Sit up! You’re on the Web!

It’s either independent discovery or suppressed memory. Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox column explains something I’ve been saying for years: that people sit up to use a website, and that changes their behaviour.

Unfortunately he’s been saying it for years too, so maybe I got it from him and then forgot.

Anyway, in Writing Style for Print vs Web he says:

I’ve spent many columns explicating the differences between the Web and television, which can be summarized as lean-forward vs. lean-back:

  • On the Web, users are engaged and want to go places and get things done. The Web is an active medium.
  • While watching TV, viewers want to be entertained. They are in relaxation mode and vegging out; they don’t want to make choices. TV is a passive medium.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have entertaining websites or informative TV shows. But it does mean that the two media’s contrasting styles require different approaches to entertainment and education.

The differences between print and the Web may not seem as strong, but to achieve optimal results, each requires a distinct content style.

The very useful article then gives examples and good advice before spruiking his $1000+ per day seminars.

Nielsen is a smart man — though he isn’t always right on everything, as some of his fans believe. Still, if you’re considering the audience’s needs (and shouldn’t you always be doing that?) he’s spot on.

Of course I’m a complete hypocrite, because some of my posts have 1000 words of straight text. Rules were made to be broken.

4 Replies to “Sit up! You’re on the Web!”

  1. Ahhh yes, the old usability “expert” with the butt-ugly, poorly-designed, difficult-to-use web site trick… Nielsen is irrelevant because he can’t even put his own teachings into practise himself.

  2. @Simon Rumble: Yeah, that’s the guy. I don’t know that he’s irrelevant, but perhaps a one-trick pony? His firm does lots of eye-tracking studies, so perhaps that’s the prism through which they look at usability generally?

    Of course, once someone reaches a certain level of fame (or notoriety), they can give up thinking any further and just say whatever comes into their head and their fans will lap it up.

    Hmmm… is that the old “tall poppies syndrome” at work? 😉

    @Speedicut: Or like that old adage about the builder having the worst house in town because he’s too busy working on everyone else’s?

    That doesn’t cut it in Neilsen’s case, though. Not at $1k per seminar attendee.

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