Attack of the SCREEN INVADERS!!

Don’t let the screen invaders take over! Stand your ground and fight for your right to screen real-estate! Pop ups haven’t gone away, they’ve just been disguised! Arm yourself with knowledge and start fighting back.

Stop The Spread of Screen Invaders:

Arm yourself With Knowledge

“What Do YOU Want To See On This Website?”

A blog I visited the other day (I forget which) popped up a rectangle at the bottom right hand corner of the page, partially obscuring what I was reading, with the message “What would YOU most like to see on this blog?” and a text box for me to write my answer in. They’d made the feedback process easy so I figured “ah, go on then,” and typed in the message “the bottom right-hand corner of this page”.

Sarcasm? CHECK!

Point well made? CHECK!

The problem is that screen invaders seem to be becoming more and more common and nobody seems in any hurry to take a stand against them. In this article I look at some of the most annoying widgets that people are choosing to put on their websites, and what we can do to fight back and reclaim our precious monitor real-estate!

Live Online Support

Screenshot of Firehost and their annoying screen invading live support widget - Attack of the SCREEN INVADERS!!Another increasingly common screen invader is the serious infestation of live online support widgets appearing on websites these days. Done right these can be incredibly helpful: The websites that get it right put a prominent link somewhere in the page layout that says “Live support”. When clicked, it pops out a box and you can start chatting. Everyone is happy and the world carries on spinning.

Peter Griffin - "You know what really grinds my gears"- Attack of the SCREEN INVADERS!!But what really drives me to distraction is when these live support widgets open up on page load and obscure the page content I am trying to read.

The other day I was on a web hosting website and two of these bloody screen invaders popped up, covering the entire article! Marvellous! Now it’s two clicks to read the page I came to the site for in the first place. Perhaps I should have initiated conversations on both to ask what the content of the page was.

But then that was the real kicker: Live support wasn’t even online. These two popups were not only stealing my screen space, but they were doing it for no reason at all!

Would You Be Interested In Taking A Quick Survey?

How many times has your browsing been interrupted by that red-mist inducing phrase? When I go to the library (yeah, ok, it’s been about 15 years, but still) I don’t expect someone to slam their hand onto the page I’m reading and demand to know whether I’m finding the current book helpful or not. Nor do I expect the abstract equivalent when I go to a website.

If you want me to consider taking your survey then put it in the sidebar with an incentive. Give me 10% off my shopping, or a free subscription. Whatever, just make it worth my while. If you interrupt what I’m doing to ask me whether I’m enjoying doing it, the answer isn’t going to be very positive, so stop doing it.

Screenshot of woorank and their annoying screen invading website - Attack of the SCREEN INVADERS!!

It’s not just surveys either. Widgets such as Fancy Box (which is awesome when used properly) are being abused left right and centre just because someone somewhere saw it once and thought it was so cool that they had to have it on their website. So what do they do? They put content that belongs on the page into it. I’m looking at you WooRank.

“Add This” Widget: Most Annoying Widget In The World?

Screenshot of Perbang.dk and the 'Add This' screen invader, completely obscuring the page's single most important element - Attack of the SCREEN INVADERS!!

But finally, on to possibly the most irritating widget ever created: “Add This”. One of the most useful websites on the Internet for a designer, PerBang.dk, uses addthis.com’s “Add This” widget and every day I curse them for it.

Am I being too harsh in calling it “possibly the most irritating widget ever created”?

I don’t think so. It really stands out in my mind as one of the most annoying widgets anyone could willingly choose to place on a web page. Spammers could probably come up with something more irritating still and use cross-site scripting or similar attacks to inject it onto other people’s websites for them, but what amazes me is that people opt to use the “Add This” widget.

The problem with this widget is that it pops out, going from 177x16px to 260×186 without my interaction; A slight brush over it on the way to another page element is enough to send this seemingly innocuous link into a cascade of unwanted crud that generally ends up in the way of whatever I was trying to get to.

In the case of the Perbang website, the widget is placed on the path from the address bar to the colour code box, the single most important element on the page. And every day I find myself swearing at the “Add This” widget because it invariably pops out, obscuring the very box I was trying to get to. It’s poor user experience design and it’s a mistake that should not be occurring on a medium as mature as the World Wide Web!

Does this infuriating persistence make me want to share the website with friends? No.

Does it make me want to have anything to do with “Add This”? No.

So here’s a really simple idea to stop the “Add This” widget from driving all of us insane: Make it so that it only opens IF I CLICK ON IT. I’ll decide if/when I want it to pop out, in the meantime it can sit on the page quietly doing nothing. Like pretty much ever single other non-spam page element in the world.

In actual fact I’m so annoyed by it that I’m even tempted to create a Chrome plugin to remove the wretched thing from pages. Maybe the presence of a plugin to rid the Internet of this irritating little screen invader will be enough to prompt them to re-think their user interface design.

Maybe.

About Matt Lowe

Matt Lowe is a WordPress web designer / developer based in Newbury, Berkshire. After 8 years of doing the nine-to-five for other companies and watching them make the same mistakes over and over he set out in business on his own, forming Squelch Design to help businesses get online and make money.

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