I feel guilty. I feel guilty when I look at a certain interface elements. It’s the unread, or “new” count, that little number you see by your email inbox or beside a subscription in your RSS reader. Drawar, a design blog and community, has recently added a little sidebar box that shows the number of new site updates:

Unless you click on the link to see the feed of updates, the counter will just keep going up. Worse, the box detaches itself and follows you as you scroll down the page, leaving no escape from the counter.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with many of these counters. I may feel guilty for not checking unread items in my email mailbox, but there’s at least some reasoning for this. People have emailed me, so it’s polite to not keep them waiting.

But RSS readers and other feeds? There’s nothing bad about not reading them, yet the familiar counter still manages to induce guilt. Maybe it’s because of the inbox connection, maybe some deeper desire to ensure everything you subscribe to gets read. I don’t know, but I do know that I feel uneasy when I don’t reset these counters to 0. Maybe it’s OCD.

One thing’s for sure: I actually do end up clicking on these things. The feeling of guilt may create a negative user experience, but it gets me to actually check out the RSS feeds, read my emails, and check out site updates. From this point of view the little interface element is successful, but I just wish it didn’t make me feel so guilty for leaving it unchecked.