8 things we still hate about the Web

We live in an age of technological paradox. I can hold more music in a pocket-size iPod than I could ever fit in my home CD shelf, stream Internet radio wirelessly on the bus, and instantly download any song I want for a buck, all in an elegant interface. When I want to look up the lyrics to a song, however, I inevitably land at some gaudy, banner-saturated, Google-bait site that stashes ringtone-download links in the chorus.

Early-Web annoyances such as GeoCities, pop-up ads for the X10 surveillance camera, and widespread usage of blink and marquee tags may be dead and gone, but the battle for Internet sanity rages on. There’s still plenty in Web 2.0 that’s archaic–and annoying.

1. Misleading Links in Downloads Sites

If I visit a download site, it’s safe to say I’m there because I want to download something. I understand that bandwidth isn’t free, so I’m more than happy to indulge whatever obnoxious full-screen Flash ads the site throws at me.

Where I draw the line is at serving ads that consist of nothing but a big ‘Download Here’ button. That’s just cheating.

A typical trip through MegaUpload looks like this: I click the download link, and it takes me to a splash page with a screen-shattering ad. I hover over the blue ‘Download’ button in the middle for second. “Aha,” I say to myself, “That’s an ad. No click for you.” I proceed to click the orange ‘Download File’ button.

Oops–I forgot to enter the CAPTCHA code. Let’s try that again. Hey, that’s the name of the file I want. I’ll click the big ‘Download’ button, and…no…that said ‘Premium download’, didn’t it? I’m not gonna pay $20 for your stupid monthly subscription, MegaUpload. I’ll just click ‘Back’. Now where’s that download link? Ah, there–it says ‘Download link’ right above the ‘Premium download’ button. Click.

Now I’m back at the first page, because I was foolish enough to think that the ‘Download link’ was actually a download link. CAPTCHA, ‘Download File’, click. Oh, right: I have to wait 45 seconds to download this stupid file. I don’t even remember what I’m downloading now.

2. Embedded-Video Headaches

As of this writing, YouTube is a little more than five years old. That’s half a decade we’ve had to make embedding YouTube videos less of a pain. For starters, let’s make it so that whenever I put a YouTube URL in a forum post, e-mail, tweet, or any other text box, it shows up as a video, just as it does in Gmail Chat.

No all-encompassing rules govern how different sites and services handle the full embed codes. Some sites convert a URL to an embedded video, other sites render the embed codes correctly, some sites display the code as text, and other sites don’t let you post any code at all. You’re unlikely to know what the rules of the game are until after you try to post a clip.

If I absolutely have to copy and paste the embed code, don’t make me guess which tags I need to keep and which tags I need to leave for the video to show up correctly.

3. Third-Party Cookies

You probably already knew this: The Man is keeping an eye on your Web activities with “tracking cookies,” or little files that identify you across an advertiser’s network. That way, ad networks can know what kinds of sites you’re visiting and pump the appropriate pitches to your eyeballs.

The easy way to work around the issue is to shut off third-party cookies in your browser entirely. As far as most browsers are concerned, however, undesirable third-party cookies are lumped in with honest-to-goodness useful cookies. Many browser extensions rely on third-party cookies to work, and ever since I blocked third-party cookies, I haven’t been able to use any of my Google Calendar extensions in Chrome.

Fortunately, you can sidestep that problem with a cookie whitelist extension. Install the extension, and then check Protect whitelisted cookies and Clear cookies and other site data when I close my browser in Chrome. Afterward, every time you close the browser, Chrome will clear all cookies except the ones you choose to keep.

4. Ads That Sing and Dance

Banner ads and Google AdSense might not buy a site operator a new Bentley, but they also don’t offend the audience quite like other ads do. For example, they don’t expand to take up your whole screen or play a video just because you were unlucky enough to move the mouse over the advertisement. (Yes, I know PCWorld.com is just as guilty as everyone else. For what it’s worth, it bugs us, too.)

