Bad UX: Forced Previews

A “forced preview” is my name for when a message is displayed as the sender’s name and the first few words of the message.

Here’s an example from Facebook:

And here’s one from OkCupid:

On the whole this isn’t a completely bad idea. By giving a preview of the message, as well as the person who sent the message, a user can quickly determine whether or not the message is worth reading or not. In some cases, the user doesn’t even have to open the message to read the entire thing. Good for when you’re out and about, or when bandwidth/time is limited.

But there’s a potential problem with this feature. Suppose you receive a message from someone you don’t want to receive a message from? Suppose the message contains malicious or abusive content?
A very interesting point was brought up during the Fishing For A Friend meetup I went to a while ago, by someone who is no longer on Facebook: sadly she mentioned she was a victim of cyber-bullying, having had abusive messages posted on her wall and sent to her inbox, with almost no control over any of it.

I can concur, speaking from personal experience, that to receive such messages is very distressing in the first place. To be forced to begin reading them – hence the term “forced preview” – makes things a lot worse. You’ll also see it happening on the more recent mobile phones, where it’s built in as a “trendy” feature.

To make matters even worse: for all this posturing and talking about Facebook et al being the pinnacle of user interfaces and user experiences, there’s often no way to turn it off. You’re either forced to avoid using these sites at all, or live with the premise of reading something you really don’t want to read. And in my book, that’s simply lazy programming – and a willful contribution to cyber-bullying.
Facebook is probably the worst example of “forced previewing”, as you can’t mark a message as read or delete it without having read the preview. Anyone who has used Facebook (especially in conjunction with a mobile) knows how it likes to draw attention to unread notifications, and that’s not including those sent via email.

I would wholeheartedly recommend giving users the option to turn these previews off if they don’t want them. If developers (prodded by managers, no doubt) can spend so much time making things fade in and slide out, and doing all kinds of fancy but gratuitous things with JavaScript, there’s really no excuse for not making “forced previews” optional.

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