Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing

While you're visiting ChangeThis to pick up a copy of Craig Newmark's peek into CraigsList (discussed below), take a look at Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. In this excerpt from his book, Schwartz examines the plethora of choices that face us every day. Money quote:
When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings is powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.
The Web presents an incomprehensible number of options. Even our best attempts to tame the beast—Google, for example—can yield overwhelming choices ("Results 1 - 10 of about 8,120,000 for usability"). The rise of social tagging and folksonomies is but the latest effort to get a handle on what's available in cyberspace.

While the problem isn't as severe on the individual site level, we've all experienced sites that offer too many options. That's why one of the more important challenges of information architecture is to facilitate the choices of users by organizing content in a way that (dare I say) narrows the options available at any one given moment without limiting access to the entire site.


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