Does Your Website Talk To People The Way They Think?

(This blog post is a broadening of the recent post on gamification.)

Almost all governments have some kind of website.  Aside from when these sites just don’t work because of bad links or insufficient computer resources to meet demand, they mostly feel like an electronic version of old style government whose employees were often accused of treating other people as “just a number”. These websites talk at people in a kind of monotone, not having a conversation or interaction.

Yet, most of us realize that people have different interests, personalities, cognitive styles and ways of interacting with others.  Thus, to be most effective,  a website should change to reflect who is interacting with it.  

Unfortunately, the only variability that exists in most websites – public or private sector – is usually based on purchasing patterns, such as the different web pages and pricing that appear on Amazon’s website, depending upon your past consumer behavior or perhaps by providing languages other than English.

Glen Urban, who is a marketing professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, calls this the “empathetic Web”.  (See the article, “Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales” by him and his colleagues at

As their summary states:

We’ve long been able to personalize what information the Internet tells us — but now comes “Web site morphing,” and an Internet that personalizes how we like to be told. For companies, it means that communicating — and selling — will never be the same.

The authors distinguish between people on the basis of two pairs of cognitive preferences (visual vs. verbal and analytic vs. holistic).  At the very least, a website should reflect these cognitive differences.  

But it is also worth thinking about other differences. For example, many people prefer a conversational style to the completion of a long form.  The widespread use of smart phones to access the Internet has increased the need to have a more conversational style on the web since the screen is too small to do otherwise.  (That’s why games are a useful model to consider.)  

As the authors note, this is not just a matter of making a website more convenient, but also is essential in building trust, which helps a private company increase sales – and is an absolute requirement for any public official.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis