Return of the Popup

More than a decade ago, the internet userbase (all of humanity) resoundingly rejected popup windows. Popups became a popular method for scumbag web sites to serve advertisements and malware to visitors. They annoyed, they took up system resources needlessly, and they were generally unwanted. The lowly popup was the bane of the IE6 era, and many countermeasures were employed to block them, culminating in browsers adopting default settings to block popup windows and to require the user to approve popups on a per-domain basis.

It’s 2014, and popups have been returning thanks to javascript. Now, instead of popping up a new browser window and loading an entire webpage, popups have become ajaxy, serving an html fragment inside a FancyBox or similar javascript construct. They tend to serve up nags to Like, Share, and Follow the host site, rather than display advertisements for the ad network sponsoring the site, but they are no less annoying, and a stop needs to be put to them. It’s pervasive with clickbait “viral” websites, which are themselves annoying to begin with, due to the way they craft their teasers in often misleading ways. But these modal javascript annoyboxes need to go. Especially on mobile browsers, where the close button frequently doesn’t work well, they harm the user experience on web sites that use them.

FancyBox Etiquette for the Scrupulous Web Developer

There are legitimate uses of FancyBox, to display fullsize content in image galleries, for example, or to bring up contextually relevant controls in a web application. But the social share nag needs to go. The little buttons under the headline or at the bottom of the article ought to be sufficient. If people aren’t clicking on them, you don’t need to shove it in their face after a few seconds delay, or they’ve scrolled halfway down the page.

Here’s how to know whether your popup is a good popup or bad popup:

  1. Does the content being served in the popup serve the user’s needs, or is the site asking the user to do it a favor or asking the user to buy something?
  2. Did the user do something to request it, like click a button or link? Or did you throw the popup at them because they have been in the page for more than 10 seconds or scrolled down to read more of the article?
  3. Is the popup enabling the user to do what they came to the site to do? (eg., reading content, view a gallery of images, interact with features of a web app) Or is the site interrupting what the user came to the site to do and asking them to do something else (eg, buy something, donate money, sign a petition, LikeShareFollowSubscribe?)

There’s really not much gray area possible here. If you’re a web developer, stop doing the scumbag stuff, and get back to providing a good user experience to the user.

An appeal to end FancyBox popup abuse

Unfortunately the new popup phenomenon seems to be increasing in popularity, which means that, apparently, they work. If users don’t stop clicking on the Like|Share|Follow buttons when they’re served, we’re only going to see more of them. We need to stand up and say enough is enough.

Therefore, I’m issuing this appeal:

To the masses: stop Liking, Sharing, Following, and Subscribing to sites that try to signal boost through popup social nagging. In fact, stop going to those sites altogether.

To website developers: Stop making use of popup nags. Just stop already. Stop it.

To browser developers: Javascript has become a crucial part of the web, and necessary for many web sites to serve any content at all. But it is also a too-easily exploited vector for external threats to execute malicious code through the web browser, simply by visiting a URL. Come up with a way to selectively and effectively block javascript from running, so that desired features and functions of a site can be allowed while undesired scripts can be left blocked. Let javascript be used in ways that serves the user’s needs rather than the webmaster’s.

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