I am surprised at how many people, like me, who select text to highlight what they are reading. Some reasons include tracking your reading position, increasing text contrast, or as an "intra-page" bookmark. If these are common actions, perhaps browsers (or add-ons) can provide purpose-built features for these functions.
When people see that I highlight text while I'm reading, they always want to know what practical reason it serves. The simplest answer is that it kind of helps me track the text, but it's less than that. It also isn't quite just a nervous habit. The only description that makes sense to me is that it feels like a physical connection to the page. More like spinning a pen, or rolling an object in your hand while you think about it. Like the mouse is my fingers and I'm just sort of fiddling with the page, like flicking through page edges of a book just for the feel of it.
Me too. I desperately wanted to turn that feature off but never managed to find a way. I can't tell you how many times I was just jiggling a window around (usually the browser, while I thought something through or tried to work out what I was going to do next), and all of a sudden my other windows got minimized.
Before that it used to be holding the shift key for 5 seconds while I paused to think. That was especially infuriating if you didn't notice and ended up with 'sticky keys'.
I've replaced the highlight desktop habit with type in URLs and press enter habit. "n<CR>" to get to HN is definitely one of them. But not to get to HN, but just because I'm in deep thought or making a decision.
This could probably fill an entire separate thread but I love this thought. I am only just now remembering that I actually used to sit down at a computer and .. wait for it.. FINISH. I'd do something.. be done. Then I'd go do something else.
I remember something similar, though the real cause of my time on the computer ending was because I was on dialup and that would tie up the phone line. This was back when I was much younger and with my parents, but after my family moved all of our phones off the landline and to cellular, we ended up getting a lot more use out of the computer. After all, the computer only had entertainment purposes if you had a movie or a game, and all our games were the single player sort. So, with the advent of the Internet, there were things to do on the computer to pass the time, like browse webrings and forums or try and fail to learn Esperanto (and RPG Maker 95, which probably contributed a lot to my interest in game development).
Before all that, I spent a lot of time climbing trees and wanting to be an architect and writer (the latter of which I've been pursuing for a while now). My brother and I'd drag planks into trees and we'd build little things we called forts and make up our own currencies (using the tabs on soda cans, for example), we'd play with our family's chickens and cats, and we'd grouse about picking up fallen apples (because it was boring) and so on. Odd to think how little of any of that I'd get away with now -- now I'd suffer some odd looks from folks for climbing a tree that looked especially climbable. Really, the computer was just for Doom and Encarta and writing book reports. That's just rambling though and not all that interesting or indicative of any change other than growing up a bit.
Unfortunately, I was a child back then, so my memory of pre-Internet computer use is probably different than that of someone who was an adult the entire way through. Would be nice to see a bunch of people writing about it - not so much about how computers and the 'net changed things, but what they were like beforehand without concerning themselves too much with the difference between now and then.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it wasn't to do with "thinking of what to do next", perhaps I just made that up in my memories.
However, I have clear memories of dragging boxes back and forth. They are so clear that I even remember inching the edge of the box closer and closer to the edge of an icon and seeing when it would select it. Also, I remember making the box thinner and thinner until it would either disappear, or you would get a single thick line when the dashed lines on either side were lined up with each other.
The only thing I don't remember is why or when I did it :)
ALA New York Times. Although, I checked right before writing this, and it seems they got rid of it, or at least, they replaced it with a not less annoying, but potentially more profitable full page pop-up that forces you to sign up. I wonder if once singed, they have the auto-search. Can anyone confirm?
Those sites bug me too, as a heavy user of highlighting. It also causes me problems reading editable text, for instance in a text editor. Sometimes I'll accidentally click and drag a selection to a different part of the text without noticing. I usually notice, but if I don't it can cause problems later, especially with text that is code, where it can cause mysterious bugs to show up.
Thank you for explaining it in this fashion. "Nervous habit" and "spinning a pen" completely capture the feeling and reasoning behing why I select text. I usually rapidly select random chunks of text while making my way through a piece. At some level, I think it may also help me stay focused on the page itself (as I have a tendency to get distracted easily).
