Distractions In The Digital Sphere


Distractions are all around us: television, video games, smartphones, instant messaging, Facebook. The digital variety have become particularly intriguing of late as more and more of the media we consume originates from ubiquitous digital sources that were not in existence even 5 to 10-years ago.

Unsurprisingly Web and mobile applications have become increasingly saturated with what could only be described as a growing level of information clutter. This sometimes arbitrary material we find permeating the columns of the Web sites and applications we use on a daily basis has the capacity to obscure our digital experience. Things like sponsored banners, irrelevant Google ADs, and self-promotional social media keys in many cases do little to foster meaningful interactions or bolster the credibility of the content on the Web site or application on which they reside. Instead, this material, if occupying a disproportionate amount of a user’s screen, makes it more challenging for users to navigate the real content (read content: all the important stuff people are coming to your site for in the first place) from the so-called digital fodder (all the secondary stuff for the most part that doesn’t really add anything to the user experience).

The Scourge Of Digital Clutter
A noteworthy example (screenshot)
How long did it take you to find the smartphone article on the page in the link above? Did the screen convey a sense of trust as a credible source of news and information? Would you return to this site, recommend or share this page with friends?
One can only speculate this horrendous page has been compiled by a series of SEM pay-per-click algorithms and data aggregation APIs rather than thoughtfully designed by—gasp—a human set of eyes.

Perhaps like many people you’re willing to look aside from these information design shortcomings and sift through the digital clutter. Then again, there’s a very good chance you’ll choose the path of least resistance as most humans do and skip over to another site. Perhaps one offering a more coherent experience in terms of intuitively facilitating your ability to read, navigate, and share content with others. Ultimately if a Web site/application makes it difficult to find information relevant to your needs, by way of poor design, you’ll instinctively go elsewhere.

(Too Many) Advertisements Whittle Away Authenticity, Destroy Credibility
Typical Web experiences exist as a string of hyper-transient interactions characterized by rapid clicks (also finger taps, swipes, and gestures too), brief page scans and then it seems like we’re off to the next URL. Clearly the Web has exacerbated our already short attention spans to the point most people have come to accept poorly presented information as an unavoidable aspect of digital life. There are of course numerous AD filtering plug-ins available for most browsers, their very existence an indication many of us feel sufficiently irritated by the burgeoning number of paid advertisements infiltrating our screens.

In fact too many advertisements conspire to undermine a site/app’s credibility. This can be most detrimental in the case of blogs. A high number of advertisements can give visitors the impression you are not being authentic and are more interested in monetizing page views rather than providing useful information.

Just how many advertisements end up becoming too many is up for debate. Perhaps the appropriate number of ADs could be contingent upon what the target audience would be willing to tolerate. Frequent visitors to College Humor for instance would likely be more receptive to a greater number (and variety) of ADs over say, New York Times readers who might begin to question the validity of a published article if flanked by the same number of ADs.

Building Digital Credibility: Content First, Design Second
A study conducted by Stanford University covering guidelines for building the credibility of a Web site sheds light on the factors influencing digital credibility. Interestingly the integrity of content, for example the trustworthiness of hyperlinks, clarity of written material, and the quality of visual design, play a significant role in establishing digital credibility.

If visitors can focus their attention on a site/app’s core content and not feel there’s a hidden agenda by the authors to simply monetize clicks rather than provide useful information, there’s a high probability they will be return in the future. Banner ADs and promotional material are fine, they just need to coexist in balance with the core material and not debase the user experience.

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