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Dec 15 2013

I hate OnSwipe

This is a bit of privileged peevishness. There is this absolutely horrible piece of CSS that is widely used on many big name sites — it is used for portable devices like iPads and iPhones, and what it does is completely change the displayed formatting of the site. Suddenly, pages aren’t scrollable, but are broken up into screen-sized chunks, and you no longer change views by scrolling up and down, but by swiping side to side. And it throws a couple of cryptic icons on the bottom of the screen (do I want to know what the rocketship does? No, I do not.) It is classic too-clever-by-half web design, and I hate it.

When I’m browsing on my iPad, and I run into a site with OnSwipe enabled, I just abandon it. Nope, not worth the hassle.

What I really want to know from sites that use it is a) what made you think your readers want to abandon all the comfortable conventions of the web experience when they read your site on a portable device, because that makes no sense at all, and b) did you pay money for this piece of shit?

46 comments

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  1. 1
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    This from a guy whose own blog network routinely displays a “mobile” homepage for desktop browsers…

  2. 2
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    This from a guy whose own blog network routinely displays a “mobile” homepage for desktop browsers…

    Does PZ program for the FreeThought Blog’s, or is there a real tech person to do that job….
    By the way, PZ has posted how to contact the tech person more than once….

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    I hate the buggy CSS here, too. But at least it’s not intentional: OnSwipe is a purposeful smack at readers.

  4. 4
    Usernames are smart

    I’ve fought against implementing this “technique” more times that I care to count. Inevitably it boils down to a Clueless PHB who knows NOTHING about usability thinking that because he (or she) liked swiping once and because it is “neat” and “the kids are doing it” that surely everyone else will want to.

    …which is why Dunning-Kruger isn’t just a principle, but a way of life.

    Nothing new under the sun: 5 years ago it was the flash page intro. It was a losing battle then as it is now. ;)

  5. 5
    Jason Dick

    Yeah. I find myself forcing the desktop versions of sites to load on my tablet from time to time (on Chrome/Android it’s a pretty obvious toggle, no idea what the option is on iOS, or whether there is one).

    But yeah. That is just horrible web design, and I wouldn’t blame anybody for refusing to even look further at the content, even if there is a usable workaround.

  6. 6
    Rich Woods

    More fecking gimmicks. Splash screens were my particular hate, but thankfully we had a good marketing manager at the time and were able to dodge that bucket of turds.

    Ee, when I were a lad, I remember <blink> tags were all the rage. We used to have to get up before sunrise, reformat the website…

    Gimmicks come and go. My advice to website designers and contributors is always just to concentrate on getting the damn content right.

  7. 7
    blackwidower

    I completely understand. Honestly, it would just be better if the mobile version of any website did nothing more than remove those damn sidebars, and nothing else!

    I tried to get my own site working on mobile, but it ends up messing with everything I do with the inline CSS, making the site look hideous.

    However, the ‘OnSwipe’ thing sounds like it would be pretty useful if you’re viewing the site on an ereader, which doesn’t handle scrolling well. But on a standard tablet, with an LCD screen, scrolling works like a champ, so it seems unnecessary. What’s the point?

  8. 8
    Rich Woods

    @blackwidower #7:

    But what proportion of your market (anyone’s market, other than online bookshops!) uses e-readers to browse the web? If the device is detectable it might be worth doing, just as it can be worth allowing for mobile devices (depending on the nature and purpose of your site).

    Mobify might be worth a look, if you want to get your site working with mobiles. But personally I’d first try to avoid the horrors of inline CSS, on general principles.

  9. 9
    shoeguy

    At least Freethoughtblogs.com still zooms. Fewer and fewer sites allow this feature, especially newspapers. Sure three finger tap works after a fashion but that can freeze without recourse but to power down my iPad and restarting.

  10. 10
    David Marjanović

    What I really want to know from sites that use it is a) what made you think your readers want to abandon all the comfortable conventions of the web experience when they read your site on a portable device, because that makes no sense at all

    Capitalism: everything must be new, and everything must differ from whatever the competitors just introduced. All running systems must be changed at least once a year.

  11. 11
    hoku

    Too clever by half seems to be a really common design principle. Preventing zoom and refusing to load in desktop mode are my personal favorites.

