BayCHI 14-Oct-1997

Part 1: WebTV (Chris White of WebTV, now owned by Microsoft)

Steve Perlman's vision: low cost web access, aimed at consumers

When Steve first mentioned the Microsoft purchase of WebTV, there were a fair number of hisses from the audience. Then he mentioned that some of the founders came from Apple, and there were additional hisses. He mentioned Sun and Netscape, too, and was rewarded with more hissing, although by this time I think people were doing it just to be funny, and people started laughing. "All right, where do you guys work?"

In the early days, WebTV was calling itself "Artemis Research" and didn't want to give away the secret of what they were working on. They put up a web page that said they were studying "sleep deprivation" and doing "animal research." They got a call from an animal rights group.

In November 1995, they were ready to do the first Usability Test. They arranged to use a room at a nearby Holiday Inn, and got strange looks from the hotel management when they explained, "We need a room, and we'll be doing some filming in there. A lot of people will be going in and out, but nobody will be sleeping."

When the WebTV service was first going online in September 1996, the record-seting length of time for an engineer's car to be in the parking lot continuously was 12 days.

Design philosophy of WebTV:

No horizontal scrolling. WebTV software re-lays-out the page dynamically instead of requiring horizontal scrolling. They re-lay-out when frames are involved, too.

Part 2: Content Usability (Jakob Neilsen, Sun)

Jakob's web page is:

He has an every-two-weeks column there called "Alert Box" on Web usability.

"Really good writing -- You don't see much of that on the Web."

Quotes from users: "I like a site with a short style. I have no time for gobbledygook. I like getting the info fast."

SUGGESTIONS for Web content:

Reading is 25% slower on the screen than on paper, and it's less pleasant.

"Information foraging" and the "attention economy." Users have a very hard time knowing whether they've found the most relevant content that's available to them. "Is this 'the page'?" ...or am I supposed to click one level deeper to find the real page?

79% of users "scan" web content, and 16% read word by word.

The natural way of doing web project management is doomed to fail.

Impact of Web on other media:

TV, -13%

Videptape, -9%

Newsweekly magazines, -8%

Newspapers, -5% ?

Credibility must be earned on the Web. Links are important; they add credibility.

Users strongly disklike "marketese" (self-congratulatory, fluffy text). Engineers want clear answers to Q&As.

Paper: "Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web"

[ Page last revised 20-Jul-2001. ]

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