Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010
Floating elements along the sides, tops or bottoms of web pages — usually displaying some sort of persistent social media cue or functional element of the website — are all the rage, and I can see why. It’s a neat trick and, when used correctly, is a snazzy, mostly unobtrusive way to include a persistent piece of information. It can be small and still get noticed by virtue of being the only thing on the page that isn’t scrolling.
Except. Now we get things like this:
I’ve accepted the realities of animated gifs flashing across the outskirts of webpages like giant annoying fireflies trying to distract me from the reason I went to the page in the first place, which was to read content. I harrumph at those irritating automatically expanding banner ads that unexpectedly push the page content down, but dutifully wait for it to finish so I can collapse the thing and get on with my reading. I even deal with my hard knock life when I inadvertently set off expanding-popup-video ads by sliding my mouse past them.
But when websites start layering these things over my content they’ve gone too far. This Twitter bar is overlapping the content I’m trying to read — the reason I came to this website in the first place — and it’s doing it mid-page along the side, right where my eyes are most comfortable reading and where I scroll content to centre in. If this floated along the bottom or very top of the screen and covered text it would be less intrusive because that’s at the very outskirts of where I read anyway, but mid-page is smack dab in my field of vision. Also note there’s no way to get rid of or collapse the layer: I’m forced to either read above or below it, or to intuit the missing letters it covers.
The most frustrating part is this is such an easy, no-brainer fix: add ten or fifteen pixels of margin space on the left and the problem goes away. This is just shoddy and lazy web design and usability, and it raises my hackles.
Look. I get that advertising revenue is how the Internet stays in business. I don’t use add blockers and I begrudgingly put up with seizure-inducing flashing gifs and pop-out cars driving across my screen and videos with auto-play functionality because I understand websites do cost money to host and maintain, especially the successful ones. Advertising on the web is a reality of the current system where people expect everything online to be free and don’t understand there are real costs to the people behind the websites they love, and as people get better at ignoring ads the ads have to get better at being noticed.
But once these elements start permanently obfuscating the content that brings me to and keeps me on the website, we have a problem. The way I’ll solve my half of the problem is by not coming back.