...the call for more broadcast hours devoted to news “that matters” and fewer hours of TV trials — that, as many have accurately put it, are barely distinguishable from CSI episodes — might have been more persuasive in the days when the television audience had only the three broadcast network newscasts to choose from, when the only national newspaper was the business-oriented Wall Street Journal, when there was no real-time access to foreign newspapers and broadcasts, and when researchers were only fantasizing about something as ubiquitous as the Web. But today’s media menu gives the news audience more opportunities than ever before to find the news that others might describe as meaningful and important. It might have made sense three decades ago, when CNN was getting started, that its over-coverage of one story was blotting out other, more worthy stories. But that critique doesn’t apply to 2013. CNN, which used to be the only TV news meal at times of breaking international news like this, is only one of the entrees. Any number of sites have live-streamed the Egyptian protests on to the Web and sharply reported, photographed, and filmed accounts from Cairo are only a hashtag search away the reader’s eye.
Go ahead and complain about CNN if you want to, but footnote your critique with easily accessible alternative sources.
In today’s media environment, the media critic who insists that the cable networks follow Egypt and drop Zimmerman is like the nudging dining companion who wants to order both his meal and yours, lest you embarrass him by mistakenly ordering the burger and fries. He finds the burger and fries déclassé and bad for you and would rather you add something more tofu-and-wheatgrassy to your media diet.
The fact that no one in journalism bats an eye when Shafer equates CNN with “tabloid TV” tells us why I am out of the game.
...what do they stand for? The same thing Entertainment Tonight stands for! Television that occupies your attention, not for a purpose but merely for a while. Another answer might be “drama without dramatists,” meaning: drama where the plots and characters are provided by the people unlucky enough to be caught up in tabloid-ish or flashpoint events. Trials are ideal for that, but so is the poop ship.
I used to say: I criticize because I care. But I no longer do....CNN is TV, popular enough to remain on the air. That’s pretty much all you can say about it now.
Though it's one of the most essential functions of technology - from the telegraph to the telephone to email and the web - the content it produces has the least value, outside the person and moment a particular message was meant for. We know how to monetize information and entertainment via direct payment (ebooks, music), sponsorships or added value (AdWords), but the very act of interrupting a communication stream or creating a distraction in order to derive value is ultimately destructive or futile. Match.com derives value by extortion. Other communication services have tiered levels of functionality. Others try to distract you with obnoxious display ads Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, Facebook). At one point we paid by the minute to communicate - I ran up hundreds of dollars of phone bills during college by simply talking. And later, AOL charged me by the hour to connect to the internet. I've only just recently stopped paying per text message I receive. Really, how much is a single IM, text, email, comment, tweet or 'like' really worth? And then how do you translate that worth into actual money? Meebo had a chat client, eventually was some sort of ad thing before it got bought. Lingr, tiny-chat and a million other chatrooms and chat sites have faded as their inability to derive actual value from communications continue.
Also, correlation (new rule?): The closer web content gets to communication, the less value it has. However, if the communication facilitates some other purpose - like eBay - then the lock-in is high and the value is huge. 'Markets' online are simply sevices that facilitate communication between buyers and sellers. In order for Facebook to actually make money from their service, they need to figure out how to convert their communication service into facilitating some other goal.
Russell had lots of good thoughts in that long post. I particularly liked "Web Revenues" and "Why I can't get excited about 'apps.'"
Matt Asay on disposable companies and the "don't even bother" school of monetization success that makes things suck sooner or later:
The Downside To Making Money
It turns out that it's very difficult to remain popular while charging for one's service. LinkedIn has done it by charging recruiters. Google has done it by aligning relevant ads next to search results. But monetizing people's inane pictures of their meals? Instagram didn't even bother.
Pinterest is starting to roll out paid services. Foursquare, too, has been straining to make more money lately. Ironically, these noble efforts to actually sustain the companies on real revenue may make them far less valuable.
Is Tesla’s threat to North Carolina car dealerships fundamentally different from what Wal-Mart has been doing to locally owned independent stores for decades? Isn’t Amazon just continuing a process that Barnes & Noble and Borders started? Globalization has hit the middle class as hard as anything dreamed up on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto.
What seems to bring Silicon Valley up for special animus are the outsize self-aggrandizing claims made by the Mark Zuckerbergs and Sergey Brins and Elon Musks of the world, when compared to the reality of their corporate impact. Wal-Mart just promises low prices, while Silicon Valley promises to make the world a better place. And yet the world, despite our overwhelming embrace of computers and networks and email and social media, is demonstrably not a better place. In the United States, in the 20 years since the Internet broke through, inequality has widened, our politics have grown ever more dysfunctional, and our most pressing problems have grown more intractable. Facebook Home and Google Glass and Amazon Prime aren’t cutting it. Homelessness in Silicon Valley? There isn’t an app for that.
