The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

This post won't take long to read

– November 22nd, 2011 –

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.

What a presumptuous statement. How do you know how long it will take me? Do you know my first language isn’t English? Do you know that have learning difficulties? Do you know I’m sitting in a public place and will likely be interrupted frequently? Do you know I’ve forgotten my glasses today?

I’m seeing this small bit of meta-data associated with more and more blog posts. Just next to the post title, designed to help me make a judgement as to whether to read it, not read it, or read it later on using Instapaper or something.

I’ve got a problem with them. They’re trying to answer a question I don’t have.

Time

The question they’re trying to answer is: ‘do I have time for this?’. In my experience, time is very rarely a deciding factor on reading an article. The deciding factor for me is generally the content itself: does it interest me? Is it well written? The only time that time is a factor is when I’m in the middle of something else. Is this always the case? Absolutely not.

Value

The other problem I have with these little nuggets of fallacy is that I feel they devalue the content. Being so prominently placed — generally next to a title — implies they are a major deciding factor, and therefore they are a value statement you place on your own content. In this busy, busy world, ‘short = good’. ‘Long = I don’t have time for that, I’m too busy’

Legibility

The final thing is they assume too much. As I described at the start of this post, this UI device assumes an awful lot of the user. It also assumes a lot about the design and legibility of the presentation of the content.

How do we fix it?

What I’d like to see is this type of device being closely associated with ‘read later’ functionality. Don’t have the time now? Read it later. In its current form and positioning, it leads me nowhere.

What we’re really after here is trying to show length. How long is an article so I know if I want to read it. Many people on Twitter thought a scroll bar was fine. But as some pointed out, that’s inaccurate as there could be a whole lot of page guff at the bottom of the page. Would word count suffice? I’m not sure.

Document length is an important data point. Decisions about reading are based on it. Sometimes based on time, but other times on context, ability, comprehension or language. How could we better measure ‘length’ on the web that makes sense for people?

So, how long did it take you to read this post?

Filed in: design. Additional: content, ui

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