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I just test-drove Jetpack’s new search suggestions feature. Result: If this ain’t an ad, I don’t know what is.

Yesteray I opined on the latest Jetpack release, calling its search suggestion feature way over the line. I had a subsequent Twitter conversation with several people in the WordPress community, in which the stated intention behind the feature by one of the main developers was to solve the pretty significant problem of users installing multiple plugins which perform the same task. I know the developer and I have no doubt that that particular developer’s intentions are good and even admirable, so before I go any further with this, I want to state that it is not intended on my part to be a personal attack on any of the humans involved. I’m specifically keeping names out of this because I do not want anyone to be personally attacked as a result of this. With all of that said, I just test-drove the feature, and if that suggestion isn’t an ad, I really don’t know what is, and I suspect that anyone else who comes scross this, (especially screen reader users), are going to perceive this as an ad, even if it really isn’t intended to be one.

Steps To Reproduce

You must be running the latest version of Jetpack. If it’s not showing up in your updates, it will soon if you have it installed. I’ve run the update on my personal site, and got the following results when testing.

I searched for Jetpack’s sharing feature by typing the word “sharing” without quotes into the search box on the plugins/add new page. I specifically have this feature disabled. What came back is the following.

Aftere searching, and the page refreshes, the first thing I find on the page when navigating by headings after searching is “Jetpack: Sharing” at heading level three, just like every other search result on the page. Next, in the list below the heading with a link, (which normally contains a link to install the plugin and a link to learn more about it), I find a button labelled “enable”, followed by the traditional “Learn more” link.

Next, there’s a description of the feature:

Add Twitter, Facebook and Google+ buttons at the bottom of each post, making it easy for visitors to share your content.

The plugin author name follows directly after this, and in this case it’s Automattic.

Next is a graphic without alternative text, which I can only assume is the Jetpack logo or maybe the Automattic logo. No matter what it is though, so far the only thing distinguishing this from a standard search result is the replacement of the “install” link with an “enable” button, and this graphic. Otherwise it looks like a standar search result. Now onto the other very minor differences.

Under the graphic without alternative text, the following text appears:

Jetpack is trusted by millions to help secure and speed up their WordPress site. Make the most of it today.

Marketing copy complete with a call-to-action.

And now, for dismissing the suggestion. There’s some text that says “Hide this suggestion”, and although this appears to not be associated with any discernible element while using a screen reader, if you press enter on it, the suggestion disappears. However, your focus jumps down to the nex item in the list, past the heading to the end of the list with the two links, so you have to press shift-H to navigate back to the heading to find out what you’re even working with.

The focus management and alternative text issues are fixable, as is the semantics of the “Hide this suggestion” thing. However, all of this seems confusing at best, requiring me to pay extra attention to what’s going on on this screen. I spend a fair amount of time in the WordPress administration panel, and I expect that between plugins, themes, admin notifications, and WordPress in general, these screens are going to change. However, needing to pay extra attention to the plugin search screen so I can avoid accidentally enabling a Jetpack feature due to something that is definitely an advertisement dressed up to look like a search result is absolutely not OK. I knew what was coming, and I still needed to focus on what I was doing to a much more greater degree. Anyone who doesn’t realize they have Jetpack installed, (and this happens a lot considering that hosts install it automatically in a lot of cases), is not going to spend the bit of extra time to pay closer attention to what’s going on, and therefore will enable a feature, at which point they then will need to dig through settings to find where it’s buried once they realize they’ve enable something they don’t want, or God help them when there’s a conflict with something on their site, as their was with the Jetpack sharing buttons markup and the Microformats 2 markup on my personal site, which prompted me to disable the sharing buttons in the first place since I prioritize correct markup over whether or not someone can click something to share my post.

All of this looks incredibly shady, even with the consideration of the stated intentions behind it, and I find myself asking: who dictated the design and development requirements of this user experience? It may be designed to be visually separate from the rest of the search, I don’t know. I haven’t gone through the CSS. But it sure as hell isn’t very different markup-wise, and yeah, that makes me kind of angry. I suspect anyone who encounters this without knowing anything about it, or any of the humans involved, is going to be angrier, never mind feeling tricked, and I really think this was completely avoidable.


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