Internet firms get creative to capture shortening attention spans

Chances are you’ll never finish reading this article.

By the time you get to the third paragraph, an e-mail notification will pop up and you’ll click away to respond to it. Or you’ll get distracted by a Twitter message, or lured into watching a series of six-second videos on Vine, or you’ll click one of the dozens of links presented to you on this page alone. The Web just doesn’t engender long attention spans – in fact, data shows our collective willingness to sit still is dwindling to less than goldfish length.

In a medium where attention spans last for seconds and asking for the click of a mouse seems akin to asking for a pound of flesh, businesses are looking to adapt. Social networking sites are more focused on real-time steams and limit your content post be easily digestible. Web site design firms are honing client pages to get a message across quickly, and capture attention for as long as possible. It’s all part of the fight for attention in a world awash with competing content pushers.

Jan 24, 2013 | This Keek post features a kitten playing with a puppy./a> By shaedorrity on

One Toronto-based social networking startup seems to have solved the problem to some degree. Keek invites its users to upload videos of 36 seconds length or less from PCs or mobile devices and share them with others. It’s been able to attract users and venture capital money.

Bite sized video consumption

In September 2012, Keek announced it had raised an additional $7 million to expand its service. At that time, it claimed it had registered 2 million users in 30 days, receiving 250 million page views in August 2012. Just this month, Keek raised another $18 million and acquired 6 million users in the past 30 days. At a pace of 200,000 new users daily, that’s a sign the short-length video format is working, says Keek CEO Isaac Raichyk.

“You have to have enough time to develop a story but not so much time your audience will get bored or your audience will not be able to consume large amounts of it,” he says. “I was aware that today people don’t the time to read or write War and Peace .”

Before deciding upon a 36-second video length, Raichyk examined what was working on YouTube. He looked at videos under 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, and so on.

Considering that more than 20 per cent of YouTube views now come from mobile devices, that means a good portion of the online audience is consuming content while on the go. A Pew Research Centre study found the average length of YouTube videos was 3:53 in July 2012. But the average length of the most popular videos were 2:01.

With Keek, Raichuk says almost all of the videos uploaded use the full 36 seconds, and viewers almost always complete watching the video.

“Because it’s so short the pretty mutch watch to the end because it’s easier than to click something to get out of it,” he says. “You don’t have to do anything.”

Scrolling is the new clicking

The philosophy to allow Web browsers to “do nothing” and still be able to digest your content resonates with Steve Mast, the president of Toronto-based Delvinia Interactive. His Web design and development firm takes a data-driven approach to crafting its sites, looking at how users are behaving and adapting to their habits.

“Attracting people to your properties is increasing while keeping them there is decreasing,” Mast says. “There’s more people online, but it’s harder to keep their attention.”

The data backs it up, even in a February 2008 study. Nearly one in five page views lasted for less than four seconds, while only four per cent of them lasted for more than 10 minutes. If a Web page had 111 words or less, about half of them would be read. If a Web page had an average 593 words per page, only 28 per cent of the text was read, according to a study published in ACM Transactions on the Web.

Ikea takes the ‘less is more’ approach with its Web design.

All businesses are having the same problem, he says. One strategy to connect with users in a limited amount of time is the “less is more” approach. Ikea is a good example of an e-commerce site that’s very clean and still manages to serve up information on one page. It reduces the dreaded “bounce rate” of Web sites by keeping people on one page for longer instead of asking that they click through multiple pages – again, demanding less action for the users.

Browsing on tablets and smartphones have helped shift Web users to scrolling behaviour and away from link-clicking behaviour. It’s just easier to swipe up on the screen rather than tap a tiny link with your finger.

Another approach is to put your content in context of the reader, Mast says. Something Amazon has done very successfully.

“If you’ve never been there before and you visit it, you just feel like a dog barfed on the page,” Mast says of Amazon’s design. But bringing you relevant content based on your interests has allowed it to succeed anyway. “You really need to consider what content you’re serving up at the right time and the right place.”

Contextualizing content according to users is hard to do. It’s the challenge that big data companies and user research firms are seeking to help overcome. It’s a problem that experts will need to think long and hard about.

As for you, Web reader, you’re the rare kind that reads to the end of a long article such as this. I commend you. Here’s a cute picture of my cat as a reward.

Cat sits in orange box.

Brian JacksonBrian Jackson is the Editor at E-mail him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter, connect on , read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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