Why the web has gone down the pan

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I was inspired to write this post from a number of things that came together at the same time. I found it hard to find anything worthwhile posting about over the past few days because I was insufficiently inspired, particularly by online happenings.

Then there was Michael Arrington’s post on TechCrunch: Silicon Valley Could Use A Downturn Right About Now. Arrington’s article made me wonder if his April’s Fool bid for FuckedCompany wasn’t a wiser move than he realised.

Finally I was watching a video from a past TED conference by author Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice and the seeds of a post analysing my disenfranchisement with the web started to crystalise.

Schwartz lists four factors that consumers face with increasing choice that seemed to map on to my experience within web services and social media sites:

  • Choice produces paralysis: the very plethora of similar services makes it much harder to choose and find the right service for you. This means that I am likely to ignore newer and better services
  • We end up less satisfied with more choices rather than fewer choices. It is easy to imagine that whatever service you use, you could have made another even better choice. This dissonance takes away from the satisfaction provided by the service
  • Opportunity costs: when you have more alternatives it raises the benchmark for satisfaction with a given service, since if you take the good bits of each rejected service you could end up with a benchmark that is nirvana, creating a huge WHAT IF
  • Escalation of expectations: as you become exposed to more services, your expectations of how good a web service should be went up

In essence, more choice reduces the possiblity of having a user experience that is a pleasant surprise, hence no more Eureka moment like I felt when first using Flickr.

Schwartz’ video made me feel better as I was better able to rationalise why I felt that the web had lost it.

Arrington is also right, though a downturn is a very expensive and distructive way of refreshing my web palate. With some noticable exceptions that I will have the good grace not to name-and-shame Kara Swisher has a more balanced assessment of the internet start-up environment here.