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How Developers Are Playing Us for Fools

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Operating systems, web browsers, online marketplaces, media players, BitTorrent clients, virtually every program with online connectivity have one thing in common: the progress bar. Meant to accurately gauge the time and data of a file transfer, the progress bar is often an arbitrary indicator. Between spotty Wi-Fi connections, buffer overrun, and just plain crappy CPUs, the time left mid-download can vary wildly. Web comic XKCD better illustrates the phenomenon:

But even when a file transfer appears to be going smoothly, a less-than-optimal connection can be masked by a developer's subtle touch. New Scientist detailed an animation effect added to many progress bars to give the illusion of a steady transfer. According to the following video, progress bars with a series of ripples moving to the left will make a download appear 11% faster.

New Scientist reports:

This illusion benefits not only a user's ego but also the developers who've implemented it. When competitions between operating systems, web browsers, and smartphones have become increasingly cutthroat, designers will adopt any incentive -- however deceptive -- to give themselves the edge.

After all, why spend time actually improving the operation of an app, platform, or hardware when an animated GIF will do the trick?
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