I read a great deal about what people have to say about feeds, RSS and Google Reader. What Chris Wetherell had to say in 2008 is by far the most important and interesting:
3. Reading styles for feeds are pre-established and generally inflexible.
On this point I'm relying on data that is attainable at Google because of size and market dominance as well as having routine user studies and follow-up. So because of this data I'm making an assertion that there is something inherently different about the inflexibility of feed reading styles than compared with other software. It's something borne out in every user test we've ever had and by Reader's development and seems worth academic inquiry at some point.
People of all stripes including those who've used feed readers, those who haven't, as well as those who understand the underlying architecture and those who don't all seem to have a pre-determined reading style that they find incredibly difficult to change.
The persistence of inflexibility is a little strange. There are many times when people can adapt to software experiences that don't match their expectation so long as they're still strongly identified as useful. You can probably imagine some personal examples.
However, in Reader changing a reading style is often very difficult. People can see the usefulness of opposing views ("Oh, I can see how a list view makes sense") and not change whatsoever ("Yeah, I could NEVER EVER use that") Generally, I've come to believe that people will not use a feed reader if it does not exactly accommodate their reading style. I readily concede that inflexibility in reading styles may only be a problem local to Reader though I suspect a new feed reader may encounter the same behavior. This is possibly due to the ease of switching to services which highlight the specific style the user prefers. Subscription data is portable and there are many simple instructions on how to move from service to service.
Go read the whole post, including his thoughts on polymorphism and a listing of people’s deal-breakers.
There’s something far deeper in his findings about the inflexibility of preferences for content use that’s worth meditating on in relation to the larger areas of media and services in general, both online and offline, and how that relates to flexible filters.
While some of the issues relating to monetization these days are purely about a lack of disclosure and honesty, discussing what qualifies as “advertising” misses the point. The reason we have these questions at all is that some people are deeply uncomfortable and embarrassed about what they do. And this is what causes them to play hard and loose with the facts.
Whether we call affiliate links “advertising” or “marketing” or “fee splitting” or “working for a commission as an employee” isn’t terribly important. They represent a paid compensation scheme and therefore should be disclosed. Common sense dictates this and the law reflects it.
Selling a list of your subscribers’ email addresses doesn’t sound like advertising or marketing or fee splitting or working for a commission, but it certainly is a way of making money off your content indirectly. The same applies to selling other data about how users interact with your site. I suppose you could sell these things and still say your site is “ad-free,” but so what? If being “ad-free” is just about the distraction problem however you care to define it, then I guess you’ve solved it.
A lot of people want to produce content. Some portion of these people want to make money off the content they produce. There’s two fundamentally different ways, traditionally, they could do this: off the content itself or through what the content could do. This is the real split: not between “businesses” and “pan-handling,” but between people who treat content as an end and people who treat content as a means to an end. Asking for user payment, while still making content available without payment, is sometimes labelled “donations,” but this misses the key idea. The key characteristic here, assuming no other monetization schemes are present, is that the content is the product. Period.
So, if you’re trying to make money, but you’re not selling your content “as the thing itself,” you’re using it “as a thing for something else.”
And some people are fine with this. They’re happy their content is good/popular/deceptive enough to allow it to drive lots of commission through the purchases it produces or substantial revenue from accompanying advertising or as self-promotion for paid-speaking or whatever. Some people are not fine with this. They want any money they get through their content to be from what the content alone imparts to its audience.
The problem is with people who are embarrassed about their work being a means versus an end. And this is what drives people to want to tell stories or play loose with the truth or fail to make disclosures or come up with rationalizations or just lie. But you don’t get to have it both ways. You’re either purely serving your audience or you’re serving them and using your content to use them. You can’t be doing both. So, either stop doing what you’re doing, stop being embarrassed or continue being embarrassed and just be honest with yourself and everyone else about what’s actually going on.
…why would a company that can reach a billion people even want to sell targeting? They should be selling anti-targeting. They should be selling reach. They are the only media property in the solar system that reaches a billion people and they are trading on their ability to reach falafel lovers in Yonkers.
Facebook has taken precision targeting bullshit to its logical absurdity. They’re sitting on a gold mine, but they’re throwing away the gold and selling the dirt.
…I think the creepy Zuckerberg kid doesn’t really want to be in the ad business. Like all these rich web phonies, he sees himself as some kind of high-minded visionary. Advertising just doesn’t fit his smug idea of who he is and what he stands for.
To him, advertising is a crass affair, unbecoming his noble purpose. Which is why it is relegated to invisible little postage stamps on a part of the page no one looks at.
In short, he’s embarrassed about being in the ad business. To be honest here, so am I. But I don’t have investors.
The truth about cell phones and tablets is that despite offering less clunky metaphors of human-computer interaction, they are about more user control, not less. (And by control I mean “actual control.” Actual control is swiping something away with your finger and having confidence that you know what you are doing. Theoretical control is the command line that a statistically insignificant percent of the population can use.)
