Thursday, December 15, 2005

People are lazy

I love Paul Kedrosky's recent post about the three reasons trying to "change the world on the back of altered user behavior" will fail:
1. People are lazy
2. People are lazy
3. People are lazy
Paul goes on to say that "intelligence belongs in the network and in the algorithms" and "relying on users to do the heavy lifting -- however intellectually appealing -- is not going to work in the real world of lazy users who see little in it for them."

People are lazy, appropriately so. If you ask them to do work, most of them won't do it. From their point of view, you're only of value to them if you save them time.

If any work is going to be done, it's going to have to be done by a computer, not a person. People expect you to just make the right thing happen.

This is why Findory works the way that it does. No login, no configuration. Just read articles. The site learns from the articles you read and recommends other articles. The computer does all the work. It is simple, easy, and helpful.

See also my previous post, "Personalized search at PC Forum", where I describe the debate between A9 CEO Udi Manber, who claims searchers need to learn how to use more powerful tools, and Google's Marissa Mayer, who says people just want to quickly and easily get the information they need.


Anonymous said...

Greg, I agree with you that users are lazy and computers will have to do the work. I think there is some middle ground though. Users are used to using forms to blog, write user reviews, etc. Perhaps blogging software will evolve to give them multiple items in a dropdown such as "Write Review", "Post an Item for Sale", etc., give them a simple form, and then wrap it in a microformat. Doing so could drive traffic to the user's blog instead of third party sites. Good for the user, good for the blogging site.

Crawlers are still going to have to do classification and extraction on unstructured text but microformats can help precision, which leads to confidence, which should help ranking on the vertical search engine.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound like users are lazy...self-interested and efficient yes, but lazy, no.

Lazy would be those cases where it would clearly be in their best interests to do something, and they go ahead and fail to do it.

However, with SB it isn't at all clear what the benefits to the user are, despite what we're hearing from proponents. The only one that I've seen is that might be compelling is a promise to be better indexed by Search Engines. That advantage is phantomware.

What I think the SB folks should focus on is a model like uses. Personal data blogging, with tools to help you track your own data. Then, users will see personal value and get off their "lazy" butts and use these tools. And then aggregators can still have their field day providing services on top.

Anonymous said...

The socioligist Robert Zipf actually believed most of human technical and social progress was due to "laziness" One persons laziness is another persons "economy" or efficiency. I try and design things for "smooth" ease of use laziness. Books on design such as "don't make me think" and Emotional design back this up. Laziness is important to understand and work with. It is a fundamental human trait for effort and risk avoidance.

Anonymous said...

I think Nick is talking about Zipf's Principle of Least Effort (PLE). He used it to describe economic situations, but it equally applies to Information Seeking Behaviors (ISBs) as well. Interesting post...

Anonymous said...

I think most searchers are illiterate in the way of search, rather than lazy.

For instance, we know that approximately 800million people have learned to use the MS Office suite (or parts thereof), which is a moderately complex learning task. By comparison, learning four or five simple search commands is easy, should take 30 minutes to one hour (max) and would provide a substantial improvement in search results.

But hey, that's just me.

I think the searcher is more important than the algorithm, and argue that when search engines learn to educate searchers, monetisation will improve commensurately.

My take is here:

Unknown said...


I agree with you to some extent. However, I'll echo what another commenter suggested: it's not so much that people are lazy, but that people are busy and reluctant to spend time and effort without enough perceivable rewards (or severe enough repercussions for failing to do the extra steps).

As an example of the first... look at flickr. How many millions of photos have been tagged, often exhaustively so?, too... how many millions of tags are out there?

These efforts may, indeed, still represent just a tiny fraction of the Internet population... but it's an influential segment and not appropriate to dismiss.

It suggests to me, then, that if companies like Google and Yahoo make it EASIER for folks to review or annotate, more people will do so. Even it it's just 2% of searchers instead of 0.5% of searchers annotating and reviewing, it will have a big (hopefully positive) effect on search engine result and ad relevance.