Making websites feel more welcoming

My take is that the web could feel warmer and more lively than it is. Visiting a webpage could feel a little more like visiting a park and watching the world go by. Visiting my homepage could feel just a tiny bit like stopping by my home.

Webb, M. (2020). Social attention: a modest prototype in shared presence.

I like the idea behind this very simple prototype on Matt Webb’s site; it’s basically a way to see if anyone else is looking at the same page at the same time as you. It’s different to annotation and comments; you can’t interact with the other visitor in any way, other than seeing that they’re there and if they’re highlighting any text. It also feels more qualitative, by which I mean that there’s a subjective experiential feeling knowing that someone else is here. It conveys a sense of shared presence that you don’t get with most of the asynchronous interaction tools currently available.

Anonymous shared attention is a nod towards a web which is social in the sense of “being together” but not social in the sense of “collaboration” or “media.”

But more than what the technology currently allows, I appreciated the idea behind what Matt is trying to do. It reminded me of a conversation I was having with Ben earlier this year when we were bouncing around some ideas of what we might do with the In Beta website. Here’s an excerpt from the notes I took after that meeting:

…instead of arriving on the home page to be greeted with a menu of types of content you can select from (podcast, newsletter, project), it’s more like dropping in halfway through a conversation between friends. Where you can join in and add something. Or not. Maybe you just want to listen in. What might that look like? What technology might facilitate that? Where the formal knowledge claims of how the world works can live alongside the graffiti, the sticky note, the silent reflection, and the primal scream?

I have no idea how such a webpage might work, or even if it’s possible. But I do know that it’s an online space that I’d like to visit and spent time in.

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Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.