Click Anxiety and the Transactions Cost of a Link

Click Anxiety and the Transactions Cost of a Link

In Economic theory there is such a thing as “transaction costs”. The term, or the theory, has been attributed to Ronald Coase who used it to explain the cost of doing any financial transaction. As explained on WikiPedia:

“consider buying a banana from a store; to purchase the banana, your costs will be not only the price of the banana itself, but also the energy and effort it requires to find out which of the various banana products you prefer, where to get them and at what price, the cost of traveling from your house to the store and back, the time waiting in line, and the effort of the paying itself; the costs above and beyond the cost of the banana are the transaction costs.

When rationally evaluating a potential transaction, it is important to consider transaction costs that might prove significant.”

These past few weeks I have been depending on lousy Internet connections while traveling. Uncomfortable but also enlightening. I would recommend it to anyone who designs web interfaces. If any page you load means a delay of up to 60 seconds you become very careful of what you click. 

@boris - Twitter SearchConsider this example screenshot of the Search interface on Twitter. There is a link there that offers to translate my results into English. It looks harmless unless you consider the following variables:

– Clicking that link will cause a 60 seconds delay.
– Clicking that link might crash my browser.
– Clicking that link might set a cookie and change my interface indefinitely.
– Clicking that link may start a chain of event that will lead to the destruction of life on earth .

That button is making me anxious. Hovering above it offers me no information at all. No title to explain what will happen and no URL to give me any insight as to what might happen when I click it.

Am I overreacting? Yes, a little. But I’m doing so on behalf of the thousands of visitors your site or homepage receives every day who have to decide what links to click.

David Weinberger called Hyperlinks “Little acts of generosity“. Adding a link to another site is a kind gesture. Clicking it however is not free or easy. It takes time, effort and a certain amount of risk taking from the person clicking it.

There is a transaction cost for each click we make. Don’t confuse your visitors with non-descriptive links but offer tooltips, descriptions and examples.

Now can someone please click that link at Twitter and tell me what happens?

I’m waiting…

Read next: CircleUp launches SmartPay: make social payments in AOL, Facebook + email