ARTICLE: Welcome to my site, now f@*k off!

Ignoring personal space online. Part 1.

How important is personal space?

I recently sat next to a rather pungent young gentleman (ok – younger than my mid 30s self) on a train as he talked to his co-traveller. He sat beside me, however his co-worker sat sat across from me. Their discussion was diagonal in nature because of this. The experience is nothing new to any commuter – however what made it more….err…memorable (?) was the fact that this un-bathed young businessman was also close talker. So every few minutes he found himself on the edge of his seat half leaned over my laptop talking to his co-traveller – awkwardly edging too near to me. Hand talking and all elbows flailing.

Like most polite-ish Canadians I value personal space. The best way to avoid annoying me or make sure I’m engaged in a conversation is to keep at arms length. The only exceptions to this rule are my two four-year-old twin girls (who can’t help themselves) and my wife. Yet that said if you stop and think about it we all know or have experienced a close talker in our lives. If you spend time mingling at networking parties (especially in marketing or sales) and you may even know a few close talkers.

What is personal space in remote digital experiences?

As my mind wandered during this experience – partly dizzy from the overwhelming aroma of sweat and stink while stuck on a slow moving train – about personal space not just in person but also remotely as a user online. Lets face it – if every online site experience you had were as personal as a Chuck Palahniuk book is descriptive, you would never log on. Yet if you stop and think about it, much of your online experience whether you are the communicator or the audience is filled with things that would alienate and anger people in real life.

I think back to the video Real Life Facebook ( from way back in 2008 that demonstrated how our behavior online is socially ridiculous in reality. Not much as changed in that time. With so many destinations to visit and so much information to deliver is it no wonder that we have all defaulted to yelling through the medium? It’s nothing new. Take a look at some of the examples of late 90s websites with their massive, black-background and neon pink and green text with animated GIFs. We have always treated the visitor like they’re partly deaf, partly blind and entirely ignorant.

How are we treating visitors?

Thinking this over in what I think may be a series of articles I wanted to first call out some disturbing realities as I see it in how we treat visitors to our sites. I am just as guilty over my 15-year career for this as most. So let’s all sit in a circle, stand up, say our names and admit to some addictive UX mistakes we keep making…

  • We yell in ALL CAPS – like jerk on a street corner with a bullhorn. Try walking up to a stranger and yelling “LIMITED TIME SALE. ALL INCLUSIVE. $4999 PLUS TAX WITH NO HIDDEN COSTS. ACT NOW. CLICK THIS BUTTON. SEE LEGAL.”
  • We list everything we can on our first page as a welcome statement – thinking we made their life easier with no clicks. But how does that translate to human behavior? Next time you meet someone or have an interview try to jump in after someone says hello and talk for a solid ten minutes straight about only you. Don’t let them ask any questions or tell you what they need. Because that is how many of us treat visitors on home pages. We are so paranoid about bounce rates we try to over compensate with content. Irresponsibly forgetting who and what we want out of our visitors in exchange for trying to force our agenda down their throats.
  • We expect people to sit back and take it. We build an online experience based on our beliefs in what our target wants. Then spend more time building it again for their three different devices. We then ask them to contact us with the latest, fancy and impersonal contact form. Yet we NEVER ask them what we can do to make their online experience better. Like my stinky, personal space invader – who I ended asking him and his friend to move to a pair of empty seats better fitted to their conversation needs instead of almost sitting on my lap. (I couldn’t help it… old Irish blood has a tendency to illicit uncontrollable need to toss a grenade and see how things pan out. As my father once told me while pushing a wheelchair through Disney World – “It’s a good thing you aren’t afraid to speak out…”)
  • We look at our closest competitor and copy their best-looking experience and give it our own spin. Then tell everyone how awesome and unique we are. Next time you have a job interview find out who met the employer before you. Then go ahead copy their resume and change their name to yours. Let me know how well the meeting goes. We do this because in the digital world it’s cheaper, faster and easier to copy and evolve rather than take the time to find ourselves and evolve based on life’s experience. Experiences you get through meeting and talking with people who choose to have a dialogue with you.
  • We demand people only talk to us on even ground on other social networks to avoid any incriminating humanity on our own properties. Third party social managers are paid tens of thousands a year to answer on our behalf to avoid having to be accountable for whatever maybe said. It’s like we only socialize at a party with people around us but if we invite you over to our backyard you better wear a suit and behave yourself. Better yet we’ll invite you over to dinner but bring a third party to listen and answer on our behalf and try not to make any direct eye contact. How awkward is that?

These are just a small sampling of some of the bad habits we do online in a world with little moral consideration for the people we ask to give us money and shared in our digital experiences. So take a look around and start to analyze interactions based on the visitor asks, not what you THINK they need.

I crave the day I see a site with massive traffic turn off without notice and turn their home page into a survey for visitors to help them realize what changes they need to make. It would certainly be a better tactic than a generic “We’re updating our site to make it a better experience for you.”

To that blanket statement I call bulls*$t. How can you make it better for me if you haven’t asked me what I need or who I am? Next time I order a pizza I’m just going to call and say; “You know who I am and what I want…and don’t ask me where I live – you should already know that. Now deliver it to me in 5 minutes. (*Click*).” Think it will work?

Let’s Discuss Further Internet Makers…

Because no conversation should be one-sided (you know if it is you may be clinically insane right?) tell me what you think are some more of our oddest and non-human ways to interact with people online in the comments and maybe I can discuss them more in the next article on the subject. (See what I just did there? It can be that simple.)

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