With the rise in digital media, all outlets are continuously faced with a number of factors. In order to stay afloat, they must produce a product that successfully targets its viewers all while gaining a number of new followers along the way. But this process is filled with uncertainty, especially for those news outlets looking to transition on over to the digital world without sinking to the bottom of this turbulent sea of information.
In 2006, the Poynter Institute assessed one of the many issues facing news outlets today. Hoping to track the similarities and differences in print and online reading, Poynter “eyetracked” a number of readers to analyze how much they read, what they found appealing, their reading sequence, and their number of eye stops. Their research produced some rather interesting results:
- Regardless of length, online participants were more likely to read an article from start to finish (63% online versus 36-40% print readers).
- Online viewers are equally methodical (did not scan) and investigative (scanned over other elements, clicked links to other stories before finishing) in their reading process. Those who clicked links while reading did not return to the previous material.
- Short text with visuals is more attractive to readers and this content is more likely to be remembered later on.
- In terms of sequence, print readers looked to headlines to guide them in the reading process. Perhaps they are guided by what editors deem most significant.
- In print, teasers with visual elements are more appealing than text-based teasers.
- Infographics are viewed more than charts and graphs in both print and online form.
This information is extremely valuable when designing online news sites. By studying both the print and online results, one can effectively create an innovative news site.
Eyetracking and The Arts Gang:
One idea that came to mind when looking at the results deals with the viewers’ reading sequence. Although those particular results relate more to print, the information offers some valuable insight as to how I can guide viewers through the stories published on my project’s website. In addition to including an archive of posts, I’m now considering using a “most viewed” widget to guide readers. Just as the headlines in print were used by editors to sequence the most newsworthy stories, I too can guide viewers through the reading process by sharing what other viewers found the most interesting or most informative. Additionally, this will promote online interactivity by connecting different viewers to one another, and we all know how important interactivity is when it comes to online media.
Eyetracking and New Ways of Reading:
Now Poynter is looking to research the way readers view content on new forms of technology–i.e. tablets. The process is much different from viewing sites on a desktop or laptop. It’s more interactive since readers are able to control what they see with the touch of a hand…literally. They can pinch to shrink, glide to zoom, and tap a finger to move on to the next story. Additionally, the design is much different in size and layout. Personally I think this is a great idea since more and more people are jumping on the tablet bandwagon. In order to understand a viewer’s interaction with online content, it’s important that we study media in relation to new forms of technology.
Downfalls of the Research:
Despite the need for such research, I can’t help but criticize one element of the experimental process. According to Poynter, the way readers interacted with and viewed online content was measured by special glasses that house two small cameras which tracked eye movement and eye stops. Doesn’t this take away from the natural process? If I had to wear those goofy looking glasses that tracked my eye movements while reading, I’m pretty sure I’d be a bit uncomfortable, but, I guess that’s just one downfall to [most] experiments. If you know you’re being studied, it’s hard to act natural. I’m just curious as to whether or not those glasses influenced the readers’ viewing process.