When we conduct user research, we often compare anecdotal, qualitative reporting with quantitative data. The former illustrates the latter; anecdotes cannot replace data, but they can make it more meaningful and accessible.
Unless they lie.
Most user experience researchers and designers see the value in comparing user-reported data with back-end analytics. Sure, employees might say they visit the intranet homepage daily to see the company news, but the data reveals staff really just visit to confirm details on their pay stub and check the day’s cafeteria menu. Analytics reveal the truth behind behavior we’d rather not acknowledge.
So what metrics matter when we try to understand internet usage? That depends on what we’re trying to uncover. In conversations about digital echo chambers, I’m often curious about how I allocate my attention online. In my self-curated media diet, I mix content that I seek out with the content that comes to me, typically as a result of content creators I’ve previously stumbled upon. I ladle up a bowl of Twitter, dip in my spoon, and see what links come up in the soup that day. But the nourishment I seek out—the sites I go to to learn or explore—are more surprising. The data reveals embarrassing truth that would differ from my self-reported behavior.
Inspired by Joshua Silverman’s post, I captured my personal acrostic. For the sites I visit most frequently, their URLs autocomplete after I enter just the first letter—and what those autocompletions reveal! 20% of these sites focus on travel. K? Kayak.com, naturally. That number jumps if you include conferences to which I traveled in the past year. U? UX London. Suddenly, more than 35% of these results facilitate travel. They’re destinations that help me… reach other destinations.
This collection is representative of my web usage by only the most simple of rubrics, the alphabet, so I cannot claim these are the sites I visit most often or where I spend the most of my time online. But it’s an accurate measure as any in what it doesn’t include: B doesn’t stand for Boston.com, C doesn’t stand for anything in Cambridge—but sends me further afield, to CNN.com. H points to Huffington Post. Clearly, I should aim higher, and given my current priorities, it should lead to something about househunting. Given where work is taking me this year, I’m going to check this again in a few seasons and expect to see Hipmunk. Until then, here’s my alphabet of online habits.
Any surprises in yours? ‘fess up in the comments.
A is for appropriateinc.com … every time I post and update and invariably go back to fix a typo.
B is for bitly.com
C is for cnn.com
D is for dooce.com. If you frequently post pictures of your dog, I will frequently check your blog when I need a mental break during the day.
E is for edUiconf.org
F is for Facebook.com. Again, if you frequently post pictures of your dog, we’re probably friends. Also, over the past year I’ve found I click their instant messenger as frequently as Skype when I need to ping a colleague with a quick question.
G is for google.com/maps. Combine a lousy sense of geography with a strong imagination, and suddenly you have to verify that Indiana isn’t where you thought it was at all. THANKS, Indiana. And Chicago, stop moving around.
H is for Huffington Post. The Twinkies in my media diet. Trust me, I balance it with Christian Science Monitor, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, The Economist, Slate, The Guardian, and more.
I is for IMDB. Three cheers for the distributed intelligence of digital socialism! Quick, name that movie.
J is for jetBlue.com. Because brand loyalty.
K is for Kayak.com. Because information is power, and empowering in a way brand loyalty isn’t.
L is for LinkedIn.com, still my favorite resource before I meet with someone for the first time or need to learn more about a company.
M is for meetup.com/Content-Strategy-NE/ or the Content Strategy New England meetup group. Work with content? Come hang out with us.
N is for new.evite.com… really? It’s that important to my life? Actually, lemme correct. Let’s party!
O is for OffscreenMag.com.
P is for Patagonia.com. Still one of my favorite examples of smart content marketing and slow content strategy. Apparently, I visit it more than I realized, but I do love seeing the new content they’re always publishing.
Q is for qmediasolutions.com, a lovely organization who interviewed me this past March.
R is for rei.com/outlet. Nope, not just regular REI, despite the fact that I look to them for both content and products (this summer: a new lightweight three person tent. Or rather, two people and a big dog), but the outlet. Because hello, sales!
T is for tripit.com, the best way I can stay organized for travel. Plus, every time I go to the site, I have to hum Devo. Trip it! Trip it good! And who doesn’t enjoy a little Devo?
U is for uxlondon.com
V is for virgin-atlantic.com. If I’m not flying jetBlue domestically, they’re my favorite to fly internationally.
W is for weddingchannel.com, for all those of you tying the knot, making sites, and linking to your registries. I do love hearing you say I do, and then kicking up my heels at your reception. Keep sending those invitations! I’ll be the first one on the dance floor.
X is for XE.com… because I apparently look at exchange rates more than I realized? Honestly, I think this one is a fluke. Then again, is it finally cost effective to visit Iceland?
Y is for Youtube.com.
Z is for Zappos.com. Because after having worked for three different shoe brands, I know what I like. And I like a lot of it.
So there’s my online alphabet. What’s yours—and more importantly, what are the surprises in it?
Obviously, none of those links are sponsored. But if CNN wants to send me some Anderson Cooper, that would be totally cool.