It can be argued that in the not-too-distant past, resources were scarce, and libraries were one of the only sources of trustworthy information. Users were obliged to conform to library practices and standards in order to successfully meet their information needs. Now, users’ time and attention are scarce, while resources are abundant . . .
So begins a paper by Connaway, Dickey, and Radford entitled, “‘If It Is Too Inconvenient, I’m Not Going After It:’ Convenience as a Critical Factor in Information-seeking Behaviors.” The bottom-line message is clear — if people can’t find something quickly, they’ll either give up or settle for something perhaps of lower quality.
The researchers performed a number of iterative approaches to generate their data, including a “sense-making” phase in which they zeroed-in on what “convenience” means to an information seeker. Not surprisingly, ease of access and time spent were the major determinants of convenience. Finding ways around the physical inconvenience of securing print copies of journals was one priority, for instance.
In one quote that will send a chill through any traditionalist, the authors of one cited paper write:
“Wikipedia meets the needs of college students because it offers a mixture of coverage, currency, convenience, and comprehensibility in a world where credibility is less of a given or an expectation from today’s students.” (Head and Eisenberg, 2010)
The researchers included online surveys, individual interviews, semi-structured interviews, another online survey, and telephone interviews. All this work was gathered through two studies, which the current paper pulls together. The researchers state:
. . . empirical data identifies convenience as central to information-seeking behaviors. The centrality of convenience is especially prevalent among the millenial subjects in both studies, but is true across all demographic categories — age, gender, academic role . . .
Users are ultimately “satisficing,” which is defined by other researchers as “a judgment that the information is good enough to satisfy a need.” With information abundant, and time and attention scarce, there are many more opportunities and motivations for satisficing.
In an essay on his blog, David Worlock hits on a similar theme in talking about business-to-business (B2B) publishing in what he terms the post-modern world. You can hear the hoofbeats of convenience in every bullet point he offers:
- there would be a diminishing emphasis on content , its ownership and proprietary nature
- the asset would become the understanding of customer needs, and turning that into trust and authority by virtue of satisfying those needs with solutions that satisfied my mantra: productivity gain , decision-making enhancement, and compliance management
- the business model would change in line with this, and settle around service contracts and content rental
- users would stop being researchers and start being fully informed participants in workflow and process
- and in order to make this happen, those who had formerly fought to the death about content ownership would cross license content to each others’ solutions, co-market solutions around shared content, enter into lifetime rental arrangements with users and generally behave in an almost exactly opposite manner to the way they have generally behaved for the last 40 years
It’s almost axiomatic that publishers own the content they publish. Yet, at last week’s SSP Annual Meeting, this assumption was questioned time and time again. If we’re providing filters which are ultimately ways of providing a convenient service to our customers (who we supposedly understand better than anyone), why do we need to own the content we’re filtering? Do Google, Amazon, or Apple own the content they filter? Facebook? Twitter? Even unique content like we publish is susceptible to the convenience factor — if it’s hard to find, it won’t be used. In fact, uniqueness makes it potentially more difficult to find, especially when articles aren’t cited or shared, as is often the case.
Convenience is a major driver of the success many non-content-owning entities have used to gain a market advantage. In a macro sense, the shift to mobile is another confirmation of the tyranny of convenience. Business Insider recently published a collection of thoughts from companies trading in convenience entitled, “The Future of Mobile is the Future of Everything.“ As David Temkin of AOL says:
The present of mobile represents the triumph of ubiquitous computing. What we call ‘smartphones’ are only incidentally phones — they’re more accurately described as cloud-connected computers, available at the ready.
This all culminates in the latest sales figures for the iPad — 25 million sold in the past 14 months.
Rewinding this set of observations, it’s clear that designing for mobility is a prerequisite for successful B2B publishing, which itself doesn’t demand content ownership as much as service excellence and customer knowledge. After all, only by being where your customer is and in the form they prefer will you be convenient, and only then will you thrive.