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In the beginning there was the page. And the page was simple and good.

| Back when Al Gore invented the internet (it's a joke!) things were much simpler. Pages consisted almost entirely of text, but the beauty of it was that the text could include links to other pages. So, you could start in one place and end up in some fascinating other place just by clicking away.

Each advance in technology has been celebrated and then abused; now it seems as if many web designers are in a race to create the most annoying, intrusive sites possible.

From popups to superimposed layers

Originally, popup windows were a way to present related or supplemental information in a separate window while the original page remained in the browser. But popups were soon abused as pages spawned window after window, particularly for ads. Users had to play whack-a-popup to see the original page. For a while, there were also popunders, extra windows that appeared underneath your main browser window to be discovered when you closed the browser.

Now, popups take the form of an extra layer superimposed over the page in the same browser window. At best these can be helpful and simplify the user experience. (Check out the new gallery pages on this site.) But usually they just get in your way.

feedback
My feedback is "Just stop it! Let me get on to what I came for."
inescapable video
Superimposed videos often cannot be dismissed

It's bad enough when the layer contains something that can be dismissed. It's much, much worse when the layer contains a video that cannot be dismissed until it is finished.

From animated gifs to video

dancing banana gif
A dancing banana (GIF)

An early innovation on the web was the ability to add pictures to the page, including animated ones (GIFs). The abuse started early. Some web pages were so peppered with GIFs that your eyes didn't know where to look first.

autoplay
I want to read the damned article, not watch a video!

Now simple animation has evolved to video with sound. In moderation, videos can help tell a story or illustrate a point. It is abusive, however, when the page is loaded with videos and they start playing automatically! At full volume!

From banner ads to banner videos

One of the earliest forms of advertising on the web was the banner ad, a small, clickable graphic that fit across the top of the page. Sites were often paid "per click" or participated in banner exchanges (you show mine, I'll show yours).

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Example of a banner ad

Now banner ads expand automatically into full videos.

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Banner ad expands to a banner video

In the best cases, the banner videos can be dismissed by clicking on a link or button that closes the video. close_75

In the worst cases, the banner videos cannot be dismissed at all (I'm talking to you, Apple!) or can only be dismissed after you have watched for a minimum amount of time.

From sidebar ads to ads EVERYWHERE

For a long time designers respected the sanctity of the page content: ads were placed in a sidebar or separate column, leaving the actual content of the page whole.

Now ads are anywhere and everywhere. The Washington Post shamelessly inserts ads into the story you're trying to read.

ad inserted into content
Get out of my face!
ad inserted into content
Video ad embedded in content

Where things get hairy is when those inserted ads are videos. There may be an X to close the video, but good luck. It often doesn't work until the video is done or it must be clicked precisely on point to avoid triggering the link to the advertiser's site. I'm talking about you, Sprint!

From searches to ads

search related ad

It is just uncanny how ads appear for something you searched for recently. Yesterday, for example, I thought my paper shredder had died and so I searched a couple of sltes for shredders. Wouldn't you know - every article I read in today's Washington Post had an ad for a paper shredder stuck in the middle of the column. We really should spend less time worrying about the National Security Agency (NSA) gathering data and worry more about the mass of personal data being collected by search engines, big business, and big politics.

From websites to social media

The so-called "social media" have become the meta-sites of the internet.

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An example from the Washington Post

Major sites now include buttons on the page so it can be linked to and propagated through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.

reproducing tween
Tweets now supply content for "news" organizations!

What is even worse is that respected (I use the term advisedly) news organizations now fill up their articles by reproducing Tweets and other stuff.

I'll say it: I'm not much interested in what people I don't know have to say.

Log in with social media
We are all pawns in a galactic battle for control of the internet

Particularly irksome to non-joiners like me is the trend to insist that before you can visit a site you must "Log in with ..." I have very good reasons for not participating in Facebook et al, and I am not going to get suckered in just to visit a site that I may or may not be interested in once I see what it has.

Sign me up!

There is no glory in having a full inbox, and there are very, very few mailing lists that I want to be on. It's bad enough that when you order something online you have to give your email address. (Theoretically this is required so they can send you a receipt and other communications about your order; in reality so they can market to you over and over again and make money by selling your address to other retailers.)

But more and more sites are now taking advantage of the popup layer to try to capture your email address.

ad inserted into content
ad inserted into content

Please! I assert my right to be left alone!

Recommendations

In the beginning, web designers made "recommendations" to the reader in the form of links to related content.

recommendations
Intrusive reading recommendations

The New York Times has taken the concept to a new low. While you are in the midst of reading an article, up pops a layer with recommended articles, and of course a small ad.

They used to do this in a small rectangle that appeared in the lower right corner of the browser window. I guess that wasn't profitable enough. Now they interrupt your reading to make sure you see it.

Bloat

acoustic coupler
Vintage acoustic coupler (modem)

Back when Al Gore invented the internet (it's still a joke) pages were mostly text and a few links. And that was a good thing because most people were accessing the internet at painfully slow speeds through a modem that cradled the handset of a telephone.

Now they are complex assemblies that include pictures, videos, ads, and so forth, and that complexity comes with a price, namely thousands of lines of code and dozens of component files. For example, the home page of today's New York Times requires 3 HTML files, 130 images, 7 style sheets (CSS), and 44 javascript files (JS). And that's just the stuff the web server sends to your browser! A lot more files and resources are required on the web server to put that page together.

By contrast, the page you are reading uses 2 HTML files, 17 images, 8 style sheets (CSS), and 3 javascript files (JS).

When pages get all gussied up, a lot of data has to be sent between the web server and your computer. And when part of that page content is video, it can slow down the loading of the page and make it unresponsive. While a big video is playing you may have difficulty scrolling, for example.

Object of the game

In an ideal world, the objective of web design is to create a satisfying experience for the visitor to the site. This ain't an ideal world, and the advertising objective — generate advertising revenue — often trumps making users really happy.

A web page is not and does not have to pretend to be a television screen. Conversely, a television screen is not and should not pretend to be a web page with overlays and tweets, and other nonsense.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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