July 1997

Root Page of Article: Online Newspapers as Familiar Artifacts in New Settings, by Sue Mings

Preliminary Findings and Discussion

For each of the variables outlined above, sample totals and averages focusing on the variables listed above have been computed. In this initial, really, "eyeballing," rather than "analysis," there may be some intriguing indications of what the participants sought in their online news consumption, and how the activities differed in the two conditions (the traditional versus the individualized online-paper reading activities). The following results of some interest can be reported.

First, regarding the content (that is, screen type) of material viewed. In traditional papers' online sites, readers spent 38.37% of their time, or 5287 seconds, on screens of body text; that is, screens with detailed information about a subject. They spent 33.8% of their time, or 4658 seconds, on table of contents screens (from which they could select a link to more detail about a topic of interest). They spent 16.07% of their time, or 2214 seconds, on screens with summary information about one or more subjects. They spent very little time, .017%---just 24 seconds, across 14 people---on audio-video material, which has been hypothesized to be one of the big draws of online newspapers.

Crayon activity seemed similar in important ways. Again, there was very little exploration of audio-video material; it accounted for just .29% of the time spent on the activity, or 29 seconds across 14 participants. Again, readers spent most of their time, 39.54% or 3994 seconds, on body screens. Readers also spent substantial time with summary and table of contents screens, 25.03% (2529 seconds) and 30% (3031 seconds), respectively.

So, an overall reading pattern perhaps shows some similarity in both the traditional--and individualized-paper reading conditions, with readers sorting through tables of contents and summaries to reach detailed body information, and foregoing audio-video material. At the same time, readers seem to spend more time, proportionately, with summaries when they're reading their personalized papers. These indications might indicate to online newspaper publishers the usefulness of providing table of contents and summary information on online newspaper sites, from which readers can link to detailed body text or graphics. These findings might also point to the efficiencies of foregoing (or at any rate, not emphasizing) much hyped audio-video links on a newspapers' Web site.

Turning to the graphic composition of screens viewed, in the traditional-paper reading condition, readers spent 83.29% of their time, or 11475.75 seconds, on screens that were all or mostly text. Conversely, they spent only 7.06% of their time, or 972.75 seconds, on screens that were all or mostly graphics. Fifty/fifty text versus graphics screens accounted for 9.28% of the time spent with traditional online papers, or 1278.5 seconds across all fourteen participants.

A similar pattern is evident in the Crayon-reading activity. With Crayon, participants spent 82.68% of their time, or 8353 seconds, on entirely or mostly textual screens. They spent 12.74% of their time (1287 seconds) on entirely or mostly graphics screens. And they spent 3.91% of their time (395 seconds) on screens composed roughly fifty/fifty of text and graphics.

Some of the relative lack of time spent viewing graphics may be due to the time necessary to wait for graphics-intensive screens to load, a discussion that's touched on below. Another indication of these findings may be that online readers (of news, anyway), contrary to a popular stereotype, are interested in and willing to read textual information online.

Or, maybe it's just quicker to process graphic information---though a proportionate rating of screen counts pretty much matches this time data. That is, readers visited more textual than graphic screens, in proportions similar to the greater time spent on textual screens. In the traditional-paper reading activity, 73.72% of the screens participants visited (that is, 575 screens) were entirely or mostly textual; 13.21% of them (103 screens) were entirely or mostly graphic; and 11.67% (91 screens) were roughly fifty-fifty. In the Crayon-reading activity, 80.07% (478) of the screens visited were entirely or mostly textual; 14.24% (85 screens) were entirely or mostly graphic, and .28% (25 screens) were fifty-fifty. Measures by screen counts, then, just like measures of time, indicate that these online news readers made more use of, and were perhaps more interested in, textual than graphic information.

