May 4, 2021 - Economy & Business

Surprise COVID trend: Doomscrolling moved to desktop

Data: Chartbeat; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Chartbeat; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New data from Chartbeat provided to Axios finds that working from home has pushed people to scroll deeper through article pages on desktop, and slightly less through articles on mobile.

Why it matters: The change, which coincides with the start of the pandemic, could suggest that users prefer to engage more with article pages when they have the opportunity to read them on a bigger screen.

Several factors could be influencing the trend, says Bonnie Ray, head of data science at Chartbeat, an analytics company.

  1. Desktop usage has spiked overall as people spend more time at home. Pre-pandemic article reading habits on mobile may have shifted to desktop.
  2. Articles are encountered differently on desktop versus mobile. Ray found the portion of article views from search with no scrolling has gone down significantly over time, but hasn't changed on social. A higher percentage of search traffic versus social occurs on desktop, so "it could be that articles we seek out via search are more relevant to us versus ones served up to us on social," Ray says.
  3. Window heights: Desktop scrolling may have increased more relative to mobile because window heights on desktop have changed very little over the past year, hovering at ~780 pixels, while window heights on mobile have increased from ~580 to 650 pixels.

Between the lines: The trend mostly holds true for all but the smallest of websites.

  • A page view with no scrolling means that the viewer never scrolled "below the fold" on a website, or below the typical height of a desktop browser — about 780 pixels.
  • Scroll depth has stayed the same for landing pages on desktop, but has decreased over time for landing pages on mobile.
  • In North America, the percentage of people who do not scroll "below the fold," on article pages has decreased significantly during the pandemic from 34% to 25% across both mobile and desktop.

Scrolling behavior mirrors overall desktop and mobile trends over time, with new visitors tending to scroll slightly deeper than returning or loyal visitors.   

The bottom line: On social media, users often jokingly complain about spending more time "doomscrolling," or absorbing dystopian news while scrolling through their phones.

  • The Chartbeat analysis suggests that while we like to joke about "doomscrolling," we are in fact scrolling deeper through articles, at least on desktop, than we were before.

Methodology: The data from a sample of 300 global sites of all sizes that opt-in to allow Chartbeat to aggregate and anonymize their data for research purposes.

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