Greater control is the reason traditional carpet-bombing, high-impact, intrusive ads were determined to be anathema on desktops and laptops (in comparison to TV and radio,) with that thought even stronger when applied to cell phones and tablets. Internet people know that infinitesimally small click-through rates and impact are preferable to “turning off” users. They know being turned off is a far more visceral feeling online than off. And they know that turning off users in an age of greater control is far riskier because it means user abandonment. By contrast, no one ever really quit TV before the internet. There was nowhere to go. And besides, internet people know that by the time the metrics prove their embarrassed-to-be-in-the-ad-business ads don’t do much (or even really reach people) they’ll already have made their money.
The closer you get someone to feel like they are pushing a button to be served an ad, the feeling of horror they experience goes up asymptotically. This closeness isn’t some abstract concept. It is actual physical closeness. Your phone and tablet are inches from your face. The button you push to be served an ad (which you really just pushed to get a piece of honest content) is literally touching your finger. It is not abstracted through a corded mouse and keyboard. It is not being served without your permission on a screen across the room or hundreds of feet away in a dark theater. Dead-tree magazines and newspapers get around this by having static images that are already there. They do not load at your non-command. Dead-tree books get around this the easier way: not having ads.
And the trend for technological devices is only getting more personal, not less.
To understand the problem with this we have to go back to first principles.
The first is that interactivity is the enemy of advertising. Whether the interactivity takes the form of clicking a tv remote, pushing a radio push-button, clicking a mouse or swiping a page, we believe that people are far more likely to interact with a medium to avoid advertising than to engage with it.
Knocking this stuff down is basically like shooting fish in a barrel for Bob.
“Native advertising” -
Desperate magazine publishers used to do stuff like this. If you bought a large enough ad schedule they’d sneak some positive mentions of your product into their editorial pages. It wasn’t called native advertising. It was called unscrupulous bullshit. And you didn’t have to pay for it.
The audience isn’t gonna care about the Pixar animation system, they’re not gonna care about the Pixar production system, they’re not gonna care about anything–except what they will be able to judge for themselves, and that’s the end result, which they can appreciate without having to understand what went into it, what went into creating it.
If you are willing to click a few ads per week, however, I want you to know that I appreciate it very much. AdSense effectively works as a micropayment system, but instead paying with small amounts of money, you pay with small bits of your attention.
People are lazy. You are lazy. I am very lazy. I don’t want to lift a finger to do anything generally, unless it is really worth it. When you’re reading stuff online and you’re hit with signup forms, registration forms, or worse of all, payment forms, most people close their browser or go somewhere else.
Dooce puts ads on her site to feed her family (she’s supporting them *entirely* by writing her personal web site) and gets an earful of complaint in return. Thought this was particularly insightful about why no subscription fees or donations instead: “By using ads I’m making my livelihood my problem and no one else’s.” I’m not sure if that’s strictly true, but it resonated a lot with me.
Tom Slee landed about 50 punches in this piece. Easily the best thing I’ve read in a while. Go read now.
…I hope that, if you reflect, you’ll agree that the new peer-to-peer companies are a blight on the landscape of egalitarian thinking. Yes, according to CNN, CEO Brian Chesky “thinks of Airbnb as more than a company – to him it is a movement. His site invites users to return to a time when hitchhiking wasn’t dangerous – when it was just fine to share anything with strangers because no one was all that strange.” But Brian Chesky has not tried to start a movement, he’s started a company: and he hasn’t actually done anything much to make hitchhiking less dangerous. He wants his customers to think of it as a movement while he owns the business.
The contrast with real efforts to break down barriers to access and to make more accessible, non-commercial travel a reality is dramatic. None of the peer-to-peer companies “start from an entrenched social problem and work backwards from there” as Catherine Bracy writes. For real inspirarion, look back to efforts like the Ramblers Association’s 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the services provided over the years by the Youth Hostel Association and Hostelling International, all characterized by a broad base, by people who thought about what they were doing, and who had an actual commitment to their goals. And guess what? Remarkably enough, none of these has billionaire venture capitalists – or even the profit motive – behind them.
Catherine Bracy’s piece, which Tom links to in his article, is also worth reading.
Ian Bogost linked this hucksterism to the new higher education business hucksters. His piece, and the one he links to by Mark Guzdial, are interesting. But their pieces are interesting as much for what they include as what they leave out. They are both university professors and both show little introspection as to how horrible higher education is. While it’s easy to attack the flaws of a horrible competitor, it’s much harder to admit the reason a horrible competitor is coming to eat your lunch is because you yourself are horrible.
Mark writes about the teaching and university system of an alien planet in a different universe. Like the businesspeople who issue denialist non-apology apologies, Mark seems to think the problem is this,
We haven’t done enough to tell people what we do well. MOOCs do what the external world thinks that University teachers do.
