Lab in the Wild asks: What’s your Internet like?

2 min read

One size fits all? Not on the Web. Users from different countries and cultures actually interact with information in different ways.

To explore how people click and tap through the vast network of online offerings, a team of computer scientists from Harvard have launched the “Lab in the Wild.”

The project, led by Katharina Reinecke and Krzysztof Gajos, both at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), will administer an ongoing series of voluntary tests designed to elicit information about various users’ “online culture.”

Drawing on past aggregate data, the simple and fun tests provide instant feedback, so test takers can see how they are similar to or different from other groups of users based upon their country and culture.

Ultimately, success for the project will depend upon the researchers gathering and analyzing results from thousands of users globally.

“Although people on the web are often thought to merge into a homogeneous online culture, they still differ,” says Reinecke, a postdoctoral researcher in the Intelligent Interactive Systems group at SEAS, led by Gajos. “We are seeking to answer questions like: How does your cultural background influence how you perceive and process information? Which types of websites do you find most appealing, trustworthy, and intuitive? In short: What would the Internet look like if you designed it?”

To see the differences first hand, participants in the Lab in the Wild project can compare their own ideas on what makes a website beautiful with what others think. For example, not everyone likes the simplicity associated with many German websites or the colorful busy designs common in South Korean pages.