About the Web Behaviour Test

Ian Rowlands

In the 20 years since its creation, the World Wide Web has had a profound impact on our lives. But what impact is the web having on our brains? That’s what the Web Behaviour Test aims to find out, writes Dr Ian Rowlands.

The Web Behaviour Test is designed to answer the question: are people who use the web a lot different to people who don't?

In the space of less than a decade, the web has moved us from a state of ‘information poverty’ to one of ‘information affluence’ on a scale that would have been truly incomprehensible at any other time in human history.

How are we handling this massive transition? Are there possible downsides as well as the very obvious benefits?

These are important questions and we need your help to answer them.

Man using laptop on the sofa
How much of today’s online journey do you actually remember?

The web and you

What did you do on the web today? How long did you spend online and how many sites did you visit?

Perhaps, like me, you received an email from a popular social networking site, prompting you to check out how an old friend was doing. Did their latest blog entry inspire you to book your summer holiday? And while you were thinking about it, buy a Spanish phrase book and check out the best deal on travel insurance as well?

And all this without leaving your chair?

The web has become so deeply embedded in our lives that for most of us it offers a completely seamless experience, weaving the virtual and the real into a continuous and largely indistinguishable thread.

We might surf while watching TV, tweet our friends during a particularly boring college lecture, or check out the best prices for a new laptop while listening to music on an iPod.

So how much concentration did you really give to searching information on the web today? When you picked that search engine result, what were the cues that triggered that first click? How confident were you - really - about the information that came back?

And what was more important: convenience or content?

Woman on a beach using a laptop
Are you paying attention or just skimming?

What is 'web behaviour'?

A new area of science is beginning to emerge that looks at questions of how real people behave online. How effective are we are at gathering and evaluating information and turning it into action?

This area of science is so new, we don’t even have a name for it yet, so let’s just call it `web behaviour’ for now. One thing seems fairly certain: it’s going to become really, really important as the web’s tentacles stretch further and further into every aspect of our lives.

How exactly do people find information, from the latest celebrity news to self-diagnosis when we feel unwell?

Frankly, we know alarmingly little about how people really interact with the web. This is disturbing, given our colossal investment in information and communication technologies.

At the core of our new science of ‘web behaviour’ lie some very simple questions:

  • How able are we to filter the enormous amount of information delivered to us by search engines?
  • How confident are we in our ability to find the ‘right answer’ when looking for information on the web?
  • How much do we concentrate when we’re using the web, even when we’re using it to make potentially life-changing decisions?
  • What is the role of memory in shaping what we do on the web? (How much of today’s online journey do you actually remember?)
  • How influential are ‘super brands’ in defining the choices we make online?
  • How do we decide on the reliability or ‘authority’ of information provided by others online?

By taking part in this exciting online experiment, you will be helping to answer these and other important questions, opening up whole new areas of research and improving our understanding of the changing world.

>Take the Web Behaviour Test

About The Virtual Revolution series

This experiment has been launched in collaboration with The Virtual Revolution - the BBC Two series celebrating 20 years of the web.

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