Dear Internet Don’t Do This

And you too, computer, now that I think of it. I have a list here of things that are annoying that are similar to each other in that they interfere with my most basic use of the computer. Most of the time I demand very little of a computer. Writing text in a text editor or in the text boxes of web pages, and reading things. That is mostly what I do. It is astonishing that in 2012 when we are about to do this that these simple tasks can be thwarted by poor design and engineering in the software running on what is really pretty advanced hardware.

1) Reloading web pages. This is best exemplified with our local CBS affiliate, WCCO, news site. Let’s say I open up a web page that has an interesting news story. I read part of the page and then I get distracted by something shiny for, say, 20 seconds, then I go back to finish reading the story and the page reloads. I’m now back to the top of the page. I work my way down the text to find where I left off, and start reading again. Then, I get to the end of the page and I’m about to read the last sentence, and the page reloads. Or, worse, I start up one of the embedded videos on the page. And while the video is still playing, the page reloads. Why does this page keep reloading? How can you make a news site that reloads pages while the reader is reading them almost every time if the story is longish, or, amazingly, if the reader is watching a video? Why?

I’ve actually emailed WCCO about this. This problem has been going on for at least a year, and I’m sure others have complained as well. Haven’t they? I guess there is no internal mechanism at CBS or WCCO for problems with the user eperience to translate into a redesign of the technology.

2) Moving text boxes. This is a BIG problem with Google+ but it also happens in Facebook. You have a text box in which you are entering a post, status update, or comment, and while you are typing this in, suddenly the pages shifts. This is like the reloading page mentioned above but with a different technology and effect. The point is, your text box is gone and now you have to find it to write that last one or two words of the brilliant thought you were just about to post which you may have lost track of because of this distraction. This is like if Hemmingway was writing a novel and at random intervals somebody walked into the room and rolled the typewriter platten on him. The people who designed that technology clearly don’t use the technology.

3) Text Boxes that go on vacation. This is where you are typing text into a text box, like where you put your Facebook status, and suddenly you are typing and nothing is happening. Then, suddenly, all the text you were typing comes flying out. This actually has been known to happen to me in my text editor when it decides to take too much time saving backups and maybe something is wrong with the hard disk system. So, OK, I replaced the hard drive and fixed that, but still.

4) And another thing. Why is it that bringing up a simple file manager and having it populated with the file data takes so long? Isn’t that the most basic function of my system? Shouldn’t that happen instantaneously?

Internet and Computer Software Industry, please fix these things.

Thank you very much, that is all.

Comments

  1. #1 Doug Alder
    July 4, 2012

    Greg – I think in most cases the “Text Boxes that go on vacation.” is not a site problem it’s a connection problem (dropped packets along the way. I see this on my RDP session to work fairly often and as soon as I switch to my other provider (I have both cable and dsl connections) it clears up.

  2. #2 F
    July 4, 2012

    Word. And that ain’t half of it.

  3. #3 Tamara
    Wisconsin
    July 4, 2012

    You may want to try looking for an update for the driver to your pointer device, especially if you have a laptop with one of those touch pads. That sounds a lot like the trouble I was having with my laptop because my touchpad was capriciously sensitive. Apparently the air molecules near the laptop wanted to scroll down or something.

  4. #4 Trebuchet
    July 4, 2012

    Politico.com is a “good” example of pages that keep reloading. At least I’m not seeing so many that try to hijack my browser any more.

    And since we’re ranting about the internet, take Netflix. Please. They probably think they’re pretty clever by getting around popup blockers. They’re not. I’ll never, ever, be a Netflix customer.

    As for the slowness of the file manager, it’s because our hard drives are too dang big! And we expect to see a thumbnail of every cute kitten photo when we load it. What really bugs me about file managers is that the user interface is worse with every succeeding version of Windows.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 4, 2012

    Tamara, I’m referring here mainly to a desktop, but I know what you mean: My laptop does that stuff as well.

    Trebuchet, I do want a faster hard drive.

  6. #6 Homo Fabulus
    July 5, 2012

    It has nothing to do with Internet and Computer Software Industry. The reloading web pages problem is a choice made by websites themselves. what they want to achieve by doing that is increase their visitors stats, or more precisely increase the number of loaded pages per day, either because they are paid by advertisers for each ad loaded (= seen by a visitor), or because they want their website to look more attractive for potential advertisers.

    Definitely not user-friendly, I personnally tend to avoid those websites.

  7. #7 Dunc
    July 5, 2012

    5) Anything that moves the focus unexpectedly. I’m in the middle of typing something in Application A, and then for some stupid reason, Application B (or even just something else in Application A) decides to steal the focus. Drives me mental.