I feel that is a vary tech-person oriented habit. A gut feeling tells me the poll results will be very different among non techie folks. I remember my parents getting annoyed with my highlighting when helping them read family emails.
Although I still think the contrast & place-tracking stuff is part of it, I'm realizing the want-to-fiddle thing is a big factor for me too. One thing is that when I use a trackpad (makes it sort of cumbersome to select text), I find myself idly playing with the two-finger scroll, pushing the page up and down even though I'm reading something in the middle of the screen. I think it's the same impulse.
Each sentence or paragraph is another hurdle to clear. Marking a selection provides the satisfaction of marking that I cleared it (and allows me to avoid rereading too much when resuming after an interruption or break).
I get extra annoyed when something prevents this. For example, a PDF viewer that loses a selection on a shift-click, rather than expanding it. I feel this actually increases the effort of reading, by taking away the easy tracking benefit.
Here's another reason / hybrid of a couple. I noticed when reading this thread, I selected your comment and then scrolled whilst reading. Allows multitasking and faster scanning - I'm reading the text as the page scroll and the highlight makes it easier, whilst getting ready for the next section below.
I've been doing this for about a year and a half now. I noticed my reading speed increased drastically along with this habit. I haven't done any actual measurements, but the speed difference is especially noticeable when I read from paper, or images of text.
I'm a programmer and in one of my first jobs the sales guy (who was a nice bloke) double clicked on everything all the time.
This made me think about how he demo'd our windows app, I had to also test double, tripple clicks, double click + drag etc. So I added a feature that on the 'About this product' page added the clicks and double clicks. When it reached over 100 I displayed an animated bunch of flowers.
Many months later I get a phone call from the sales guy, "Hey, monk.e.boy, I'm rehursing a demo and some flowers are showing." I was like, Jeeeesus, 100 double clicks on the most obscure page of our app?! WTF are you doing!
Yes, the New York Times was the worst. In a similar vein, snopes.com also forbids selecting on the page. And when they "fixed" Chrome so that clicking and dragging from within a selection dragged the selection instead of starting a new selection, I died a little inside. Why would I want to drag text on a web page? I guess random clicking and selecting is no more of a useful use case, but I still find myself messing this up.
Highlight any text and right-click. The third option down will offer to search Google using the selected text (though it probably uses your default search engine, rather than hardcoding Google).
You can also highlight any URL (it doesn't need to be a link, just look like a URL) and tell Firefox to load it by either right-clicking or by dragging it to the tab bar. Try it out on any of the following:
Exactly, I can't count the times I've butted heads with our marketing, design and business development teams over silly, annoying and outright ridiculous features they had charged us with implementing... before we became a more agile shop these confrontations usually resulted in me having to back down and implement the features because they were pretty much set in stone by the time they got into our queue but now we can often compromise since we're involved earlier in the planning stages.
No, I don't attribute it to being agile, I attribute it to dev being involved near the start of project planning and having input along the way. It just happened that when the company decided on being an agile shop this happened as well. Sorry that was not clear.
The annoying thing is that these things are often used to stop other developers stealing stuff, like the the disable right click so you can't steal my images.
Someone I know has an old website in flash that he had done that way so people steal the images. When I did a print screen and a 5 second edit in Photoshop he was a little shocked. He's get the site rebuilt in HTML now :)
If it's on the web, then it's gonna get stolen if someone actually wants it. Don't piss everyone else off in the meanwhile.
Totally agree, super annoying. I will highlight and re-highlight a paragraph over and over as I read through it. I'm not sure why I do it, maybe it's my impulse to go faster that I can satisfy by moving my cursor rather than reading more rapidly.
As well as double-clicking words to highlight sentences/paragraphs, I repeatedly right-click on any webpage / desktop I am on. A while back I took some time to figure out why I do it and realize that it's an easy go-to for checking performance of your computer (ie system latency). The coolest part about this is that these days all menu items, during peak performance, fade in over 50ms or so and when it beings to slow down its immediately noticeable.
