Current Situation: How Social Media Companies Cater for The Generation


A world of “instant gratification and quick fixes”

A recent Pew Internet study in the US suggests that while students like us coming through the schools system in this always on world benefit from instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources, our attention span and desire for in depth analysis is consequently diminished. This short attention span leads to a “loss of patience and a lack of deep thinking”. The average focused attention span was reduced to 5 minutes while it was 12 minutes ten years ago. The average Transient attention span, which refers to a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention, is only 8 seconds nowadays.

The rapid adoption of mobile devices including mobile phones and tablets enable us to be reachable online 24/7. Lots of public locations including coffee shops, libraries and metro stations are now providing reliable accessible Internet connections. The number of audience for social media is growing, and their time committed online has also increased. Media contents were only reachable at home or office, now they are mostly read on mobile devices with a small screen.

The world of social media is cruel. An alternative website can be just a mouse click away. Waiting for a website to load for 5 seconds is unbearable for the majority of web content consumers. A long paragraph of crowded information without interactivity will literally move the user’s curser to the competitor’s website.

Rules to grab attention

Social media companies decide not to change the rule of user’s attention, but rather use it for maximize advertising profits. Websites are designed for short attention spans — even if you are a new user of the specific social media platform, you will quickly get used to the convenient new rule that is easy to follow. All designs including the divide of contents, the length of posts, and the way to present information, are made for shortening your attention span so that you get addicted to the site and have to refresh it ten times per hour.

Methods for doing this are nothing new: to engage the audience is to make the key points easily accessible. Web designers mostly follow the way that traditional print media grab our attention, and new rules specifically for online contents are also widely applied.

  • Make sure the page load quickly enough. — According to studies, a one second delay in page load time can result in 11% fewer page views, 16% decreased customer satisfaction and 7% lost conversions. Web designers need to make sure that the page is properly programmed so that contents of the page can be quickly presented.
  • Include key information upfront – We turn to other websites easily. To keep us on the site and make sure we would continue reading, web designers decide to provide instant clarification to show that readers are on the right place.
  • Use bullet point for key facts so that they will stand out – the flow of paragraph of traditional media is not applicable today. We do not want to go through everything. Just like the way I present information on this blog post, other web designers also help the readers sort out the “really important information”.
  • Use navigations.  — If you are not interested in certain parts of a post, a sub heading will allow you to jump the section and directly work on the part you wish to see.
  • Keep things short and simple — This may be in conflict with accuracy and completeness sometimes, but it has been a general principle to cater for short attention span.
  • Use rich media and alternative content presentation – It contributes to efficiency and variety of contents. Newspapers use photographs to accompany the text, and nowadays social media companies employ videos, images and interactive graphics to attract attention.
  • Do not post any additional information if this isn’t contribute to the purpose.

By following the rules above, web designers should be able to help the specific social media company to prosper on the new digital age. However, do you think these rules are just? As a user of these platforms, would you appreciate these tools? If our goal is to rebuild our attention span, which rules should be taken out and which need not?


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