Use the Web for Communication

Original title: It’s Time to Back Down
April 7, 1999

I FIND MYSELF having to constantly explain myself to people. And not being able to. Lots of people do not understand how I can meet a guy in Houston over the Net and challenge him to a racing game, how I can chat with my father in Tanzania in real-time (and it doesn’t cost more than a local call!), and how I can handle around six hundred e-mails every day in my inbox. It’s a new way of life, a new way of working, and it’s creating huge knowledge gaps.

The World Wide Web is in its infancy. We still have to figure out how to use the Net to best serve our intentions. And we have to find a way to make new Internet users feel welcome. If new users are scared away, the evolution of the Net will slow down. Those of us who hooked up to the Net quite early have already ascertained a web competence with which we can navigate towards information faster and filter information in a breeze. But some people would have a seizure if the sound for “You’ve got mail” played sixty times per hour. It’s futile to believe that the development of home pages can continue in the mind-boggling rate it has been going over the past year. Animations, dynamic pop-up menus, a multitude of plug-ins and huge imagemaps are creating masterpieces of confusion for new users. It’s time to back down.

“Never have so few ignored so many”

The World Wide Web can no longer be about visual effects. Few are impressed and those that are quickly move on to view special effects on other sites. It’s now about communicating with, and listening to… [big drum-roll]… users. It’s about readability, usability, and findability. The Net has provided an immensely valuable feature – it is called feedback. Never before has it been so easy to allow users/customers/partners to provide feedback and let companies know what they want, think, believe and feel. Never before have so many companies and web sites failed so devastatingly at performing this simple task. Never before have so few ignored so many.

The maturity of the Net is low, and it is low both within the user segment and the content provider segment. More and more companies are, however, realizing the importance of usability engineers, information architects and content managers who can step in and create web sites that mature with the users. Personnel must be able to step in real-time and provide users with content they desire. Real-time 24-hour transmission is what the Net is about; there are no commercial breaks or test signals. It’s all there all the time. Web sites shall be brochures no more, they shall be means for communication. The web site is a place for listening to demands. This is a first step towards determining how we can use the Internet in the future. Today, you see, nobody knows where this ship is headed.

Is the answer to the troubles of the web out there? Was the Melissa virus named after a stripper in Florida? Will I ever get through my e-mail? Is Bill Gates really a woman? Tune in to WebWorries every fortnight for updates on web happenings.

Per Axbom

Per Axbom

@axbom

Per Axbom is a Swedish communication theorist born in Liberia. For two decades he has educated digital professionals and helped organizations with digital usability and accessibility. Per makes tech safe and compassionate through reflective reasoning, human-considerate design, coaching and teaching. You can hear his voice on UX Podcast.

Digital compassion book cover Per's recent handbook on managing ethics in tech, Digital compassion, is available to order from Amazon in Kindle format. Send an e-mail to Per for more options.

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