Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Bit Literacy is a Better Response

Thursday, July 27, 2000
by Mark Hurst

Jakob Nielsen caused some ripples this week with his column, End of Web Design. Rich with comments about developments in various Net technologies, the column is worth reading. Just be careful to distinguish between Jakob's observations on how things are *today* (which I mostly agree with) and his predictions on how the Net will change in the *future* (which I mostly disagree with).

Jakob's column is answered by Michael Sippey's The Beginning of Web Design, which states that "Nielsen has it backwards." Another good column, though in the end I don't think Sippey and Nielsen disagree very much; I think they just focus on different developments.

What I find interesting is that lots of folks (from Jakob to Sippey to Microsoft, in their new "dot net" strategy) are beginning to notice the shift from a website-based customer experience to a network-based experience. This is accurate, and I'm glad the industry is aware of the change.

However -- and this is where I disagree with most everyone so far -- no one has accurately predicted the scope of problems that this change will create. As the user experience flows between devices, the industry will have to deal with exponentially more complex systems, technologies, and standards -- potentially creating a much more complex and frustrating experience for customers. Users will also see a large increase in the number of bits that will attempt to engage them. Users will increasingly demand a simpler, more focused and relevant experience.

The Net industry (and all industries that use the Net) will soon be challenged to create a new solution that solves these new problems in the user experience. That solution is what I call "bit literacy": a new commitment to simplicity in digital work, and a new way of using digital devices (PCs, cell phones, palms, etc.).

These new problems we will all engage are not just about technology, and they can't be solved just by creating more technology. The question is really about how people can engage bits better -- and the answer, bit literacy, is as much about people as it is about the technology that creates the bits.

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