Not only do these ads look obnoxious and get in the viewer’s way, but they also can be unexpectedly disturbing and hard to avoid–particularly when audio is involved. I routinely have at least five or six browser tabs open, and I’m constantly opening and closing new ones. At least once a week, I open a new window, accidentally move the mouse over the banner’s hot spot, switch tabs while waiting for the page to finish loading, and think nothing of it until I’m being pitched on a product through my speakers. Loudly.

Once the sound starts blaring through my speakers to the whole office, I panic. What just happened? I didn’t open a video. My only open tabs are Gmail, Google Docs, and an article from Salon, or maybe the New York Times. Maybe it’s some new kind of malware? Nope–just an ad.

Take heed, advertisers: Moving the mouse over a banner is not a click. If you really think the audience wants to hear your pitch, wait until they click your ad before you play the video. If they’re not clicking, it’s because they don’t want to hear it.

5. Suggested Friends/Twitter Accounts to Follow

I get it–Facebook is a social experience, and if you’re just signing up for a new account, it can be a pain to populate your Friends list. That’s why you can just add a few friends and let Facebook recommend friends who share some of your contacts. The same goes for Twitter, and undoubtedly several other social networking sites. Convenient, right?

Sure it is, except that for anyone who has been on Facebook for a while, the list of suggested friends reads less like a helpful collection of long-lost pals and more like a rogues’ gallery of exes, frenemies, and other people you’d rather not keep in touch with. That is to say, if you and someone else have 100 mutual friends and neither of you has reached out to the other on Facebook, there’s probably a good reason for it.

6. Poorly Targeted Advertisements

Note to Website operators: You need to show ads to pay for your site and make a buck? Fine with me. But if you’re going to stick me with tracking cookies to figure out what I’m interested in or use my Facebook profile information to sell me stuff, you could at least make the ad targeting more effective (or, ideally, get better advertisers).

Instead, I’m seeing rows and rows of ads that range from boring (‘Violent RPG Game’) to downright bizarre (Jamie Lee Curtis has a line of children’s books?). Furthermore, since I know these ads display according to the information in my Facebook profile, it’s almost kind of insulting–and I’m not getting barraged by ads for birth control, baby-photo contests, and weight-loss products, like most of the women I know on Facebook.

What’s more, apparently you site operators expect me to do your job for you and tell you which ads I don’t like. That’s just…lazy.

7. Asking to Publish on Facebook Everything One Buys, Eats, or Comments About

Sharing drives the new Web–but that doesn’t mean I want to dump everything I type somewhere on the Web into my Facebook feed for all my friends to see.

After all, if I wanted my friends to know what I thought of the taco truck on the corner, I’d share on Facebook the Yelp review I wrote–and if I wanted them to know my opinion of every single business establishment I have ever patronized, I’d add them as a friend on Yelp. If I wanted them to know I was buying an HDTV, instant curry, and a bottle of vegetable oil for Guys’ Night Out, I’d mention it in a Facebook status update. But never in a million years would I want to automatically share all of that with my hundreds of Facebook friends. So quit asking.

8. Sites That Autoplay Audio and Video

If a Website is built exclusively around sharing and playing audio and video, I know to put my headphones in before clicking the link. If it’s a blog, news site, or anything else that is generally devoted to the written word, I don’t want its audio/video embeds to play automatically when I open the page.

See, when I’m reading such fine publications, I don’t look at each article one at a time, one page at a time. Instead, I open every single link that catches my eye from the home page in a new tab. Once a video starts playing unbidden, I frantically close every tab, maybe lose an e-mail draft or two, and never come back to that site until enough time has passed that I forget it pushes those annoying autoplay videos.

This is a similar animal to mouse-over ads: If I’m interested in a video, I’ll click it and watch it. Sites shouldn’t try to trick me (or game their streaming-video traffic reports) by pushing the play button for me. Site operators should think of how many people are furiously trying to find the right tab to shut these things down. We are here, we are irked, and we are legion.

What grinds your gears about the Web? Complain away in our comments!

PC World (US)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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