Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Thirty-Second Web User

You could get the impression that web users are starting to live their whole lives online by looking at the recent trends in virtual worlds, social web sites, and blogs, but at the same time, there is a larger trend going in the opposite direction. As I recently wrote elsewhere, the next big trend in the web will be a move to sites that let people get answers and get things done quickly, in a minute or less. Advertisers and sites resist this trend at their peril; people who are pressed for time will leave a site that takes two minutes if they can get the same answer elsewhere in one minute.

According to one expert who actually watches the way people use web sites, web users are measurably more quick and ruthless than they were last year, often having a very specific goal in mind and either achieving it or giving up in a very short time.

Web users who want quick results are “getting very frustrated with all the extras” that advertisers are putting on web pages, says the BBC summary of the report.

This is not entirely a new trend. suffered huge losses around six years ago when pop-up advertisements slowed down its pages and most users left. The site’s performance is much better in recent years, but users have not flocked back to it. Everyone remembers too how quickly Google came to dominate Internet search with its uncluttered, plain-white site design and how Amazon has never been seriously challenged by online retailers with more conventionally cluttered page designs. Web designers for years have told us how important it is to get people quickly and easily from the advertised start page of a web site to a completed transaction. But users are getting quicker; more often, a web session is one search, one answer, and that’s the end of it.

You would expect this when people use the web as a dictionary, but it is applying to the entertainment side of the web experience too. This morning, I sat down at my computer, went to YouTube, watched one video (the new song by Weezer), then got up and went back to my household chores. And I know I’m not the only one doing this. When you’re in a hurry, a four-minute video beats watching a half-hour television show by 26 minutes. If people can cut back their entertainment this way, I believe they can be quick about almost everything they do on the web.