An Introduction To The Slow Web Movement

The Slow Web movement borrows its name and philosophy from the slow food movement. The fast web is a super-sized overload of information, while the Slow Web is a nutritious and balanced experience.

Pop ups, notifications, facebook feeds and emails are all designed to grab your focus.

This kind of attention is taxing. Each time you change your focus on something there is a cognitive price to pay.

An introduction to the Slow Web Movement Click To Tweet

Many have found ways to work around it: sometimes with personal habits like no email until after lunch, no phones in the bedroom etc… But it’s rare to hear about it happening in design of the tools we use and the sites we visit.

Often the answers come from outside the native design, plugins like adblock plus, and evernote clearly offer to strip content of the distracting ads that diminish the experience.

I believe that the tides are changing however, I think people are starting to sense the increasing demands on their attention and are craving better experiences. There are many opportunities for marketers and designers that find ways to meet this demand.

I’ll discuss a few of the core concepts of the Slow Web movement, which will point to a few of the places where this opportunity is greatest.

Real time vs Timeliness

“Real-time interactions happen as they happen. Timely ones, on the other hand, happen as you need them to happen.” Jack Cheng – The Slow Web

Something that fascinates us about technology is speed. The wheel, the train, the car, electricity… They make things go faster, and we associate speed with progress.

With the fast web, things are instantaneous. Sign up for the newsletter? Emails are already delivered. Updated your tasks in Trello? Notifications have been sent to the whole team. And why not? Technology makes this cheap and easy.

Anyone who has worked on a remote team that is spread around the world has probably experienced their phone lighting up with email notifications as they are about to fall asleep. This leaves you already thinking about tomorrow and what needs to get done or hopping back on the computer in the middle of the night to complete a task.

“I think for a lot of people, their use of media is tied to job productivity, so they’re sort of scared to disengage, because it can have financial and professional consequences. I think the prospects are great for Slow Media in all of these small ways, but the difficulty  is in bringing them all together into one sort of coherent movement which—I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, or if it even needs to happen.” Jennifer RauchThe ‘Slow Web’ Movement Will Save Our Brains

One example of how notifications and updates this could be done better is iDoneThis. It’s a simple project management tool. Team members will give updates on what they accomplished each day. Each evening iDoneThis sends you an email reminder asking what you got done, it complies the information and gives you a digest the next morning of what everyone accomplished. This expectation to see the updates is set by the closing statement in the daily email:

“iDoneThis is a part of the Slow Web Movement. After you email us, your calendar is not updated instantaneously. But rest up, and you’ll find an updated calendar when you wake.”

It would be easy enough to automatically generate this digest and send it out after everyone completed their updates. But they deliberately slow down this process. So you can submit your updates and enjoy a sense of accomplishment and enjoy your time off of work, instead of seeing the updates immediately like Slack.

Virality or Gratitude

“Slow Web is interaction based — meaning it puts effectiveness and the experience it’s delivering to its user above the number of pageviews it generates.”  Andrew McHugh – The Slow Web Movement and the Future of UX

Information technology has matured much faster than people’s ability to really harness its power. Most advances in technology and design seem to facilitate more consumption. As more people have come online there’s been more and more forces competing for attention and traffic. People have gotten more resistant to traditional ads and marketing techniques, and their attention spans have gotten shorter.

Technology and marketers traditionally respond by becoming more distracting, and making it easier or faster to get you to take the action they want you to take. The goal is simply driving people to “thank you” pages.

But in most cases what does this mean for the visitor? A coupon code, a few extra emails in your inbox each week, maybe a few more tweets in your feed. How often do these actions result in something meaningful in your life?

In his post Lessons learned reviewing 300 websites in 2 weeks (how to build a decent website) Dan Norris talks about the constant bombardment of popups and other marketing tools on the sites he reviewed.

“Most of the sites I have looked at have been aggressively going after the email optin. They had popups coming up before I could understand what the site was about. They had “hello bars” that locked to the top of the screen, hurting real estate and making it feel cramped and difficult to read. There were scroll boxes that came up over the content that I had to click to hide.

Most of them had really weak calls to action like ‘Subscribe to my newsletter’ and most weren’t accompanied by any evidence that would make me believe I would be better off if I did opt in.”

I believe most of these tools are optimized to entice marketers to put them on their sites, not to enhance the web visitors experience on the site. Even if they do deliver on their promise for higher conversion rates, it taxes your visitors and distracts them from your content.

