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How much experience a web site visitor has with Internet usage could help us decide what structure, functionality and design we should focus on.

If the target group is novice users we need to build a very easy-to-use web site with a minimal amount of functionality. Novice users isn't likely to use personalization options or advanced system configuration. Instead we need to rely more on step-by-step instructions or wizards. If it's a e-commerce web site we need to emphasize trust for example. Etc.

But how do you measure Internet usage experience? By amount of time spent on browsing the Internet in a week and total? On the time spend on our web site or similar web sites? What are the breakpoints? By asking technical related questions to see if people has a good technical understanding? Is there any standard methods for this? How do you it?

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My immediate reaction is that you are asking the wrong thing. If you can explain better what in terms of internet usage is important to your determination of your site, then youo will have clearer questions to ask. – Schroedingers Cat Jan 16 '12 at 11:25
Thanks for the tip. I've updated the question with a couple of examples of implications. – Tony Bolero Jan 16 '12 at 11:59
Very related to… – Naoise Golden Jan 16 '12 at 12:46
@TonyBolero: If we've answered your question, you can select the best solution so that if anyone comes across the same problem in the future, they know the course of action. – dnbrv Feb 7 '12 at 18:40
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Thinking in terms of 'hours of internet usage' is too narrow. A user might regularly use a particular set of tools and web apps every day as part of their job, but that doesn't mean they'll be familiar with patterns common to other sorts of applications. Conversely, a less experienced user might have enough domain knowledge or familiarity with a paper analogy to understand your interface anyway. And even if a user is extremely experienced, that won't help much if your application employs radically different models of handling a problem than they've seen anywhere else. 'Technical competence' is more complex than 'low to high'.

What's more, a user's competence doesn't determine the amount of time they're willing to put into an application. Novice users with a strong investment in your product may be more tolerant of barriers. They won't be as happy as you'd like, but they will convert (and that's the point of improving UX, after all). As a corollary, a competent user might still be sceptical about the advantages of your product, and therefore less likely to invest extended effort. An old-school salesman might be a dab hand with Excel, but he's not convinced yet that your social media tool is going to get him many leads.

So, instead of asking, 'How experienced is the user on a scale from 1 - 10?', try asking the following:

  • what does my user think they can get from this application, and how do they suspect they might get it?
  • what domain knowledge does my user have? Have they used similar products? Different products that employ similar models?
  • what investment does my user have in completing his work on the application? How can I bring my users the lion's share of these benefits as early as possible?

To answer these questions, you might use interviews, personas or (if all else fails) your own domain knowledge. But these will serve you far better than categories like 'novice' and 'expert'.

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Do you want to measure internet experience or internet skills? In the latter case, take a look at the research done by Alexander van Deursen.

Self-reported skills can be quite inaccurate. Inexperienced users tend to overestimate their skills (because they don't know what they are missing), and experienced users tend to underestimate their skill level. You'll get the best (most reliable and valid) indicator if you do some performance tests, but that takes time (and I doubt if it has much practical value in a normal design context).

Internet skills fall into a couple of categories: operational skills (navigating, downloading, submitting a form, etc.); formal skills (not becoming disoriented when navigating within a website or between different sites); information skills and strategic skills.

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+1 for raising the Dunning Kruger Effect – Roger Attrill Jan 17 '12 at 10:49

My first reaction was also that you're starting with the wrong question. Now, we don't know what research you've already done on your potential user base, or how much you devote to specific UX matters ahead of design and development, so perhaps you've done this BUT: you should consider starting with development of personas.

Take the time (and this can be done in relatively short order -- much less time than trying to figure out how to quantify "internet usage experience" with an unknown audience!) to create 3 to 5 personas and then see what questions need to address as regards the web-based service you are designing.

Here are a few quick reads on personas that I've used to help explain the process to stakeholders when planning time for it in a development project:

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Thanks. The question is not related to a specific project, it's more of a general question on order to create a better understanding of a user base i.e. personas. – Tony Bolero Jan 16 '12 at 19:47
Ah. I'm upvoting @Marielle then. :) – jcmeloni Jan 16 '12 at 19:53
Haha! You should do that. – Tony Bolero Jan 17 '12 at 6:37

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