Photo: Mark Wathieu via Flickr
Button OverloadFacebook famously announced at the F8 conference in April that it was making it extremely easy for web publishers to integrate Facebook “like” buttons. One week later, Facebook reported that 50,000 websites had already implemented them. That number today is probably up to 500,000, if not more.
A problem is that there are more than just Facbeook “like” buttons. There is the reTweet button, which makes it easy to post a link on Twitter. There are Digg buttons which let you submit a story to Digg. We also now have Google Buzz buttons which get links and content promoted through Buzz. All of this seems terribly inefficient for users and publishers and it also presents other agitations.
The primary issue and what prompted me to write this article is website speed and load time. I just visited a highly popular social media blog and the page took forever to load. (I won’t mention the blog as its probably not wise to knock a tech blog with a top 1k Alexa ranking.) As I waited for the site to fully load, I could see in the status window of my browser that IE was loading, one by one, several different applications and buttons from Facebook, Buzz, Digg, and Twitter. By the time all of these buttons loaded, I had already found something else to do.
In the pre-Twitter/Facebook days, the “share” buttons across the web were simple static links. There were links above and below articles allowing the user to email, bookmark, or share an article across a variety of social networks, but they were static in that they were simple images with no realtime information baked into them. On the other hand, today’s buttons have constantly-changing data showing, for example, how many times a story has been reTweeted on Twitter or Liked on Facebook. This realtime information requires a separate call to each respective site to receive the current data. This process takes time, and when a web publisher or blogger uses three or four buttons beneath multiple stories on a given page, each unique button has to load. This can be very frustrating for the website visitor.
This process is only going to get more complex as the buttons mature, like the new Facebook technology allowing websites to display pictures of a user’s Facebook friends who have liked the article that the user is reading.
Button Overload is beginning to take shape across the web. Often, I simply want to read a story that sounds interesting, and I don’t care if it has been liked 75 times on Facebook, reTweeted 45 times on Twitter, shared 5 times on Buzz, and that I can be the first to submit it to Digg. These random numbers have become more confusing and distracting for users as they are often highlighted above the actual story. Not every internet user understands Buzz or Digg, and if they have to see that there were 10 Diggs and 28 Buzzes over the story that they are reading, it can become bewildering.
Furthermore, these numbers on the buttons are starting to link off to the list of users who have shared the story. When I see there are 9 comments for a given story, it is useful info because I can see what people actually said in response to a given story. But, when I click over to see the 50 people that reTweeted the story, it isn’t very useful because most reTweets simply mention the title of the story as opposed to providing a unique comment or reaction to the story.
Several websites use tools and templates to allow the article or piece of content to be shared onto a litany of social networks — sometimes 10 or more. While these tools usually provide static functionality, it can work to further clutter and confuse a website. The website would probably be better-suited implementing a sharing strategy for just one of the major social networks.
We recently removed all of the share buttons from the search results of my site, Sency. We’ll take user experience over asking the user to share every result they see on our site. As webmasters and bloggers begin to notice clutter on their pages, as well as slow loading pages due to the multiple data points requested on page load, I hope that we begin to see less buttons across the web.
Evan Britton founded Sency in 2009. The goal of Sency is to bring real-time content, links, and tools, to Internet users in an organised and simple fashion.