My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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javascript features make reading a nightmare

For as far back as I can remember, I have highlighted words while I read on the screen. I don’t know why. It’s kinda the equivalent to moving my finger along the written text. Apparently, this is not a common practice. If I highlight words at the NYTimes and accidentally click on a single word, the NYTimes tries to look up the word with a new window. I really don’t need a definition of “the” and it just makes me lose track of what I was reading. Lately, I’ve noticed that blogs are starting to sport these annoying javascript-y in-page popups that block text with information about the links that I’ve accidentally scrolled over. Again, I lose track of what I was reading. Usually, I just give up and quit any blog that has those annoying things. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I really don’t want to see a screenshot of a website when I mouse over the link. A mini-picture of a page full of text does nothing except annoy me. It’s not additional information; it just feels icky. Le sigh. Am I alone on this one?

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45 comments to javascript features make reading a nightmare

  • With you 100% on that one, although I’m not in the habit of selecting text I don’t plan to copy… (gawd, don’t your fingers get tired from doing that?) If you’re using Firefox, I believe there are plugins you can download that will selectively block those evil javascript “features”.

  • AMEN. nyt.com is dead to me.

  • Bo

    I do the same thing. NYT sucks now!

  • jklp

    I do the same thing (highlight words while reading). You could disable JavaScript in Firefox for certain sites by using the NoScript add-on (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/722). Else if you’re more technically inclined, you could install GreaseMonkey (http://www.greasespot.net/) and disable just the offending piece of JavaScript programatically

  • +1. Theses link snapshots are torture. The only think that is nice about them is that their a way to configure them so that they do not get activated for you. Next time to see a SnapShot popup, try to click on settings and disable them for all sites.

  • yup — i also like to highlight words or lines to keep my place, and those “link previews” are horrible.

  • No! Agree entirely. Drives me nuts too.

    Actually it could be a point of disability access too. Some people need to read in such a manner, for example their eyes cannot always focus in one place e.g. linked to balance, thus they need highlight where they are.

    What about compliance with respective disability laws.

  • I think you are old fashioned. I run a multi-cultural development team and at our collaboration site we always put stuff that is a little configurable which shows the words that we highlight in many languages. We can drill down into this stuff and contextualize the words.

    On sites that we build lots of people want Spot for previewing links. A big spot helps people figure out whether to go there or not.

    It gets pretty busy though. We are working on a book mode so the pages won’t talk to you.

  • Absolutely. I double-click on words to keep track of where I am as I read — you can imagine how that works out at the NYT!

    I assumed that the pop-up definition thing was just a trial that would disapear when people started to push-back about it, but it’s still around — I guess us text-highlighters aren’t very common 🙂

    (BTW, in related news, I can’t can’t double click ‘apophenia’, in the label above the anti-spam field in this comment form, in order to copy it.)

  • Not alone. Well, I don’t highlight text as I read, but I find the screenshot pop-ups really annoying.

    The first time I encountered them, I though “neat!” — but after a few days, I was really sick of them. A tooltip is enough if I mouseover a link, I don’t need a big shoutout with a lag.

  • No, you’re not alone – in fact. you’ve just reminded me to turn off bloody Snap on my ‘work’ blog (already killed on my other blogs). Those adword type mouse-overs antagonise me the most, however – they can render a page completely unreadable.
    It’s not a matter of being old-fashioned or otherwise – ultimately, I want the choice of being able to concentrate on the content or being open to (constructive) distraction…

  • Umm… Don’t shoot the messenger. Poor use of new technology is not a sign of impending techno doom. Change the title to “Web pages are a nightmare to read” as a time machine exercise.

  • even if you don’t highlight the text as you read it, those previews are bad news. let alone those greedy green double-underlined ad links.

  • Scott

    You could read your blogs through an RSS feed reader. I use Google Reader and I love it! Feeds from the New York Times probably won’t be full text, however. All the more reason to dump the gray lady.

  • Joe

    I’m totally sympathetic about the NYTimes; for me it’s not about marking my position, but simply if I want to copy a block of text: I inevitably double-click on the first word and get the annoying pop-up.

