Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Time is It? or Midnight on the Internet

I had a very good conversation with my wife recently about the value of accessing media at all times of the day (and night). She is a dedicated mother and professional that works part-time, a decision we both made during the young lives of our two children.

While this does not compare to many of the experiences of the women that my nonprofit serves - young, single moms - it does give a flavor of the world of people trying to find the time to improve their lives, catch up to the world around them and generally find what they need on the Internet.

By watching her what comes readily apparent, as was her very convincing argument to me, was that we in public media should be spending far more time thinking about the temporal qualities of our online content and tools. She believes that we take for granted that because we are posting our content digitally that it is accessible 24/7. Her argument is that our content may be searchable, readable and even interactive at any time, but it is certainly not built for people using content in small amounts of time sandwiched in between putting the kids to bed, or after paying the bills and going to sleep at midnight.

A young mother at 10:30 pm with 30 minutes prior to falling down in exhaustion needs some special attention to detail to get content points across. Here are seven lessons from a harried mom for creating great midnight content:
  1. "I'm too tired to search for it" - midnight users like to have simple, clean, crisp design. Tired eyes don't scan well on active, messy pages, nor do they sort well through complex information structures.
  2. "Oh God, it's a tome" - lose the wordiness, get to the point, I don't have all night.
  3. "I'm lost!" - don't get too clever with the internal linking, we want straight stories that lead from key point to key point to tool to picture to etc.
  4. "What else do ya got?" - we appreciate grouping of content, such as an article, a poll, a tool, etc, but again it needs to be labeled clearly with appropriate design ques. Don't make me guess what I am looking at.
  5. "I'm just passing through" - please don't make me go through registration to look at the simple stuff, or even use the interactive if I don't think I am coming back. If I have to remember one more password I am going to kill someone.
  6. "Community, schmunnity" - please hold the discussion forums, the comment sections and all of the other ways for me to leave you feed back or get involved. If I like it you can show your boss my time on site, but I don't want to meet your friends.
  7. "Nor do I want to get to know you" - hold the emails, I am not looking for being your buddy.
I would love to hear your own thoughts about how to make digital content more consumable in the midnight hour, as well as differences between the young, old, woman, men, etc. I would also love to see a contest - hmmmm - that challenges designers and developers to make a site exclusively for people to view between midnight and 4 am. I wonder what we would get...

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