Zach Beauvais

Selfish Web Users

Written by Zach Beauvais

May 27, 2008

The BBC reported a few days ago that:

Web users are getting more ruthless and selfish when they go online, reveals research.

The idea is that people are using the web to get things done, and don’t seem to notice that service providers want them to stick around. They even get tetchy with intrusions or ‘widgets’.

I agree, to a certain extent, with this statement – that people are impatient with adverts on sites. However, I’m not sure if I feel this article is that well informed. Yes, it is backed by Jakob Nielsen (so-called “Usability Guru”); which means it’s founded on stable research etc…

But, what’s a widget if not a short-cut to a result? An Amazon widget on a site is basically a way to buy a product without the need even to visit I don’t think it’s helpful to lump all widgets together on this one. Most widgets are functional—In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a non-functional widget is just a banner-ad.

It IS annoying when your browsing is interrupted with a flash game or advert placing itself over your text or form. It doesn’t help me make a decision, and actually puts me off that particular site. The Times Online had a long-running Land Rover ad which drove over the page, stopping me from reading. Since when is a Land Rover Discovery 3 an impulse buy?

What this article fails to notice is that users are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: use. The internet is usable now. People can think to themselves: “I’d quite like to buy an iPod, right now.” Within a minute, they can have a confirmation email and estimated delivery date in their inbox. This is using the web, and I think it’s not so much a ‘ruthless’ thing or a ‘selfish’ thing. You expect to buy what you’d like in a supermarket, and no one would call you ruthless for not setting up camp there for the afternoon. I know I like to spend as little time in Tesco as possible, and I don’t think anyone who considers me selfish or ruthless does so on account of that.

This is actually an issue of usability and confidence. People are more confident in their ability to purchase, find information, and network online. The majority of my book, electronic, and increasingly household purchases are done on I check my calendar on Google before confirming appointments, and I even check people’s statuses on Facebook to see how they are. This is confident, comfortable use. I don’t need to spend an hour on a site when I can get the info I need in my RSS reader (Vienna, it’s brilliant!), but I still want the content.

I’m also still open to relevant advertising… If I’m after an iPod, I don’t mind being shown iPod accessories, especially discounted ones. I don’t mind being recommended a new book by a previously-read author. But, I do mind being shouted at by banner-ads and I tend to ignore them.

Having worked in online marketing, I couldn’t imagine a less-useful tactic than plastering your content with splashy ads and irrelevant content. It’s not helpful or usable, and goes against the grain of how the web works. It’s an open garden, and it’s rude to litter. This does not mean we’re ruthless, we’re just getting better at keeping our spaces clear and useful.

There’s the bin, put your Flash-ads in on your way out of our park, mate.

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