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Is autoplaying video Dark UX?

August 26, 2016 12:41 pm
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Betteridges Law of Headlines provides the succinct answer to this article title.

The Next Web has once again said something weird. This time on the subject of autoplaying video; see here:

The thing is… nobody asked for autoplay video. It’s a dark user pattern and it’s not something people ever desired or wanted – it only exists in pursuit of one goal: advertising dollars, or even more simply: stealing your attention back.

We’ll move on to whether it’s a dark user pattern in a bit, here I’ll say that users asked for autoplaying video. They asked for it with the insane popular resurgence of the Animated Gif. The engagement time for these has not gone unnoticed by those responsible for UX & Analytics at the social networks or indeed anyone who has visited a comment section of a blog recently. I’m with you by the way, I’m not particularly a fan of auto play video either. Especially for ads.

For some reason we won’t accept annoying, distracting ads on the Web, but when social media networks slowly rolled them out it gradually became the norm.

Most users absolutely DO accept annoying distracting ads on the web. Have you not seen it recently? It’s like Coca Cola spent their budget sponsoring a library. Or are we calling out all advertising as dark UX? Because that’s the implication.

Most frustrating of all, it assumes consent.

Scroll fucking past it then? You are giving your consent by continuing to let your eyes dawdle on it. Probably heightening some sort of engagement time metric, making more analytics guys go “hey they really are loving these autoplay videos”. Again, you are not being tricked to do something here and that is the core of what a dark pattern does. You are tricked into committing an action that you didn’t want to take with dark UX. Example; a checkbox at the end of a sign up page with a message like “Tick this checkbox if you ‘do not’ wish to receive newsletters”. This is dark UX because it plays on our lack of attention with common elements where we expect a certain result. The expected conclusion of the action of continuing to watch a video is that you see the end of the video. That’s just UX, pal.

At no point does the author mention data usage, which for me is a bigger issue for autoplay video on mobile devices. Don’t rape my data with videos I don’t want to watch. I have faith that most social networks stop video streams when the content has left the viewport though. The social networks also have bills to pay for bandwidth after all and Zuck can’t dive into a giant pool of coins like a silicon valley Scrooge McDuck if we are draining all his coins on a series of tubes to pipe autoplaying video through.

The thing that I take most umbrage about with this article is, as I commented on the article:

I can see the argument, but my mind goes straight to: if we are calling out something that draws attention as dark UX then anything that draws attention is dark UX. So, the entire advertising industry is dark UX and as much as I hate the industry I work in, that really doesn’t help expose the core bad practice of what actual dark UX is, I’m not being tricked into watching a video, I’m consenting to continue watching as opposed to scrolling past. The humble animated gif (which is actually the more probable root cause of resurgence in autoplay video) is suddenly dark UX according to this treatise.

So, carousels are dark UX? CSS animations are dark UX? A rollover state is dark UX? Because it drew my eye and helped trick me to keep watching/stay on page/keep clicking?

No, That’s bollocks.

Me being signed up to something because I was tricked by the interface; either by mis-leading copy or call to action when I was thought I was performing a different action to what I had actively engaged. THAT is dark UX.


This joint was penned by @elmarko