Dude, Where’s My Close Button?

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve probably seen the new chat promotion running on their site by now. I’ll be diplomatic and say it’s a tad problematic, owing to the simple fact that it contains no visual cues as to how to dismiss it without first interacting with it (i.e., a close button). True, clicking elsewhere on the page closes it, but as a user I have no idea that’s the case initially. By omitting an affordance to opt out, Facebook is not-so-subtly funneling many of the users who simply want to close the promotion into their sign-up process. “How the heck do I close this thing? Click. Oh…”

Facebook screenshot
I Saw What You Did There, Facebook: The Facebook chat promotion as it appears on the right-hand side of a user's homepage. Personal tidbits obscured to protect the innocent.

Removing cues to close or abandon interaction flows is something that needs to be undertaken with great care and respect for the user’s initial intent. When used in complex, multi-part forms such as retail check-outs, removing site chrome and “links out” can help focus attention and aid in the completion of a task the user has explicitly voiced a desire to do. But when used to sculpt the flow of traffic without the user’s say-so, you risk engendering confusion and suspicion. Hence, I typically advise clients against this sort of thing. Sure, you’ll get higher sign-up numbers, but at what cost? Many of the folks who wind up making it through the process will be doing so out of ignorance, and quite a few won’t be terribly happy about it once they arrive on the other side.