This post is in response to Aza’s design talk on China’s Great Firewall. ( http://www.azarask.in/blog/post/chinas-great-firewall-productivity/ ) In brief Aza asks the question if we can better manage our attentions by controlling the speed at which interfaces and information is rendered. He uses China’s Firewall as an example, that does not explicitly block an activity but discourages it strongly by slowing down the service. And as Google points out speed is a huge factor on the internet and heavily effects user behaviour.
From now, on I’ll call this an “attention wall” or the idea of using design to not just think about how best to layout functionality but to also consider the speed at which it reacts. To actually consider using an anti pattern of slowing down UI to discourage the use of a feature.
Why would we want to set up “attention walls”? For one, when I am programing I find that I use the internet a lot for looking up how to use an API or function, but sometimes find my self getting distracted with email or other activities. Also, you might make elements like Deprecated APIs appear lower on a list of functions or slower to auto-complete. Speed in UX does not necessarily have to be something that is counted in seconds, but it could be a metric that measures the distance from the user’s current focus or attention, and in that sense an “attention wall” is just an obstacle to available information.
So how else might we use “attention walls”? Well, we might pair them with the design element of karma, or micro currencies. So if you were running a corporate IT infrastructure and you wanted to pair down rather than block outside email and social networks. You might just slow them down, unless a user… spends some karma, or social currency on that activity.
This might be carried so far as falling within David Helgason’s notion of ‘Gamification’ of the internet and culture. http://blogs.unity3d.com/2010/01/14/2010-trends/ How we are slowing turning work into play, and play into work. Some people call this ‘serious games.’ It’s the sort of thing where you score badges and points for completing an activity. Popular social networks like gowalla and foursquare have been playing with this for a while, and the trend will probably continue.
So, how might we use this? Well, maybe corporate emails are slowed down, unless you spend a few points to send it at a priority level. This might just add enough of an attention cost to sending that short email to 30 people, that will end up distracting them and creating the habit of checking email every 5 min. If we all send fewer emails in the work place, maybe we can get to checking email the 1st five minuets of every hour, and get us into the productive pattern of not checking email, facebook, or twitter so often in the work place.
One might continue to tie the message sent into a reward system that if the email causes some sort of positive response either externally or internally that more accelerator points are awarded so that user can send more email; ie, the more responsible users get rate limited less.
So maybe as UX Designers think about color, readability, typography and the so many other things they think about, maybe today’s designers need to start thinking about setting up patterns for “attention walls” as we start to face information overload.