October 29, 2007

The Velveteen Rabbit

Recently the Pew Internet Project conducted an informal, online survey about people’s “personal history of internet use.” There was an amazing richness to the personal stories we received and this is a selection of what you had to say. To the question of “what web browser did you use,” a few reminded us that we could surf pre-web browser i.e., back when data could be whistled and a command line was hip. Images applications such as XCoffee and even those in HTML didn’t crop up until later. What’s different today is that while we still can’t smell the coffee and text is what many of us “do,” it’s hard to image a net without images and video.

To the question of “tell us about the things that have frustrated you over time in your internet use,” many of the comments included fraudulent information, ads, spyware, spam and viruses. Less of your comments however concerned design issues — poor usability and broken links — than has historically been the case. That is, today’s responses focus on the credibility and quality of content and less on the structure of that content.

Perhaps most interesting were responses to the question “have there been online activities that you have lost interest in pursuing.” Your responses included chat rooms and BBS, games, surfing for the heck of it, using IM or email, blogging, downloading music, sharing photos, reading USENET newsgroups, building websites and viewing adult content. However what’s actually changed for some of these activities is the method or application as people look for efficiencies. For example, RSS supplants for some the need to surf. Why look when you can aggregate? For other activities once popular such as playing games and building websites to communicate, these may have lost their novelty or be trumped by a need for sleep. Still, as reported, personal and professional use has for the most part only increased. It may be, as one person noted, that the net is no longer a toy but more like a Velveteen Rabbit — while some loved parts have worn away or disappeared, other parts are still in place.