High-End Users in a Low-End Web.

14 Nov 2010 - 10:03pm
5 years ago
13 replies
2165 reads

I am working on an article for the User Experience Magazine and wanted to reach out a bit, to get some feedback from the community about a statement I wanna put out (Web sites became useful for less reasons).

Basically, in the last couple of years, the web got segmented and organized. Users developed certain habits, desires and perceptions after more than 10 years of everyday web usage. They managed the transition from being an average user to being an high-end user. Segmentation took place in; what services people like, what web sites they visit most and when they access specific data chunks – just to mention a few.

At the same time, companies like Apple, Facebook and Google – kinda organized, predefined and structured the web from scratch. For many, Facebook for example is not just a web site, it's a replacement for the web. Smartphones in combination with app-like services prooved to people that the web is not just about browser centric computing. It's the backend that matters.

Within this context; Do you think the concept of a traditional web site is still competitive, relevant?

Thanks for sharing some thoughts.



14 Nov 2010 - 10:55pm
Jared M. Spool

I don't think any of your suppositions are true. I certainly don't see any evidence of it.

Most people on the planet don't use facebook in any regular fashion. Most don't have smartphones. Most can't tell you the difference between one web site or another.

For the most part, in our observations, basic web behavior hasn't changed dramatically in the last 5 years. It's still basically the same.

If anything, you're referring to a digital divide that is, to some extent growing a little wider. But, for the most part, you're just referring to the bleeding edge use cases which, while popular amongst our community, is quite rare once you step a few paces away.


14 Nov 2010 - 11:50pm

Thanks Jared for sharing your thoughts. The reason why I came up with those questions in the first place was, that I had many clients who asked me if it's still necessary to maintain an expensive web site when there is Facebook out there. Or lots of my clients where concerned about the ever increasing number of customers now accessing their site via tablets and smartphones and that they had to think of alternative web experiences that better fits those new devices. >> This was all travel industry, so...

I looked a little bit deeper into some numbers from the travel and hospitality industry (web usage, behavior and stuff). There was this one from Google which stated: Despite receiving almost 10% of search clicks, ski resort sites (Site type "DMO – Destination Marketing Organization") capture only a tiny fraction of research time (while people planning a ski vacation online). To be precise: 0.4%. That's not a lot, which makes me think – why spent so much money in developing all those sites? The document basically says: DMO sites can't engage their users anymore? Well, what is it, that can engage them if not those web sites?

There is another study coming out soon, with some interesting numbers about travel planning in Russia: Basically; In 2010 only 41% of online users consulted official travel web sites. In 2002 it was 87%. Most of the people today visit social media powered travel hubs and ignore official DMO sites.

Dave Martin from NIELSEN said just recently in an interview: “Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40 percent of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities – social networking, playing games and emailing leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie,”.

So, I am not saying all web sites in general lost some gravity and influence. Not for every task, traditional web sites became useless. – I am saying that for some companies, organizations and even whole industries AND for some tasks/activities (eg Travel Planning, ...) – specific types of web sites are becoming obsolete – more or less, the user tends to ignore them.

Kind Regards,

15 Nov 2010 - 9:43am
Jared M. Spool

I think the big problem is the vast majority of DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) sites are crap. (See Sturgeon's Law.)

They are rarely designed for the true needs of the visitors, often seen as an electronic brochure that demands graphics, animation, and (god forbid) sound. Most won't load on mobile devices effectively and make it hard to find the basics, like hours available, travel details, restaurant menus, pricing, and information for dealing with special needs (such as allergies or alternative rooming configurations).

Social networks (both formal, such as Facebook and informal, such as Tripadvisor) become valued resources since the DMO sites don't have the questions.

Take Disneyworld's web site. If you try to find out if the parks are approriate for a 3 year-old kid, you'll find nothing in the main site. However, Disney has put together a social Q&A sub-site called the "Mom's Panel" where the answer is easily found. This works, as long as you know the sub-site exists. Otherwise your question goes unanswered.

I'd be careful with statements like "most people ignore official DMO sites" because it doesn't reflect what happens when you make a solid investment into what people really want.