    Ftb also has a problem where on certain RSS readers (feedly) when I try to open the website within the app, a popup ad replaces the page I’m trying to go to until I reload the entire page.

  12. 12
    hoku

    Oh, I forgot to mention gawker. Just everything about their comment system for their entire network.

  13. 13
    jste

    Blackwidower:

    However, the ‘OnSwipe’ thing sounds like it would be pretty useful if you’re viewing the site on an ereader, which doesn’t handle scrolling well. But on a standard tablet, with an LCD screen, scrolling works like a champ, so it seems unnecessary. What’s the point?

    See, what you’re doing there, is what we web developers should be doing: Finding the right and legitimate use for a feature, and then limiting it to that (although, as Rich Woods alludes to, that’s a small enough market that it’s only worth doing if your site is aimed primarily at e-readers).

    Instead, what we do is we say “Hey, that looks neat! How can I possibly justify using that EVERYWHERE?! (“We” being largely: Inexperienced developers or designers who get attracted to new features like magpies to shinies, something even more experienced designers are guilty of at times, and clueless managers who do the same)

  14. 14
    A. Noyd

    Yeah, I fucking hate OnSwipe. It’s even stupider now that Safari lets you move between pages within a tab without reloading by swiping left and right.

  15. 15
    Trickster Goddess

    I just don’t get the rationale behind disabling zoom on mobile websites. That’s precisely where people need it most, with the tiny screens and all. And really, just who the fuck are they to dictate how I’m allowed to view a webpage?

    Bottom line: If I can’t zoom the page, I can’t read the text and thus you have lost a site visitor forever. This is design model is just insane.


    I haven’t come across the OnSwipe thing yet. Can anyone post some example URLs so I can check it out?

  16. 16
    erikschepers

    CSS is like any other web technology/standard. Somewhere along the line somebody will create a monstrous, foul turd abusing the technology, and every sane person will wonder why the smeg anybody could think it was a good idea.

  17. 17
    DrMcCoy

    I also hate what Twitter and Tumblr do: Fetch new content when you scrolled to the bottom. It completely breaks down if you want to use your browser back/forward buttons, and good luck finding the place where you left off in a different browser.

  18. 18
    Margaret C

    So much yes. I actually sent a message to the people behind The Mary Sue asking for an opt-out button. (Particularly since it seems to break the slideshow format they use periodically.) Unfortunately, I love The Mary Sue too much as a site to just backpedal from it entirely.

    My solution, such as it is, is to have a second browser installed on the iPad that has the option to pretend to be a desktop browser (I use Mercury), and add a second button to my RSS reader (Mr Reader) that sends to Mercury instead of Safari. But it’s not so much a “Good” solution as what I did to preserve my sanity.

  19. 19
    Woody Emanuel

    OnSwipe is perhaps the worst of the new website annoyances with which I deal with a perfectly good, functional iPad 1. Now, my iPad chokes and crashes routinely on an increasingly number of websites.

    But then I bitched when I had to buy new hardware going from the very elegant DOS operating system to the forever-buggy Windows.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  20. 20
    A. Noyd

    Margaret C (#18)

    Unfortunately, I love The Mary Sue too much as a site to just backpedal from it entirely.

    You can temporarily* switch to desktop view through Safari. You just have to catch the little tab with three vertical lines in the lower left corner and pull it back to reveal a black area that will say “Desktop Version” up at the top. Click “Desktop Version” and the desktop version will open in a new tab. It can be a bit tricky now that swiping is also a Safari command, but I just tested it on The Mary Sue and it worked fine.

    ……..
    *As in, for a few days at a time. It eventually defaults to OnSwipe again, but not so often you’ll want to stomp kittens and punch babies.

  21. 21
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    The mobile browser FTB home page has no links except to the desktop browser home page, so forget about actually using it go read the site.

  22. 22
    sqlrob

    For everyone complaining about zoom, check your accessibility options, you can override the “no zoom”, at least on Android. I would assume the same is true of iPad.

    PZ, when the main site shows the mobile stuff, it always seems to be freethoughtblogs.com, while http://www.freethoughtblogs.com is usually OK.

