Artemy Lebedev

§ 51. Zip a duden duden, or why websites should keep mute

May 2, 2000

O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden duden duden day.
O Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.
Zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

Zip Coon. Composer and lyricist unknown

What’s the main difference between the internet and television? The internet makes no sounds. One’s communication with a PC is governed by a principle similar to that of a book: sit and read (or write). A normal book keeps silent. So does a normal PC (except for system sounds).

While working on a PC, people usually listen to some music. Or just enjoy the silence.

Now imagine a situation: a quiet and placid user is gliding the wide and endless expanse of the World Wide Web and wanders into the page of Joe Dumpkin. The placid user is listening to a CD with tranquil music. Joe Dumpkin’s page is downloading real slow, but the user is not in a hurry either.

At this very point the quiet and tranquil melody gets ripped apart by the sounds of “Baby one more time.” The user is startled by this rude intervention, since he can perfectly remember that he is listening to something pretty much different. He takes off his earphones to find out what a creep has turned up the volume of this goddamn pop crud. But there’s not a sound in the room. The user takes his earphones back on just to hear that “Oh babe babe, the reason I breathe is you, boy you’ve got me blinded . . .” is playing on.

“Stay, illusion!” exclaims the user. “Are ye fantastical, or that indeed which assails my ear?” Just to be on the safe side, he pauses his CD. Now the alien melody plays more distinctly. And he finally gets it: “That must be background music at the Joe Dumpkin website.” How can you turn it off? The user scrolls the page down by rolling the mouse wheel and sees no sign of a player. You cannot push “Pause” or “Stop.” The user rushes to press the “Back” button with an idea stinging in his subconscious that from now on the Joe Dumpkin page is off limits.

Obiter dictum

Some time ago the “Au!” website directory (the Russian for “You-hoo!”, currently “Aport”) greeted all visitors with an obnoxious howl of a woman “Ah-h-h-h-h-h-Uh-h-h-h-h!”. Since that time the author has ceased to go there, although nobody howls there any more.

Nevertheless, today many websites still play background music or a lead-in when you enter them. It is wrong for the reasons listed below:

the user is not prepared to listen to any tunes to be generated by a website;

the user has his own music to listen;

nearly always background music cannot be turned off;

website sounds are usually low quality (especially MIDI);

when passing to another page of the website, the music is cut short at the most inappropriate moment, which makes a still worse impression than that from a taxi radio when the driver is searching for a good song, switching and flipping from one station to another;

the semantic and functional rating of website music is zero point zero;

web is a medium of text and visual information. Sound dwells in flash clips (where it is teamed up with action) or audio formats (that are played using special software).

Sound has the right to exist if

the user has the opportunity to decide whether or not he needs sound;

it has a meaning to it (which it very rarely does).

Hence the rule: don’t use sound on the web as a means of decoration.

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