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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
The evolving web
By John Walton
BBC News

Jakob Nielsen
Nielsen: Web is still fascinating
How has the internet changed over the last decade? What do children think about Google, and how could Amazon improve its website? Author on web usability, Jakob Nielsen gives his views on the current state of the internet - and peers into its future.

More and more of us are becoming expert at using the web, according to Nielsen.

"People are more trigger happy," he says, neatly comparing quick-draw mouse clicking to the gunslingers of the old American West.

During 12 years of study Nielsen has seen many changes, notably the growth of web-users to number more than a billion people, and the emergence of the internet as a mainstream, almost ubiquitous presence in everyday life.

This increase has led, he says, to a "growing expertise" and "more rapid decision making". In one of his recent user studies, the savvier web users spent less than 25 seconds on a homepage, leaving websites little time to make an impression.

Symphonies

Although not every surfer glides across the web so quickly - Nielsen says most people may take another 10 or so seconds to make their choices - but it seems that the pace of the web, for some at least, is beginning to hot-up.

"It's almost like a piano player who plays faster once they know the instrument. In the beginning people 'pling, pling, pling' very carefully, and then they move on to playing symphonies."

As its users change so to does the technology surrounding the web. Consider the screen you are reading this on. The trend is for screen sizes to become bigger and to have a higher and higher resolution. Nielsen predicts that screens "several thousand pixels across" could become the thing.

PROFILE: JAKOB NIELSEN
Born 1957
Worked for IBM, Bellcore, Sun Microsystems
1984: Writes on usability
2000: Designing Web Usability published
Key quote: "Be concise, to the point; be quick."

This could change the typical appearance of websites: "We will go away from having a single scrolling thing," he says. "And it will probably get more like newspapers and we will get a richer layout."

However much technology develops there is still plenty of room for improvement and Nielsen sees the personalisation of the web as a case in point. The ability of websites to serve up the content that they guess each of us will find the most interesting is still in its infancy, he argues.

"There's always been a lot of discussion about personalisation and the web but it has never really taken off, probably because it's not that useful.

"The only time online retailer Amazon has recommended a book that I really, really want is when it's a book I've already bought."

Portal

All these changes aren't just confined to web users, and technology, but are also taking place in the way we perceive the web, it is something Nielsen has noticed from studies on children.

He cites an example of 11 year olds working on a school project about frogs. When given the task of constructing a small website to show what they have learnt, the children were asked about their sources. The answer that came back - Google.

Mouse
Quick-draw mouse clicking
"It is not really Google, it's what Google has pointed them to, but to them the internet really is Google, and that's how they think of it," he says.

Referring to adults this time, Nielsen describes how some people get enough information from search pages and so skip visiting the sites the data has been culled from.

"It [the search engine] becomes content in its own right, not just a portal or thoroughfare through which to reach other sites."

It is this constantly changing relationship between the web, its users and the technology behind it that has managed to hold Nielsen's attention for so long.

"I really think that the basics of it are the same," he says. "Because the basics are really based on human nature... and they don't change. It's always the same but with a new variant, so it keeps being interesting - I have to say that."




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