As someone that's checked the Drudge Report once an hour, every hour for the last 10 years of my life, I can certainly accept the idea that the sites I read and like has to do with habit, as opposed to just content. WSJ's BuzzWatch blog interviews two researchers Eric Baumer and Bill Tomlinson, both at UC-Irvine, on their new study about why and how people read the blogs that they read. Their argument: habit is key. But beyond that point, it's sort of hard to tell what implications to take. For one thing, the study was just conducted by monitoring 15 individualsall of them under-40 bloggersso it's hard to say that they got a representative population. And even though habit plays a big role on what and how people read, they acknowledged that there are still a lot of factors at play, in terms of why people read what they do, and how they interact with the content. Of course, people do all kinds of things based largely on habit, so it'd be surprising if blog reading weren't one of them.
Something that warrants more study is how habit formation affects the way readers interact with the content. Says Baumer: "Habits aren't necessarily bad; reading the same blogs in the same order at the same time every day can help make it easier to remember which blogs one wants to read. However, habits aren't necessarily good, either. Habitual reading can become potentially detrimental when people disengage mentally and don't think very critically about what they're reading. Many of our participants were reflective about why they read blogs, but not as reflective about how or what they read." There's a 'medium-is-the-message' lesson there, and it might explain why so much blogging seems to be about blogs.
One interesting tid-bit, which I can nod in agreement with: the readers they surveyed don't get stressed out by posts they missed. If articles in a feed pile up, they'll read the the top few and delete the rest. Life is short.
The full study as PDF is here.
By Joseph Weisenthal