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Cover image for 13 ways the Internet is broken - #9 will shock you!

13 ways the Internet is broken - #9 will shock you!

errietta profile image Errietta Erry Kostala Originally published at errietta.me ・10 min read

The web has been changing the past few years, not necessarily always for the better. There has been an emergence of anti-patterns, which are patterns that stand to try to make a profit without caring about the user experience, or often by hindering it.

These patterns are problematic, not only because they frustrate users, but also because by worsening user experience, one cannot expect people to keep using the website. I have seen so many things that have made me close a website and never come back, and I don't understand how this can be a profitable business model for any business. Yet people keep doing it, so it must be increasing their profits somehow.

I hope to look into some of these patterns in this post, and explain why I don't like them.

Notice: The following sections will contain screenshots of websites, mostly news websites as they are high-volume, popular websites and often exhibit one or more of the anti-patterns. While we may all have our own opinions on some of the articles displayed, that is not the point of this blog post. Therefore, I will not be approving any comments about the articles. If you want to know where I stand on those issues, hit me up at @errietta on twitter.

1 - Ads or videos taking up half the screen height on mobile.

A screenshot from the independent website on mobile. An article is displayed. There are two paragraphs of text at the bottom, above which there is a Twitter widget relevant to the article , and above that there is an advertisement taking up almost half the screen.

Seriously. I'm trying to read the article here. If I wanted to watch a video, I would be on youtube!

2 - Ads that load late and make content "jump"

It was difficult to take a screenshot here, but what I mean is that some websites don't load ads in correctly-sized containers (or containers at all). This means that when the ads load, it'll push the content down, as there is now a larger element taking up space above the text.

An illustration showing two pages. On the first page, you can see 4 paragraphs of text, an image, then another paragraph of text and a comments box.<br>
On the second page, the ad has loaded above the image, pushing the comment box below the fold.
Before and after advertisements load: The ads push the comments box below the fold.

3 - Recaptcha

Now, I know that recaptcha is very useful in telling bots apart from real users. And most of the time, if you've solved the puzzle before, you can just tick a box. The issue comes if, for whatever reason (such as private browsing), you have to do the challenge again. To be fair, these challenges are usually easy, but sometimes you will be unlucky and make a mistake, such as not seeing something in a tiny part of the image, or because the image is low quality, then have to start over. So frustrating.

A recaptcha prompt asking the user to select all images with cars.<br>
Surely, Google isn't using recaptcha to train a self-driving car...

4 - Autoplaying videos

Bonus points if the video has sound.

Picture this: You're on the early morning train, scrolling through your facebook feed, then some ad blasts music and annoys all the other commuters. Why.

Yes, you can turn it off in some apps. But it's still on by default. Plus some websites will not have an option to turn it off themselves, requiring you to mess with your browser.

5 - Websites asking to deliver push notifications

Unless you're my email or Slack app, I do not want your notifications. STOP asking me! What is worse, on mobile, this prompt will block the rest of the content until you block or allow.

A screenshot of a website, with a prompt asking to allow or block notifications in front of the content.
"Absolutely not. Now let me read up on the latest horrible news!"

6 - Sites that ask for your location

I understand that it's convenient in a lot of cases, in which case, I don't really mind. But it would be better if they asked when you did something location-specific, not right away.

It seems that every single website nowadays wants the right to spy on your every move.

A popup saying "www.google.com wants to know your location"
Google knows everything about me as well as where I am at all times. Hooray.

7 - "Subscribe to our newsletter!"

Don't you hate it when every website in existence seems to ask for you to subscribe to their newsletter? I very rarely take them up on their offer. It's good to be reminded about new blog posts in Interesting websites (although, no, this site does not have a newsletter), but other than that, I don't need that junk mail.

A prompt to sign up to a newsletter.
No, go away! I'm trying to give you money!

8 - Blocking ad blockers

A page blocking the content because I was using an ad blocker.
sigh Alright, I'll whitelist it.

I understand websites need ads to make money, but the reason why I chose to use an ad blocker is that many websites have so many ads with moving pictures or videos that it's a) incredibly distracting and b) really makes my PC struggle.

An ad taking up a big part of the website footer, which also has a video on top of it.
argh

I have my ad blocker set to allow acceptable ads anyway. By "acceptable" they mean not ads that get in the way of UX. It is possible to have the ads not be a terrible use of RAM!

