The Internet’s Thirty Second Rule

imageAs a blogger, I’ve long since made the observation that the Internet is a 30 second world. I’ve learned – if I don’t get a readers attention in the first 30 seconds – it’s over – it’s not going to happen.

The explanation is simple enough – the Internet has taught us not to read for content but rather; to skim for content. The Internet has conditioned us to believe – if it can’t be digested in 30 seconds or less, then it’s too involved to bother with. From a blogging perspective, I try to counter this perception by constructing a post using very short paragraphs.

Anecdotally, I know that the “30 second rule” is valid – based on my analysis of the “time on site” statistics on articles that simply don’t click with readers. But, there’s much more evidence than just my anecdotal experience with the “30 second rule”.

For example – Jakob Nielsen, over at Alertbox, reports on an academic study How Little Do Users Read?,  which focuses on how users read on the Web, that’s supportive of my personal experience.

Study Summary:

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

It seems to me then, that it’s no accident that Twitter tops out at 140 characters ….  it’s not just about economy of language (to placate the skimmers) – partially, it’s about attention span – or more properly – a reduced attention span.

It’s this skimming behavior, the lack of attention span, and the impact it had on two fellow bloggers, TechPaul from Tech – for Everyone, and Rick Robinette from What’s on my PC, which prompted me to post this article.


Paul crafted an article Just Say “No” To, which was so completely misread by readers (who believed they were on the Mylife site, and registered their complaints accordingly), that he was forced to publish the following disclaimer:

Attention: I am not, I am not in any way affiliated with, And cannot help you with So, I have turned off comments.

Rick Robinette:

Similarly, Rick’s article bing – Microsoft’s New Search Engine ran into the same problem – readers who were skimmers or, who had the attention span of a doorknob, believed they were on a Microsoft site, as indicated by the following typical comments.

“Cancel bing from my computer…i did not ask for it nor do i want it”

“Please cancel and remove bing from my pc. It showed up a week ago. I did not ask for it and I do not want it.”

“Get Bing off my computer! It is intrusive & I don’t like it!!”

i want you to respond to this asap i want you to tell me step by step to get of you you hijacked my computer without my permission this is against the law you big bully!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

get this off my computer now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here’s a couple of comments from Rick to his readers.

I think you think I am the inventor of Microsoft Bing. I wish I were… You need to contact Microsoft, not some poor blogger.

What it is proving is that people do not understand computers and will lash out at anyone. You should see some of the comments where profanities are publicly made that I have banned.

Sadly, Rick’s posted comment had absolutely no effect – the dumb comments continued to play out like a broken record.

Both these experiences add weight, I think, to my earlier comment – “the Internet has taught us not to read for content but rather; to skim for content”.

Little wonder that cybercriminals are so successful with downloading rogue applications onto victims’ computers, when the target’s common behavior pushes reading aside in favor of a quick click on something they choose not to read in its entirety.

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Filed under Cyber Criminals, Education, Interconnectivity, Online Safety, Opinion, Point of View, Recommended Web Sites

13 responses to “The Internet’s Thirty Second Rule

  1. Another terrific article, Bill. My experience left me appalled.

    And disgusted.

    With “sound bytes”, professional “spin doctors”, and an era of “instant gratification”, (not to mention “Ebonics” and a failing education system [here in the USA, any way]), so many channels shouting for your attention.. we as a society really are being “dumbed down”.

    And many of us are not that bright to begin with..

    Just show me which icon to click.

    • Hi Paul,

      I can well understand your response to what was a perfect example of a situation created by the “dumbed down” generation. Disgusted, and appalled, are appropriate, and hardly a misstatement.

      Keep grinding out the great work that you do. We all benefit from your experience.


  2. Ramblinrick


    Great article on the “truth”… Thank you for including me in this article. I agree with you totally on this where people do not take the time to “read out” the content they are seeing; instead they skim across the lines. The bad here to the “30 second rule” is that people are unaware that they are actually degrading their attention spans by programming themselves to try to take in information as fast as possible. As a result, much of the information is overlooked and not absorbed.

    Thank you,


    • Hey Rick,

      Your point is well made, and I couldn’t agree more. Use it or lose it, doesn’t just apply to older adults.

      Keep up the great work that you do. As I said to Paul – we all benefit from your experience.


  3. Pingback: Internet Explorer 10 is Here | More.. « Tech – for Everyone

  4. Standing For God

    Hey Bill,
    I would congratulate you on another great article but it took longer than 30 seconds to read so sadly,I had to move on…… 😛

    What were we talking about again?

  5. Daena

    I’m sorry, I skimmed over this… I will have to read it over again…sigh… 😛

  6. According to The London Evening Standard “One in five London parents has such poor literacy skills they cannot read a bedtime story to their children”, but maybe this was true 100 years ago too. The young people I know are like no others before them; now they are brighter, faster & more independent

    Bloggers (not you three here):
    Please read this & adapt freely to your ‘voice’. I have found that the good blogs…
    ** are short & simple with plenty of images
    ** link to source material
    ** stick to the point

    From reading blogs I’ve come to realise that most of my favourite, dead pre-internet science writers would be toast today – they were too far up their own ‘passages’. Sagan & Gould ~ Im lookin at chew…

    We are living in a literacy golden age & I hope it’s not just a phase

    • Hi Michael,

      I don’t doubt that literacy skills, broadly speaking, are better than 100 years ago. Still, reading and repeating what’s on a page, does not constitute literacy. Functional illiteracy – the inability to digest what has been read is as high, or higher, than it has ever been.

      From one of my previous articles dealing with Facebook hoaxes.

      We continuously hear and read that we, in North America, are computer literate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The credence that people give to a hoax such as this, goes a long way to proving that point.

      Functional illiteracy severely limits interaction with information and communication technologies (e.g. using a personal computer working with a word processor, a web browser, a spreadsheet application, or using a mobile phone efficiently).

      The American Council of Life Insurers reported that 75% of the Fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial training for their workers. In the United States 40-44 million (28-30% of adults) are functionally illiterate.

      It’s not uncommon that first year college students are required to take a course in remedial reading. How’s that for literacy; is it any wonder that these types of hoaxes get spread so quickly!

      BTW, one of my cousins teaches this type of program at a major East Coast university, where 30%, or more, first year students, are required to enroll in the course due to poor reading skills.

      As a management consultant (back in the day), my firm consistently found that approximately 40% of management employees could not read job related material for content.

      A golden age of literacy it may be – but, only for those who have the skills to participate.



  7. achugh

    Hi Bill,

    Another great article. I second the point that Rick has made – readers mostly don’t absorb the information as it is written. They are usually skimming through the lines that someone writes with so much of efforts. Attention to detail is missing.