But it is the most obvious one to measure. If you ever read about how fantastically well a new startup or company is doing, then you are going to run into that dreaded metric of "time on site". Essentially it is the average amount of time that people are spending browsing your website or app. And the more of it the site gets, the better your website looks, supposedly. And even more recently, the total combined time on site for online services has hit the scene, giving out ludicrous numbers that make you question if we haven't all lost our minds.
Billions of hours are spent digesting content online daily. Everything from random photos of random strangers to random videos of even more random strangers. Just 15 years ago, those billions of hours were going somewhere else. They were going to you essentially, and to whatever it is that you enjoyed doing. Now they go to what you think you enjoy doing, which is consuming virtual content.
So today I'll be going over why "time on site" is detrimental to society and why if we just shift our focus slightly to something more tangible, we'll not only save time but we'll be looking for better and more efficient ways to build our websites and applications without anyone going broke in the long run.
It's "YOUR" time on site
Increasing time on site isn't as difficult as you would think. We've figured out how to capture people's attention in a very efficient manner, using a combination of sounds, images, and certain UI/UX patterns. And because of how simple it is, more and more applications tend to use such tactics to increase their time on site. And again, this does come at a cost folks. Your time essentially. If you think of your time as an hourglass, which it technically is, you can get a picture that in a 24 hour period it is limited and it doesn't just stop when you so wish. So the more time you spend on a website or application, the more sand you're using up.
Not that you should burn your routers and run for the hills. Not at all. The internet has fantastic content. Everything from music to arts to communicating with strangers half a world away to keeping in touch with family and friends. In my younger years, one of my favorite things to do was to hop on online message boards to converse with people from all over the world. But we should be more mindful as to how these web entities are affecting us. If you jump on a photo sharing app for a second, and then 20 minutes later realize that you are on a photo sharing app, then you might have a problem.
As an experiment to yourself, go a week without using your favorite photo sharing app. Just one week. It'll probably take a day or two to get over the anxiety that will undoubtedly hit. But after that time you should start to come down to normal. After that one week, measure all of the things that you did that were either new or that you enjoyed. And then after decide which kind of life you'd prefer. I've done it, and 3 days in I no longer need to launch any of those apps.
Why time on site is so sought after
The longer you spend on a site, more than likely the more ads will be served to you. That is a huge draw for using tactics to increase your visitation time. Now if you're a website owner you will clearly try to defend why this is a great thing. The more time is spent on your site, the more ads you can serve, the more revenue you can generate. And more revenue will equate to more features and a better site experience. At least that's the idea anyhow. And not to knock these companies. Many do in fact take that to be their goal. But to say that advertising revenue will have no impact on how a product is built is a bit shortsighted.
If we take ads out of the equation, then really, time on site becomes a useless metric. In fact, it can even be a sign that your site or app has a bad user experience. The question would arise as to why it is taking so long for content to be found. Take Uber for example. Most people probably don't spend more than 2 minutes on it at any one time. Yet it is a billion dollar company because of its streamlined design. Now if you take any photo sharing app, you'll notice that you'll spend hours per day just scrolling and taking in content. And the main reason is that these companies have no other way to monetize really. They need you to stand there and to scroll serving ad after ad.
But the lack of ads isn't the end of the world. If you can't monetize off of ads, then you'll have to find ways to do so. More creative ways where users won't be spending combined years of their life glaring at colors and pixels.
And these methods exist! We're just not looking for them or inventing them just yet because we don't need to.
How we can alleviate the problem
The perfect app for me is the app that helps you to achieve your goal in the quickest and most efficient amount of time as possible. Just looking at my phone currently, there are only a handful of apps that are capable of doing this. And the rest are hellbent on having me open them, just to spend my precious time scrolling or tapping. If we build for usefulness, then we won't have to worry about dirty tactics or mind tricks to keep you hooked.
Photo sharing apps make sense if I'm planning a trip somewhere that I've never been to. They don't make much sense if I have 30 minutes for lunch to myself and my plan is to watch as many photos as humanly possible in that time. When I could very well be doing anything else for my betterment.
So really it starts with us as consumers deciding to do something else more valuable with our times. This, in turn, will undoubtedly cause many companies to rethink their monetization and acquisition strategies. And who knows, 10 years down the line maybe our total virtual use time will be minutes per day and technology will be just a tool to help us achieve our goals and to live better lives. We can dream. And if you're a programmer, you can start to build this world as well.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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