    As for Snapshots, I’ll admit to using them on my site, but I agree 100% that having the mouseover effect on the full link text is an abomination. When you add SnapShots to a site, there is a configuration option that adds a small icon next to the link, and you can configure it so that only mousing over that icon summons the preview.

    This may still be annoying, but I’ll also point out that the preview features are smarter than just pictures of the link destination: for Wikipedia links, you can actually read the first several lines of the entry, which is often all you wanted, and for when the link destination is a blog with a feed that is configured properly, the preview is the text of the linked entry. If you link to YouTube, the pop-up provides a directly embedded viewer (which is nice since I haven’t figured out how to hack WordPress to let me put the YT-embed markup directly in my posts.)

    I’m not shilling for Snap, but I do think it’s a lot less annoying when people implement it correctly. (Maybe Snap shouldn’t be offering the more annoying option at all.) Also, as noted above, you can turn it off yourself — maybe Snap should make that a little more obvious in the pop-ups. And finally, I hope that the “smarter” (non screen-grab) pop-ups can help push the model of the web to being more about passing around structured information and not just “web pages”.

  • Cris Daniluk

    I am a bigtime highlighter when I read. I’ve never understood why, but I think you may be onto something with the equivalent to using your finger.

    It seems like these sites should offer two modes.. “I’m trying to read this big long article, so only show me text with no links, rollovers, contextuals, spots or anything else” and “I’d like to be really semantic and link to everything in the world”. Blah.

  • yup. I do the same thing.

    There are many ways to get around this with noScript plugins and RSS readers but probably the best way to fight again this feature creep is to just get people talking about it.

    amusingly enough though it’s not easy to copy/past your spam test below either 😛

  • dens

    i do the same thing – highlighting as i go. the NYT change drives me bananananananaananananas.

  • rpallares

    100% with you.
    And what about this feature on WordPress that previews eeeevery hyperlink I put the curson on? Drives me nuts too.

  • Yep — I do it more as a nervous twitch, like curling and uncurling the corners of the books I’m reading. Trillian was the first to drive me batty with its auto-copy feature. Now that I’ve switched to Pidgin I don’t have that problem anymore, but I have noticed an increase in webpage cruft of this sort …

  • Can’t say that I agree with you on that. I like the popups, however I also don’t select text as I’m reading it. Though it does make sense that you should be able to turn just that off (NoScript and Firefox – turns off all javascript).

  • I’m used to highlight text too, and I find this kind of “features” quite annoying. To get rid of them I use adblock firefox plugin (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/10) with the following “Advertisement filters”:

    – spa.snap.com/* for Snap previews

    – *.nytimes.com/js/common/screen/altClickToSearch.js for NYTimes dictionary popups

  • I totally agree, I was reading a site the other day about design patterns and they had the linked words the brought up targeted ads when you rolled over the link. On this site it was a Microsoft Live Ad for all the words but when you rolled over the link a dialog window popup up over the content. When you you rolled away from the link the dialog stayed active and continued to block half the content. The only way to close the dialog was via a close button and then I accidentally rolled over another link!!

    I left the site pissed thinking it was just that one site but then another blog I read on a regular basis had the same ad. What makes this worse is that the dialogs are all generated as layers in the page and can not be blocked or disabled without killing JS in the browser. Whoever designed that should be shot. I can understand the desire to try and raise some capital via ads, but to ruin you users experience is pretty stunning.

  • You are most certainly not alone. I first found annoyance with wikis that edit on double-click.

  • Dylan

    Definitely not alone! I always do the same thing.

  • ::jaw on floor:: Wow… i didn’t realize that i had so much company! And thank you to all who offered fun workarounds. Marco – i lurve the specialty adblocking. Much appreciated!

    (As for my spamblocking technique, it’s the best thing that i could think of that blocks spam pretty effectively without being cruel to blind individuals because it’s read aloud. I have no idea why you can’t double click just that word.)

