Add the crap

Previously, we derided an alleged “professional” Web designer who earnestly believed that political sites with online videoclips were more “interactive” than those offering “only” text and graphics. Wow. “Click the Play button to watch Stockwell Day’s press conference (RealVideo).” It’s as interactive as changing channels with your remote control. (You’ve provided a stimulus and the site gives you a response – a video stream. But that’s it. Where is the ongoing give-and-take of stimulus and response that constitutes real interactivity, like an actual human conversation or even driving a car?)

Anyway, a study of online newsreading suggests that people just love to read an article if it’s broken up into segments, the sort of thing twee milquetoast standard-bearer Michael Kinsley pooh-poohs after having used it himself (NUblog passim). A summary of the study purports:

[B]reaking up stories is viewed by many users as representative of a Web site being more “interactive.” [I]nstead of a single big block of text, break it into clickable component parts... gave the test subjects the impression of the site being more interactive. Now, most Web editors wouldn’t consider that to be an interactive trait, but what’s happening is that users are made to feel that they’re going through the content at their own, controlled pace – instead of having an entire article spoon-fed to them.

Oh, dear. When spoon-feeding a baby or a particularly recalcitrant ExtendMedia or Sapient account manager, you fill a small spoon, declare volubly that it is actually a choo-choo train, shove the spoon down the gullet, and repeat the process. Chunking an online article into segments is spoon-feeding. Providing the full text in one document is quite the opposite – something akin to a fraternity hazing ritual involving a funnel.

But the misapprehensions don’t stop there!

The perception of a news site’s interactivity quotient [sic] also is affected by “bells and whistles...” Adding things like audio or video clips, interactive databases, chat rooms, discussion forums, and “add your comment” features attached to articles adds to a site’s perceived interactivity. That seems obvious, but what’s not is that just the presence of such interactive bells and whistles changes the user’s perception of the content for the better – even when these features aren’t used much.

Of that list, the only thing remotely “interactive” is the “ ‘add your comment’ feature.” But yes, we can believe that people are deceived by interface features.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There are a number of ways to present text online. All-in-one and in chunks are two such ways. Both of them work. Let the little people (and “professional” Web designers) delude themselves into thinking their additional little clicks are more Internet-like. And God help us when a print-journalism site also has to carry videoclips to be taken seriously.

Well, God help us, but we’re halfway there already. The new advertising format at, which intrudes about as much as a tracheostomy, is summed up thus:

Theres a valuable lesson to be learned here. Glitz and flash are showy, but it is contrast that really catches the eye. The ads are flashy, the editorial content isn’t, and therefore the lines between the two are clearly drawn. There are no more distracting “Powered by” buttons stuck onto navigation bars, no search site logos attached to the tools, and no commercial links within the text of headlines and stories.

Hmm. Maybe the contrast of advertising and toolbars and noticeable backgrounds focuses the reader’s eye on the news “content.” After all, eyes certainly aren’t focused on banner ads.

Maybe it is this nearly-autonomic reaction of human visual processing that leads news-site readers to rank “interactive” pages more highly.

And speaking of contrast....

Posted on 2001-02-21