Ah, yes. The problem with higher education is that universities and professors haven’t gone around and told enough people what they do well. That must be it.
MOOCs don’t do what the external world thinks university professors do. They do what everyone knows universities do: deliver a bad product that doesn’t meet people’s needs. MOOCs will probably just do that for a lot less money.
…“sharing” has become a lot easier and a lot more efficient, but “being shared with” has become much more time-consuming, demanding, and inefficient (especially if we don’t ignore most of our friends most of the time). Given this, expecting our friends to keep up with our social media content isn’t expecting them to meet us halfway; it’s asking them to take on the lion’s share of staying in touch with us. Our jobs (in this role) have gotten easier; our friends’ jobs have gotten harder.
We may be prosumers of social media, but the reward structures of social media sites encourage us to place greater emphasis on our roles as share-producers—even though many of us probably spend more time consuming shared content than producing it. There’s a reason for this, of course; the content we produce (for free) is what fuels every last ‘Web 2.0’ machine, and its attendant self-centered sociality is the linchpin of the peculiarly Silicon Valley concept of “Social” (something Nathan Jurgenson and I will discuss together in greater detail next week). It’s not super-rewarding to be one of ten people who “like” your friend’s shared link, but it can feel rewarding to get 10 “likes” on something you’ve shared—even if you have hundreds or thousands of ‘friends.’ Sharing is easy; dealing with all that shared content is hard.
So Anil Dash wrote this piece that got a little traction. It’s about the web and stuff. All the cool kids read it. A few are even talking about it.
Felix Salmon made some interesting points in response:
The network of non-professional individual bloggers which Anil and I remember from 2003 didn’t last long; while it still exists, it’s not much bigger now than it was then. What’s more, the individual bloggers who do exist tend not to blog on their own websites: instead, they use some hosted service or other. (Six Apart itself was part of this trend.)
And there’s a very good reason for that. Back in October 2003, I wrote a post entitled "Blogging is hard", which explains just how difficult it was to set up your own blog on your own website. Very little has changed since then, except that many sites have disappeared: except for the links to my own content, pretty much every other link in the post is now dead. Owning your own identity, it turns out, is an ongoing thing: if you let it lapse, then your identity pretty much disappears.
For the billions of people coming online today, the web can be just as hard, just as daunting, as blogging was to me in 2003. Anil wants to “re-educate” them and to “teach them that there is so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know”. But the fact is that most of them don't really want to be taught such things. Anil and his readers (and my readers, for that matter) are atypical in caring about this stuff. I would loathe to live in a world where Facebook was my main window to the rest of the internet, but hundreds of millions of people find that world very comforting and personal. And while Anil is right that Facebook could, if it wanted, be much more web-friendly, I think he’s wrong that doing so would make Facebook even more profitable than it is now.
Rusty Foster, in the comments of Anil’s post, had a strong point:
Most of the people I’m friends with online today would have found the web you’re describing creepy and Orwellian and probably not used it. Maybe instead of thinking we can re-educate a billion people into what we think the web means, we should look at what has made the web they built useful to them, and think about why.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden, also in the comments:
Message persistence and searchability encourages the creation of rich, thoughtful content. Deliberately ephemeral formats tell you every time you use them that what you’re doing has no lasting value.
But, of course, there’s no obvious signs that everyone, or even most people, want rich, thoughtful content with lasting value.
I’m with my brother on this point:
If people want to donate their time, copyrights, intellectual property, and personal data to companies and whoever else so they can sell billboards on it in exchange for heart and star icons, that’s fine.
For most people to want control, they’re first probably going to have to get sick of not having control. You don’t sign up for HBO until you get bored of network TV, and then regular cable. AOL Facebook is network TV, running a site is cable and running a site independently is HBO (or acquiring all your video a la carte.) While you can always make the more powerful levels less work, they’ll never be less work than having someone managing things for you, which is basically the deal with giant one-click social networks.
And let’s not forget that the web always worked for popular and influential people who got a community feeling and feedback, and oftentimes ad dollars, and much less so for everyone else, who often toiled in obscurity. One-click social networks solved this problem for people, giving them the modicum of attention and interaction they wanted for their own contributions, while offering the opportunity during the waiting-around-time to stalk, chat with friends and easily keep up with minutiae of everyone they ever knew and lots of people they didn’t. It’s not perfect, and there are a lot of sacrifices, but there were usually ads in both places and it sure beat the crickets a lot of people heard at the supposedly cool web place.
In fact, there were arguably far too many people on the open web back in the day, with only a small portion there because they cared about so-called "web values." They were there because there was nothing else, not because they wanted to be.
Jeff: So, Casey, someday we’re going to take ads for this podcast and become mega rich like all the games are doing nowadays. Y’know, everyone’s going to these ad-supported systems. Which is like awesome, right?
