Audit Notes: Links, Readability, Distractions, Wired

Jason Fry weighs in on the Nicholas Carr links-as-distractions discussion, with a thoughtful post breaking down the issue.

Fry says its about credibility, readability, and connectivity:

Now that the flames have died down a bit, it might be useful to look at links more calmly. Given the link’s value in establishing credibility, we can dismiss those who advocate true delinkification or choose not to link as an attempt to short-cut arguments. But I think that’s an extreme case. Instead, let’s have a conversation about credibility, readability and connectivity: As long as links are supplied, does presenting them outside of the main text diminish their credibility? Does that presentation increase readability, supporting the ethic of the web by creating better conversations and connections? Is there a slippery slope between enhancing readability and diminishing connectivity? If so, are there trade-offs we should accept, or new presentations that beg to be explored?

— Readability (the app)—responding very quickly to Carr’s piece—has whipped up a feature to automatically remove embedded-text links and put them at the end of a piece.

It’s kind of awesome and turns any link-heavy piece into a footnoted one. Nicely done.

— Speaking of technology and distraction, The New York Times goes big with an excellent piece on how gadgets are interrupting our lives.

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people like Mr. Campbell, these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.


— Will people pay for digital journalism, well-presented?

Yes. See Wired, which has sold 73,000 iPad apps at five bucks a pop. And it’s had a big impact on advertising, too:

Wired has also added to its page count with sponsorship packages. Those require advertisers to buy multiple pages in return for ads in the iPad edition that are enriched with video or other enhancements. Regular iPad ads can carry an active link to the advertiser’s website, at a cost of $1,000, according to a media buyer.

The combination of the higher pricing on the sponsorships and the overall ad page growth has helped Wired get ad revenue back to 2008 levels some months of this year, according to a person familiar with the numbers.

Usually upsells go the other way, with pubs throwing in a few digital ads with a print buy. That this is reversed here is a hopeful sign.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.