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If This Column Were a Web Site, This Would Be Its Home Page

Jakob Nielsen
Web guru Jakob Nielsen (Leslie Walker -- The Washington Post)

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, June 1, 2006

Design guru:

· Web better, but still like ants on LSD .

My take:

· New book helps explain screensucking .

Okay, newspaper fans, that was the end of my column as Web site. I allotted myself only 20 words, because that's all most visitors read on any home page, according to Web design guru Jakob Nielsen.

Twenty words! Sheesh. I guess the next generation will popularize "Web bites" the way the baby boomers did with sound bites. Nielsen says three-quarters of visitors don't even bother scrolling down Web pages to see what's below the first screen.

There's nothing new about people info-snacking online. But Nielsen drills down more deeply into the phenomenon of hyperactive Web browsing than I've seen before in "Prioritizing Web Usability," a new book co-authored with Hoa Loranger.

Their key message is that while the Web has gotten easier to use, it still has far to go before becoming human-friendly. Partly that's because site designers don't take time to understand how people use the Web.

People spend an average of only 27 seconds on each page, mostly skimming for links and other visual clues about where to go next, Nielsen and Loranger report. People spend slightly more time on interior pages but still under a minute, even when viewing product details and lengthy articles.

Nielsen predicts site visits will continue to grow shorter, so he urges designers to abandon the "sticky site" approach of trying to keep people with more content. Instead, he says they should offer loyalty tools such as e-mail newsletters.

The good news is the Web's "success rate" has passed a crucial milestone, Nielsen and Loranger say, with more people succeeding than failing at basic tasks. That's a reversal from seven years ago, when most folks failed at anything they tried to do online.

But the bad news is designers still routinely ignore research about how people navigate the Web and drive visitors nuts by using pop-up windows and code that breaks a browser's "back" button.


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