The Pew Religious Knowledge survey recently found that American atheists, agnostics and Jews are actually more knowledgeable about religion than any Christian group. I thought I’d give the quiz a try too, and my results are below…You can try out the quiz for yourself here.
It’s exactly two years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the most intensive phase of the global economic crisis. That’s enough time for us to start taking a historical perspective when we look back on it, and indeed some new research indicates that the recession caused by the credit crunch was (well, is) a very odd one indeed.
First up is a study cited by Fast Company which found that, counter to existing wisdom, crime rates actually fell in the US during the recession:
…violent crimes declined in 2009 for the third year running, a period roughly coinciding with the recession. And property crimes declined for the seventh straight year. Aggravated assault rates dropped over 4 percent; murder rates dropped over 7 percent; and motor vehicle thefts dropped a whopping 17 percent, to select just a few of the FBI’s more remarkable findings…
Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the BBC’s Mark Easton is asking why people in the UK are apparently feeling happier now than they did at the height of the economic boom. Happiness levels grew in 2008 and have remained fairly high ever since.
I’d already been wondering what the hell was going on with this recession. The world’s economy has suffered massive structural damage, and the scale of the numerous crises has been enough to make your head spin. But things have been surprisingly mild if you look at measures like unemployment, interest rates, inflation, oil prices, crime and so on.
Why is this recession so bizarre and anomaly-ridden? Two possible explanations suggest themselves.
- That the modern, globalised economy has developed an ability to manage crises rapidly and effectively with minimal economic fallout – in other words, the planet’s got smarter
- That the mildness so far has been a result of stimulus packages, and with the effects of those measures wearing off, worse times lie ahead. Basically, what we’ve experienced so far is just the first phase of what will be a prolonged and severe global depression.
It’s pretty obvious which one I’d like to believe in, but optimism doesn’t come easily at times like this…
The study involved 66 graduate students with either normal or corrected vision being given a short story to read online. A preliminary reading test was carried out on participants so the study could predetermine their reading speed. Different text layouts were used, such as multiple column, full justification and so on. Study participants were tested for both reading speed and reading comprehension.
- Reading speed: Multiple-column layouts impaired reading speed when text was left-justified. However, left-justified text was read more quickly in a single column layout than full-justified text. The highest reading speed was 269.33 words per minute for two-column, full-justified text.
- Reading comprehension: No significant variation was found across the different text formats.
- Fast versus slow readers: Faster readers benefited most from the 2-column, fully-justified layout. Slow readers benefited from 1-column, left-justified text.
The study was perhaps limited by the fact that the participants, as undergraduates, were heavier readers of online text than the average member of the population. I’d be interested to see if any similar studies have been carried out with a larger sample size, broader age range and a more representative mix of internet ‘natives’ versus internet ‘newbies’. Does anyone know of any? If I find some I’ll post them here.
In this post, I’m going to try to outline a convergence between two separate trains of thoughts. It might get messy, so bear with me.
Train one (think of this as the Edgware branch of the Northern Line) is search engine optimisation.
One of the areas I’ve been working in a lot recently is search engine optimisation. I’ve carried out three fairly in-depth assessments of different search markets in the last few weeks.
It’s been an interesting learning experience in a lot of ways—the last time I was heavily involved in SEO was a few years ago and the tools available for carrying out analysis have come a long way since then. Perhaps the most potent new weapon in the arsenal of a search market analyst is Google Trends. Try it, it’s fun.
Train two (this is the High Barnet branch) is corporate social responsibility (CSR).
For a while now I’ve held the view that companies are not doing enough just throwing money at CSR initiatives—donating to charity, that sort of thing. After all, money isn’t the only thing that successful companies have to contribute. They are also rich in expertise and capability. Companies should therefore look for ways to apply their know-how to social problems.
An example of this that I often refer to is TNT Express Worldwide’s work with the World Food Programme. It assigns staff to work with the WFP and contributes its expertise in the fields of distribution and logistics, helping to manage the distribution of food in geographically remote and challenging regions. The value of this contribution is inestimably higher than it would be if it were purely financial.
And here’s where the two trains of thought converge. To torture an already stretched metaphor, imagine this as being Camden Town station.
Google launched Google.org some time ago as its philanthropic arm. It’s headed by epidemiologist/technologist Dr Larry Brilliant and seeks to do the sort of thing that TNT are doing with the WFP, namely using Google’s unique capabilities to bring a fresh approach to various social problems.
A great example of this is the recently launched Google Flu Trends, an analysis of how Google Trends can help point to flu outbreaks around two weeks than conventional epidemiological analysis.
It’s nice to see companies bringing knowledge and not just money to the table when it comes to health, hunger and other real-world problems.
I don’t take issue with the broad thrust of Rawnet’s 2008 conversion report, which found that 78% of respondents had been put off companies or services by poor web usability. However, I do take issue with the quote from Adam Smith, their managing director:
“companies are losing out on a massive amount of potential business simply because their current web design agency has either focused too much on what looks great, or too much on non-essential technical features…”
This quote paints a misleading picture of web agencies working in isolation, free of input or direction from clients, who are in turn innocent victims who have unusable and design-heavy sites inflicted upon them. In practise, however, this very rarely happens. Clients tend to be deeply involved with the design process and must therefore assume ultimate responsibility for the successes and failures of their websites.
Why is this? Well, firstly, responsibility lies with the client because the client decides which agency to commission. The client decides scope, budget and timescales, and goes on to exercise power of sign-off on all major deliverables. And rightly so.
Why rightly so? Well, it’s not just due to the fact that they know their business and their customers more than the agency does. It’s also because it’s their business that will ultimately be impacted by the quality of the delivered site. If it’s successful, it will contribute to the growth of their business. If it fails, their business will suffer and customers will not express their dissatisfaction with the agency but instead with the company itself. So the fact that the client’s bottom line is at stake is a very compelling motivator for their wanting to be involved.
In my experience (although not on every project), agencies tend to put forward ideas for sites which are informed by an understanding of things like usability and accessibility. Clients approach web projects from various perspectives but chiefly from those of marketing and branding.
Most successful web projects result from a productive synthesis of these two sets of interests, and any implication that clients aren’t involved in the process—and therefore aren’t responsible when things go wrong—is highly inaccurate.