I come from a background of a lot of CLI, especially to remote systems over ssh, and the latency from when i type a character to when it shows up is a really good predictor for the system's IO if its being overloaded.
I guess this is also handy when doing remote desktop or in a VM -- but I never do that.
I too do this, and sometimes compulsively drag large portions of highlighted text around as well. Annoyingly, Opera seems to open in new tabs any links in the highlighted area when the dragged text is released. This has led to me up/down voting everything at various sites on more than a few occasions (but ah, they shouldn't have GETs do anything anyway, I say :)).
Sometimes when you highlight and drag some text, it stays at 100% size so you can fit it exactly into where you dragged it from. If you select too much the OS resizes it to something like 80%. I often get lost trying to get as much as I can at 100%.
YES thank you, I am diagnosed with ADHD and I have this quirky behavior and many more. If you guys are selecting text over and over, it is very likely (but not always the case--I'm no psychiatrist!) that you have ADHD and should consider getting screened/diagnosed if you haven't done so already. It's nice to know as it is a part of your identity (at least for me it is) and you'll learn to live with the symptoms. I actually enjoy having ADHD and selecting text compulsively :) Consider reading "Delivered from Distraction" by Hallowell.
I do the same. But I've figured out it's a leftover habit from the olden days when macs used to crash all the time. I kept my mouse moving to know there was still LIFE beneath that screen. Pointer used to freeze when the system did. God, I'm old.
Oh my god, yes! I am a compulsive margin-clicker. I ostensibly do this to make sure that the browser page has focus, but really it's really just a tick. I love TheOnion.com, but they kill me with their ads-in-the-margins.
What I typically do is fire up Chrome developer tools, and DESTROY the offending node. I find this therapeutic. :)
Having recorded myself using a computer and watched it back to analyse my habits, I've noticed that I don't begin highlighting when reading an article but if I consciously highlight part to reread for comprehension (or to look up a word) then this triggers twitchy highlighting for the rest of the piece.
The twitchy highlighting seems to follow three patterns: bored methodical clicking to help get through big dry paragraphs, fast erratic clicking when something is exciting, and sporadic clicking when I've stopped reading to think about something in the article.
When I worked in a high school I noticed almost the exact same behaviours as described, exhibited by students and younger staff. Pretty much all the computery kids were hyperactive click-highlighters and it was only the students who seemed positively uncomfortable around computers who didn't do it at all.
I do it sometimes compulsively, but I think it started for a legitimate reason: clicking to make sure the text has focus. That way when I use up/down/PageUp/PageDown to scroll, the text actually scrolls. If there is a textbox that has focus, up or down jumps to that textbox instead which drives me bonkers.
Also, recent versions of Firefox have a bug where after you bookmark a page, if you've added a tag, the page loses focus and has to be clicked to re-focus (otherwise keyboard scrolling is broken). So far this has never bothered me quite enough to check if the bug was reported.
Air arrow keys are half the size of regular keys, which makes scrolling through keyboard even more painful for me. The button is like a single button, and you have to hit its top half or bottom half to scroll.
I had been using two finger scrolling since Lion. But most PC user that tries to scroll a page on my laptop, finds it very difficult.
When I read the title of this post I thought "WHOA, other people do that too?!" and clicked through to take the poll. Your poll is going to have a heavy selection bias towards people who select text while reading. People who don't select text while reading will probably ignore this poll and go read an article on erlang best practices or Paul Graham's favorite color.
I had originally posted a poll with Often/Sometimes/Never answers, but I realized, like you point out, that this poll would have heavy selection bias. So I changed the poll to gather reasons why people select. That's probably more interesting data than Yes/No anyways. :)
The ratio of people that does this is something that you could accurately measure if you have a somewhat popular website. (The reason why not so much, of course. I doubt many people have a conscious reason for this behaviour anyway. I don't.)
