Even though there will be many more sites to come in absolute numbers, what matters to the user experience is the rate of change, which has stabilised. From tech explosion to commodity in only 15 years: that’s in itself an indication of the fastmoving nature of the modern world
Netcraft’s latest web survey found 101,435,253 websites in November 2006. Not all of these sites are live: some are “parked” domains, while others are abandoned weblogs that haven’t been updated in ages. But even if only half the sites are maintained, there are still more than 100 million sites that people pay to keep running.
Surpassing 100 million is a big milestone, and represents immense growth since the Web’s founding 15 years ago. As the chart shows, the web has experienced three growth stages: 1991-1997: Explosive growth, at a rate of 850% per year.1998-2001: Rapid growth, at a rate of 150% per year. 2002-2006: Maturing growth, at a rate of 25% per year.
Of course, only on the web would we call 25% a “mature” growth rate. Any other field would be happy to grow at half that speed. If the web maintains this growth rate, it will reach 200 million sites by 2010. On the one hand, it’s only realistic to expect the growth rate to slow as the web matures even further. On the other hand, 200 million sites still won’t represent full penetration — the world has many more than 200 million companies, non-profi ts, and government agencies, and eventually they’ll all have websites (as will many individuals). Thus, 200 million sites is expected fairly soon, even if 2012 may be a more realistic target date than 2010.
DESIGN IMPLICATIONS OF WEB MATURATION
The Year 1994 was the fastest growth period in the web’s history. That year, the web went from 700 sites to 12,000 sites, for a one-year growth of 1,600%. The web’s rapid growth ended in 2001 and all the usability guidelines found since then have been repeatedly confirmed. Although web usability isn’t completely settled, newer work is aimed more at discovering additional insights than challenging “old” fi ndings from 2001 and beyond.
At this point, the maturing web has a welldefi ned user experience, and users have fi rm expectations for how a website should work. For example, all users have one specifi c mental model for search, and our research confirms that users look at search results pages the same way — even when sites deviate from the standard model.
This isn’t to say that search can’t be further improved. On the contrary, search has one of the lowest usability scores of all the web’s elements and there’s much room for enhancing user performance. The point is simply that users’ basic expectations have settled and you should design accordingly, unless you have something that’s substantially better. A small improvement won’t work if it requires an unconventional interaction style.
Even though there will be many more sites to come in absolute numbers, what matters to the user experience is the rate of change, which has stabilised. From tech explosion to commodity in only 15 years: that’s in itself an indication of the fast-moving nature of the modern world.
When designing a website, comply with users’ expectations. In a mature system, differentiation doesn’t come from a contrarian user interface. Such interfaces serve only to chase users away from a site. The web is no longer a marvel of innovation, it’s an everyday tool, and you differentiate yourself by providing both better content and better solutions to users’ problems.