Playing the Waiting Game

No one likes queuing, but when it comes to technology the speed at which websites and apps operate can make users sceptical or even confused.

You are reading: Playing the Waiting Game

No one likes queuing, but it seems that in some cases waiting is important to us. When it comes to technology, for example, the actual speed at which websites and apps operate can make users sceptical or even confused. Complex processes like searching a 1,000,000 user database for duplicates, or doing long division, should take time, after all. So when these websites and apps take milliseconds to return results, the assumption is often that we’ve been hoodwinked in some way – that the results are predetermined and can’t possibly be the outcome of careful calculation.

So how are developers getting over this, and making their sites appear trustworthy in the eyes of the users? The answer is by building slower, more deliberate interfaces, which delay the delivery of results by a number of seconds. Dubbed the Labour Illusion, in a paper by researchers at Harvard, this delay makes users think that there is a considered process going on behind the scenes, and therefore carefully worked out, making the results more trustworthy.

This paper also looked into the amount of of time users are willing to wait, which interestingly depends on what they are waiting for. The researchers made fake sites – some for travel and some for dating – to test different waiting times and which were best received by users. It turned out that people were willing to wait up to 30 seconds for results from travel sites, whereas on the dating sites their patience only lasted 15 seconds.

Hurry up and wait

It’s important to remember, however, that transparency is key here. In the experiments done by Harvard researchers, users were given a spinning wheel to indicate the ‘thinking’ delay. However, where users are given a progress bar, or a countdown, they are generally happier to wait for longer, because they can see that the wait time is finite. In fact, it was observed that people would wait for up to a whole minute when searching for flights on sites where, while they waited, they got to look at what appeared to be a running tally of the dozens of airlines that were being checked against their individual criteria. This shows that even though behind the scenes the results are pulled by the software in milliseconds, the illusion of an effort being made is appreciated by users.

In an age where we are increasingly impatient, and horror stories of traffic bouncing on pages with more than a two second load time abound, it seems at odds that app and site developers are starting to build in slowness in giving us what we want. Surely the internet was designed to give instant information at the push of a button?

What do you think? Post your thoughts and experiences below!

Latest from the blog