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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Auto-play must die!

28 July 2017

What a relief, Adobe has announced that they're going to kill off their Flash player, one of the primary vectors for malware over many years.

Until HTML5 came along, Flash was really the only portable way to deliver decent streaming video content via a webpage but sadly, the never-ending stream of vulnerabilities and security holes meant that it was also a dangerous thing to have installed on any Net-connected computer.

Flash also did not mix well with many portable devices and iPhone users were pretty much out in the cold if they wanted to view Flash-based content.

So, on the plus side we're ditching Flash but on the negative side, there's something perhaps less dangerous but far, far more irritating appearing to replace it.

I'm talking about the evil auto-playing HTML5 videos that are increasingly littering the web.

One of the worst offenders in the field of auto-play abuse is Stuff.co.nz.

Before I disabled auto-play video content via a setting in Mozilla, the Stuff website was something I avoided at all cost. Just about every "news" page had an auto-play video that would start blaring away and sucking bandwidth within 5 seconds of the page loading. Some of the worst pages actually had as many as four or five of these damned videos and they'd all be playing at once -- completely destroying your ability to make sense of any of them.

Of course auto-play is great when you're in the business of selling advertising and I suspect that's the real reason that sites like Stuff are (ab)using them so prolifically these days.

Video ads command a premium price and I suspect that in many cases, so long as the video starts to stream, the advertiser is hit with a "per view" charge -- even though the viewer has probably muted their audio and quickly scrolled the video out of view or clicked on to a different page.

Hopefully Aardvark readers have also turned off the auto-play functionality of their browsers but I'd love to know how those who haven't are coping.

I recently wrote a column about how Google is busy screwing with their original formula for success (don't be evil) so I wasn't much surprised to read this story from the BBC which suggests that the world's most popular search engine is experimenting with auto-play videos in its search results.

Can you imagine how annoying that would be?

So if your browser doesn't support the disabling of the auto-play functionality, the transition from Flash to HTML5 for video could be a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire -- from the perspective of irritation when surfing the web.

Do you find these auto-play vids as much of an annoyance as I did?

What are you doing to counter this growing threat from advertisers and idiot site designers?

Will we see much more auto-play before the trend finally dies out?

Will the annoyance factor of these vids ultimately kill their value as an advertising medium or a way of artificially lifting a site's hit-rate?

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