The Slow Web prioritizes relationship you develop with your audience. It’s about focusing first on creating a high-quality experience. Instead of prioritizing your conversion rates it’s about aiming to create a sense of gratitude in your visitors. With gratitude comes trust, and trust should be the goal of the content you create.

Instead of prioritizing your conversion rates, aim to create a sense of gratitude. Click To Tweet

Dan Norris has been a purveyor of Slow Web philosophy on the WP Curve blog. Though tweets and pageviews are important, he knows a post has hit the mark when high quality comments start to appear on the post.

The WP Curve blog design is quite minimalist and prioritizes the reading experience above all. Pop ups and lead boxes only appear if you click a link or a button first. Lead magnets and other offers are presented at the end of posts, or where they are relevant to the content.

He often gives away his lead magnets without asking for an email. It’s more important to him that someone is using the content than how many emails it generates for him.

Privacy and attention

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Another area where the Slow Web movement stands to gain ground is with privacy. There’s a certain subtle anxiety that comes from a lack of privacy. This taxes the mind in a similar way as the constant shifting of attention from notifications on your phone, and new emails piling up in the inbox.

I’m not sure where a balance can be struck here. As someone who uses Facebook ads to promote products and services I can certainly see the upside in the tremendous amount of data they are collecting. It also does benefit the user to have more relevant ads appearing in their newsfeed or more relevant suggestions in their searches.

Nevertheless most of the value comes from the end users, but they receive very little of the benefits. In his article titled In The Future, Our Attention Will Be Sold Mark Manson writes about how attention is the scarce resource that marketers are competing for online.

Just like our grandparents learned to master their time and energy in a labor economy, we must learn to master our focus and awareness. This could create an economy where our attention (measured by data and analytics) can be bought, sold, or traded.

“Because until you are able to limit your attention, until you are able to turn away, at will, from all of the shiny things and nipple slips, until you are able to consciously choose what has value to you and what does not, you and I and everyone else will continue to be served up garbage indefinitely. And it will not get better, it will get worse.

In the future, your attention will be sold. And it may be that the only people able to capitalize, are the people that can control their own.“

If you are interested in taking some small steps to control your privacy, here are many tracking pixel blockers available now such as Blur (Firefox) (Chrome). I don’t think these plugins perfectly shield all of your activity online, but they do seem to block a majority of trackers.

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There have been some attempts to solve this problem with hardware like the Blackphone, but so far nothing has been incredibly successful.

What can a small business owner do to cultivate a better sense of privacy? Aside from installing basic security measures on your site and not selling your list there does not seem to be a lot of options yet. But I believe this conversation will be critical to the Slow Web movement.

The marketer’s dilemma

I have felt the pull of both slow and fast web philosophies working on the WP Curve blog. There’s always the demand to get more shares and leads. In the world of data driven marketing this is how you justify your work.

So what do you do? If you are a freelancer or short-term contractor would you take a pay cut to preserve the value of the content or product you were creating?

Could you stand behind lower conversion rates with the hopes that you are converting higher quality leads?

And can you afford not to put the exit intent pop-up when your competitor has it on their site.

Do you create content that targets your customers? Or aim for the hidden ROI on content marketing and is create content to inspire your audience and attract your next cofounder, team member or investor?

The data made me do it

Data-driven marketing has become standard practice with many businesses. Split testing and analytics are powerful tools for businesses, but can easily be misused or misinterpreted.

It seems like most people look at the data (or parts of the data) to make a decision without considering anything else. Especially if the data (or part of the data) justifies doing what they wanted to do in the first place.

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Many popular marketing tools that display pop-ups or banners only display data that helps to justify their existence on the site. Which perpetuates this problem.

The trick is to have a really good understanding of your visitor and what they’re thinking what they need where they are on your site. Opt ins and offers or elements like social proof which you mentioned should appear at just the moment when the user will benefit from it. Which is tough to see with a single metric. It’s a relationship that you develop over time.

By understanding a broader context of your visitors mindset, the goals of your business and the purpose of your content you’ll be able to make better choices with the data you collect.

A place for fast and slow

There will always be a need for urgent emails, instant notifications and an endless supply of cat videos.

But currently there’s so much information that the average person that it’s hard to tell what’s immediately relevant or important.

It’s worth considering the needs of your visitors/users and the rhythms of their lives and accommodate them with quality content.

What do you think?