Over 30% of people select text while reading. Markerly.com gives publishers a dashboard of text selection and copy and paste trends. We are about to roll out heat maps that show text selection - it definitely tells a story and differs article to article.
Source: I'm CEO of Markerly and I look at this data everyday.
That is a very interesting concept! Can you share how publishers use the text selection feedback to optimize their websites or editorial content? Does Markerly gather all text selection or just text "shared" through Markerly's social tooltip? The former could have privacy or security implications.
I select text compulsively while reading. I just double-click whatever paragraph I'm on to make it stand out from the rest of the text, and then just kind of keep clicking. Why? I have no idea, really. Just an odd habit!
This habit is an example of what Chris Noessel calls "One Free Interaction". Another prominent example is the bounce on iOS scroll views. There seems to be something about being able to fidget with a UI that makes it more comfortable to use.
I only scroll to read very dense text, like technical docs - and those tend to have the kind of paragraphs that take pages to scroll past.
On the other hand I most often select text at the bottom of the page before hitting Space to advance the page. If you could place a line of highlight across the page before it starts spinning (or jumps) and fade it out gently after - that would definitely be of use.
Or you could think about splitting chubby paragraphs into predictably behaving chunks.
If I could flip to a reading mode where the center line is the point of scrolling and puts a little extra separation between the center line and lines above and below, I would not highlight. Maybe a subtle greying of the lines above and below.
 instead of stopping the scrolling when the first line is on the top or the last line is on the bottom, it scrolls to the middle before stopping.
Ah, I have been looking for this comment. Finally someone else who does this! It doesn't just show me where my current spot to start from is; it prevents me from wasting time re-reading any text that I have already read. Even though this is my most common method, I occasionally use the mouse cursor (without selecting) to keep my place instead, particularly at the bottom of a page where I can no longer scroll down.
This is my method too. It also means that if I am interrupted I don't have to do anything to keep my place, although I still sometimes select text if I want to keep something above it on screen for context.
I think this might go back to our reading habits on paper. I've noticed that many of my friends who use their fingers to guide their reading on paper like to highlight text or move their cursor to mark their position when web browsing.
I've never done that though, so I never felt the need to do so on a computer either.
I answered yes to the first three, because I find myself doing it for a variety of reasons at different times. The most common reason is to keep track of my place when someone calls me or walks in to my office.
The next most common reason is related to the first reason, and it's a shame that I have to do so. When you use text highlighting to track your reading (line by line), it's a sign that the site you're reading has poor typography. Usually:
Measure is too long - when lines of text are long, our eyes have a difficult time "tracking" back to the next line.
Leading is too small - Leading is the space between lines. The space between lines creates a negative void that our eyes follow back to the beginning of the next line. Not enough leading and the line is thin and hard to follow. Too much leading and your eyes get lost in a sea of space.
Even when typography isn't bad I've always had a hard time tracking back to the next line both with text on paper and on screens. My most common use is to highlight one line at a time, although I sometimes highlight to save my place (arbitrary length selection) and sometimes to emphasize a concept out of a larger mess of text (context based selection length).
Usually I highlight from near the middle of one line to near the middle of the next line. If near the end of reading line N I highlight from the middle of line N+1 to the middle of line N+2, I can use the one highlight three times to help me track back: first I track back to the first line above the highlight (N+1), second I track back to the highlighted line (N+2), third I track back to the first line under the highlight (N+3).
Similarly highlighting multiple lines at a time it's easy to subconsciously remember which line of the selection to read next (first, second, third, ...) without having to visually track back, as long as the selection isn't very long (much like how it's harder to keep track of where you are in a longer paragraph).
After a few days of use, I customized my readability (actually I use clearly now. http://evernote.com/clearly/) style to make highlighted text easier to read. After I moved to a theme with dark background and light text, the contrast between selection text and selection background was annoyingly low.
