The thing about the internet is that everyone uses it differently. It’s not just about different generations, or the so-called digital natives vs. digital immigrants. It’s the fact that the beauty of the Internet is it’s anything to everyone – we use its capabilities depending on our interests and our needs. With magazines, everyone gets pretty much the same experience, whether they read the whole thing or not. With websites and other digital media, it’s important to recognize that different readers will want different things.
So what does this mean when working on your site? For one thing, and perhaps most important, don’t assume that your readers access and use the web in the same way that you do. Just because you never use Facebook or think Twitter is stupid doesn’t mean that they do (and vice versa). Just because you never go on your computer in the evening doesn’t mean they don’t, and just because you have a smartphone and access websites on the go doesn’t mean they do. I’m quite happy reading long articles online, as are many other people, whereas a large group say they’ll never be comfortable reading anything lengthy onscreen. The internet audience is diversity defined.
On the other hand, don’t assume that your readers will magically have time that you don’t have. Adding a feature that’s time-consuming to register for and requires a steep learning curve to make use of? If it seems like more work than you’d ever put in, it’s not likely to become popular with your readers. Put yourself in their shoes as often as you can when planning new features – and survey as wide a focus group as possible, as ad hoc as it may be – and you’ll avoid wasting time on projects that go nowhere.