Hope that helps,


15 Nov 2010 - 12:05am

I think the reality is somewhere in the middle between Jared and Marc's description.

The reality is more contextual to the nature, domain and target demographic of the website one is designing.

I agree web behavior has not significantly changed, however in the last 5 years the cumulative demographic of web users has changed especially in emerging countries due to increased internet penetration and young population. These users are pushing website owners to review the stance of their solution.

Websites like Facebook and Google have redefined 'connect' and search solutions. However they work because of a specific context they address. A context blind copy paste of their functionality more often than not fail to create impact or adoption.

Thus Oliver it is probably recommended to make your hypothesis more context sensitive. Core heuristics of usability, haven't changed in the last many years, however how they get applied on a tangible solution is a quotient of moving parts.

Sushmita Munshi HeathWallace Hong Kong

15 Nov 2010 - 1:04pm

Thanks Sushmita for the reply. I heard you saying that the user behavior didn't change a lot in the last couple of years. So did Jared. I am pretty sure it did and I came to that conclusion not just by tracking my own user habits and patterns, but also, observing others (friends, colleagues, looking people over shoulders, etc.).

Now, speaking of just the people who are able to plan a trip online (own a computer, web access, etc.) and speaking of the way people make use of the WEB in general:

You can say it changed a lot. Even if you look at how people now use a browser and the tab functionality. There is a quite insightful study from Weinreich and Obendorf out there. These days you can book a flight on Facebook, instead of leaving that "closed system" and booking your flight the traditional way. Or, if people do their check-ins while they were waiting for the sky train that takes them to the airport, instead of using the desktop computer at home. You might argue, that they request the same data and fulfill the same task, but when, how and where they do it changed. Users also recognized that some data requests make more sense, when they use it in the right context; location based and time sensitive. Referring to the data above, that social media, video and gaming is now the major piece of that pie of web traffic, this underlines the statement as well, that lots of people these days conduct web services, sites, data for doing other things they did probably 5 years ago. I mean, spending 6 hours an average per month on Facebook and other social networks, viewing videos 3 to 4 hours and commenting on everything that is "commentable" – is a major change in user behavior – in general. That popped up in the last 2 to 3 years. This doesn't reflect user behavior on web sites – that's a change in the way we use the thing called "WEB" in general. This is what I am interesting in. How people nowadays link different domains and services together, how they use different data sources, when they access those data flows, what additional tools and devices they use and so on. All this affects how we accomplish new and familiar activities online.

Kind Regards, Marc-Oliver


14 Nov 2010 - 11:05pm
Marcus Blankenship

I think that companies that organize the web, like Google and Facebook, depend upon traditional websites being valuable (competitive). After all, what good are "search results" if the items they point to are low value propositions?

Facebook also relies on traditional websites adding value, as it has become an aggregator of content organized by the people who value it.

So, my answer is "yes".

Just a thought, Marcus

15 Nov 2010 - 1:49pm
Neicole Crepeau

This gets debated a lot in the social media community. I don't think that websites are irrelevant. You are right about a lot of the changes that have taken place re: how people use the web. I don't think, however, that for most people Facebook is a replacement for the web. It may be an entry point to sites, and Facebook and other social networking sites are definitely occupying more of users' online time. However, clicking on posts that appear in our feeds usually takes us to a website. In that way, these social networks act more like portals. FB Like buttons on websites are pulling content outside Facebook into the site, but the website is still critical.

For businesses, there are other big reasons to maintain sites. For one thing, Facebook is extremely stingy with its data. You don't have any access outside of Facebook to the customers who have Liked your Facebook page. Even with a Like button on your website, you don't have data on the Facebook users who clicked it. So, you can't put the names in your CRM and don't have a way to message those people except anonymously through Facebook. That's a big downside for businessess and a good reason to drive traffic to your own site and give users a reason to enter an email address there.

 Also, Facebook can (and has) closed pages for violations of its somewhat odd rules and sometimes for unknown reasons. Another big risk if you've put all your eggs in the Facebook basket.

