Saturday, December 21, 2013

Who Will Tolerate How Much Annoyance?

I have been following with some interest the ongoing story of Facebook's plans to introduce video advertising as part of the News Feeds offering. This past Thursday the USA TODAY College Web site ran a story by Akane Otani entitled "Users balk at 'intrusive' Facebook video ads," which I feel provided a useful account of at least one prevalent reaction to the plan. For those unfamiliar with the site, it appears to be a platform upon which college students can prepare to be "e-journalists of the future." I have no idea whether or not they are compensated for their efforts. However, my guess is that they are not under any salaried contract, which may be part of how they are prepared for what real-world work will be like after they graduate. The contributor for this particular article is a senior at Cornell University.

My one problem with the article is that I am not sure whether or not Otani either grasped or communicated the justification for that adjective "intrusive." My doubts come from a quote that presumably came from an interview with another student:
I think that introducing the concept with movie trailers is interesting. I'd probably click to watch them on my computer if they were different films each ad.
What this student (and, perhaps Otani) may not have realized is that the sorts of videos that Facebook has in mind are self-starting. Unlike the video that shows up on, for example, the BBC News Web site, you do not click on it to start it. It starts up all by itself. Because of the many items (including other ads) that are getting loaded on the same page, that start-up is usually not immediate; and, if you do not know that it is coming, it can be a surprise (and, if you do not control your volume setting appropriately, that surprise can be a loud one).

Thanks to my own reading habits, I have had a fair number of encounters with these videos. I really do not like them one bit, but I have resigned myself to being stuck with them. I now know enough about where they lurk that I can usually turn them off preemptively. This is particularly important since, as I discovered with my OS X Activity Monitor, they can eat up a lot of Flash time, basically taking the CPU away from other things that you would rather it be doing! I shall therefore continue to be curious about Facebook's move. I may not be one of their users, but I know how infectious Facebook usage can be. Whether or not user enthusiasm will be attenuated by "force-feeding" remains to be seen.

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