A distraction is something that prevents someone from concentrating on a chosen object of attention. When using the Internet distractions may draw the user's attention away from primary content, or from the current action being performed.
Distractions may cause issues for Internet users, especially those who have a cognitive impairment.
Drawing the user's attention away from primary content can create a range of issues depending on the user's impairment(s). If a user is consuming content and their attention is drawn away this may impact their ability to consume the primary content or complete an interaction (process). If a user is carrying out a complete multistep action (such as form filling) being distracted may cause the user to lose context, thread or position in the action or sequence of actions.
Distraction may come from many sources. Common sources of distraction include:
Overlays: Overlays partially or completely cover the primary content. This makes it impossible to see content until the overlay is removed. Reasons for using an overlay include but are not restricted to help windows, adverts, surveys, paywalls, in page notifications or animations in the site itself. Examples include, but are not restricted to:
Autoplaying Video/Audio: Advertisements, informational notices or a part of site content. May be in sidebars, or headers/footers or even overlaying content. In some cases advertisements may overlay a page for a period of time while the advert plays.
Social Media sidebars. These often animate to draw attention, and while this is effective at drawing attention to an application they take attention away from the user action (reading. form filling etc).
Adwords or similar. These are things that may look like content or links but are actually adverts inserted into the primary content. Distinction between sponsored content and primary content may not be clear to user.
Sponsored content. Advertising content that is not distinguishable from primary content of page. Advertising content of similar topic injected into page may create understandability issues if not able to be removed (through closing) or in a clear and distinct color or ability to remove. Distinct information making content understandable as sponsored may not be present above the fold and therefore sponsored content keys/footnote may not be memorable if not present on page.
App install prompts on mobile devices. These prompts to install an app to access an online service (website etc) rather than use a browser.
Blinking or scrolling text, scrolling and changes in context and changes in content that are not expected or requested by the user can also distract people and make it hard to focus.
When attention is drawn away from an action (reading, form filling etc) it breaks the user experience sequence and may result in a loss of context, place or position in the action or sequence of actions for those with impaired memory. This may cause the user to need to re-read content repeatedly, return to a previous page, or restart a sequence such as form filling. This will cause the user to need additional time to complete an action which may cause additional time out issues.
Even one disruption of the user experience by distraction may cause users to abandon a task.
Those with impaired executive skills may have difficulty identifying the source of a distraction. They may have difficulty closing pop-ups, this may impact their ability to use a site with pop-up dialogs (messages, adverts, assistance windows).
Those with impaired executive function may have challenges completing time limited tasks, and as such may have that difficulty exacerbated by distractions, especially those that are difficult to close.
Those with impaired executive function may have difficulty identifying embedded adverts such as Adwords etc, and may assume that they are part of content. This may cause issues where products and commercial messages are interpreted as part of content.
It may be difficult for those with impaired executive function to correctly interpret the purpose of the distraction, to differentiate between adverts, pop-up help windows or actual content.
Those with impaired reasoning may have difficulty closing pop-ups, this may impact their ability to use a site with pop-up dialogs (messages, adverts, assistance windows).
Those with impaired reasoning may have challenges completing time limited tasks, and as such may have that difficulty exacerbated by distractions, especially those that are difficult to close.
It may be difficult for those with impaired reasoning function to correctly interpret the purpose of the distraction, to differentiate between adverts, pop-up help windows or actual content.
Those with attention related difficulties will have those difficulties increased by any distraction from Content focus.
Distraction will increase the time taken to consume content, and for those with significant attention related issues could make a site completely unusable.
Those with language related impairments may not be able to understand the context or purpose of a pop-up or help window.
Those with literacy related impairments may not understand the purpose of a pop-up, or any instructions on how to close or deal with the distraction.
Those with literacy related impairments may need use of Text to Speech software (TTS) or other Assistive Technology (AT). AT functionality may be impaired by overlays.
Perception-processing limitations may make it difficult for a user to understand the purpose of a distraction such as a help pop up, or to recognize that the overlay not a part of content. They may have difficulty closing any overlay/pop up or pop over window.
Reduced Knowledge may prevent a user from identifying the nature of a distraction, and hence dealing with that distraction effectively.
Popups are designed to be hard to close making it impossible for some people to continue their task.
The following solutions are not tested, and may be accomplished via existing open standards.
Inform the content provider of needs and accommodations required. This could be done via a User Agent String, JSON file, Metadata or similar. This would allow content providers to modify how distractions are handled, allowing the front loading of any important information etc.
Overlays should not be used where possible.
Where unavoidable the purpose of an Overlay should be clear. Overlay should be easily removed without scrolling. The closing mechanism should be clear easy to find, single click and effective. Closing mechanisms should be consistent, standardized and prominent throughout.
Any overlay should be accessible, and should integrate with any existing AT provision already on the site.
Where possible a user should be able to prevent any Overlays. If Overlays contain important information this information should be front loaded so the user does not miss any information.
Adverts should not automatically start playing (if Audio/Visual).
Notifications - should be easy to dismiss, cancel or opt out of.
Distractions embedded in content should be avoided.
Application install prompts should be clear, accessible and easy to dismiss. Confirmation should be obtained from the user before taking the user to any external site.
Where using an application may further impair a user the user should be clearly informed of any limitations, for example where an application is less accessible than the site itself. Similarly if an application is more accessible than the site itself the user should be informed, for example if the application allows more accommodations/customizations than the site itself.
This is a proposal to help people stay focused and productive. It is based on a matrix for distractions at the operating system , browser or cloud level. Currently people can turn off distractions such as Skype, and Facebook, across different devices, and then may forget to turn them back on. This idea manages all distractions by forming a cross application and cross device distraction matrix that manages all distractions in one setting. People and users can be clustered in terms of importance or groups. For example, the CEO and your child's care giver could both be considered critical contacts. So even if they do not feel the message is urgent they can sometimes disrupt the user anyway. Some family members and important colleagues can be in another group, friends and extended family in a third group, system messages from the compliance system can be a different group again.
Dimensions in the matrix can include: Groups of contacts, how urgent the contact feels any message is, and the level of interruptions the user can tolerate at any given time or setting. The user can set how to handle any combination of the above for the level of concentration needed at the time. For example, during normal work hours, messages from important colleagues could interrupt the user, but any other messages would get logged and read when the user has time. In another example the user may be giving a talk and sets the interruption level to critical. Then, only critical messages from key colleagues and family can interrupt. IE: Messages that a critical contact feels is critical and urgent. Default systems can include setting work hours. Optionally, distractions such as news websites could also be limited in low distraction times.
Further pop-ups and similar distractions must be always consistently easy to close and avoid so that all people can continue their task.
Attention Alert: A Study on Distraction Reveals Some Surprises
Experimentally Induced Distraction Impacts Cognitive but not Emotional Processes in Think-Aloud Cognitive Assessment