Yes I do, and I really notice it when using O'Reilly's Safari bookshelf. Whenever you select text it pops up a window asking if you want to highlight or make a note, so irritating! If that mouse is in my hand I always select text that I am reading. I am not sure why. Perhaps it's just a reflex so I can keep track of where I am in the text. With so much noise on web pages, it must help. I'll have to test if I do this as often on other things. I know I have accidentally cut and pasted previous commands in a terminal and have been very upset with the consequences. I'm just sloppy with that mouse and middle button I guess. But those darn new line characters on a paste can be catastrophic.
I select all the time, using either mouse or a keyboard. In addition to the mentioned problems with JS popups on click on NYTimes et al, there is another set of annoyances due to invasive keyboard shortcuts.
I select text from kbd with SHIFT+arrows (up, down, left, right) or CTRL+SHIFT+arrows (left, right) and scroll the page with arrows. I want to do something nasty to the webdev each time I'm on the page which overrides those shortcuts. Especially when it's sth like redirect to other article on ARROW_RIGHT (sigh).
Fortunately I have "Disable JS" button right in the status bar...
TL;DR: do not mess with my keyboard or I will find you!
When using a Chrome browser with adblock and flashblock and HTTPS, and JS disabled, sometimes text isn't where it was designed to be. Sometimes text covers images or runs into other text, and selecting is necessary to be able to read it.
I need to vote 3 times! I'm a yes to position reading, and place holder for sure... contrast issue is dependent on the regular contrast it doesn't happen often but I do use it that way.
Now I'm a self-confessed habitual selector I feel compelled to say that in no way, shape or form do I select text like some kind of nervous tic. I rarely select text when reading HN comments for example, they're mostly short enough so I'm not going to have to scroll or have time to get pulled on to something else before finishing.
I voted for reading position because that's the one I use it for most.
I am absolutely amazed at the response this poll is getting. You people are a bunch of freaks! ;)
I frequently select text when I need to get up from my desk at home to deal with the kids (and not lose my place), but not to the extent that other here are describing, unless it's the random tick click thing.
I'm sure there's a psychologist in our midst that can explain this phenomenon. But, I'm still shocked that this post has generated this much attention.
I have a co-worker that constantly selects and re-selects text in everything from web pages to Sublime Text. I think he's developed some weird form of subconscious text-selection syndrome. He literally cannot stop doing it even when we bring it up to him.
It's really bad doing remote screensharing because the screen has to constantly redraw.
I've never seen the behavior before. It's quite odd. I never select text except for copy/cut operations.
I never consciously asked myself why I select text, until now. As a result, it wasn't something I did. Fascinating question. It is purely a mouse-driven habit, too, by the way.
I now wonder if all my years selecting text in old versions of Internet Explorer (to see how pages were built in HTML) was partly to blame? This technique was useful to see where clear gifs and other artifacts were often hiding.
I do. But I'm also one of those people that will highlight text in 'real' books using a marker. I read destructively, you really don't want to be the next person in line after I'm 'done' with a textbook.
And being able to permanently highlight stuff on the screen so that when I re-visit a page later and it still contains my highlights is something I miss.
People make fun of me for doing it, but I can't stop. It's the one thing that makes google reader hard to use, because I forget and clicking on a news story makes it jump to the top of the page (note to google reader devs - your thing is awesome, probably needs an update, but GOD DAMN I HATE THE CLICK JUMP FUNCTION)
"any UI behavior that requires waiting seems pretty dubious to me..."
Deep down I really agree with that, but I become conflicted when I consider settings with severe limitations that have little else to turn to. For example: the timed hover to select on some Kinect games: touch screens that use longpress as a substitute for right-click; touchscreen keyboards with longpress as a shift-like behavior. It somehow seems regretfully acceptable when dealing with the limitations of a touch screen, single button, or no button environment.
One case where I think it is ok to require waiting are "Ejector seat button next to the radio" type situations where user action could have potentially disastrous consequences: I am glad I have to hold down my power button for some time to force a hardware restart.
1) When scrolling is erratic (due to the mouse, the browser, or what have you) and reading a long article, I highlight a word in the last-read paragraph to allow me to scroll that paragraph up and not lose it.
