Fool me once: I won't click your links

NPR put out a serious-looking teaser about how nobody reads any more:

The linked text and, presumably, a linked image would - if you clicked through - take you to a separate page that explained that it was an April Fool: you had to read it, to get it, you see? Only "nobody reads any more." You see?

The internet then decided that the comments disagreeing with the teaser content (having clearly not read the separate page) were evidence that, oh I don't know: "people are idiots, ha ha ha", perhaps? But I think it says something much more interesting about content, and what cultural expectations we (think that we) share.

Look at it this way. NPR published "a thing". And they published "another thing". They made a link from the first thing to the second, but the first was an intended first port of call and had prominent "like" and "comment" links underneath it. What should we therefore expect to happen? What if a perfectly intelligent space alien, who had been taught about "like" and "comment" links, had come to our planet, and this was the first thing they saw? How would they choose to fit in?

Culture, or maybe the grammar of the web, has conditioned us to see differences between teasers and "real content"; but if you think that this was a successful, reasonable, unambiguous April Fool, then you're accepting the continuation of those assumptions: of what a teaser is, of what it signifies; of how it's subordinate to some other content that lives [waves hands] somewhere else, over there.

Is that a reasonable assumption? Is some content special? If we put a "comment" link beneath some content, should we not expect people to comment, rather than clicking on some image or other first to read some other thing? Is stickiness not what our web strategies crave? Of course, we assume our teasers are considered subordinate to the "real content" - but how robust is that assumption? How robust; and how fair?

The front page of my website is a listing of my blogposts. Each item in that listing is arguably a teaser, in its own meagre way. But because I accept they're teasers - and not content in their own right - I've not set them up with a "like" or a "comment" link: just links saying "Read more.....html"

Is that better? I don't know.

Is that more suitable? Maybe.

Does that prevent my website from relying on brittle cultural assumptions about what does and does not constitute "real content"? Absolutely.

With all that in mind, it's not clear to me to what extent the NPR "April Fool" really reflects on some aspect of web visitors. After all, when when the assumptions underpinning their user experience have so obviously broken down for a large class of people, surely that's where the very discpline of user experience analysis begins: at some point, we posit, there must be an underlying problem; that problem causes the users to make a decision in a way that we don't want, or don't respect; now we can find that problem and fix it. And only if we wish to avoid fixing it, do we ever imply that the problem actually lies with the user.