The last categorizing variable discussed here is subject. In the traditional-paper reading activity, participants evidenced these interests: By far, they were most interested in news, spending 21.30% of their time (2934.25 seconds) on screens of news-related stories, summaries, tables of contents-like links, or graphics. After news, readers spent most of their time on any of the newspapers' front pages; that is, readers spent 11.76% of their time (1620.5 seconds) on the front page of one or more of the traditional newspapers. More specifically, after news, these readers were interested in financial and business information, spending 11.33% of their time (1560.5 seconds) with finance or business-related information. Some of the longer-viewed subjects and the percentages of time participants spent with them are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Commercial Online Newspaper Readers' Subject Choices, by Time
Subject% Of TimeSeconds
Advertiser's sites 1.78% 245.25
Business and Financial 11.33% 1560.5
Classified Ads (Employment, Auto, Real Estate, Apt. Rentals) 3.90% 551.25
Front pages 11.76% 1620.5
Movies 2.54% 350
Music 1.07% 147
News 21.30% 2934.25
Science & Technology 3.61% 497
Sports 9.41% 1297
System Messages and Registration Screens6.40% 882
TV 0.84% 116
Weather 1.97% 272

Readers proportioned their time similarly while reading their personalized Crayon newspaper, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Crayon Readers' Subject Choices, by Time
Subject% Of TimeSeconds
Advertiser's sites 2.08% 210
Business and Financial 5.06% 511
Classified Ads (Employment, Auto, Real Estate, Apt. Rentals) 3.57% 361
Comics and Humor 7.29% 736
Front pages 10.62% 1073
Movies 0.52% 53
Music 1.61% 163
News 23.58% 2382
Science and Technology 18.93% 1912
Sports 5.29% 534
System Messages and Registration Screens 1.57% 159
TV 1.19% 120
Weather 4.91% 496

As with the traditional papers, readers spent most time with news. Also as they did with traditional papers, readers seemed to spend a fair amount of time on the front pages of various publications, perhaps reading summaries, or orienting themselves to the site. Relative proportions of other subjects seem similar to those found in the traditional-paper reading activity. One noticeable difference is the appearance of "Comics and Humor" in Table 2. In many cases, readers didn't select comics or other humorous subjects while reading traditional papers. Further, most often, those readers who did select these lighter subjects ran into error messages or slow downloads, which they would often cancel after some period of waiting. Readers of personalized newspapers seemed to have more success finding and loading comics and other humorous items, and they spent 7.29% of their time reading them.

A proportionate breakdown of subjects by number of screens pretty much duplicates the subject breakdown shown here by time. That is, when measuring by screen count, readers viewed more "news" screens than any other subject; readers of personalized newspapers viewed comics and humor screens, where readers of traditional newspapers' online sites didn't, etc.

One final area of exploration here is the question of what readers are doing in these reading activities. Traditional-paper reading primary activities broke down as follows: Participants spent 81.02% of their total time either reading or scanning a screen (36.54% reading and 44.48% scanning, respectively), and they spent 13.59% of their time waiting for the next display after selecting a link. This accounts for 94.61% of the total time in the activity; negligible amounts of time were spent in ancillary activities like resizing screens, or scrolling through them so fast it was not coded as scanning, or entering data (for example, on search screens), or watching or listening to audio-video material.

Primary activities in the Crayon-paper reading sessions broke down as follows: Participants spent 81.30% of their time either reading or scanning screens (33.56% and 47.74%, respectively). They spent 17.89% of their time waiting for the next display. These activities alone account for 99.19% of the time spent in the Crayon activity. This seems to indicate that not as much time was spent on ancillary activities in the traditional-paper reading activity. While reading Crayon, as while reading traditional papers, participants spent less time reading than scanning screens (though they spent very similar proportions of time both reading and scanning the traditional and the Crayon screens). Crayon readers spent proportionately more time waiting, nearly one-fifth of their total time. It might be hypothesized that, while reading Crayon, participants were willing to wait longer for their selections to display, and to perform fewer ancillary activities as they waited (or instead of waiting), because, having "personalized" the Crayon when they set it up, they knew just what they were waiting for, and they knew that they wanted it. --

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