Most people love a good scare. That moment where you almost jump out of your skin can pump you full of adrenaline and get your senses heightened.
Unfortunately, while zooming through a theme park ride at epic speeds or watching Michael Myers chase Jamie Lee Curtis with a knife will give us a "fun" type of scare, the web — whether by design or sadism — tends to be full of the kind of scary traps that would make the Jigsaw Killer’s creepy puppet giggle with glee.
Horrors on the Web
As you may have guessed, I’m a fan of horror movies. I could happily spend a few hours watching Sadako from The Ring franchise scare people to death. However, as we all know, the real world can be just as terrifying (or more so) than the world of movies.
While I love the medium of the web, and the awesome things we can do with it, a few things about it chill me to the bone.
Internet Explorer 6 or Michael Myers: both shorten your lifespan!
Much of the web’s horrors usually arises through no fault of the site designer and are often misguided attempts at solving a particular requirement for a site. In many cases, people implement such spooky site features to draw the attention of site visitors or to add something that the site owner thinks is cool.
Let’s take a look at some scary things the web has to offer.
Automatically Playing Music
Of the web’s many horrors, automatically playing music has to be high on the list of terrifying web crimes.
Imagine that you’re sitting in the office and have forgotten that your speakers were cranked up from showing co-workers a funny YouTube video.
A few hours later, you wonder onto a site you’ve never visited before. Suddenly, Bohemian Rhapsody blasts through your ears, nearly shattering your eardrums. That incident might have sent coffee into your keyboard or given you a heart attack.
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you, three, four better… <insert MIDI sound file here>.
Automatically playing music has been popular for many years but it’s still not a very good idea. Even with an "off" button provided, it won’t resolve the initial scare of the noise pollution.
While scaring people with audio is effective, an equally annoying method to creep people out is by using rapidly flashing content.
Have you ever been on a site where tons of things start occurring on the page all at once and your eyes are forced to bounce around the browser to get a handle on it? Yes, this isn’t something that’ll make you jump, but it’s still a worthy horror!
Like the twins in The Shining, we really don’t want random things jumping in front of us.
Animated GIFs have mainly been ostracized for their ability to turn your professional-looking site into a kid’s TV show on acid (with dancing hamsters and Homer Simpson avatars). It’s scary stuff to see in modern sites.
Hideous Source Code
Our next horror is dedicated to designers and developers who deeply care about quality and best practices. Yes people, there’s nothing like seeing a website that seems OK on the surface only to look under the hood and be reduced to tears at the sight of the source code.
If you’ve seen the mummy, he’s not so pretty once you’ve taken off the wrapping!
Beyond the issues of not following web standards and best practices, the scale of the terror is most felt when you realize that the site owner of the unfortunate site probably paid good money for it.
With the next generation of web designers being more aware of how important quality code is, this horror should eventually be reduced to obscurity.
But for the moment, the shock of seeing some gnarly, bloated code is enough to freak a web designer out.
Sudden Client Deadlines
Here’s another way to terrify a designer and, in this case, it’s the result of something our clients do rather than what we do to ourselves or each other.
You’ve got a contract in place, and you have a friendly client who’s a bit lacking in clarity on the project. Suddenly, from nowhere, you receive an email in which the individual says they need to push the deadline up to tomorrow!
As you don’t want to lose your client, you work through the night to finish the work. Scary thought, right?
Working with clients can quickly become like an Alien vs. Predator movie.
Communication is important in any project but, unfortunately, it’s something that seems to degrade regularly between designers and clients.
While contracts can avoid scope creep and while project planning can help limit these types of problems, it’s both sad and frightening to hear the stories of those who have suffered at the hands of their client’s needs (some clients may be the most terrifying creatures in existence).
Our next horror has given many designers and developers nightmares. Outmoded IT can be scary: anyone who still fights against the tide in developing for Internet Exploder 6 will testify to the torture that can ensue from watching your beautiful design be reduced into a hideous Frankenstein-like creature.
In addition, the memory of Microsoft FrontPage code sends a shiver through our spines.
Vampires have a habit of living for long periods of time, just like Internet Explorer 6.
It goes without saying that like a Stephen King style horror novel, the ravages of the web’s aging leave us being forced to endure the problems of compatibility in a manner we cannot easily escape.
Just like Freddy Krueger, IE6 keeps returning to stalk us even though we’ve tried to kill it off more times than Rasputin.
Continuing to test for compatibility and ensuring that our code is built using standards and best practices is part of the job. For the sake of our site users, we need to be pragmatic and embrace this terror!
Nobody likes feeling as if they’ve lost all control of a situation. Obnoxious scripts that automatically resizes a window or disables right-click functionality is just plain horrific. Obnoxious scripts are among the most inflictive terrors online.
Werewolves lose control at the full moon. Internet users suffer it on a regular basis.
It’s only natural that site owners may want to protect their assets from being stolen; but this should never be done at the user’s expense. Crippling the right-click functionality, for example, may seem like you’re preserving your content, but it’s also going to hurt the visitor who isn’t there to do bad things. In addition, unscrupulous individuals that do want to steal content already have workarounds to these things anyways.
Exploitative Site Activities
Nothing surprises your visitors more than unexpected navigational events, and I am sure that after the 90s, many of us fear the unexpected redirect on the premise that we may end up in some malware-infested site.
Don’t be like Jigsaw, avoid trapping your visitors into situations they don’t want!
If that wasn’t enough horror to contend with, the levels of malware seems to regularly be on the rise, privacy has become a serious issue and there’s always the questionable use of redirection and page refreshes. As a site designer, we need to tackle these many adversities in order to gain our visitor’s trust.
Get The Oxygen, Nurse!
As you think about the web’s many problems, it may seem like a never-ending battle between good and evil (and unfortunately, it’s one that may never end).
From the outright scary (that will literally startle you and make you jump) to the factually scary (which could make you feel a little depressed), the web is filled with monsters and creatures that keep us on our toes. Sometimes it’s comical, sometimes it’s quite annoying, many times it’s genuinely wrong — but like with any good horror film it’s full of twists.
As we become more digitally dominated — as our lives increasingly revolve around the internet — the need to fight off these horrors is in our best interests because horror really isn’t much fun when it directly affects us and our users.
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About the Author
Alexander Dawson is a freelance web designer, author and recreational software developer specializing in web standards, accessibility and UX design. As well as running a business called HiTechy and writing, he spends time on Twitter, SitePoint’s forums and other places, helping those in need.