Photograph of cygnet riding on the back of a swan

The web is increasingly a loud, demanding, rude and divisive place. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare: the general rule is for more ads, more click-bait headlines, greater demands for attention, more generated controversy. In many ways, new media is falling prey to the excesses of the old.

A big part of the responsibility for this lies with content creators, designers and developers. We’ve created online environments without moderation and acted surprised when the worst of human behavior oozes to the top. We’ve made websites that entice audiences and then snare them with circular click-traps. We’ve promoted pages like casinos on the Las Vegas strip, each with more luminance and spectacle than the last, pushing to the background the values of human communication and connection.

I think it’s time to withdraw from that. To replace, at least to some degree, the rabid greed for clicks with the same values we would like to see from everyone: consideration, politeness, and wisdom. I think achieving those aims can be gained by following just six simple rules:

Be accommodating
Follow best practices. Make every page responsive.  Use the principles of progressive enhancement.
Make introductions
Use the richness of the web to provide further resources and perspectives. Don’t treat your website like a walled garden. Consider using an open source license for your work; apply open data principles.
Don’t make demands
Optimize images and code to make your pages as small as possible. Do not insist that the user subscribe, share, or follow on social services before getting access to content. Leave the option to open links in new tabs or windows up to the user. Don’t assume that the user knows what you are talking about, or shares your cultural values.
Withdraw when you’re not the focus of attention
Stop running video, audio and other distracting, battery-draining processes when your page no longer holds the user’s attention.
Respect privacy
Build rigorous, defensible arguments to justify tracking any kind of data. Always allow your guests to opt out of providing information. Avoid asking about gender, race or personally identifying information unless absolutely necessary.
Hold your guests to standards
Create clear community guidelines. Provide active moderation to create a safe, welcoming environment. Steer conversations to address topics and facts, rather than personalities and opinions. Always remain civil.

It is my hope that if more designers, developers and UX specialists think of themselves as hosts of an online experience rather than creators, if we make sites that treat guests like we want to be treated ourselves, then the web will become a better, more considerate place.

Photograph by Bruce Stokes, licensed under Creative Commons.

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