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The Dream Machine --- The Imagination of the World Wide Web
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For example, as pointed out in a previous article (Short Attention Spans), the average surfer on the Web has a very short attention span and this span is getting shorter all the time.
The typical visitor who stumbles onto a site such as ours, first looks at some of the most recent material, perhaps scans the archives to see if there is anything of compelling interest there, maybe even checks out a few of the out-links, then moves on to other pastures. If what was found was really new and interesting, the surfer MIGHT return, but chances are that he or she will never visit again. There is just too much "competition for eyeballs" out there. Furthermore, the amount of content is increasing much faster than the number of viewers. When the very first page of The Dream Machine cluster of Web sites was posted online in January of 1995, there were about 350,000 competing pages of content on the Web. As this is being written, there are an estimated TWO BILLION competing with the page you are now reading. The number of pages has increased roughly 6,000 fold, while the number of surfers has increased worldwide by mo more than a factor of 100, much less if only those who understand English is included.
If the site has been found via a targeted search, the stay may be even shorter. Once what was sought was found...or not...the viewer simply moves on to other tasks, barely noticing other features of the site than the material being sought.
"Branded" sites, those that carry some notoriety because they carry a famous name (e.g. Disney or Microsoft) or have been recently touted in the offline media, may attract many first time visitors, but the novelty wears off fast in the egalitarian world of the Web. After all, any one HTML page is functionally equivalent to any other.
It is no wonder that so many sites seek to be become portals...gateways to the Internet. If you can succeed in getting someone to configure their browser so that the very first site visible upon logon is your home page, then you have a captive return audience. Yahoo! has been most successful at this strategy. But, browser makers like Netscape and Microsoft preload the master home page with a link to their own portal and they do NOT make it obvious that this can be changed...EASILY changed...and thus playing to THEIR strengths as the "first" provider. However, such "secrets" can not be hidden forever. Sooner or later, every Web user discovers the enormous number of portals available to choose from. Indeed, many sites, anticipating this development, allow you to construct your very own portal...sort of a fancy "bookmark" page...on their server. And thus portal construction reaches its climax state...each surfer having his or her OWN portal!
The sum total of all these facts quickly drives one to the conclusion that Web site developers have to stay extremely nimble. Since what is true today might not be true tomorrow, since people will only return to your site if you have multiple "attractors" there...the Web developer MUST have the shortest possible development time on new pages or features. The Webmaster must also be prepared to rapidly jettison things that are not working out, to introduce new "attractors" in their place.
Shortening the development cycle tends to encourage "let's try it and see what happens" design decisions and a lot of flaws and errors, much like rate of change of the software industry forces players like Microsoft to introduce products full of bugs, with promises of frequent updates.
Think of any Web sites, yours or anyone else's, as a work in progress...which will never really be done. The more quickly you can incorporate the latest and greatest Web buzz into your site, the more likely you are to impress your visitors...MAYBE, just MAYBE, luring them back for another look.
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