Is Providing Access Enough?


General Culture

Rob linked to this piece written by Jonathan Rosenberg of Google.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental problem, though. While providing access to information is an important step, I think it’s simply wrong to think that it’s the most important step. When Rosenberg writes that “When data is abundant, intelligence will win” it sounds good, but it isn’t necessarily true. Intelligence will only win if (and only if!) it is able to process the data. Intelligence that is unable to process data is not even intelligence.

We’re already seeing indications that reading an article on the web is not comparable to reading a book or newspaper: “When Jakob Nielsen, a Web researcher, tested 232 people for how they read pages on screens, a curious disposition emerged. […] Nielsen has gauged user habits and screen experiences for years, charting people’s online navigations and aims, using eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests. In this study, he found that people took in hundreds of pages ‘in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.’ It looks like a capital letter F. At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. ‘F for fast,’ Nielsen wrote in a column. ‘That’s how users read your precious content.’” (story)

Google seems to be aware of this (albeit not of the implications) to some extent: “The user experience needs to be fast, easy, and rich - ‘like reading a magazine,’” Rosenberg writes. The problem with this is that learning sometimes is not fast and not easy; and magazines typically do not provide the kind of contents that you find in books. This is a fundamental problem.

With services like Twitter now becoming ever more popular, it’s not inconceivable that a large number of people will develop some sort of online attention deficit disorder (OADD): Anything that does not come in small, easily digestible bits - ideally presented with tons of images - will simply be ignored.

This development can already be seen on TV where politicians’ statements that are longer than 30 seconds are mostly ignored (and the politicians who use them are widely ridiculed).

I hope that people at Google are spending time thinking about that, too.

Update: Found a somewhat related good post here. And I can’t get away from this question: If everybody is going to Twitter who is actually going to write the texts they Twitterites can Twitter about?