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Research:Reading time

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
00:45, 25 September 2018 (UTC)
Duration:  2018-9 – 2019-08
This page documents a completed research project.

Read the Paper


Results from this paper are published in the proceedings of Opensym 2019:

TeBlunthuis, Nathan; Bayer, Tilman; Vasileva, Olga (2019-08-22). "Dwelling on Wikipedia: Investigating Time Spent by Global Encyclopedia Readers". OpenSym ’19, The 15th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym '19. Skövde, Sweden: ACM, New York, NY, USA. ISBN 978-1-4503-6319-8. doi:10.1145/3306446.3340829. 

PDF and speaker's notes from the presentation by Nate and Tilman in Skövde, Sweden.
PDF and speaker's notes from the presentation by Nate and Tilman in Skövde, Sweden.



The Wikimedia Foundation’s web team introduced a new instrumentation in 2017 to measure the time Wikipedia readers spend on a particular page (https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Schema:ReadingDepth ). It works by sending an event on page unload, with timer values that also account for how long the browser tab was visible during the time it was open.

In the beginning, we wanted this as an additional metric that would help us determine user behavior after launching features (such as this year’s launch of the Page Previews). However, we realized that this data could also give us fascinating insights around reading behavior in general.

So far, we completed some exploration and vetting of the new metric in 2017 with an intern (working with Tilman), and some checks should still be done (https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T160492 ). The metric is also going to be used by the web team in an upcoming A/B test for a design change on the mobile website (Page Issues). That said, we have not yet had the opportunity to explore what this new data can reveal about general reading patterns:

Research and analysis questions and ideas


Explore how the metric differs:

  • Are there projects and languages where users tend to read longer? How does the metric differ by project?
  • How does reading time differ within a browser session? Does the last pageview tend to be the longest?
  • Does reading time differ over time? Are there patterns of weekly seasonality? Does reading time increase on holidays?
  • Do longer pages have longer reading time? How does the metric differ by length of the page viewed (in bytes/characters/number of sections). How does actual reading time compare to the estimated time needed to consume the page’s entire text (cf. https://help.medium.com/hc/en-us/articles/214991667-Read-time )?

More effort regarding data preparation:

More complicated regarding data vetting:

  • Desktop vs. mobile web. We take it for granted that people read longer on desktop. Is this true for all projects? This is particularly fascinating when we consider that mobile is now the dominant form of internet consumptions and, for many users without access to desktop devices, the only form of internet consumption.

Do a literature review on existing research about web-based time spent / dwell time metrics, compare with our data. Publications worth looking at might include:

Explore whether there are any results of the “Why we read Wikipedia” reader surveys that can be connected to this new data

Contribute to the development of a workflow or an automated tool to regularly inform the Readers team and the Wikimedia movement on how this metric is developing - this might simply involve a dashboard (with support of our analytics engineers and Tilman) or other things.

See also