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We have a page with a demo video that we want users to watch but nobody is clicking play. Is it okay to automatically start the video when they hit the page or is that considered bad design?

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Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/13754/… –  Nic May 8 '12 at 17:32
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I'm interested to know what the experts say on this. As a user, I strongly dislike having music or sound automatically thrust upon me when I open a page, but I can be forgiving if it is very obvious how to stop it. –  brightgarden May 8 '12 at 17:36
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as a user, i absolutely hate it when that happens, and if it surprises me, will most likely as a reflex exit the page. –  user14621 May 8 '12 at 17:41
    
Can you show us the site? –  msanford May 8 '12 at 17:47
    
You want to extend the failure of this video to the site as a whole? –  corin May 9 '12 at 4:50

7 Answers 7

up vote 19 down vote accepted

As a general rule of thumb this is not usually a good idea. That being said, if the user is clicking on a link like, "The demo video explains how the missile knows where it is" then you could consider that to be the same as clicking play.

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I completely agree. As long as the user's expectations are set correctly and the context is appropriate then it should be ok. If the video is buried in a page of other content, no auto play please. –  GotDibbs May 8 '12 at 19:01
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Just playing devil's advocate, but the demo-video-link-exception only works if that link is the only possible entry vector for the video page. –  msanford May 11 '12 at 5:48
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@msanford That's a very good point. I had assumed the video would play in some kind of lightbox or similar situation but there are many other situations to consider. –  Andrew Shipe May 11 '12 at 12:31
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Definitely +1 on this. I don't even think musician webpages should just autoplay the music. You have no idea what kind of environment the user is going to be in and loud blaring music may be a deal breaker or the user may just be listening to music of their own choice. The only time I want AV playing on a website is when I explicitly click on a 'Play' button. –  cspray May 11 '12 at 17:42

UX is never about "making" a user do anything.

Unless the user got to the page by clicking a link that says "Play the Video" the answer to your question is no.

Get users to play the video by:

A) Do a better job of indicating why they would want to

or

B) Get a different video they actually want to watch

Your job is to provide the information the user needs to make the right decision, not to make the decision for them.

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It depends on:

  1. The function the video serves in your platform as a whole; and
  2. What your users are likely to expect; and
  3. The size of your video file.

I work on a lot of multimedia and "web-TV" platforms where the primary content is video. In this case, it's totally acceptable to auto-play most videos on page load because that's what users are expecting.

From a user experience perspective, there may be other reasons that your video isn't being played: perhaps it's not obvious enough, perhaps it's importance to your users' experience isn't being presented as valuable and worth their time.

Remember to be nice to your users (and your server) and don't preload a 500 meg 1080p video file unless it really makes sense to do so.

PS: iOS devices won't even preload metadata without a user touching the screen, so if that demographic is important to you, find an alternative that also works for your desktop users.

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Not even Youtube is exempt, and all it does is play videos: if I had some videos open and paused, and my browser crashes and I reopen tabs, holy mother of god the cacophony. –  Yamikuronue May 8 '12 at 18:51
    
@Yamikuronue Yes I've had that happen several times! The worst is that it's often a mix of YUI Theatre lectures and music videos in various languages. –  msanford May 8 '12 at 23:14

A few points why auto-playing videos/sound can be a bad practice and how decide when to auto-play without these points being an issue...

  1. If the user has a slow connection (or busy connection) then the video keeps freezing - no time to cache it prior to playing.
    (Can be fixed by auto-playing only when caching is complete.)

  2. If user opens up multiple tabs/windows from search results, then they all start playing together instead of only active tab/window.
    (Can be fixed by auto-playing only if tab is in focus.)

  3. If the video isn't expected (e.g. an advert or product demo, not intentional opening of youtube), then sudden playback of sound is very annoying.
    (Relevant only to non-requested videos/sounds.)

To summarize things up; if you auto-play only requested, fully cached videos when video is in focus, then it might not be a bad practice.

Notes: Answer partially copied from my answer to a related question.

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Related XKCD: xkcd.com/1280 –  Danny Varod Dec 16 '13 at 9:28

I am wondering if you did any research about why users are not clicking the link to play the video? Is the control hard to find? Is it obvious to the users what the video is about and what the benefits to the users are?

I would probably start with analyzing why users are not clicking vs. moving to automatic video playing right away.

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When there is a countdown. Show me a message or animate a countdown and give me the option to skip and plenty of time to think about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbOnYLzH6_k&hd=1

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It is ok to do so unless you give them an option to exit the demo video within few seconds after it automatically started.

E.g If your demo video is 30 sec long, make sure they can get option to skip after 5 seconds or 10 seconds. This will serve both purposes!

Learn tactic from youtube

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It certainly is not OK to do so, if it's unexpected. The user should feel they are in control (even if they are being manipulated into doing something). Never foist something unexpected on users, even if there's a way out afterwards. –  Andrew Leach May 8 '12 at 18:23
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youtube is specifically for videos, with each page being a video. It would not be appropriate just to copy that site purely because one of your pages has a video on it. There may well be a valid reason for playing automatically, but just citing YouTube as evidence isn't such a reason in this instance. –  JonW May 8 '12 at 18:52
    
Youtube's autoplay is actually very annoying, especially if the cache isn't big enough or you open up a few videos at once (in separate tabs). –  Danny Varod May 10 '12 at 15:52
    
yes , i think i misread the question!! –  sree May 11 '12 at 13:43

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