What do Ritalin and dashboards have in common?

by Molly Brien

August 4, 2011

By Molly Folan, Conference Producer

I tried googling “average attention span of an adult,” but my results were scattered and irrelevant. It really wasn’t much of a surprise to hear that it highly depends on several factors, from age and gender, to reliance on stimulant medication like Ritalin. The closest estimate I got (and the one that worked best in proving my later point) is this: “The attention span for focused attention is very brief, with a maximum span, without any lapse at all, that may be as short as 8 seconds….after a few seconds, it is likely that the person will look away, return to a previous task, or think about something else.”

It’s hard to imagine that 8 seconds is all an adult is good for in “one sitting.” Well, I’m not one to argue with science, mostly because in the past 10 minutes I’ve checked the weather for this coming weekend, sent a few pictures of my daughter to friends, scheduled my next dentist’s appointment and finally, written a few disjointed and half-hearted lines to a blog that I’m not sure I would even read. With only 8 seconds to capture and hold an average adult’s attention, the pressure is mounting.

Even if the 8-second rule is a bit of a dramatization, few people could argue that humans aren’t an impatient species. Step in line at the Shaw’s deli counter and realize your lucky number is 7 behind the current number. Forget it, we’ll survive on PB&J for the rest of the week. Or try pressing & ldquo;0” to speak with a customer service rep at American Express and the wait time’s estimated at 11 minutes. Forget it, I really wasn’t in the mood to dispute that charge anyway.

If you’re still reading this, then you’re about to disprove the 8-second theory, so good for you. Also props for hanging on until I actually circled back to something (sort of) relevant.

By now we’ve established that today’s society is fast-paced and prizes multi-tasking, so it makes sense that sluggish performance is often the most common reason cited for user frustration and low adoption of dashboards. Whether you just got management approval for a dashboard project, have a go-live planned for tomorrow, or are a seasoned veteran, performance must always remain on the forefront of the designers/managers/power users’ minds. Otherwise, your users (or “would be” users) will swiftly move on to the next item on their to-do list.

In one of his sessions at the upcoming Xcelsius Dashboards Bootcamp, Dr. Berg provides workarounds for the top 20 dashboard performance problems. In the excerpt below he explains why it’s advisable to reduce conditions and exceptions reporting.

Conditions and exceptions are usually processed by the application server, which generates additional data transfer between database and application servers.

  • If conditions and exceptions have to be used, the amount of data to be processed should be minimized with filters.
  • When multiple drilldowns are required, separate the drilldown steps by using free characteristics rather than rows and columns. This results in a smaller initial r esult set, and therefore faster query processing and data transport as compared to a query where all characteristics are in rows. It also provides the user more manageable portions of data.

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