↬ Flawed metrics and disrespect

Today, The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple quipped “Please make them go away.” about slideshows on the Web. This was prompted by a good, strongly worded piece by Alexis Madrigal for The Atlantic.

If I’m not mistaken (hint : I probably am), the point is that slideshows are a really good tool. As with all tools, a lot of us just use them without thinking, which is not something to brag about. If you pay close attention, you can understand what the tool is and why you should use it. The hammer is useful not only because it is somewhat heavy and made of hard metal. Its main interest is that you use the power of the lever and some inertia to maximize your hit.

What is the point of slideshows? Breaking up your message in small chunks that you then can set with a certain timing. Usually, this timing is important for presenters who want to remain in control of the message that is on the slide so that they can give another message out of the slide. This way, the good presenters can discriminate between what they want to tell and what they want to show. The basic principle of the slideshow is constraint in space and in time.

Unfortunately, a lot of people whose job it is to publish text on the Web don’t agree on the right tool to show a list, be it in a textual of graphical format. When they use a slideshow, it can be for two reasons : either they just saw other websites do it so it’s fair game or they chose the format on purpose.

The reason slideshows are perceived to be the right tool that they use a flawed metric : the number of pageviews an article gets. An alarming number of publishers and advertisers live in a fantasy world where the more pageviews you get, the more engaged your readers are (a distinction Mr. Madrigal did not miss). The use of this flawed metric shows that the focus of the publisher is not the readers, but an abstraction poorly translated by a single number, the number of hits. They either involuntarily use the wrong tool for the right job (engage readers and provide a great experience) or consciously use the right tool for the wrong job (multiply the number of pageviews).

I fully agree with the thesis that slideshows, overall, are disrespectful to readers. However, I’m more saddened by what it shows in terms of attitude : either thoughtless use through habit — which means an active disregard for content and a passive disregard for the readers — or a thoughtful design decision — which is even worse in that it reflects an passive disregard for content but an active disregard for the readers.