Arbitrary Paging?

The division of online text into pages often seems arbitrary. Perhaps each website has it’s own word count for each page, for example, a website could say every 800 words there will be a new page. If it is as arbitrary as it seems, perhaps standardization is in order. I don’t mean government standards – that would be an incredible waste of time. I mean industry standards or internet standards. The kind of standard that is based on general practice or general knowledge.

This standard could, of course, already exist, but that doesn’t seem likely to me. The only reason I bring this up is that often I determine whether or not to finish reading based on how much time I want to spend reading about the subject. If I get to the bottom of the page and see that there are 3 pages for a regular news article, I question if I want to read the entire article.

I don’t lack the attention span to stick it out and read the whole thing. It’s a combination of time and interest that motivates me. Reporters do not often add anything interesting on the third page, so if I am not terribly interested by the topic of the article or if I feel my time could be better spent elsewhere, I quit reading.

There is also the issue of “magazine” articles online. New York Times Magazine articles, for example, appear on search engines as if they were just NY Times articles. I was reading one earlier, and only realized it was a “magazine” article when I got to the bottom and saw it was 9 pages long. 9 pages isn’t incredibly long, but it’s long enough to make me question if I want to continue reading. (If you’re curious, I stopped after page one.)

Finally, when I read an article that is all contained on one very long page, I get a little irritated. You get halfway down the page before you realize that what you are reading is more akin to 3 pages on other sites. It’s harder for me to quit reading when I’m in the middle of a page than when I reach the end of a page, so I often feel I’ve been tricked into reading the entirety of an over-long article. One extra long page doesn’t allow me to accurately gauge how much time I will spend reading the article.

I have to wonder if I am making a decision to stop reading based on entirely arbitrary numbers of pages. For all I know, different websites could print an identical article and list it as having 12 pages or 5 pages or 8 pages. While I hate the interminably long pages on some websites, the incredibly small word count of other pages is actually irritating. How do we rework the method of judging the amount we’re reading in terms of pages and of books (“I read 8 books this fall” or “I have 100 pages left to read”) to fit with today’s largely e-reader and internet dominated reading? And is there a perfect number of words to use per page to give us all an accurate idea of how much we read or how long an article is?

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