Surprise! Our Attention Spans Aren’t Dead!
How Quality & Depth Have Found a Home in Pocket
Mad Men has now come to a close, we’re more than halfway through Season 5 of Game of Thrones, and the second installment of True Detective starts in just a few weeks. All three of these shows got their start in the age of the DVR and view-on-demand, showing that when you give people control over when they can watch a particular show, more complex and deeper storylines thrive.
Since Pocket is frequently called the DVR for the Web, we used a Save as a signal for the kinds of content people are interested in coming back to later. We surfaced the Top 500 most-saved articles of 2015 (thus far) to see if the same trends — the popularity of more complex, deeper stories — are playing out online. Here’s what we learned:
Attention Spans Aren’t Dead!
We might enjoy listicles as much as we enjoy a good sitcom, but we found that when people are able to time-shift content to a single place, they spend that time with long-form, thought-provoking, and fascinating stories.
In the Top 500 most-saved articles from the first half of 2015, we found that the average article length is 3,190 words, which would take over 15 minutes to read.
And, in stark contrast to the belief that our attention spans now last no longer than 140 characters, the longest article on this list is a twenty-two-thousand-word piece on treatment for heroin addiction from The Huffington Post. It takes just shy of two hours to read.
You might be asking yourself…but, wait, did anyone actually read that? In this case, yes, of those that saved this article, 43% read it in Pocket. That stat is a little lower than Pocket’s typical 50% Read Rate, but still high considering reading Dying to Be Free is the equivalent of watching two HBO shows in a row.
We’re Fascinated With Our Own Minds and What’s Happening in the World
When looking at the content that rose to the very, very top of our most-saved lists — the Top 100, to be exact — we weren’t surprised to see articles about technology, culture and current events high on the list. We were, however, surprised to see psychology-related articles fall into the #1 slot.
Even more surprising are the articles themselves. The most popular psychology articles aren’t self-help-centric, but instead broadly span from articles on why people misunderstand one another to neuropsychiatric disorders (turns out that, yes, you can catch insanity).
Here are some of the more popular psychology pieces saved to Pocket within the last six months:
Research into psychedelics, shut down for decades, is now yielding exciting results.www.newyorker.com // 50 min to read
Across time and culture, stories have been agents of personal transformation — in part because they change our brains. aeon.co // 14 min to read
Philosophers and scientists have been at war for decades over the question of what makes us human beings more than complex robots.www.theguardian.com // 25 min to read
As for culture, technology, and current events, we find that people don’t typically save “breaking news” to Pocket. Instead, what’s popular is the commentary and aftermath analysis of what’s happening and how it’s impacting society, both today and for the future.
It’s the pieces that dig below the surface of an issue and give it deeper context and meaning. Like an in-depth, long-form piece from The Atlantic on what ISIS really wants or a Matter investigation into why recent outbreaks of measles are only just the beginning of an ‘eradicated’ disease comeback.
Here are a few more examples:
How a 29-year-old idealist built a global drug bazaar and became a murderous kingpin.www.wired.com // 47 min to read
As we moved our lives online, the internet promised an end to isolation. But can we find real intimacy amid shifting identities and permanent surveillance. www.theguardian.com // 18 min to read
RESEARCHERS WORKING with the Central Intelligence Agency have conducted a multi-year, sustained effort to break the…firstlook.org // 22 min to read
Pocket as a Place for Self Improvement
Though articles about culture, current events and technology can be found across Pocket’s list of most-saved articles, when you move beyond the Top 100 most popular pieces, topics around work, time-management, life advice, and health become more prevalent.
We find that people are using Pocket to focus on building healthier habits, become better leaders, build stronger relationships, and improve their lives in unconventional ways, like learning to develop the situational awareness of Jason Bourne.
Here are some of the more popular examples in the self improvement category:
What makes a great leader? Knowledge, smarts and vision, to be sure. To that, , author of "Leadership: The Power of…www.nytimes.com // 2 min to read
Eat better this year without cleansing, juicing, or cutting gluten. www.vox.com // 4 min to read
Successful people know the importance of shifting gears on the weekend to relaxing and rejuvenating activities. qz.com // 6 min to read
The More Complex, the Better: Quality Content Wins When You Can Save It for Later
With all the talk about virality, listicles, and clickbait, it’s easy to believe empty-calorie content is what succeeds and gets read on the web. But in reality — similar to what we’re seeing on television today — when you give people the power to save and view content later, what gets saved and read is actually longer, deeper and more complex than common convention.
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You can find the articles referenced here (and more) in this collection: http://pocket.co/soUBTd