Jakob Nielsen, a usability guru I've followed and learned from since the 1990s, muses on media velocity in his latest Alertbox. The most interesting part of his post is a table in which he compares TV to Web across several dimensions.
Nielsen's main points are that web users are more empowered than TV watchers, the dimensions of choice create exponentially more options, and each user decision is made extremely quickly, with very little reading. It gets back to this:
- People don't read (much) on the web. Designers and content providers continue to vastly overestimate the amount people read.
- You've got to make your point CLEARLY and QUICKLY because the user's mouse is hovering on the back button ready to dismiss your offers as more noise than signal. We've evolved as a culture to exhibit some of the behaviors of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I believe as a result of coping with information overload and the paradox of choice.
- You've got to provide value for users. This has always been true, but it's more true now than ever.
Like Nielsen, I tend to think about web design and usability by comparing it with what I know from other media. After all, I was trained in film, TV, and print before I'd heard of the web.
And of course like all designers, I refer a great deal to my own experiences in order to understand and predict user behavior - the so-called "focus group of one." My own media consumption and interaction habits have changed dramatically over the past 5 years. I read fewer books, especially for pleasure. I don't always finish a book I start, and I'm skimming more. I spend much less time watching TV or listening to the radio, though I still do both. I spend almost all that extra time in front of the 3rd and 4th screens - the personal computer (laptop, in my case) and the mobile phone (iPhone).
Am I typical? I expect so, especially judging by the explosive rise in Internet use as described in Pew Internet Reports.
Our upcoming Firecat First Friday brownbag on December 4 features brand futurist Nancy Giordano discussing, among other important trends, the rise of the Millennials. These are folks like my son who have never known a time without the Internet and its dominance and ubiquity. I'm curious to know whether my own behaviors reflect that of pre-millennials, or whether, as an early adopter of technology, I'm more like the millennials than my age peers. I look forward to having my eyes opened wider.