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How to block auto-play videos

Reader Andy Jensen likes his web browsing to be distraction free. He writes:

Lately I've visited a few web sites that automatically display and play videos. I find this really distracting when I'm trying to read the article I came to see. Other than clicking the Stop button on each of these things, is there some way to disable them?

I'm with you. I can ignore flashing elements and pictures that change from time to time, but once you introduce audio, you've crossed the line. If it's the audio element that's the most distracting, you can just punch your Mac's Mute button. I often do that when trying to watch a YouTube video and an ad is forced on me before I can see the content I'm interested in.

If both the audio and video are a problem, you can block the video completely. Most of these videos are Flash-based and, fortunately, there are ways to block Flash. For Safari my favorite is Marc Hoyois' free ClickToPlugin. With it installed, videos can't autoplay and any Flash content on the page is blocked, which can also help if you find moving ads a distraction. It doesn't, however, block all ads, so you don't have to feel that you're depriving a site of its ad impressions but rather only those ads so obnoxious that you'd be loath to click on them anyway. If it blocks something you do want to see--something you'd like to watch after reading a story connected to it--just click on the video and it will play.

I like ClickToPlugin not simply because it blocks Flash content, but it can also instruct websites to use HTML5 rather than Flash when you land on one of their pages. It additionally allows you to configure other kinds of plug-in--Picasa, QuickTime, Silverlight, and Google Talk, for example--and choose whether you'd like to have them load automatically or not.

If you're using Firefox there are a variety of Flash-blockers available that you can find by choosing Tools > Add-ons. In the resulting page you'll likely see Flashblock, which can also deal with these too-anxious videos. There's a FlashBlock that works with Chrome, though it's not made by the same developer.

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