Thursday, 21 February 2013

I Hate Nagging Web Sites

Last fall Twitter introduced what they called "header photos" for user profiles. Basically, one can have a background photo in one's header--the area that displays one's name, Twitter handle, and so on. Now I do not visit Twitter often as I use HootSuite as my Twitter client, but the first time I did so following Twitter's introduction of header photos, there was a box containing a blurb at the top urging me to upload a header photo (I can't remember the exact wording). I simply hit the little "X" in the corner of the box to close it. I figured that should be enough to convince Twitter that I did not want to upload a header photo.

Unfortunately the next time I went to Twitter (which could have been much as a week later), there was the message again. I once more hit the "X" in the corner to close the box. It seems, however, that twice was not enough, nor was three times. I am not sure how many times the message kept appearing, but eventually it did disappear. That having been said, I think it should have only appeared once. I would not like it, but I could see the message appearing three times as acceptable. More than that and one would think it would be clear to Twitter that I do not want to upload a header photo. For one thing, I do not regard Twitter as Google+ or Facebook. A Twitter profile should not have to have a cover photo. For another thing, I cannot see spending so much time on a header photo for a site that I rarely go to (as I said above, I use HootSuite as my Twitter client).

While Twitter has apparently given up on urging me to upload a header photo, now it has taken to urge me to add my Twitter feed to my web site. This is impractical for me as I do not have a web site. I have this blog, but I have no intention of adding my Twitter feed to it. So far this message has appeared twice. I am guessing it will appear several times more before it disappears, just like the header photo message.

Of course, Twitter is not the only social media web site to engage in this sort of behaviour. I remember when Facebook introduced Timeline how they constantly urged people to switch to it. I refused to do so because I had seen previews of it and heard horror stories about it, so I resisted until they forced me onto it. Regardless, I did not appreciate the constant urging to switch to Timeline. Indeed, I am very thankful they came out with the single column version, which is much better.

I suppose there are those who will quite rightfully point out that I have complained often and loudly about Twitter and especially Facebook in the past, but here I must point out that they are not the only web sites or web companies to do this. Google, a company I respect and admire, has been guilty of this as well. Those of you with YouTube accounts may be aware that one can now use the name he or she uses on his or her other Google services (Google+, Blogger, et. al.) instead of his or her YouTube user name. I did this not long after they introduced this option, as I like the idea of my Google services being consistent across the board. That having been said, not everyone is like me. I have a friend who wants to continue using her YouTube user name. Unfortunately, almost every time she visits YouTube of late, she is confronted with the choice of using the name she uses on her other Google services. It doesn't seem to matter that she already made her choice long ago.

For fans of old movies and TV shows (especially Alfred Hitchcock Presents), this sort of behaviour from web sites must seem familiar. At least it seems familiar to me. It is the sort of behaviour one sees from the stereotypical nagging spouse in films from Three Ages to The Nutty Professor. While the nagging spouse might urge their other half to take out the trash or wash the dishes, these web sites are nagging one to upload a header photo, switch to Timeline, or stop using one's user name on YouTube. And while I can't speak for all users, I know that some of my friends and myself really do not like the constant reminders to change our experience on a social media site to something we might not want.

As to why social media sites nag their users to adopt the latest changes, that is hard to say. I suspect it is because most social media sites want a good deal of consistency across their user profiles. They want all profiles to have a header photo. They want all profiles to use a certain format (such as Timeline). As to why they want a good deal of consistency across their user profiles, I am not sure. Perhaps there is some way it makes things easier for them. Perhaps they think it makes it easier for users. Personally, while I can understand some consistency across user profiles (obviously you don't want profiles to look dramatically different from each other), I do not see the point in forcing every user to have a header profile or to use a profile format that has proven unpopular.

Indeed, I think social media sites could be missing one of the most popular features of web sites: customisation. Most people want to be able to express themselves in their social media profiles. They want to feel that their social media profiles say something about themselves. If that means not having a header photo or whatever, then so be it. To me, then, nagging users to upload a header photo, stop using their user name in favour of another name, and so on, is little more than an annoyance. Most users are simply going to close the box the containing the message to "upload a header photo" and go about their business, no matter how often they have to do it.

In the end, then, I would suggest that when social media sites introduce a new feature, that they do not feature messages at the top of the page urging users to adopt said new feature no more than three times. Obviously if a user ignores a message that many times, then, he or she probably isn't interested in the new feature. To do any more than that is, quite simply, nagging.

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