Casey: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t want to say, just blanket, that if you accept ads in video games that you’re a terrible human being. Not a terrible game developer, but actually that you are a bad human being at your core. But that’s actually true.
I mean, the bottom line is that like advertising absolutely destroys media. It totally does. If you pick up a magazine today and try to find the table of contents, twenty minutes later tell me that ads are not a terrible influence on media. Try watching a fucking TV show, tell me it’s not terrible.
Casey: Even aside from being annoyed by it, it seems like it’s a free thing. It’s not. We are paying for that in deep and important ways with our children. With ourselves.
Jeff: Well, here’s the thing, this is obviously Sut Jhally’s thing and you can listen to him say it way better than I can say it, but like the whole thing in advertising is there’s money changing hands. So, look at something like a free service, like television. I have a free service. It costs money. It costs a lot of money to produce Lost. It costs two million dollars an episode or something. So you are getting, they’re giving you a two million dollar episode for free, divided by the viewership. You’re getting some money. You’re getting fifty cents. They’re just fucking giving you fifty cents. So what are you giving them in exchange? What are you giving them in exchange? It’s not nothing! If you’re sitting there thinking that somehow it’s nothing, that they’re just giving you fifty cents because they love you and they think you’re fabulous and that all they want to do is shower you with cash then you’re an idiot. I am sorry. Business doesn’t operate that way. Ads aren’t these things that just, “oh, they’re some stuff that I ignore and they don’t affect me.” No, they do.
The Jeff and Casey Show used to be my favorite podcast. Then it ended. My new favorite podcast, John Siracusa’s Hypercritical, is also ending. Dive into the archives of either show sometime for podcasts well worth your listen.
On the advice of a trusted source, I went and checked out Steve Jobs’ so-called “lost interview.” I guess this made sense since I had already referenced the interview.
Jobs on why tech companies start rotting from the inside at birth and become unable to save themselves.
They changed their product like once every ten years. To them a new product was a new sized bottle. So, if you were a product person you couldn’t change the course of that company very much. So, who influenced the success of Pepsico? The sales and marketing people. Therefore, they were the ones that got promoted and they were the ones that ran the company.
Well, for Pepsico that might have been ok. But, it turns out the same thing can happen to technology companies that get monopolies. Like, oh, IBM and Xerox. If you were a product person at IBM or Xerox, so you make a better copier or a better computer. So what? When you have a monopoly market share, the company’s not any more successful. So the people who can make the company more successful are the sales and marketing people. And they end up running the companies. And the product people get driven out of decision making forums. And the companies forget what it means to make great products.
Apple was only able to pursue radical, innovative change at the end of the 90s because they were a dead man walking. They transitioned from one of the most important computer makers in the 80s (and kind of the 90s) into a company that basically just sold music boxes. They were able to rethink and reboot everything, centered around good products and a vision for the future that has served them well.
His analysis of IBM’s PC success could easily have been written about Android.
IBM’s first product was terrible. It was really bad. And we made a mistake of not realizing a lot of other people had a very strong vested interest in helping IBM make it better. So, if it had just been up to IBM, they would have crashed and burned. But, IBM did have what I think is a genius in their approach, which was to have a lot of other people have a vested interest in their success. And that’s what saved them in the end.
The first Android phone, the G1, was terrible. And the Open Handset Alliance had a serious interest in making it work. Of course, this time around Apple didn’t ignore the competition, but the idea of attacking them on the basis of patents was very problematic. Their far better response was admitting eventual defeat and moving on to other areas where they’d hold an advantage, at least for a while, in places like tablets and televisions that don’t suck.
The first quote comes at around the 26 minute mark and the second one comes in around 29 minutes. You can find the interview at a whole bunch of places, like iTunes, Amazon and Netflix.
The parasites in Technology include VCs, Journalists, executives, engineers, patent attorneys and marketers. Like bees and wasps, you can barely tell them from their counterparts at first glance, but each of them have evolved without a core trait: integrity.
There’s always an outsized ratio of wasps to bees whenever there’s the hope of obscene amounts of money honey. It either brings out the worst in people or simply brings out the worst people. Maybe both.
I’m not saying that piracy is okay—the truth is, it never is. Unless, of course, you’re trying to watch foreign television programs, or build your own DVR. Or convert your legally-purchased iTunes library to stream to your Xbox. Or make your friend a mix CD for her bridal shower. Or upload a supercut to YouTube. Hmm. Okay. Maybe it’s the litigiousness of things like DRM and SOPA that go a long way in revealing exactly how much gray space there really is.
…the advertising creative that is designed for a stage doesn’t “work” online, where the experience is one-to-one and personal. This is an enormous stumbling block for those seeking to make money online. We keep throwing TV ads as prerolls, for example, at people who are in an intimate, one-to-one experience, and it results in a fingernails on the chalkboard effect.
