Careful! This post is looking a little old and could be inaccurate in many, many ways
One challenge of a web designer is informing clients of best practices and explain why sometimes what they want to do isn’t the best course of action. One of these best practices concerns audio on the web, or more specifically auto playing audio. Even after attempting to persuade them it is a bad idea they usually still want to go through with it. The only reason they want it is because they think it’s cool, not because it improves a website.
What’s the problem?
There’s two instances of audio on websites that really annoy me:
- When I’m already listening to music
- When I open multiple browser tabs at once.
I know I’m not unique in both these activities, and they frequently cause me to close the offending site instantly, or in the case of multiple tabs close the website as soon as I find the right site, which isn’t all that easy.
Just look at the numbers
If you have a round 1000 visitors a month to your website and 50% of these 1000 people own a PC or laptop with speakers then that leave 500 people unable to hear the audio.
Then take 50% from the 500 with speakers away as these people don’t have their speakers switched on as they’re saving power, money or the planet; 250 people remain.
50% then listen to their own music whilst they use their computer. This leaves 125 people.
So up to 12.5% of the people visiting a website would hear any audio playing. This figure ignores the fact some of these people may not like the music being played and attempt to switch it off.
Of the remaining people 75% wouldn’t hear it at all and 12.5% who listen to music would most likely be irritated by it. Of course these are fake numbers but in my fake world the same number of people would be annoyed by auto playing music than may ‘potentially’ like it.
WCAG 2.0 states auto playing audio over 3 seconds should have controls to pause or mute the audio. Surely any auto playing music should be against the guidelines as it’s likely to interfere with screen readers and locating audio controls could be difficult, especially with flash.
The worst sin
Recently I came across a website advertising Web Design and SEO services (I won’t name names) that has a flash element that plays video and audio automatically when the site loads. There exists no option to pause or mute this. The site owner should know better, and I can only presume they didn’t consider the user experience when building the site.
Well not just YouTube but any websites of similar purpose and standing. The reason sites like YouTube are exempt is because people know the website and know any video will start playing automatically on load. Personally I don’t think they should but because I know they do when I click on a YouTube link I know I have to pause the video or turn off my music or whatever else may interfere.
Other non media websites can’t use the same excuse though. Many sites don’t have the same number of return visits to grow that understanding, if they do usually then it’s unlikely the audio has changed since last they visited. Even if they did return for the audio they would not be put off by having to use any audio controls to start listening.
What’s the benefits?
Personally I see no benefits of having auto playing audio over using user activated controls, and the sooner website owners figure that one out the sooner web browsing becomes a quiet and enjoyable experience.