2) When pages have low contrast, but I don't want to say View / Style / No Style (alt+v, y, n - in firefox), I'll select the whole page.
3) When pages have extra-wide text lines without sufficient spacing between lines (i.e., they do not conform to typographical rules for reading ... for example, Hacker News comments), I'll select individual lines in order to better follow the length of the line.
4) When interrupted in reading a lengthy article, so as not to lose my place, I'll double-click (middle wheel button is keyed to double-click) my reading position to highlight just that word.
> If these are common actions, perhaps browsers (or add-ons) can provide purpose-built features for these functions.
Maybe this is one of those cases where nothing actually needs to be done. Highlighting is highlighting, it works great and fulfills different needs. There are lots of add-ons for focus, black-out, markers and other features, but none is widely used.
In adittion, we are moving towards touch interfaces. I haven't seen anyone frantically touching the screen to highlight text in those; as some have confessed here, I believe this behavior has a lot to do with the mechanical act of clicking, the sound and feedback that for some reason feels good and ends up becoming a compulsion.
> I believe this behavior has a lot to do with the mechanical act of clicking, the sound and feedback that for some reason feels good and ends up becoming a compulsion.
I'm a compulsive highlighter for most of the reasons people have described. I don't hear any sound when I click though, because I use a touchpad with no mouse buttons or clicking (tap to click, tap-tap-drag to highlight, two finger tap to right click, two finger scrolling).
Since I started reading a lot on a touch screen phone I've been frustrated by the lack of easy highlighting, and I compulsively scroll to track my place instead.
I've gone through different phases of this as a tool to fight my ADD impulses. My main reason was to avoid that scenario where I would find myself reading and then snap and ask myself "where the hell am I in this paragraph/page/article?" I highlighted sentence by sentence as I read through, but it results in too many iterations. Then I highlighted whole paragraphs, worked better but reading through blue colored background when there's white background all around it made my eyes drift away to the lighter areas. Now I'm highlighting the paragraph prior to the one I'm in, it serves as a bookmark of sorts. It's still a work in progress but its damn better than not doing it!
I used to scroll. Then I started scrolling so that the line I am reading is always the first line in the window (thus obscuring everything above), which means I can read about tracking downwards, and I don't have muck about with text selection.
The only time I do it is when the the columns are very wide in paragraph text and flowing from one line to the next is difficult. Sometimes increasing font size so less words fit in a column accomplish the same thing, though.
I am a selector, partly by habit/something to do, and partly to track position, especially in wider formats. Newspapers are in columns for a reason! On one site I frequent, it took me a minute to figure out why I kept going to random other websites. I was keeping the mouse out of the way on the (rather large) margins, and apparently the full screen border ad was clickable anywhere that wasn't the center content column or navigation. Just blank space down the page, but I'd click it to select rows of text, and get carted off to the ad website. I suppose that's one way to monetize a strange habit...
I was once developing a message board. It had a threaded message model and a high resolution of notifications, so when entering a thread with multiple new messages, the new messages where all highlighted with a different background color.
I implemented a JS feature where double click on a message body would send mark-as-read to the server via AJAX and remove the background color. When the feature entered testing, almost all the testers opposed it, as their behaviour with double clicking to select words or paragraphs they were reading was affected.
I don't do it habitually, but it's invaluable for all those web pages where the author thought blinking yellow text on a magenta background was neat...
[Not just myspace and old geocities sites...I run into this sort of thing all too often, even on "real" (modern, corporate, well-funded, etc) websites. Sometimes it's just that the site designer seemed to be going for some sort of artistic/funky look, but in other cases the site looks fine in ie6 but becomes unreadable in FF or chrome... >< ]
For long articles, or content I really want to digest, I copy the text into a text file in a directory in my home space (with original URL and under git control). When I get to it, I delete the lines I've read, or add notes to follow up with more research or comments. This is all under automated git commits, so I can track my reading backlog at any point in time, and can go back to an article 6 months ago that I may have "deleted" simply by searching my automated commits.