9 - Clickbait

But first, a short word from our sponsor-- haha, just kidding! So, what's the issue with writing catchy headlines to get views? Well, buzzfeed-like headlines such as "X ways Y happens! #2 will shock you" can be harmless for the most part.

But sometimes, clickbait is used to attract attention to false information. People will sometimes read the title without reading the article (hey I'm guilty of it myself!). If your headline is making things look way more serious than they actually are, then that helps the spread of fake news. Plus, many of those clickbaity articles are basically ads disguised as articles anyway.

Why did I use a clickbait title for this post? Parody, obviously.

10 - Bad privacy prompts

Since the European laws about Cookies and GDPR came into effect, privacy prompts have been getting more and more intrusive. We get it, you want to track us, and you have to get our consent early in the journey, so the best thing seems to be to show a popup (it's not).

Not all of those prompts are terrible, but sometimes opting out is more difficult than it should be, either because you have to manually opt out, or because it's extremely slow. Why is this such a broken journey? Do you hate your users? Or are you just hoping they passively click "ok" at everything, because I sure just click OK.

A screen with various toggles to allow or disallow cookies. Some cookies require opt out<br>
What do you mean "requires opt-out"? Why are there that many third-party vendors setting cookies on your site? WHAT IS GOING ON

11 - Blocking EU visits because you cannot deal with GDPR

This is a pretty bad new strategy by some websites based outside Europe: Instead of trying to follow GDPR, they just ignore it, and in order to not get sued, just refuse to serve any EU IP addresses. I guess losing part of your user base is better than getting a GDPR lawsuit, but it would be even better to try to comply!

On a related note, what are they doing with our personal data that's against the GDPR? Do I even want to know?

This website example was provided by Sigute Kateivaite, who just wanted to buy some darn clothes.

12 - Expiring sessions too early

Unless you're a bank, or a similar kind of business that holds very private information about your users, your sessions can be longer than 30 minutes long.

I will never forget the time I lost a whole job application due to being kicked out of the site when trying to submit. ARGH, THE PAIN.

13 - Doing everything at once

A site with notification prompt, newsletter prompt, privacy prompt.
WHAT IS THIS I LITERALLY JUST WANT TO READ THE **** ARTICLE

Do I even need to expand on this one? No? Good. Alright, happy new year, mortals.


I'd like to thank the people in my slack groups who gave me inspiration. If you didn't see your suggestion here, it's because I had way, way more suggestions than I expected. I thought I'd struggle to fill this list, but it was very easy. For the avoidance of doubt, that's not a good thing, since it proves how broken the Web has got.

Discussion (25)

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quii profile image
Chris James • Edited

People giving up on RSS.

In the good old days I could subscribe to people's blogs and get content delivered to one simple app that i could read through at my leisure. Now I have to surf between 5 different websites, all of which want me to give up my privacy and bombard me with adverts and irrelevant content.

This sounds so cliched but honestly the internet was so much more usable 10 years ago.

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tomfern profile image
Tomas Fernandez

I also miss sites having RSS. The problem with RSS is that is not easy to use. I think Google Reader's death had a big impact on RSS adoption, at the time there weren't a lot of easy to use readers out there.

There's also that websites probably didn't know how to capitalize on RSS. It's much more profitable to get the views and ad clicks.

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moranmono profile image
moranmono

I still use feedly, coming from google reader I had a hard time saying goodbye to rss.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that decommissioning RSS was by design to boost traffic

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes

Here's 14 for you

Bloated SPA sites which could easily be written either server-side or (gasp) as static sites.

JavaScript is killing the Internet.

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ghost profile image
Ghost

If I may add to your point.

It's always good to pay a visit to

1: motherfuckingwebsite.com/
2: bettermotherfuckingwebsite.com/
3: thebestmotherfucking.website/

Of course those are satire but, really,... give it a good thought about it.

Probably sometimes you'll need more, but ask yourself, honestly, how many times you added something that will hurt or annoy your viewers just to show off?, just because is what everyone does? who really need carousels?

