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Part I: The Psychology of Performance > Response Time: Eight Seconds, Plus or M...

Chapter 1. Response Time: Eight Seconds, Plus or Minus Two

People hate to wait.

You're the fourth person in a six-person line at the supermarket. You spot a clerk moving toward the closed register in the next lane. Is she going to open it? If you bail out too early and she's just looking for bags, it's the back of the line for you. Wait too long and the clerk could call over the next person in line. What do you do?

On the Internet, this kind of choice is simple. If the page you're waiting for takes more than a few seconds to open, you just bail out to another site. No bodies tojostle, no icy stares from the slower crowd. Just exercise your freedom of choice with a twitch of a finger. To hell with the owners of the slower site you just left. Survival of the fittest, right? It's all rosy—unless, of course, you happen to be the owner of that slower site and it's a part of your business. In that case, it's a good thing you have this book.

In survey after survey, the most common complaint of Internet users is lack of speed. After waiting past a certain “attention threshold,” users bail out to look for a faster site. Of course, exactly where that threshold is depends on many factors. How compelling is the experience? Is there effective feedback? This chapter explores the psychology of delay in order to discover why we are so impatient, and how fast is fast enough.

Lack of Speed Is the Most Common Complaint

Slow web sites are a universal phenomenon. Researchers have confirmed our need for speed in study after study:

  • “GVU's Tenth World Wide Web User Survey,” by Colleen Kehoe et al. (1999) http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/user_surveys/survey-1998-10/tenthreport.html—Over half of those surveyed cited slow downloads as a problem.

  • In “The Top Ten New Mistakes of Web Design” (1999) http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530.html—Jakob Nielsen found that 84 percent of 20 prominent sites had slow download times.

  • Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity by Jakob Nielsen (New Riders Publishing, 2000)—“…fast response times are the most important design criterion for web pages.”

  • In “System Response Time and User Satisfaction: An Experimental Study of Browser-based Applications,” in Proceedings of the Association of Information Systems Americas Conference (2000), John Hoxmeier and Chris DiCesare found that user satisfaction is inversely related to response time. They said that response time “could be the single most important variable when it comes to user satisfaction.”



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