I've watched people who do this (highlighting text and moving the cursor around while reading) and it bugs the heck out of me.
I wonder if there's some kind of app to be made for these people, so that text moves around or changes color when their eyes track toward the text. (This would be horrible, to my taste, but you never know)
>I wonder if there's some kind of app to be made for these people, so that text moves around or changes color when their eyes track toward the text.
I really don't think that would help. For me the highlighting is a lot like tracing along text with your finger as you read on a printed page; it gives my eye a visual cue where I'm trying to track.
The issue is that I can read text faster than my eyes can track without wandering slightly and losing my position in the text, so simply tracking where my eyes are looking wouldn't do anything to mitigate that. It'd just end up highlighting where my tracking gets off anyway.
I worked for a guy who would sit there selecting bits of text on and off while showing me some web page. I wanted to grab the mouse, wrench it from his computer and stomp on it. If it's the kind of thing that floats your boat, fine, to each his own, but don't make other people watch.
Well, it's a nervous habit, so we'd just have to replace it with a different habit. I would probably bite my nails or scratch at invisible zits, or something equally horrible. So it's nice to have the trackpad to contain your nervous twitching.
In the days before mouse wheels, I always used selecting to scroll: If you move the mouse downwards while selecting, you'll start to scroll. This was nice until mouse wheels were invented.
Nowadays I often still click the middle mouse button to enter a scroll mode where there's a cursor with arrows on the screen. Moving it scrolls. Unfortunately this feature was removed in Visual Studio 2010, but an extension brings it back.
I think I do it more with black on white. I find it difficult to focus reading from a large bright screen.
I do find I end up not bothering to read a lot of articles I'd like to online, end up either bookmarking and ignoring, or just skimming over. Think it's because reading long articles in a particular layout is a chore. A layout browser extension might help, I should give it a try.
I do this, and another "silly" thing I do is when I copy something to the clipboard, I often hit cmd-c three or four times quickly. I don't remember why or when I picked up this habit. I imagine maybe at some point I had a system or program that didn't always register the copy the first time? Or maybe it's just completely random. But I don't even notice I'm doing it until someone points it out and asks me about it.
I do this cause I just like to interact with the graphics. Especially if it's a Mac and you have all those nice quartz effects like when you highlight, then click and drag so that the text is floating above some other part of the screen, disembodied from the article.
I pause to think a lot when I read, so this is just sort of fidgeting while my mind thinks about something, I suppose.
My God. I always thought I'm just one of those few who do it, be for a reason or without a reason - I just keep on selecting text while reading. And that's why - I ABSOLUTELY HATE those overly smart websites which on any random selection show a 'search/definition/wikipedia' buttons just below my mouse, and on the next select I accidentally press that stupid button!
I don't think I would use a browser plugin; selecting with the mouse is completely satisfying for whatever reason I do it.
I think it's a way for me to feel connected with the text, too. reading a book, I either trace with my finger or a piece of paper I slide down the page (not word-for-word, but by sentences and paragraphs).
I don't do it all the time, but when I do it's usually to increase contrast, or to mark my place in long text that I'll need to come back to.
I also do it to find the mouse cursor. The text cursor is thin and not always easy to find amongst a large wall of text, so I'll click and start dragging and look to where the page is highlighted in order to find it.
The obvious reason that people do this is because of wider and wider screens. Some web pages or applications still show text that fills the width of windows. If you have to turn your head back and forth, then you are much more likely to lose your line on a large block of text. It's much easier to pick out the next line with a line marker.
I'm always surprised people actually use the web browser in full screen. I usually divide my (23" 16:9 2048x1152) screen in at least two, sometimes three "panes".
This is a lot easier to do when using a tiling window manager -- but I hardly ever use the entire screen for the browser.
Still, even with just half the screen -- the browser pane is roughly equivalent to an A4 page -- way too wide for a single column of text -- so on poorly designed pages I frequently end up resizing the window to get a usable line width.