  23. 23
    rorschach

    This from a guy whose own blog network routinely displays a “mobile” homepage for desktop browsers…

    Might I once more point out that the “Go to Desktop version” link at the bottom of the (incorrectly) displayed mobile FtB site still links to “pharyngula” instead of “freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula”, and hence does not work.

  24. 24
    chigau (違う)

    There is button named “Tech Issues” at the top of the page.
    Has anyone ever used it?

  25. 25
    Jafafa Hots

    Mobile devices are dumbing down the internet.

    Websites feel they must gear themselves towards not only tiny devices, but also to the miniscule attention spans and non-existent expectations of mobile users.

    Look at what was done with Flickr for example. Can we have a photography site for people who use real cameras? NO!

    Must be an instagram clone.

    In 5 years I may well have ditched the internet entirely… except for downloads.

  26. 26
    jxbean

    My assumption is that they disable zoom so that no one over 40 can read their double-top-secret web damn sites. I miss Steve Benen, but I’m not going to go hunt up a pair of reading glasses to read his blog. I’ve been surfing the internet for 20 years if you don’t count some earlier forays on Darpanet. Stinking kids have messed up my internets.

  27. 27
    Rick Pikul

    @DrMcCoy: Ah yes, the “wonderful” idea that is infinite scroll.

    It’s fine, provided you never need to go more than a couple ‘pages’ down. But heaven forbid you ever wanting to check what Bob said last week because that will take forever[1]. Contrast with “I’ll jump back 10 pages, that got me half way, so 20? a bit too far, 19 and there it is.”

    [1] If you can do it at all, your computer resources place a hard limit on how far back you can go. This isn’t too bad when it’s all text and some small, constantly reused, images but if every third thing includes a YouTube video embed….

  28. 28
    hyperdeath

    Can anyone name any mobile version that isn’t inferior to the desktop version?

    I can only name one: In the UK, one of the train timetable websites had an ultraminimalist mobile version, which had exactly everything you needed, and not a jot more. You could find the information needed in seconds. Inevitably, it got replaced by some convoluted monstrosity, with overbearing graphics, user-interface hijacking, painfully slow Javascript, Kafkaesque navigation, and endless unnecessary information. Then again, it looked pretty.

  29. 29
    rq

    chigau @23
    I haven’t, because my tech issues go away on their own.
    Usually.

  30. 30
    scoobie

    Heh, I’ve not knowingly met onswipe but probably a bigger stupidity being inflected on us right now is Google’s recent breakage of Android WebView which means that text reflow is largely a thing of the past. I’m not sure it has ever been a feature of IOS but on pre-Kitkat Android it was usually possible to enlarge text as much as you liked in a browser (and other apps) and have it reflow within the confines of the screen width, making text-based pages a doddle to read. Unfortunately it seems that the Borg has now decreed that ease of use is so last century and is joining all the other muppet-led outfits who think that providing a broken UI is somehow a desirable feature. Grr.

  31. 31
    sqlrob

    @Rick Pikul, #26

    [1] If you can do it at all, your computer resources place a hard limit on how far back you can go.

    Not if the infinite scroll is done properly. Just because you can scroll back and forth doesn’t mean it is all in memory. Just run a window down the stream, unloading stuff a certain range outside of the window. There may never be much more than if you had a couple of pages open.

    That said, it’s still annoying, and easy to implement incorrectly such that the resource problem still exists.

  32. 32
    sirbedevere

    I’ve found that Opera Classic is by far the best browser on my tablet. It lets you select “desktop” as client by default for all web sites. There are a few brain-dead sites that insist on treating anything on the Android OS as a phone, but thankfully they’re in the minority.

  33. 33
    numerobis

    David Marjanović:

    Capitalism: everything must be new, and everything must differ from whatever the competitors just introduced. All running systems must be changed at least once a year.

    Capitalism would argue you shouldn’t waste time making new things unless it’ll improve sales: design is very, very expensive.

    However, once you’ve hired web site designers on staff, they will design your web site since that’s what you hired them to do. If they’re good designers, that’s great, but good designers are rare. If they’re totally unambitious, that’s not bad, because they’ll keep everything the same except for updating the content. Nothing gets fixed, but nothing breaks either. The problem lies with the web designers who have some ambition and bad taste. Which is a lot of them, apparently.

