February 13, 2006
A few weeks ago I happened to make the mistake of catching up on some financial news before finishing my first cup of coffee. I followed a link to a story on MarketWatch.com that immediately made me begin to feel queasy. As I stared at the page in my partially caffeinated state it appeared that multiple elements of text in the story were blinking at me in different colors, and numbers seemed to be changing before my eyes. Eventually I began to grasp what I was seeing. MarketWatch has jumped on the AJAX bandwagon and taken real-time stock quotes to a new level in the process.
The MarketWatch quotes display with either a minty green or pale pink background depending on whether the current quote has risen or fallen since the previous quote. Every few seconds the numbers blink as a stocks price changes. For stocks that are trading up and down throughout the day, readers are treated to alternating flashes of pink and green. The numbers include the current price, the daily price change, and the percentage change – so it’s a fairly long string of numbers that changes with each update. A story with a half dozen quotes embedded in it can be a truly a mind numbing experience.
This amazing innovation got me thinking – why stop at real-time quotes? Why not have whole sentences and paragraphs change in real-time as well? After all, the real-time quotes could change in a way that might fundamentally alter the nature of a story. Wouldn’t it be better to have writers create alternate scenarios that could be swapped into the story as the corresponding stock prices change? Talk about stickiness. Readers could spend an entire day just trying to get through one story;)
All sarcasm aside, I like the Web 2.0 thing as much as the next guy, but every once in a while I run across a DHTML or AJAX widget that just makes me scratch my head and wonder, “what could they have possibly been thinking”. Just because something is technologically possible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It’s all too easy to get carried away with the coolness factor of some new technique and lose sight of the user and the message you’re trying to convey.
In all fairness, I think the MarketWatch feature could work with a little tweaking. The real-time updates need to be removed from the article copy and placed in a quote box beside the article. The flashing and blinking would still be distracting, but at least the readers wouldn’t see numbers changing mid-sentence. Better yet, the updates could be moved to the real-time graph box that only displays when a user mouses over a ticker symbol. That would eliminate all distraction and give users the choice of viewing real-time numbers at will.
Note, I haven’t even begun to address the accessibility issues related to the MarketWatch real-time quotes. I’m guessing Jaws and other screen readers might actually explode if they were to encounter one of these pages.
Do you have other nominations for an AJAX Hall of Shame? Tell us about it in the comments.