Coincidentally, I know of a new web service (http://amazd.com) that lets you record your highlights as you're reading an article (in the most natural way I could imagine) so you can save the parts that were insightful. That's the only reason I usually highlight text when reading these days.
Based on what people are saying here, I think there are a lot of different styles.
For instance I have a friend who frantically selects and reselects small portions of the text the whole time. I on the other hand just highlight a line and hold shift then down arrow at the end of each line I know exactly which line is next to be read.
I generally use the keyboard to do everything it can on the computer, including to navigate long articles. I use the arrow keys to keep whatever I'm reading near the top of the page. In fact, if there were an easy way to keyboard-navigate the entire internet, short of scrolling around with the arrow keys, I'd never touch my mouse.
I used to select text much more than I do now. When I was taking the Series 7 exam, I was selecting so much text and clicking as I did so, that the exam software froze (I was about 75% done with the test). Luckily the system reboot didn't result in any data loss- I'm not sure who was happier, the test proctor or me ;).
In an HCI class I took over 10 years ago at university I did an eye gaze study where I was the observee. The professor noticed that I selected text as I went along to help focus on where I was reading.
Good to know that there are others like me out there. I wonder if there are any practical implications for this?
The top story on HN is about how Gmail only includes the highlighted section of an email in the reply. This is the bane of my life for this reason! Highlight a paragraph to read it, hit reply, and only that paragraph is included in the response. Most unintentionally annoying feature ever.
The Evelyn Wood speed reading system recommends using your finger on a page to trace lines of text. When reading long passages on the computer, I achieve the same goal by highlighting. I generally only do this when reading longer content: never when reading comments on HN.
I just do it as habit. It's hard to pick the category from those above. It's probably a combination of "to track my reading position" and "to increase text contrast" but I don't consciously set out to do either of those. It's really just a harmless habit.
But I stopped selecting text right after... perhaps I began using a WebKit based browser. Sometimes, text selection in WebKit based browsers looks ugly and weird compared with that in Firefox, however, these browsers are just damned fast.
I never even realized I did this until my wife asked me what the heck I was doing one day. I'm still not sure why I'm highlighting all the time, but sometimes it is to keep my place when I scroll the page. Other times it is completely subconscious.
I was shocked to find out after my Google interview that you can see your collaborator selecting text in Google Apps. I was nervously selecting wafts of text constantly throughout the whole thing. I never heard from them afterwards :/
I never thought about highlighting text to increase contrast. Is there some way to change the default selection text color and background color? I would love to make the selection background color black to really max out the contrast.
Restless fingers. The other people in my office must think that I'm playing games all day, considering that the uninterrupted rapid-fire stream of clicks I produce when my hand is on the mouse is indistinguishable from playing an FPS.
I picked placeholder but I also just randomly select as I go along sometimes with no reason at all. So I kind of track my position but not really because I can track it fine without it but do it sometimes randomly anyway.
I'm a heavy trackpad user, I'll scroll the window to the text I'm reading. Even if I'm half way through the page, I'll scroll the next paragraph to the top of the window. That's how I "record" my reading position.
I do it all the time. Also, when using Safari, I often pinch in and out while reading. The rendering gets blurry until I lift the fingers, and the moment the text is crisp again, I feel certain satisfaction.
I have on occasion, just when the text is one giant wall, I start having a hard time finding the next line without re-reading the line I just read. If I highlight the previous line I know not to read it.
I attribute it to my ADD as well, and I have no real reason why I do it. I'm never actually selecting much either, and just random select things around the page as I'm reading, not even what I'm reading.
HackerNews is the only place I've ever heard of this happening :) In the "wild", I've never witnessed it once, so I'm actually curious what it means. Do you select the entire block of text you are in the process of reading? Do you drag your mouse cursor along as you read? Isn't this horribly frustrating most of the time with all bad style sheets and ad overlays and embedded ads, etc, on most big news sites?