    My favorite remains the web sites that have a schism between the URLs for desktop browsers and those for mobile browsers. Get a link to one, and if you’re on the other device, you get redirected to the home page. Argh.

  34. 34
    RFW

    I use a desktop machine. I’m learning to passionately hate and loathe sites where the pages are heavily overloaded with Javascript and CSS.

    This slows down loading to a crawl because the scripts and style sheets are often loaded from third-party servers. Washington Post, I’m thinking of you, and not in a nice way.

    Other sins of anti-usability: sites that don’t work with cookies turned off. Sites that insist you use the latest greatest browser. (Never mind that to upgrade, I have to upgrade my entire system.) And sites that stuff your system with spy cookies; it’s time to realize that widespread spying, as practiced by the NSA and by marketing wonks, may lead to lots of information, but it doesn’t lead to knowledge and understanding.

    And a special boo to the Washington Post for another reason: they have a cute little floating pallette of icons on the RHS. Some of their pages use small gifs, other use a custom font to display these. I don’t have that font on my system.

    End result: there are sites I simply don’t bother with.

  35. 35
    John Small Berries

    And then there are the sites, including this one, which treat your first touch of the screen – even an attempt to scroll – as an invitation to display an ad instead of the page you’re trying to view.

  36. 36
    Andrew T.

    I didn’t mind JavaScript et al in the mid ’00s: Pop-up blockers had tamed the early abuses of the technology. The newest version of Firefox had a great interface and still ran on everything back to Windows 95, so keeping up on the latest rendering capabilities wasn’t an issue.

    Dial-up access was still common, JavaScript rendering was slow, and iPhones and iPads hadn’t yet been invented, so few sites dared dogging their content with unnecessary bandwidth and all were oriented towards viewability on actual computers as a matter of course. Flash, frames, and IE-only sites were the only abuses I had to complain about. Then, things slowly started to change.

    I swear by NoScript and FlashBlock these days, and it’s amazing how much kludgy technology there is that slows sites down, yet demands to be enabled on them to achieve basic functionality. I stopped visiting Patheos because they forced the Disqus commenting system to be rolled out sitewide (preventing comments from contributors without JavaScript enabled)…then the Disqus code itself stopped working on Firefox 3!

    FTB itself isn’t immune from deficient code and design: The site content runs off the right edge of the screen at 1024×768 resolution, and the overhead of the style sheet results in an incredible lag when scrolling through pages on my main computer. I tried delving into the source to see if I could write my own CSS override, but what I saw was such a thicket of spaghetti that I couldn’t make sense of it all.

  37. 37
    Rich Woods

    @jste #13:

    Instead, what we do is we say “Hey, that looks neat! How can I possibly justify using that EVERYWHERE?! (“We” being largely: Inexperienced developers or designers who get attracted to new features like magpies to shinies, something even more experienced designers are guilty of at times, and clueless managers who do the same)

    I just wanted to repeat that, in bold, because it is so fucking true. It’s Lesson One.

    OK, maybe Lesson One And A Half. Lesson One would be to throw out of the nearest window the first person who — when a group is asked about the intended aims and purposes of their proposed web site — says “I think it would look great in blue*”, pour encourager les autres.

    * I’ve got nothing against blue; any colour fits here. Some twat will say goldenrod, sooner or later.

  38. 38
    =8)-DX

    Um, yeah, sounds terrible and I’m sure to meet up with it after my daughter unwraps her new (cheap) tablet for xmas.

    BUT.

    1.8MB downloading pharyngula homepage on my phone – the “mobile” version working for shit and with links still opening the standard pages? The FTB site “redesign” which left us with an odd cheesy watery-background and a missing row in the header? Webdesign – Pot. Kettle. Black. The drive for people to develope things like OneSwipe is the same as the drive for the development of css and html – so you don’t happen to like it, so it didin’t work out. At least these people are *working* on the job of making digestable web content… or making web content digestable. =/

    (Talking as a web app developer who happily regularly shortcuts all these things..)

