s attraction for a ‘busy’ audience.
The precise timings, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 23 minutes, etc, invites the cynic to ask who is the presumably ‘average’ reader on which the measurements are based; maybe better to be more vague – ‘short’, ‘long’, or time ranges. Used sparingly and in the right context, it can’t be a bad thing to let people know a rough idea of the time investment before they click.