Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Not Every Article Needs a Picture

Hanson O’Haver, the Outline:

Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture. It may be of a tangentially related celeb. It may be a stock photo of a person making a face. It may be a Sony logo, which is just the word SONY. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I think it is stupid. I understand that images —> clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s hard for me to imagine there’ll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image.

The Outline is, of course, also a contributor to this trend. A photo of Mark Zuckerberg leads this story about Facebook’s dumb-as-bricks idea to combat revenge porn — which, incidentally, is almost exactly one of O’Haver’s examples. A great article about Twitter’s inconsistent character limit for those using accessibility features is illustrated, for some reason, by an old-timey photo of a man using a Monotype keyboard.

At some point in the past several years, the millions of different possibilities of turning individual pixels into a website coalesced around a singularly recognizable and repeatable form: logo and menu, massive image, and page text distractingly split across columns or separated by even more images, subscription forms, or prompts to read more articles. The web has rapidly become a wholly unpleasant place to read. It isn’t the fault of any singular website, but a sort of collective failing to prioritize readers.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become numb to the web’s noise. I know that I need to wait for every article I read to load fully before I click anywhere, lest anything move around as ads are pulled in through very slow scripts from ten different networks. I know that I need to wait a few seconds to cancel the autoplaying video at the top of the page, and a few more seconds to close the request for me to enter my email and receive spam. And I know that I’ll need to scroll down past that gigantic header image to read anything, especially on my phone, where that image probably cost me more to download than anything else on the page.

These photos add nothing but hundreds of kilobytes to the story. They can easily be replaced with pictures of William Howard Taft with little consequence. It’s just another reason why full-text RSS feeds continue to be one of the best ways to read a website’s articles.