I think the better premise is that websites need to change. You need to realize that your site is going to be accessed differently, that the pages are going to perhaps act in a more standalone fashion, that people are going to be moving from social networks to individual pages with specific needs and questions in mind, and then back to the social networks. (And let's not forget mobile.) Also, the websites themselves need to be structured to support and encourage social interactions. (I just did a presentation on this, in fact.) It's not that websites are dead, but that they need to change substantially to accomodate the new ways they are being used in the social world.

I have a lot of thoughts on this. Love to talk with you more about it, Jared! When are you back in Seattle? Haven't seen you in ages!!

16 Nov 2010 - 4:50am

Not to be too techno-centric about it, but I think that this could be understood in terms of information.

Clearly conventional web sites provide the scope for very specific, rich nodes of information. That some websites are better than others is a product of this complexity and another way in which businesses can distinguish themselves from one another. A google local listing, for instance, provides enough complexity for users to evaluate certain differences between businesses. However for most decisions it is not enough. Until portals are complex enough to accomodate the online world in full resolution local, specific nodes of data (websites) will still be necessary.

I think the trajectory is for more global horizontal data aggregators to capture and support this complexity. This will simply be faster than the existing large portals trying to capture all the data. Businesses will pull these schemas and services together in a more or less connected way, and the sum of this mash-up will be more or less adequate to support the complexity of that business. If they still have something left to say then they have to support that themselves either in a website or other custom assets.

This is a bit like the dream of the semantic web, data becomes more organised, more efficent, less noisy. But this semantic web is facilitated by global online aggregators rather than by the semantic web as the open platform we all dreamed off.

16 Nov 2010 - 11:33am

Wired already wrote that article (The Web Is Dead http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1 ).  I don't agree with it. I would rather use a mobile web site on my iphone than: find an 'app', download and install it (if it is under 10MB or I am on wifi), find out it has an 'update' then go to the App Store, log in, then find out Apple has changed their terms and conditions and I have to agree with it, attempt to read a 52 page legal document (yeah right), press Agree, then get informed I have to  go back and do the update all over again. Apple is great at user experience.

I don't know what a high-end user is, but I agree with Jared that most people aren't.  Most people find stuff that works for them and stick with it.

16 Nov 2010 - 1:13pm
Neicole Crepeau

And according to a recent study by Adobe, you are not alone pkdaly. http://www.adweek.com/aw/content_display/news/digital/e3i5094e406e415c2805e6963d6582ec83e 

25 Nov 2010 - 2:36pm

Hi Nicole, quite funny that ADOBE conducted that research study. It's no surprise for me, that this study pushes browsers instead of standalone apps. The Adobe product FLASH needs browsers to survive. With every study – you just stop, when the numbers are right and underline your statement.

25 Nov 2010 - 2:44pm

Harvard Business Review just recently released an article were they wrote about shopping behavior online. I just wanted to refer to a specific key finding that kinda relates to my statement above: [....] fewer than one in 10 shoppers visited manufacturersʼ sites, where most companies were still putting the bulk of their digital spend. They pretty much also skipped Google, and went straight to Amazon and other retail sites, with their rich and expanding array of product-comparison information, consumer and expert ratings, and visuals. Read the article here:

Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places

by David C. Edelman // http://hbr.org/2010/12/branding-in-the-digital-age/ar/pr
Kind Regards,
26 Nov 2010 - 8:05am
Petteri Miinalainen

thanks for the link.

Petteri On Nov 25, 2010, at 10:26 PM, Marc-Oliver wrote:

> Harvard Business Review just recently released an article were they wrote about shopping behavior online. I just wanted to refer to a specific key finding that kinda relates to my statement above: [....] fewer than one in 10 shoppers visited manufacturersʼ sites, where most companies were still putting the bulk of their digital spend. They pretty much also skipped Google, and went straight to Amazon and other retail sites, with their rich and expanding array of product-comparison information, consumer and expert ratings, and visuals. Read the article here: > > -------- BRANDING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: YOU’RE SPENDING YOUR MONEY IN ALL THE > WRONG PLACES -------------------------------------------------------- > > by David C. Edelman [1] // http://hbr.org/2010/12/branding-in-the-digital-age/ar/pr Kind Regards, Marc-Oliver > (((

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