May 22, 2018

How the Web Reinforces My Worst Tendencies…And How You Can Too

I’m impatient. Just ask my family. I hate to waste time — so much so that I obsessively shave minutes from almost everything I do. And then I multi-task. As I back the car out of the garage I am buckling my seat belt, hitting the garage door opener, and turning on my headlights. I never do those things before backing the car out, only during.

So then comes the web. Whereas before, when I wanted to know something I had to wait — now I don’t. No matter where I am I can look things up. Out comes the smartphone or the tablet, and a simple search later I’ve got the information I wanted. This has not helped my impatience — if anything, it has exacerbated it. I have even less patience than before. In fact, I have so little left that I am motivated to tell you how you, too, can stop wasting my time.

Although you may have seen much of this web advice before, after looking at a lot of library web sites, it bears repeating. Believe me on that one.

  • Don’t bury the lead. The classic journalistic admonition goes double on the web. Don’t make your web users hunt for the most valuable tidbits — make them obvious and upfront.
  • Be succinct. Every word on a web page is damage. As William Zinsser puts it in his awesome book On Writing Well, “Be grateful for everything you can throw away.” It has been demonstrated time and again that people don’t read web sites, they scan them. Make every word count.
  • Know what I want. That’s right, it’s your job to know what I am coming to your web site to accomplish and you had better give it to me. Also, I don’t care how your library is organized, I think in tasks: I need to find a book, renew a book, etc.
  • Give it to me quick. Don’t make me hunt for it, and don’t make me click down through several levels. By then I’ve likely lost my way and will have given up.

If you follow the above advice you will likely have satisfied web users. And you will have unwittingly made my impatience that much worse. My family thanks you.


Photo by Crispin Semmens, Creative Commons AttributionShare-Alike 2.0 Generic License

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.