Biting The Hand That Feeds It

Adverts

Image by Falkenpost from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to catch up on some news articles I’d saved for reading later but it’s been difficult, not because of the news itself, it’s not that deep and meaningful, the problem is advertising. Just about every news website apart from the BBCs is virtually unreadable today, some more than others. The reason is animated adverts. On my tablet, or an adblocker-free browser it’s impossible to read most of these sites because the page starts to load, you see the article, you start reading it and then either it won’t scroll further down as the whole browser has locked solid or when you scroll down and keep reading it suddenly jumps back to the top again – often because some huge animated ad that’s taken an age to load has suddenly flounced onto the front of stage like the proverbial eight-hundred pound Gorilla. It’s even worse when there are multiple adverts and their continuous loops stop you reading down the page as it’s become unresponsive or slow or worse still when they obscure what you’re reading altogether.

When using a desktop browser with an adblocker to make the site actually usable many sites have a popup crying “you’re using an adblocker, how are we supposed to buy our groceries at Waitrose tonight?” So you turn off the adblocker and find that the site is back to being virtually unreadable.

Adverts in magazines aren’t animated, for obvious reasons – it’d be damned expensive to put a screen in every issue, and bulky – but they still achieve their ambitions, they rely on old fashioned techniques to gain attention, the sort of thing I used to design in the days before you needed to know about javascript syntax, curly braces and whether to use an unsigned integer variable; things like colour, typography, layout, imagery. It seems that the people who design websites started using animation just to show off that they could, and convinced marketers that they needed to use animation to gain attention from their target demographics, and the marketers believed them, and paid more for the animation. There is though now no going back because the idea has become so ingrained. They have combined the TV advert model with modern Hollywood firework displays, applied it to the written word media and ended up with a nuisance.

The thing is that although people do notice the ads and notice the message they’re also annoyed by the side-effects – if websites had static ads which would load at the same speed as the rest of the content and would instantly be there, front and centre then people wouldn’t need to use adblockers, we don’t object to the ads, they pay for the website, they pay for this website – though as I don’t develop the site itself I have no choice about the type of ads, on my Flickr page I pay to have no adverts. The objection is against the intrusion and frustration they cause. As with desktop software the developers test these websites and ads on powerful computers connected directly to a server rather than on a normal laptop or tablet connected to a 4 meg broadband connection so I doubt that they have much appreciation of what they fancifully call the UX (user experience) is like in the real world.

I wonder whether companies actually look at the website metrics – the visitor count, length of visit and so on – and perhaps notice that many visits are too short to possibly read anything. They no doubt do but the views that just put up with it outnumber those who don’t and at the end of the day a click is a click and another payment from the advertisers, even if the clicker doesn’t stick around long.

I though still think it’s about time the wannabe Hollywood filmmaker developers and marketers stopped showing off how clever they are and set out to please the users who ultimately pay their wages by tolerating the adverts that annoy them so much. If a brand gets its message across without the negative connotation of being a nuisance surely that’s better, no?

Procrastination and Deep Pockets

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

I had a problem, a big though not what you would call serious or important problem.  It was one that my psyche would not let me sweep under the carpet, or rather, delete.  For literally years I would just skim websites and rather than read articles I’d click “Read Later” – that’s how long ago it was, the Firefox extension (and later Android app) was still called Read It Later rather than it’s more famous current name of Pocket.

I just couldn’t be bothered to read stuff, I just wanted to passively watch TV even though I knew that I enjoyed learning and reading interesting articles.  I’d look at articles I thought would be too long to read, or watch, and I’d just again think “can’t be bothered” and clicked “LATER!”  I often made the mistake of looking at a news article that had links to more, each of which ended in a click on “Add to Pocket”.  So the Pocket became bigger.  Over 1,300 items bigger.

Like tomorrow, later never comes though so you eventually have to either read it all or delete stuff.

It took over a year of Saturday and Sunday mornings to read, watch and if necessary bookmark or log them in Evernote.  At Christmas last year I finally returned to the blank sheet and Pocket was sat there encouraging me to add things to it again.  I have vowed never to get there again – I use Pocket to transfer links from my tablet to the desktop to read or watch on the bigger screen and use it to put aside long articles, or complex ones that I’d want to absorb properly that I’d have more time to read at the weekend but never as a replacement for reading stuff, for procrastination.

As for link-heavy sites, well I either try to be disciplined and either not click on the stuff the site thinks I might be interested in, or I cheat and cover the links up with Windows Task Manager – set to stay in front of other windows.  Another help in this is Firefox’s Reading Mode, as long as you can click it before seeing the other articles.  Due to my earlier effort to reclaim my evening time I now know that I have time to read articles and do anything else I want, I don’t need to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll have to read it later.

It’s just as well I wasn’t buying newspapers between 2012 and 2014 I’d be buried in newsprint by now.