Cleaning the Cobwebs
It’s time to dust away some of the cobwebs online.
I’m talking about that feeling you get when you click on a link to a news article and it feels like it takes an eternity for the page to load and, once it does load, the article that you want to read only occupies a small part of the page you’re presented. The rest of the page is dedicated to ads, links to unrelated articles, links begging you to tweet/share/like/print/follow/comment/pingback, etc.
As tempting as it is to claim this is a new problem, I can take my rose tinted glasses off for long enough to remember the days of yore: large banner ads taking up most of a low resolution screen, Flash “games” inside of ads, pop-up windows, anything on Geocities…
It just seems that, as all the technology surrounding the web has evolved so quickly, the web browsing experience should evolve as well.
I’ve come to rely on tools like Evernote’s recently launched Clearly to clean up webpages for me and show me only what I’ve come to a page to see.
Isn’t this backwards?
Shouldn’t webpages present content by default?
Shouldn’t that be their primary objective, above all else?
In 2011, I am familiar enough with my email program that I can copy/paste a link to share an article with a friend, I don’t need a dedicated button on each and every news article I read offering to “help” me with such a trivial task.
High Speed Internet in 2011 should feel much faster than Dial-Up Internet in 1998
I’m not going to name names, but there are many sites that I visit fairly regularly that seem to bring my browser to its knees, take a long time to load and, once loaded, can make scrolling slow and jerky.
Each little share button or ad or cute related content box is one more thing that needs to be downloaded before the page is finished loading.
Because many of these social widgets rely on logged in users’ information, they often cannot be cached with the rest of the page. That means each widget is created on the server when you request it. So, not only are you waiting for the page to load, you’re now waiting for a handful of widgets to be created and then download and render.
And we haven’t begun talking about ads!
I understand that online people need to make money just like real people, but ads should never, never, never interfere with the reading experience.
In print, it seems this problem has been solved. Ads are placed alongside content, but never (or rarely) in a way that significantly detracts from the reading experience.
It feels like many websites have yet to figure out how to do this, but I can say with certainty that, in general, this problem has not yet been solved.
- If readers are not paying attention to ads, adding more ads will not solve the problem.
- If readers aren’t sticking on the site long enough to see enough ads, adding links to related (or unrelated) articles in the middle of the story will not make them want to stick around longer.
- No amount of retweets will make up for a bad first impression when somebody clicks one of those links.
If they don’t see the content they came for right away, how much effort are they obligated to put forth to find it?
I think I’m done clicking to skip. Whatever your site shows me when I arrive, that’s your content. If it’s not what I came for, I’m gone.— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) November 8, 2011
Also, when I read “Your video will start in 15 seconds,” I say, “No it won’t.” twitter.com/#!/marcoarment… @marcoarment— Jim Coudal (@Coudal) November 8, 2011
Time for preemptive ‘spring cleaning?’
As somebody who often uses Instapaper and other related services, I try to make my websites look as much like that as possible.
I know what kind of reading experience I’m looking for; it only makes sense that I present that experience to my visitors.
If, for a variety of reasons, I am unable to strip all of the clutter from a website I develop, I am sure to follow Readability’s Publisher Guidelines as closely as practicle, so that visitors who are using a service like this anyway will get the best possible experience.
Today, John Gruber has a great post that is very related to what I’ve discussed here.
Should a news article really take 452 HTTP requests and 3.12MB to load?
No. No it should not.