Monday, November 20, 2006

passive web users vs comment posters

Jakob Nielsen sends a FREE Alertbox to subscribers. I strongly urge you to sign up for it, and to check out his entire list of articles. His Alertbox updates contain extremely valuable and practical tips on web usability and content writing.

The latest one arrived in my Gmail inbox today: "Digital Divide: The Three Stages".

Nielsen should have used "3" instead of "Three". This usability error is from a guy who teaches a lot about micro-content writing. Proof that none of us are perfect. Why do I say "3" instead of "Three"? Because "3" has faster recognition as users engage in high speed skimming and scanning.

I keep pounding on this very vital point: users almost never read your precious little blog or nifty web site in a slow, relaxed, leisurely manner. Users are multi-tasking, distracted, impatient, in a hurry, and only looking for immediately relevant or entertaining content.

The only person who reads slowly. Every. Word. In. Sequence. Is. Your. Mom. (sometimes)

Moving on, look at what Nielsen says about how the vast majority of web users (and blog visitors) do not contribute content, i.e. don't post any comments anywhere. Also please notice how marketing guys trick passive users.

"Some users remain at the mercy of other people's decisions". Bleh.

"...the user's attention can be sold off like sheep to the slaughter". Double bleh.


Participation inequality is one exponent of the empowerment divide that has held constant throughout all the years of Internet growth: in social networks and community systems, about 90% of users don't contribute, 9% contribute sporadically, and a tiny minority of 1% accounts for most contributions.

In researching how people use search engines for my seminar on fundamental guidelines for Web usability, we've found that many users don't know how to use search to truly master the Web.

People don't understand advanced search features, they rarely employ query reformulation, and many uncritically select the first search results. Also, many users don't understand how search engines prioritize their listings, and some users don't even know that the euphemistic label "sponsored links" refers to paid advertisements. (For more info, see Consumer Reports' study of what users know about search ads.)

Because they lack the initiative and skill to take matters into their own hands, some users remain at the mercy of other people's decisions.

For example, people sometimes accept the default home page chosen by their computer vendor or ISP rather than select one that's better suited to their needs. Again, this means that the user's attention can be sold off like a sheep to slaughter, as indicated by deals where search engines pay computer vendors millions of dollars to be the default setting on shipping PCs.

Similarly, some users limit themselves to "free" Web applications that display ads. What such users don't realize is that better applications (more appropriate, powerful, and liberating ones) are available at a cost that's far less than the value of the time they waste trying not to look at the ads.


Nielsen fails to mention how better applications exist in open source and don't cost anything. Why say that the options are Free Web Apps with ads...or...Priced Web Apps?

There are also Free Web Apps and Desktop Apps WITHOUT ads. Many open source web applications are ad free, though there may be a low key link to the source, which I don't consider an "advertisement" at all. I consider it a reference or source link.

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