  39. 39
    =8)-DX

    I swear by NoScript and FlashBlock these days, and it’s amazing how much kludgy technology there is that slows sites down

    I used to swear by audio-and video cassettes. By comparison you’re swearing on steam engines and hand-washing. Another uninteresting luddite – having more efficient web-code is wonderful, just as is having standards-complient web browsers and high-speed internet. But any excuse to hold back technology is just stubborn traditionalism. Surprise surprise, javascript and flash are already here, however much you like to hide.

  40. 40
    ChasCPeterson

    Surprise surprise, javascript and flash are already here, however much you like to hide.

    um, NoScript and FlashBlock would not be so useful if they weren’t.
    Are you saying the guy (and me, btw) is a “luddite” for refusing to let some web-developer’s pointless whims gum up our (in my case) oldish systems, often to the point of freezing everything up for 15-20 minutes at a time?
    Because that would be pretty stupid.

  41. 41
    jste

    Chas:

    um, NoScript and FlashBlock would not be so useful if they weren’t.
    Are you saying the guy (and me, btw) is a “luddite” for refusing to let some web-developer’s pointless whims gum up our (in my case) oldish systems, often to the point of freezing everything up for 15-20 minutes at a time?
    Because that would be pretty stupid.

    I agree with you, and even do the same on old systems. It makes sense. The problem though is that we are entering a period where disabling javascript is starting to become an unfeasible option, simply because more and more sites simply do not work properly (or in some cases at all) without it. A time may come not so soon off when we need to retire those old systems that can’t handle javascript. (Flash is an altogether different can of worms, and can hurry up and finish dying kthx.)

  42. 42
    John Horstman

    I would very much like to murder whomever started the trend of hovering dynamic dashboards/control bars, such that Page Down and Page Up now inevitably cut off multiple lines of text hidden by the bar that just popped into existence. Some of us still use actual keyboards on devices without touchscreens.

    Speaking of which, why is everything going touch-centric, including desktops/laptops (and THE ENTIRE WINDOWS OS)? For the overwhelming majority of applications, touchscreen interfaces are significantly worse than other options, because there is exactly one kind of input: a touch. It’s possible to parse touches based on context to get things like multi-touch and gestures, and the position of the touch can certainly expand the input options (much like mouse cursor position can – this isn’t something that’s BETTER with touch interfaces) but ultimately there is still only one input type. In contrast, my standard mouse here now has 6 buttons and two scroll directions. And that’s just the mouse. This keyboard has, what, 104 keys? That’s a LOT more readily-accessible functionality (112 per context versus 1 per context) than any touch interface could ever possibly provide, all without taking up screen space or breaking a UI or changing user context with a virtual keyboard.

  43. 43
    =8)-DX

    Are you saying the guy (and me, btw) is a “luddite” for refusing to let some web-developer’s pointless whims gum up our (in my case) oldish systems, often to the point of freezing everything up for 15-20 minutes at a time?
    Because that would be pretty stupid.

    Having old hardware or software doesn’t make people luddites. Considering flash and javascript “some web-developer’s pointless whim” does though. Drive around in a horse and cart all you want, but don’t try to take it on the motorways, and when there aren’t enough feeding stations and stabling along the way it’s not the new technology’s fault.

  44. 44
    Ichthyic

    . Considering flash and javascript “some web-developer’s pointless whim” does though.

    it’s not the size of the tech, but how you use it.

    pun aside, I think this is what they meant by *whim*.

    flash can be used well (i’ve done it), javascript can be used well (i hired people who did it). it can also easily be done horribly.

    I like things like noscript and blockers to specifically allow me to be able to punt when it is NOT done well, which is all too often.

  45. 45
    ChasCPeterson

    It’s easy enough to unblock individual pages or even individual scripts when necessary for function, even just temporarily. I load the scripts I need and don’t have to wait for the rest. I watch the vids I want to and I’m not bothered by the rest. Nothing ludditarian about that.

  46. 46
    JJ831

    @hoku 11
    I have the same issue, but it happens maybe once every three or four times. Usually I just press back, and then click view website again.

    It’s odd, as you probably have noticed, you don’t actually follow the add link. You just open the add pic up in a new window. Not too sure why just hitting back takes you back to the RSS feed and not the web page.

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