Post Read Times and Jekyll

Thursday | May 22 2014 | 09:41 AM


It’s safe to say that the folks at Medium have done a superb job designing their platform and many people across the Internet are looking to borrow bits and pieces of their look. Aside from the Parallax-esque effect on their hero image, the other small detail that caught my attention was their reading length estimates on every article. In the future it could make way for a feature where you put in how much time you have and they’ll curate a single article or a list of articles worth reading in that timeframe.

Thinking about the implementation, it didn’t seem terribly difficult to get a rough estimation based on the number of words in a post and the average number of words per minute a person can read.

The solution I came up with runs on an entire page when called. It looks for elements where class="post". It then looks for an element inside of that one where class="post-content". After computing a reading estimation on the content it then looks for an element inside the post element where class="post-length". I purposely set it up this way so that I could execute the same script on both my blog’s index pages and any individual pages.

Example HTML:

<div class="post">
    <h3>Post's Title</h3>
    <div class="post-length">
        By YOUR-NAME-HERE
    </div>
    <div class="post-content">
        Write your blog post here...
    </div>
</div>

I chose not to execute this function until after the page has loaded because I wanted the page to load faster rather than display the reading time sooner, so as a placeholder I just author the article to myself in the post-length section. This also works well as a fallback if the user has opted to disable JavaScript.

footer.html

{% if page.active == 'blog' %}
    <script src="/js/reading-time.js"></script>
{% endif %}

Because I use Jekyll I setup a variable that I could set for anything that is a blog post or a series of blog posts (I didn’t want this function attempting to execute on every page). If you’d like understand how it’s setup check out the source code for this site.

reading-time.js

function writeReadingTime() {
    var wordsPerMinute = 180;

    var posts = document.getElementsByClassName('post');
    for(var i = 0; i < posts.length; i++) {
        var postContent = posts[i].getElementsByClassName('post-content')[0].innerHTML;

        // Remove HTML tags from post to an appropriate reading time
        var noHTML = postContent.replace(/(<([^>]+)>)/ig,"");
        var numberOfWords = noHTML.split(" ").length;
        var timeInMinutes = numberOfWords / wordsPerMinute;
        timeInMinutes = Math.ceil(timeInMinutes);

        if(timeInMinutes == 1)
            posts[i].getElementsByClassName('post-length')[0].innerHTML = '<i class="fa fa-clock-o"></i> 1 minute in length';
        else
            posts[i].getElementsByClassName('post-length')[0].innerHTML = '<i class="fa fa-clock-o"></i> ' + timeInMinutes + ' minutes in length';
    }
}

For this page’s icon set I went with Font Awesome. If you’re using something different just correct lines 15 and 17 in the above function to what you need them to be.

Criticisms

If I were to improve upon this initial implementation I would refine the estimation algorithm. Using jQuery it looks like I could efficiently remove the <code> snippets so that they weren’t factoring into the reading time as someone will take longer reading through code snippets. Also, I’d probably abandon JavaScript all together for this and find a way to write it up with Liquid so that it wouldn’t have to be computed by the user’s device.

Hopefully this article took you exactly 4 minutes to read.

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