The Most Engaging Sites on Hacker News
Most social news sites like Hacker News measure the popularity of an item by the number of votes it receives. Digg augments their own vote count with social sharing data from Facebook and Twitter.
A problem these sites face is that votes and shares tend to favor short-form content, because people take the action *after* reading, and most (for many reasons) don’t make it all the way through long articles. Strong headlines also allow for sharing or voting while only skimming the actual article, if it’s read at all.
At Lookmark we’re interested in measuring engagement (and thus quality) through both active and passive measurements. We capture the fact that you read an article, and we allow for comments and reactions (e.g. like, dislike). But because we live in the browser we’re also able to capture other signals, like how far down the page you scroll and how much time you spend on the page.
How Lookmark measures engagement
It turns out that measuring engagement isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. You can’t just measure the number of seconds a tab is open — many people open multiple tabs at once, and return to read them later. Modern work environments are filled with distractions, and we may stop reading in the middle of an engaging article and return the next day.
Lookmark approximates engagement with text-based content with a timer. When you activate a tab, the timer starts ticking — up to 10 seconds. Each scroll event resets the timer, because if you’re scrolling, you’re probably reading. If you stop scrolling, the timer will hit 10 seconds and add its value to the total time. Multiple visits to the same article are additive — if you read half an article and then come back to read the second half, we do our best to track that. The extension periodically sends your engagement data back to our servers.
This means that we’re not tracking exactly how long you spend on a page, because doing so would be near-impossible without tracking your eyes (are you actually reading?) and having some insight into your intentions (are you scrolling down because you’re bored?). Across many users and sites, however, our metrics can offer insight into relative engagement.
The most engaging sites on Hacker News
To generate these lists, we whittled our data set down to sources that have at least 2 links submitted to HN, and had been visited by at least 5 unique users on Lookmark. This left us with 111 sources and a total of 801 articles, from 37Signals to ZDNet.
Top 10 sites by total time
- TechCrunch (11964 seconds)
- New York Times (7681 seconds)
- Slate (2477 seconds)
- Wired (2385 seconds)
- The Next Web (2357 seconds)
- Ars Technica (2248 seconds)
- The Atlantic (1961 seconds)
- Fast Company (1785 seconds)
- Daring Fireball (1559 seconds)
- Pando Daily (1514 seconds)
No real surprises here. TechCrunch has the largest number of articles in our data set as well. The more interesting question to ask is, “What sites produce the most consistently engaging content?” And here’s our answer:
Top 10 sites by average engagement
- Worry Dream (Average of 175.2 seconds per visit)
- Priceonomics Blog (163.7 seconds/visit)
- The New Yorker (155.8 seconds/visit)
- Bloomberg (125.6 seconds/visit)
- Code of Honor (118.2 seconds/visit)
- Jason Shen’s Blog (114 seconds/visit)
- Datagenetics Blog (91.2 seconds/visit)
- Information Architects (91 seconds/visit)
- Fast Company (85 seconds/visit)
- Paul Graham (77.8 seconds/visit)
There are some obvious caveats here. First, the data we’ve collected only come from our active users who have our plugin installed, and their tastes probably don’t align with the overall tastes of the HN community. Second, as described above, we’re approximating engagement through a number of heuristics. Third, we haven’t integrated with all the Flash/HTML5 video players out there, so we’re not properly capturing engagement with non-textual content. Finally, sites like the New York Times that publish a lot of content of varying lengths don’t fare well in a matchup like this — but that’s the nature of the beast. Still, we think the data are interesting.
“New Yorker-style content” has become shorthand for the kind of long-form, quality nonfiction writing that is currently in vogue — and for good reason, because the New Yorker is the #1 publication on our list for active engagement. But other bloggers (Bret Victor) and even company blogs (Priceonomics) have managed to consistently create engaging content. If you’re looking for examples of solid long-form writing that appeals to HN readers, the top 10 is a good place to start.
At Lookmark, we haven’t yet found the secret sauce to mining your engagement data, but we’re working on it. Want to share what you’re reading with your friends, privately and automatically? Try Lookmark now.
By getting this far, you’ve given us the best upvote we could hope for: reading the entire post. We’d love to hear your feedback and comments.