    I blame a lot of this crap on AJAX. Quit hogging my processor trying to to “clever” things in Javascript! Oh sure, they work fine on your development machine, but they often work dramatically less well out on the real live internet, with its occasional lags, dropped packets, and the like. I really fucking hate it when my browser grinds to a halt because some crappy page is blocked trying to load some crappy 3rd-party script from some server somewhere in Outer Fuckwitistan that’s apparently connected to the internet by a piece of damp string…

  8. #8 Sean
    July 5, 2012

    My big gripe is when you open a web page, and click on the text box to begin your typing, thinking everything is hunky dory. However, whilst you were moving the mouse, the various adverts, banners and sidebars were still loading, causing the screen content to suddenly lurch downwards just as you click, bringing your mouse cursor perfectly in line with a link to the help section or a discount shop.

    Maybe I just need a faster connection.

  9. #9 Tamara
    July 5, 2012

    Pornographic or nearly pornographic popups or rollovers on otherwise innocuous websites. And if you put parental controls on high enough to avoid them, you can’t get to the content you actually want or need.

    Tired of having my twelve year old pass his laptop to dad: “There’s something gross on my computer, can you make it go away please so I can play Meeblings in peace?”

    Semi-related, but funny…same twelve year old complaining that Diablo 3′s rating should be “M for math” because of several puzzles he had to solve requiring mathematical reasoning. Ha ha I win.

  10. #10 Daniel J. Andrews
    July 5, 2012

    Jumping pages. I’m reading a document (Word, web pages) and suddenly it’ll jump up by a paragraph or two. I thought it was just a glitchy computer, but it has happened on 3 of my laptops as well as on university desktops.

  11. #11 Richard Chapman
    July 5, 2012

    I will almost always highlight and copy my text to my clipboard (I have it set to hold 200 entries) several times while I write a comment. If something goes wrong, which it often does, I can simply paste it back in. If the comment starts to get a little on the long side I will copy it to a text editor and continue writing it there. I find that seeing the text in a different font and configuration helps me spot errors.

    As for hard drive lag, I use Linux and format the drive in Ext4. It’s very fast and recovers from surface failures quite well. My computer has failed (locked up solid) on several occasions due to hard drive failure. I simply ran the fsck utility (gParted LiveCD) and was up and running 15 minutes later (Try that with Windows.). So far I have not lost any data that I could discover. It appears the bad sectors were on the root partition of the hard drive.

    For some reason Firefox’s spell checker doesn’t work in this site’s comment block. I’m using my text editor now and it does have a spell checker.

    As for sites that reload pages after a set period of time, I do like a previous poster does, I avoid those sites. I find it rude in the extreme. And yes, they do it to boost their hit count.

  12. #12 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    July 5, 2012

    Greg, You forgot,

    5. Get off my lawn!

  13. #13 Michael Haubrich
    Central Coast
    July 6, 2012

    I remember the days when Mozilla didn’t allow any cutting any pasting of text into comment forms. I thought it was a bug, turned it to be a “feature” to prevent malware getting onto servers. Not specific to this topic, and they have since come to their senses so the problem is no longer a problem. I just thought I would share an old gripe that is not relevant.

  14. #14 travc
    July 8, 2012

    1-3 are all side-effects of the fact that modern interactive websites are built on hacking functionality into HTML+browser that wasn’t part of the initial design. HTML wasn’t designed to do anything beyond a simple form with a “Submit” button, and that was pretty much an afterthought in the first place. Basically, we would be best served by a new framework designed from scratch IMO.

    The file manager issue is also a legacy thing. Most filesystems weren’t designed with that sort of access in mind, much less searching. BeOS’s filesystem was actually built around a relational database keeping all the file properties, and actually had that sort of near instant access. Not a bad approach.

  15. #15 John Sandlin
    San Antonio, TX
    July 8, 2012

    Another not so nice web site practice are the ads that come on with audio at full volume and have no volume control. I have some audio sources that are quiet, so I have system volumes relatively high and then turn down the ones that are louder. But some of these ads come in very loudly and when I’m wearing headphones it can make my ears hurt.

  16. #16 Mike from Shreveport
    Shreveport
    December 16, 2012

    Ads with blaring sound!

    How about a little warning, you S.O.B.s?!

    I’m at work, you S.O.B.s!

    My wife/kids are sleeping, you S.O.B.s!

    I was having a little peaceful time, and you jarred/startled me into a frantic grab for the volume slider, you S.O.B.s!

    I didn’t give you any @#$@%$^ permission to blare your audio on my computer, you S.O.B.s!

    /rant end

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2012

    I hate that. Since Scienceblogs management started to ignore my emails about page layout and blog design issues, I installed ad blog and no longer report problems. But you could always send an email via a link at the bottom of the page.

    Oh, look they took away the link. Oh well. I would just go with the ad block.