No matter what it looks like from afar, what spin we need or wish to put on it, or what our business model needs it to be, from a usage perspective, the Web is always one-to-one. We may actually believe that we’re dealing with an audience — and we may find considerable evidence to prove to ourselves that it is — but the truth is that consumption of media via the Web is personal. The devices are personal, the experience is personal, and the control is entirely personal. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve bailed on a piece of content — written or video — because something about it crossed my line of tolerance. I just won’t play the passive, sit-in-my-seat-and-shut-up role when I have the wherewithal to do something about it. Nothing is so compelling, so “exclusive,” so rare, so fascinating, or so necessary that I will put up with your BS to watch it, read it, or listen to it. Nothing. I’m in charge of the controls, not you.
The cool kids can always be trusted to be for the other cool kids.
And against everybody else.
Dan Benjamin: The way that I see it is, and I think we have a different perspective because we’ve run sites and we do run sites and those sites at least in some portion make money from ad revenue. So I feel like it’s a completely ok thing in my book to have ads on a site. I agree with you that there are a lot of ads that will go overboard and that’ll make some sites completely unusable and I’m sympathetic to the people who want to use the ad-blockers on those sites. But I can tell you that for the sites I like, anytime that I go to a site and I say, “I like this site,” and I visit it and I plan on going back to it, I will always whitelist it as a general rule. I’ll whitelist it so that every single time I go there I’m gonna see whatever the ads are. Now, once in a while if they have one of those ads that unfolds, y’know somewhere I understand that a puppy has died and it’s a horrible thing. But, y’know even if that happens, I’m willing to do it to see, y’know, I know how this ad business works.
Merlin Mann: Yeah, but how often do you patronize them? Google ads will not make money unless people click on them, by and large. So how often do you click on ads and then buy something?
Dan: Y’know, not probably that much. I do it.
Merlin: Well, then that’s like subscribing to somebody’s paper and not reading it. I mean, you’re helping out superficially, but if your only way of making revenue from a site is having your friends leave ads on then you have a problem with your business model.
Dan: Well, I don’t, that’s a good point, you’re right. You’re right. I mean, I think.
Merlin: I mean, really you’re just relying on sympathy more than having a business that’s valuable to people, right? Is that mean to say? Y’know what I mean?
Dan: No, I don’t think it’s mean to say. I think it’s, I think at least I have the opportunity that maybe if I see something I like I have the opportunity to click it. I definitely am going to see it. I’ll look at it, I’ll consider it. Maybe I click it, maybe I don’t click it. But if you’re turning off those ads altogether, then it’s like I think you’re saying I’m not even giving them a chance to earn anything, in a way. Is that weird?
Merlin: No. Do you have a Tivo?
Dan: No, I would like to get one of the new ones, though.
Merlin: Yeah, I do. I mean, I really like 30 Rock, but I don’t watch the commercials.
Dan: Yeah, we do have a DVR, we don’t have a Tivo. You probably meant a DVR. But I thought the Tivo has a thing that lets you skip commercials automatically. Or is that gone?
Merlin: You can set that up. I like using the, I like the tab. I think you can set up the tab to do that, but. I don’t know. I’m just being kind of a devil’s advocate because I think when you say we have a special perspective on this you’re right. And that special perspective is we like our ads and not other people’s. We pretend to like other people’s ads, but the truth is it’s a really easy way to make money.
Skeuomorphism is back in the news because iOS chief Scott Forstall was fired from Apple. A lot of people are saying he got fired because he was a dick and tons of people hated him, not because he had bad taste and produced less than stellar results with Siri and Apple Maps. Not that the two could in any way be related.
I hope he didn’t get fired for being a dick. It’s clear that Steve Jobs didn’t think being an asshole was a firing offense or even a serious character flaw. It’s not like he ever got fired for being a huge asshole and walked around with a giant chip on his shoulder about it. Oh, yeah, that.
What Steve did care about was "taste." A lot.
I don’t dislike anything about Microsoft, except everything.
A guy who took one course on calligraphy from a college he never graduated from wound up talking about design, taste and oftentimes typography for most of his life. And while there’s evidence that Jobs was on the wrong side of taste in his final years, likely being the champion of the kitsch and skeuomorphism in iOS products, you apparently don’t get to fire the CEO over that sort of thing. You just have to put up with Ye Olde Parlour Game Center. But when that CEO is gone, anyone still on HMS Ripped Calendar Page is thrown overboard.
How do you convey to someone that Notes is where you jot down a grocery list but Pages is where you type up a book report?
I don’t know, how about naming it Notes?
And when people open the app to look for the miles of editing options they find barely any. And while we’re at it, why are you making people type “notes” into the Notes box and “reports” into the Pages box with slightly more formatting options in the first place? It’s a holdover of the days when you’d “jot down” notes on a notepad and “type up” your paper using a typewriter. See how catering to outdated metaphors just creates more problems the longer you refuse to cut the cord?