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errietta profile image
Errietta Erry Kostala Author

Hadn't seen those. Yeah, I agree :)

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

It's broken in far more fundamental ways:

  • it's used as a platform for anyone with an agenda to push; which in theory is fine... But less so when the agenda revolves around something scientifically unproven (anti-vax, flat earth, climate change denial etc.) or is deeply negative and intended to spread division in society (e.g. far-right (and left); religious extremism etc.)
  • it's used to spy on users. We're only just beginning to see the negative potential this has: e.g. it's given bad actors the ability to target biased ads at groups of users with the specific intent of affecting the outcome of a democratic process.
  • corrupt politicians have also figured out that the easiest way to get away with blatant lies is to simply repeat "alternative truths" (AKA BS) on the net until apparently no-one understands what is the truth any more.

In comparison a few technical content issues seem pretty irrelevant :(

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errietta profile image
Errietta Erry Kostala Author

Yeah, the way it's being used to spread misinformation is worrying. We don't yet have the infrastructure in place to stop fake news. Facebook is sort of trying now, but it's too little too late

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andrewsmith289 profile image
Andrew Smith • Edited

I doubt if there will ever be a viable way to stop "fake news". People in charge have a hard time staying honest, and news that they don't agree with will become "fake news", imo.

Thread Thread
blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

Sure there is: most of the fake news is spread via unregulated social media platforms. Those platforms need to take proper responsibility for the content posted on their sites - or have it imposed upon them. They're making enough money that they can invest properly in tackling this; instead of brushing it off and claiming they're protecting people's right to free speech. All they're protecting is their profit margin.

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drbearhands profile image
DrBearhands

I share your general feeling on the subject but disagree with your attitude towards changing browser settings. A website is essentially foreign code being executed on your computer, it makes sense to restrict what it may do. I don't think we should be reliant on 3rd parties' altruistic decisions (and competence!) for our own safety. Unfortunately the general public is poorly educated on the subject.

I for one blocked location requests, notifications, autoplay and tracking cookies.

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sqlrob profile image
Robert Myers

Mainly a problem because of 12, but WHY is the signin link always smaller and harder to find than the sign up link? Annoys the heck out of me.

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emptyother profile image
emptyother

Tumblr is one of the bigger sites I know about putting sign-up before login (it used too be smaller, too). They also have a relatively short-lasting session cookie, a 3-pages login form, and a constant ad for their non-functional android app even if you arent using android.

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errietta profile image
Errietta Erry Kostala Author

Yeah, also makes no sense. I just want to log in, why must I click some obscure button?😂
See also aws, the first aws job I had I legit didn't know how to log in (you need to enter your organisation's account name... they don't make it obvious 🙄)

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mshambharkar profile image
Mahindra Shambharkar

Next in the list: Serviceworkers.
Sites which I visit only once in lifetime will still install serviceworker on device and keep consuming resources (bandwidth,memory).
This affects specially on cellphones (no wonder we have 12 GB of RAM) where resources are limited.
Frequently I need to clear site data on chrome for cellphone for smoothly rendering of web pages

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byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

I agree that we developers have a long road ahead to start respecting other people's devices. We usually treat as if it was our device. We speak about "saving the planet", "respect", "tolerance", etc, and yet we fail to live by those standards on the most basic stuff we do on a daily basis...

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bambattajb profile image
Joe Buckle • Edited

11 is interesting as I have seen this before. I echo your curiosity as to why these sites are unable to comply with this regulation.

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byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

I agree mostly, but will have to disagree on #11. When I travel abroad, sit on a cafe and receive a service, I'm under that country legislation. The same should be in the internet. But if the EU finds itself entitled to rule sites based on other countries, completely overruling legislation authority from other sovereign countries, then non-europeans should be able to ignore Europeans at a minimum. I'm not saying they should or that I think it's a good idea, but I would totally understand and support if that's their decision.

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rafi993 profile image
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lizard profile image
Lizard

Genius title haha.

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richardeschloss profile image
Richard Schloss

I think there's still room for a 4th hashtag.. #takeBackOurInternet maybe?

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

Ugh. Has dev.to already devolved to the poor copy & paste clickbait spam title -level? This site depresses me more and more every day.

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

Ok, read #9 - parody. I'm not sure I'm particularly amused but I guess I'll give it a pass.

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errietta profile image
Errietta Erry Kostala Author

I wouldn't seriously post clickbait ;) it was 100% on purpose

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