I just want to read

There seems to be this assumption with web sites nowadays that it has to be "rich media". Animations galore, sound playing, videos autostarting (really?). And I'm having a sort of backlash reaction to all of that.

This belief that everyone wants to watch a video, interview, program, screencast and much more, coming from seemingly nowhere. No. No no no. Yes, at times, but to me at least, the vast majority of the time I just want to read. I want to be able to skim through an article, focus on what I care about and be able to take in the content no matter the medium I'm on. And maybe use the search functionality in my web browser to find what I'm looking for and be more efficient.

It's even worse on mobile, though, when the first screen for news outlets and the likes is almost always entirely an animated ad, sometimes with sound or video, or offering you to watch a clip with the latest news. First-screen experience doesn't seem to matter that much, data usage and slow connection have become second to creating something "lively".

At least half the time when I try to read the news, articles and blog posts, I'm commuting or am in a context where sound is not an option. I don't want to bring headphones with me all around just to be able to get some basic information or updates.

And sure, I understand and respect that some web sites need to display ads as their main income, and that's something different (although I believe most people have also learned to tune them out - I mean, the number of ad clicks must be staggeringly low). But what I'm talking about here is more for the regular content, the convinction that everyone wants video. Just because we generally have faster connections now, then we should fill them with crap that use them all up.

Don't do it just because you can. Sometimes I - and I bet a lot of other people - just want to read.

Posted in Developing |

25 Comments

  • André Luís says:

    Robert,

    I feel you. Strongly. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve given up on a website because of the distractions and I left without getting through 10% of the “content”…

    When I was building my new website/cv, I tried to keep the fluff to a bare minimum and focus on the actual message.

    If I was successful or not, it’s not up to me to say, though. :) But I hope people who really want to read what’s in it, are able to.

    I’ve seen videos posted at HuffPo that basically screencast an article written in another website! What?!…

    And let’s not get into the whole scroll hijacking thing…… ;)

  • Mike Hessling says:

    I’m deaf. I just want to read, too!

  • Ian Dixon says:

    Yes, please just let me read. I do not want the video blasting in my face the moment I arrive. People who do this are basically suffering problems themselves. I have only just arrived at a site and am evaluating it to see if it is of interest. Someone who can convince me of that in words may actually get me to watch the video. Force a video on me and I will most likely leave immediately.

  • John Hopkins says:

    I’ve been using the Pocket addon for Firefox to mark articles for [offline] reading on my Kobo e-reader, web browser, or mobile device. It does a good job of stripping off extraneous formatting but does not include the forum comments on some websites.

  • Steve Fink says:

    Yeah, I feel like I’m starting to miss out on a lot of useful information because people are always sending me video links, usually without much of an explanation of what they are (or any description at all). I don’t have a particular policy of not watching them, and yet… I just never get around to it. Videos are too engaging, too distracting. It just feels like it’s going to require too much of a context switch. And I suppose it does, since at the very least I have to grab my headphones and put them on, then fiddle with volume.

    I keep meaning to experiment with Popcorn to see how well a video-optional presentation would do. As in, have all the information available as text, with headings or other hyperlinks to seek an associated video to the associated topic. And have a big close button on the video. Or perhaps don’t even display it by default.

    • Robert Nyman says:

      Agreed on missing out, but like you say, the effort and the context is usually too much of a hurdle. It’s all about the use case, though, so I hope you can find good ones!

  • Wesj says:

    Heh. I see this a ton with video tutorials. I imagine some people really like them, but I’d much rather some simple text that I can skim through and pull out the pieces I want/re-re-re-read the parts that didn’t make sense. Plus I never have headphones in, which makes my video watching mostly a process of skipping through hoping to find useful frames.

  • Simon says:

    Yes, I certainly agree. There’s a fashion for doing video tutorials and podcasts these days, but these aren’t always a good idea.

    In particular, if I find a link to some new project and I can’t evaluate that project without spending half an hour watching a training video, I’m not going to spend that time on the chance that the project *might* be worth closer investigation. I want text, some sort of “Getting Started” guide, which I can spend a few minutes skimming through to get a feel for things.

    Regrettably, the Eclipse IDE has been one of the worst offenders in that regard. Their news feeds point to interesting-sounding articles about new ways to do things – but when they turn out to be media-only with nothing I can read at my leisure, all I can do is close the tab. I ended up unsubscribing from their news feeds, because none of the content was in a workable format…

  • …when the first screen for news outlets and the likes is almost always entirely an animated ad, sometimes with sound or video, or offering you to watch a clip with the latest news.

    Even worse is when you get a full-screen modal dialog telling you that they have a special APP that will totally ENHANCE your experience accessing the material. How ironic…

  • Barbara says:

    Some computer programs I’ve needed to use now have ALL the instructions in video format. The videos are well done, but I can’t easily skim the material to find what I need. I can’t easily skip the parts I already understand. Providing video options for the illiterates of the world is a good thing (though at the university level???), but why not optimize the instructions for those of us who can read, too?

  • I was slowly getting the feeling that I was turning into a grumpy old man who is set in his ways. With an old-fashioned idea of what the web should be like. Rusted in the old days.
    Reading this article and the comments which share the same sentiments on how we want to be treated as consumers and readers, turns my assumed grumpiness into a rightful conviction.

    Robert, and all the others: Thanks.

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