In The Independent: why we’re all reading slower than 10 years ago

In this week’s Independent column (get ’em while they last), I’ve written about how screens are still less good for reading than paper – although some improvements in “digital ink” might make a difference. (There’s a good Wired article about a company doing this.)

To quote the beginning of my piece:

People are reading less. I’m not talking just about the fact that fewer newspapers are sold in the US and UK, and that they now tend to have fewer words than 10 or 15 years ago. No, I’m referring to the way that we’re reading more of what we do read on screens – and computer screens are a terrible way to read compared with paper.

Bonus link: the University of Teeside’s readability project is at


  1. Charles,

    Great piece on how people are reading online and the possibilities of digital paper/ink. One of my business partners in the UK works with Xerox in this area and I’m always hitting on him for the “latest” information on this new technology. Cool stuff.

    In the meantime, I’ve highlighted this post as one of several featured on my “Much Ado About Marketing” blog (

    Thanks again for your insightful posts,


    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station

  2. I was just talking about the difficulties of reading online to a class this morning when I was talking about techniques for skimming documents to judge relevancy and extract relevant content. However, I am not sure that we are reading less words : I read an enormous number of words on the web even though it is hard to do, because of the huge number of sources of information that are available to me, and which I feel compelled to follow.

    Is the first post spam or does it just look like spam?

  3. Charles

    Thursday 10 November 2005 at 1:50 pm

    I think we might be reading less *content*, even if not fewer words. (Remember: less coffee, fewer beans, Lindsay.) There are many sources out there, but there’s a lot of repetition of the words, and you really have to mine for the nuggets of new information. If there are few sources, then visiting each will give you a proportionally greater increase in what you know than if there are many sources each copying to some extent from the other – witness the stuff about the Sony DRM rootkit, where you have to read lots of stories to find new facts about it; most are just repetition of what’s gone before.

    And the first post isn’t spam, and doesn’t look like spam either because the weblink wasn’t hyperlinked – though I’m going to edit it now to make it so. An interesting blog, not a splog.

  4. Charles,

    Thanks for hooking up the hyperlink to my blog. I try to let bloggers know when I’ve linked to them because I’d always assumed they’d like to know. I also try to be complimentary in my post to make sure people realize that what I’m writing isn’t spam.

    Apparently, I wasn’t successful in Lidsay’s eyes.

    Thanks again for everything. I enjoy reading your thoughts and opinions.

    Best Regards,

    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station

  5. One of the commonest characteristics of spam commenting is that it is highly complimentary! It was precisely that that made me suspicious.

    I think I am reading much mroe content thatn I did previoulsy – it certainly feels like it, given the amount of new stuff I feel taht I am dealing with every day.

    However it would be nice if the tools would support me better : I am sick of skipping over things to do with the Sony rootkit. Why can’t my RSS tools recognise that I have read something and just not show me it (or have a “42 similar articles” tag).

  6. Charles,

    I saw you updated this post with the link to the study from the University of Teesside. Thanks for that.

    I’ve written this update to my “Much Ado” blog as a result:

    “Ironically, although the report covers the important topic of web site readability; the report itself is not very printer-friendly. Weighing in at 53 pages, the authors put the entire report on one web page requiring endless scrolling through the page to read it online. So I printed it out, instead.”

    I’ve noticed quite a few links to this blog post from the last time I highlighted it. I think this subject is of considerable interest to the marketing community. I hope they’ll take the time required to read the study from the university. My initial scan of it has peaked my interest and curiosity.

    Thanks again,

    Take care,

    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station

  7. A major problem with reading a deisplay terminal is caused by the format in which the material is presented. Why do web site managers still believe that the format for printing something is equally suitable for on screen display. Items produced in portrait orientation with a multi-column layout are a total pain. Perhaps it is time web site editors learned the lessons from Ceefax. Another solution might be to oblige them to have training in graphic design techniques. One thing that could be done would be to set the default layout for PDF files as single column in landscape orientation. I hate being obliged to use the scroll bars on IE! I have visited a site today, that is intended as a public information source, which warns users a report in PDF format could take over four hours to download over a dial-up connection. It would be quicker to walk to the county town to pick up a copy. So much for FREEdom of Information

  8. An article fron 1997 is the most recent you can find about digital ink?”

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