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The Jedi Master Speaks

Principle Number 3

Short Attention Spans

em PortuguÍs nell'Italiano

Attention spans ARE short on the Net. Anyone who has tried to maintain a site knows the truth of this axiom. The typical Web surfer, having stumbled across your offering, will stay a few minutes...if he or she finds it IMMEDIATELY interesting...and then wander off, never to return. Indeed, if your home page is loaded with graphics and takes a long time to load, they might not even wait to see if it MIGHT be interesting. Even if you have a "grabber," like that picture of my wife, Gypsy, in a bikini, which decorates the home page of her fitness site, The Gift of Youth, you may not get them to stay until the page completely downloads. Our traffic statistics show that about 20% of the visitors to this site stay only long enough for the image to download. We assume that many of these visitors are young men who, when they find out that Gypsy is old enough to be their mother or grandmother, rush off to greener pastures.

Even if you attract viewers long enough to visit more than the home page of your site, chances are that they will spend, at most, a few tens of minutes investigating it. The nature of the Web encourages this type of behavior. There is so much to see, so little time to see it.

The offline media try very hard to attract repeat readers. A newspaper or magazine, for example, depends heavily on reader loyalty, to boost circulation and thus, advertising revenue, and to maintain a steadily increasing base of support. This is mostly wishful thinking for the Web, at least at this stage of development. A few simple statistics will illustrate why. When The Dream Machine, our host domain, published it's very first Web page, column #1 of How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?, co-authored by yours truly...originally under the pseudonym, Bruce Madison...and Gypsy, in january of 1995, there were about 350,000 competing Web pages on the entire World Wide Web. At the time of this writing, there are probably close to TWO BILLION trying to gain the attention of Web surfers! During the same period of time, there has been an increase in Webbies as well, but the content is growing MUCH faster than the consumers of that content, probably by a factor of a hundred or so.

There are ways to counteract this tendency for visitors to wander off. If you have large amounts of money to devote to promotion, you can advertise your material heavily in the "real" world. You can give away lots of free things and information. You can add new material constantly to your site, encouraging repeat visits. You can continually re-register your offerings with the search engines, playing a fast-paced game of search engine lotto with others so inclined. If you have a large number of separate pages, you can insure that there are copious cross-links from one to another, to encourage people to stay around longer. This very article is heavily larded with such attempts. And, you can SPAM.

That last method, referring to sending large amounts of unsolicited email to people whose email addresses somehow come into your possession...and named after a much maligned but popular meat product introduced during World War II for lend-lease and soldier feeding...is fraught with difficulty. For one thing, so many get-rich-quick schemes...involving chain letters or their relatives, the "Multi Level Marketing" scams...have used this methodology to peddle their wares, that SPAM has taken on a very negative aura on the Internet.

Secondly, a small band of dedicated cyber-terrorists has taken it upon themselves to use intimidation and coercion to force Internet Service Providers to use draconian methods to discourage ANY email solicitation of any type. We have covered this ominous phenomenon in several articles in the How Can You Laugh... series, notably Spam, Punishing the Victims! and Punishing the victims! - II and most recently, The Thought Gestapo Is At It Again!. Read these if you're interested in that subject.

The good news is that each of these methods has some merit and works...at least for a while. But, as many Big Time Spenders have discovered, there is no magic wand for dealing with the phenomenon of short attention spans. No matter WHAT you do, you have to keep doing it, day in and day out. But, even then, if your content is not compelling, if the stuff you give away does not have lasting value, sooner or later your fans will abandon you for the latest-and-greatest. So it goes in show biz...

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