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by Sii Cockerill on 12th September 2012
There’s no denying that social shares can help a website to perform well, but Sii Cockerill argues that there should be a better way, and that social buttons are a bane on website design and usability.
Once upon a time there were no phones. For a long while there were no mobile phones. Up until relatively recently there were no smart phones. And not so many years ago, there was life without Twitter. Do you remember that? I do… OK, well maybe not life without phones full stop, but the others, sure.
In each of our lifetimes, many technologies rise and many fall, but some ideas stick around and, over time, we perceive them as normal. We take them for granted. Smarter people find simpler, easier and better ways to integrate these ideas and technology into the fabric of our days and at some point (probably in the pub) we reminisce and, dare I say it, ‘lol’ about how we did things in the early days of [whatever].
And so it will be with Social Media buttons. You may guffaw, but it’s already starting.
Yes we do. Well, I do at least. You may have other ideas and feel free to share. But suffice to say, significantly large numbers of people love Social Media enough to ensure its safety in our current digital landscape. And even if they don’t love it, they still use it to let us know that they don’t, so the point is kind of moot.
The art of ‘sharing’ is one that will be explored, updated and advanced for as long as the web exists. But sharing is hardly knew, we’ve always done it. It’s simply that today’s Social Media makes that sharing so much easier. (Does anyone actually miss receiving bulk-emails from friends, full of funny gifs along with the email addresses of dozens of people we’ve never met?).
Somewhere along the line, we grew to love sharing the things we’ve made, our rants and delights, pictures of our pets and our food, and new places to share arrive daily.
At the time of writing, I consider there to be 3 major Social Networks (Twitter, Facebook and Google+) and a handful of players targeting less mass-market audiences (Pinterest for one). But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, am I? When I say Social Media Networks, you already know who I’m talking about.
You also know about Social Media Buttons. On the Koozai site, there’s ‘Like’, ‘Tweet’, ‘+1’ – these are the brand-specific words for ‘Share’. Linkedin calls it as it is and Stumble Upon stumble behind with their oh-so-compelling button text – ‘Submit’.
But criticisms aside for a moment, let me get down to the point of this post and just say it – graphics, text, size, position, whatever – these buttons are all awful and here’s why.
No, that’s not a typo. Social Media Buttons are all dressed up to look nice, but are they any good?
This year, more than all the years before it, has seen a dramatic rise in the use of mobile phones and tablets to browse the web:
• Our Smart Phones are more powerful than the machines we used to get our degrees, and yet they are small and fit so snugly in our pockets, we have to pat ourselves down to discover their whereabouts.
• Our tablets sit common-place on our coffee tables and in our kitchens. They stand in for the magazines, recipe books and even TVs we owned as recently as 2010.
• And as common as both, are the apps developed by our beloved Social Networks that let us share our multimedia lives.
So are Social Media Buttons any good? In this multi-device, wireless, portable day and age, I say no. Social Media Buttons load slowly, make huge numbers of network requests and are generally lacking when it comes to ease of use. You may immediately disagree, but just think about the last time you tried to share a piece of content via a Social Media Button when you weren’t already signed in to Facebook or Twitter’s website.
On a website, when I click whatever incarnation of ‘Share’ button there is available to me, I am directed to the browser version of my Social Network. While this is ordinarily fine for me sat in front of my PC with my keyboard of many keys, it’s certainly not fine if I am lounging around in my house browsing a site on my tablet, or passing the time away out and about on my mobile phone. No.
In these ever more popular situations, I don’t want to visit my Social Network’s website. I have an app for that – one on which I am already very happily signed in and where I know that sharing your content will be quick and painless. So why am I directed to the website that I’m not signed in to? This is a huge stumbling block in the process of sharing. One that, for me at least, can derail the whole process. Unless I really really want to share your content, you’re out of luck.
Right now, if you have Social Media Buttons on your website, the chances are they don’t know (and probably can’t know) if a visitor to your website is on a device that has an app for a particular Social Network. Standard Social Media Button code is written to leverage the power of the lowest common denominator – your web browser, and I wouldn’t expect this to change any time soon.
But imagine this. What if your website didn’t have any Social Media Buttons at all? What if you took them all off again? What if you left the browser to facilitate the sharing of your content? Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t you have so much more room for your own content? Wouldn’t it look so much more tidy and less cluttered?
Pah, you’re all thinking “this guy is crazy – if we did that, how would we track visitor interaction? How would our visitors know that our content is good and has been shared lots already?”. You ask good questions and I don’t have the answers. But don’t think I’m crazy. Google’s Chrome app for iOS has already started what I hope will become a trend across all browsers.
Click ‘Share’ and hey presto, a nice, neat, sharing box appears that allows me to jump over to the apps I have open and share the content that I want, quickly and easily. Lovely job.
It’s not just browsers that are getting in on this trend to share. Apple and Microsoft have even started to integrate Social Media sharing into their Operating Systems (iOS and Windows 8). Maybe that’s an even better option??
So what do you think? Would you drop the Social Media Buttons from your website if your visitors could share your content quickly and easily straight from their browser or OS? What issues would stop you and how would you like to see them resolved?
As I said already, I don’t have all the answers, but together we have a voice, and you never know who might be listening.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team
Hand Clicking Share Button via BigStock
Sii Cockerill is Design Director at Hampshire-based web design company - Design Twelve. He has been designing for the web since 1996 and has skills that range from product animation through to database design. He is passionate about creating elegantly designed, useful websites that help businesses grow more successful each day. Contact him on Twitter @designtwelve or visit http://www.designtwelve.co.uk.