The amount of condescension shown for “non-techy” users is incredible. As if you have to hand “normals” a pacifier and a beanie and a big flow chart with giant cartoon illustrations to have them understand that an app named “Notes” is for taking notes.
The new iOS Podcasts app (aside from suffering from inconsistent naming, in addition to a host of other problems) uses knobs.
If you see a knob, they blew it.
Knobs. On a touch device in 2012 by the company the single-handedly revived the touch paradigm. Knobs. There’s goofy and tacky and then there’s just horrible.
There’s an even larger reason to use real-world design metaphors: They add emotional depth to software.
Real-world design metaphors do bring an element of nostalgia to software, but it’s a little like being in your 30s, meeting a person you had a crush on when you were in your teens and then asking them to dress up in their old clothes and act like what they were back then. I know, it’s sad that your old spiral notebook is gone, but showing you a picture of it won’t bring it back.
There’s this thing about rivers: you can’t step in the same one twice. Or, in computer parlance: iOS leather stitching is to real leather stitching what a real steak is to the squeeze toy steak you give to a dog.
You get an emotional reaction when you hold and use an iPad, not touch the faux-leather stitched buttons in Find my Friends. You get an emotional reaction when the radial menu in Path pops out or when you pull back the slingshot in Angry Birds. You get an emotional reaction when you see how cool it is to use Soulver to type in a natural language query and discouver it gives you the right answer.
Trying to shoehorn new opportunities for emotional reaction with software into an old model that required the reaction to be derived from a fairly narrow set of visual and tangible options is silly and limiting. And pretty much everyone except Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall seems to have come to that conclusion.
Farhad mentions calculator apps in his piece, but fails to bring up Soulver. He talks about how Metro’s calculator with 2D buttons is considered less kitschy than iOS’s calculator with 3D buttons. That’s true, but they’re both guilty of the same lazy thinking. Soulver is the example of innovative thinking.
Condescension isn’t friendly, it’s just condescending. People want clearer and better. And it’s not impossible for people to learn a new metaphor for calculating things more than once in their life.
Mobile computers are very new things, and they make a lot of people instantly uncomfortable.
I think it was this point that I found most offensive.
We’ve had laptops and cell phones for decades now. People have been scared of computers since they first came out. But then again, people are scared of pretty much everything. Should we tell those "rock and roll kids" to cut their hair and play something more palatable for the old people who are scared of that infernal racket they aren’t used to?
Pandering to the lazy, old and conservative is embarrassing. The same goes for treating people as if they’re a bunch of idiots who are incapable of learning.
Gina Trapani read a letter from her brother Joe about meeting Steve Jobs back in the 1989. I think you're going to love it.
Mr. Jobs bought the north tower at 145 Central Park West. The building is called The San Remo. Bruce and Demi bought the south tower later on. Jobs didn’t like the sound that the generator made that ran the elevator motor. The motor room was one floor directly above one of his living rooms so Jobs decided to finance a brand new elevator installation. And of course, he insisted on state-of-the-art equipment. So, the company I worked for did the elevator installation in Jobs’ apartment and it ran well for a while. And then it started having a very intermittent shut-down problem that I was sent to fix. The entrance to the motor room was a straight ladder from Jobs’ foyer in his apartment to the level above.
When I arrived this Friday night he was not there yet. At about 8:30 p.m. I could hear that Jobs had come home to the apartment because he was on the phone yelling at someone about how the marble that was installed in his kitchen was not matched properly and that you could easily see the seams.
As I was about to leave I called down to let Jobs know I would be passing through the foyer to get to the elevator. He entered the foyer and watched me walk down the ladder. He asked me if I fixed the elevator and I replied I was confident, but not one-hundred percent sure, since the problem occurred so infrequently. He asked me if I was the engineer and I said yes.
I was 26 years old in 1989 and I had intimate knowledge of the control equipment, having been part of the design process.
Steve Jobs then began to scream that it was unacceptable that brand new equipment would have such a problem.
Later I recalled how many times the Lisa crashed when I was digitizing elevator control circuitry at my last job.
Jobs said that if the problem happened again he would throw our company out so a different company would supply a real engineer. All I said was that I was sorry for the inconvenience and I would continue to do everything I could to fix the problem.
When I left the building, I asked the doorman if Mr. Jobs had ever been in the elevator when the problem occurred and he told me no. He said that Mr. Jobs was an asshole and that I shouldn’t listen to anything he said. I remember at the time wondering how someone so classless could be so successful. After reading his biography I found out: Steve Wozniak.
The opportunity to give a razor company the chance to tell them how seven blades are better than six. That's why people search for content:
In many cases, people often look to magazines for the advertising...With our ads, it will have a similar look and feel to what’s in a magazine. In a lot of ways, it will be regarded simply as additional content.
