I give up

If there's one thing I've learnt about website design, it's that you have about 3 seconds to catch someone's attention and give them a reason to stay on your site. Attention spans of internet users are notoriously short - and patience even more so.

My dad has written a book. It's been selling pretty well via word-of-mouth, but when he had someone design a website and asked us to test it, we discovered that the designer had added all sorts of bells and whistles. On our reasonably-fast Third World line, it took about 10 minutes to load! There's no way anyone other than the most determined would hang around long enough to buy a book from a site like that. Fortunately it's been redesigned since.

This morning I was on one of my business sites, trying to access information to sort out a list of users. The site simply wouldn't load. As urgent as that information is, after half an hour I simply gave up. There are so many background scripts running that the actual stuff you're trying to access doesn't work. Which makes the entire site completely and utterly useless.

Those in First World countries may be used to streaming media, big graphics, flash eye-candy etc loading with the speed of light. They may have always-on access. But it's not the same everywhere. Most of Africa can't handle loadtime-heavy sites well, so by default the users will go elsewhere instead of sitting around waiting. A lot of internet access is pay-per-minute, and most folk can't afford to spend all day online.

It's precisely that reason that makes me consider very carefully what goes onto the websites I design. If it takes more than a few seconds to load, it's gone. No matter how cool, nifty or smart it is. Lean and mean, baby - lean and mean.

You don't want potential customers and clients giving up and going away. Equally, you don't want a boring site that doesn't catch the eye. There's a very fine balance to achieve between good-looking and functional. And it's not at all easy.

Find that balance - and you're good to go. Miss it, you'll see me giving up and taking myself off elsewhere. Along with a whole lot of others.

Time is money in more ways than one.