(Throughout Advent I’m sharing some hints as to how web developers can make my life as a speech recognition user easier.)
I want to introduce you to two of my favorite keys: page up, and page down. Press one and you advance one window-full in your web browser, press the other to go back and reread.
This may seem obvious, even superior of me to point it out. But the number of sites that mess this up is impressive. Here’s one: Pando Daily. I like what Pando’s doing, but when I read one of their articles here’s what it sounds like: “Next page. Up arrow. Up arrow,” then a long pause before repeating.
Why? I blame it on television.
Television, particularly US broadcast, uses a technique called a lower third to provide more information from the broadcast network, these days often including advertisements for upcoming programs while you’re watching another. It obscures a chunk of what you’re trying to see, with variable benefits (some studies show utility in summarizing the current news story in the lower third, for instance – although increasingly if there’s a news story there, it’s a different one to whatever the presenter is talking about).
Lower thirds have leapt into the web space with – perhaps surprisingly, given the radically different technologies – the same problem. (On the web, they’re mostly being used for navigation, social links and – inevitably – advertising.) If you slap something over a scrollable area, paging that area will effectively skip the content originally underneath your floating layer:
This isn’t a problem when using the scroll wheel on a mouse or graphics tablet, or two finger scrolling on an Apple trackpad, or one finger scrolling on a touch device. But all of those are less efficient than just hitting a single key.
What can we do? Dragon has commands to advance by only half a page, but that’s not a big improvement because I don’t know where the half page boundary is, so I read to the bottom, half page advance – then I have to find my place again. Full-page advance and starting again at the top of the window is easier, and it’s a wash (but with lower cognitive load) if I have to scroll back a bit each time.
The floating layer could be moved out of the way of the content – to the side, say. That’s not always possible, depending on design.
Or – radical thought – web developers could make just the content area scrollable, so the fixed layer doesn’t obscure it:
This results in two scrollable areas (content and page), but Mac OS will now hide the scrollbars if you have a suitable scrolling device attached (or you can hide them always), so it’s less messy than it used to be. Anyone know if Windows 8 has gone in that direction too?