  • Graham Freeman

    I’m with you. Here’s how I use text selection:

    * I highlight words or phrases with which I particularly agree or disagree, or that contradict others in the same text
    * I highlight words as a bookmark if I step away from the computer (e.g. knock at the door) or temporarily switch to another window (e.g. if I get an urgent IM)
    * I highlight interesting sentences or paragraphs to show my wife, friend, or colleague sitting next to me
    * I click on text so as to bring the containing windows to the front.

    My solution to undesirable web page behaviour is to use AdBlock Plus ( http://adblockplus.org/ or https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865 ). If AdBlock doesn’t already block the undesirable junk, you can use the “Open blockable items” function (off the down arrow next to the little “ABP” stop sign) to find and block any given element of the web site. It actually highlights part of the page that will be blocked as you select each element – pretty nifty. And, of course, if it ever disables something you want to use, you can allow-list a given page or site and AdBlock won’t block anything on that page or site.

  • Ha! People around me are always annoyed by my habit of highlight-as-you-go, but i can’t stop myself sometimes. Let me do it my way! So funny to see so many people with the same mania…

  • a better question is : does anyone like them? I can’t imagine the value of previewing a link — as if a site’s layout or color scheme is going to influence my clicking it. Perhaps this might be nice for inline content like music of photos directly related to the content (e.g. being able to play a track while reading an album review), but it’s overwhelmingly distracting even for me and I don’t even highlight while reading.

  • I absolutely agree with you! Most javascript features on blogs are useless eye-candy at best, and supreme annoyances at worst. Good call.

  • I’m with you. I really hope this feature of NYT is eliminated…

  • second the recommendations about using firefox with AdBlock Plus, makes it quite easy to eliminate intrusive advertising.
    Snap can be disabled per PC via the configuration option offered, kudos to Snap for getting that part right

  • Ken

    Not at all. I do the same (highlight text to focus my eyes), and find the pop-up previews idiotic and distracting. But I also installed the Firefox add-on/extension QuickJava, which lets me temporarily disable those features. Handy.

  • mu

    nope. not alone. i HATE this

  • Yeah, I can’t stand those little snap popups either. How are they supposed to help us? What does a micro-preview do when you can’t read the damn thing anyway?

    When I read stuff online, I often have to look up words. I don’t like the idea that an inadvertent click on a word might take me to another site. I do however have plugins that enable me to look up any word I want on a variety of site like Wikipedia, the Free Dictionary, etc. Firefox is awesome!

  • silpol

    For last year or so, I can’t stop to think that weblife without Firefox and Noscript+Adblock is just unbearable. And also it makes me warm in heart that Google’s spiders on pages have less food (yes, YOUR blog is also equipped with google-analytics.com JS crap, which is NOT run in MY browser, great kudos to noscript guys)

  • danah, your post reminded of something I wrote about a while ago. I’m also a double-clicker, and I was very ticked off by wikis that redirect you the their edit page on double-click.

    Here’s my post: http://ramikayyali.com/archives/2007/05/13/infoload

  • Lolololo

    I’m also selecting text as I read. I’ve always done it! I’m 110% with you here!

  • +1 for highlighting (don’t you have HCI behavioral specialist in your lab?)
    +1 for NYT is annoying as hell.
    +1 for AdBuster hack.

    Such features (definition, translation, read-aloud, snapshots) should obviously be user-driven.

    NYT discovered they had a large foreign readership and decided to implement that— but they should have added a location-based-on-IP link to install it as an extension, instead of forcing it on us.

  • No, you’re not. I’m also selecting text while reading in a near to manic way, everyone who stands behind me is pretty annoyed. I also agree with the rest of your post. Noone needs this shaky features of a text. It’s just text and I’m not going to read it if someone stresses me with more.

  • DC

    I constantly highlight to keep track of where I am. Especially in long paragraphs. If I don’t, I have a tendency to re-read the same line over and over again.

  • I’m late to the party here, but just want to say I agree compeletely.

    I hilite anything that seems interesting, and to keep my place when scrolling around within an article.

    To see if other people were the same, I added some code to my blog that records all text that people hilite. The results are interesting…looks like we’re not alone in our hiliting habits!
    http://wanderingstan.com/selections