Who Is Your Audience?

Today we consider another of the deep questions that must lie behind any site: who is your audience?

This is, again, a seemingly simple question, but which often exposes a lot of unchecked assumptions or faulty thinking. In part this is because it’s really two questions, often confused, closely related, but with very different answers: Who can use your site, and Who will use it.

The difference is subtle, but worth thinking through, because too often people don’t take the time to figure this out and end up with the opposite to what they hope for.

You’re never going to get a site that everybody will use, but you want to build a site that anybody can use.

Too many people aim at everybody ((I’ve seen proposals that expect 90% of the adult population of their country to be using their site within a year)), and end up with something that’s only usable by lawyers, or journalists, or political wonks, or FOI geeks, or people who are already activist supporters of whatever you’re trying to do.

Those people should certainly be part of your audience, but your job is to go much broader than that ((unless you’re explicitly targeting only that niche, in which case you’re almost certainly not part of my target audience here.)). To be successful your site needs to be usable by people who aren’t already your supporters, who don’t understand all your technical language or the inner workings of your political, governmental, or legal structures, and (more importantly) don’t want to understand that, and shouldn’t need to.

It is, of course, much harder to build sites like that. But that’s what we’re here to discuss. I’m sure we’ll return to some of these deep metaphysical questions from time to time, but next week we’re going to get into much more practical hands-on User Experience issues.