I think people recognize that the ads are a great way to keep content free, which is what users really value.
What consumers really value is content so valuable that they value it at zero dollars.
Additional content: like how cheating on your significant other is, in a lot of ways, simply regarded as "additional love" in the relationship.
When people search for files on their computer, what they really mean to do is have a commerce site say they can buy things from them, with a portion of the proceeds going to feed orphans Mark Shuttleworth. Because, really, the spirit of free and open source software is making sure Big Shut gets a nickel when you're trying to find that paper you wrote in high school.
We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash. This is to enable you to hit “Super” and then ask for anything you like, and over time, with all of the fantastic search scopes that people are creating, we should be able to give you the right answer.
These are not ads because they are not paid placement, they are straightforward Amazon search results for your search. So the Dash becomes a super-search of any number of different kinds of data. Right now, it’s not dynamically choosing what to search, it’s just searching local scopes and Amazon, but it will get smarter over time.
This doesn't equal ads/paid placement because Mark is obviously playing by South African rules Pachinko:
Pachinko is a pinball-like slot machine game. It is officially not considered gambling because Japanese laws regard pachinko as an exception to the criminal code on gambling for historical, monetary, and cultural reasons...In pachinko, when a player's ball makes it into a special hole to activate the slot machine and a jackpot is made, they are rewarded with a lot more. Players can then exchange the balls into prizes of different value at a booth in the parlour. Money cannot be awarded at pachinko parlors as this would be in violation of the criminal code. However, players almost always exchange pachinko balls into special tokens, usually slits of gold encased in plastic, and then "sell" them at a neighboring shop for cash. Usually such shops are also owned by the parlor operators, but as long as the winners don't get cash in the parlour, the law is not broken.
There’s been some note of the relationship between the old commonplace books and the early culture of content creation online, but I think an overlooked source is the pulps.
Modern advertising culture didn’t start with the pulps, but the pulps did come before radio and television. And unlike newspapers, the freer pulp ethos, combined with the advertising model, I believe is vastly underappreciated in terms of influence. It’s important here not to confuse the content of the pulps with the process and spirit they were caught up with. Read some of these quotes below and follow the links to educate yourself a little more if you’re interested. A lot of the debates and questions people find so interesting nowadays are almost perfect replicates of a hundred years ago.
Pulps, of course, won the day and we are all basically footnotes to the pulps. The pulps weren’t a victory for amateurism, but for greater inclusion and quality defined on new terms. There’s always been relentless resistance to this, but nowadays people rarely frame their disdain in direct language.
Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art.
…pulp paper with untrimmed edges and no illustrations, not even on the cover.
Slicks usually had a considerable amount of advertising and colored art, while the pulps had less advertising, for cheaper products, and only black and white art. More importantly, the slicks cost more and aspired to a better quality of prose and a generally higher level of professionalism, while the pulps were cheap and aspired only to entertain.
In comparison to the more sophisticated ‘slicks’, the pulp magazines opened the way for a freer approach to popular literary forms and to engagement with contemporary urban life. Pulp magazines offered romance, fantasy and escapism, but also, especially in the pulps devoted to crime fiction, they registered the anxieties of the time. Being rapidly and cheaply produced, they allowed space for innovatory ways of writing, most importantly for the colloquial, racy hard-boiled style. The magazine gave readers tough, realistic action,
Revenue from advertising is where most magazine publishers made their money, even in the pulps which did not carry as much advertising as the slicks (the absence of advertising in the pulps is largely a misnomer, particularly in the early years, as the pulps of the first decade of the 1900s might easily have 60 pages of ads, most often printed on a slick stock of paper and placed in advertising sections at the beginning and end of the magazine). It was this confluence of forces that sparked the enormous growth in the circulation of American magazines. Publishers realized that if they were to lower the price of their magazines far enough to get them in the hands of enough people, a killing was to be made through advertising revenue alone.
Fiction in the early pulp magazines had just as much in common with these slicks as with the story papers. The anthology fiction of early pulps like The Argosy, The Popular Magazine, and All-Story was not low-brow fiction; and in fact many authors operated in both realms. Stories rejected by editors of the slick magazines often landed in the pulps, and vice versa. This would continue to be true for many authors throughout the pulp era. And as the field expanded and splintered into more and more titles—there were pulps for every taste and preference written to various segments of society. Lumping all of pulpdom in together is rarely an effective exercise
Her epigraphs from Vanity Fair, June, 1933, and Harper's, June 1937, brought home the hostility slicks felt toward pulps; the former stated that pulp fans moved their lips when reading, and the latter asserted "they had tastes of savages."
The slicks, under the strict controls of the publisher's "vision" are safe entertainments. The pulps are not. It is in risk and personality where the greatest of the pulps enjoy something very special: immortality.
Both [Faust] and [his agent] Carl Brandt agreed that the only way to cope with the depressed economy was for Faust to move into slick magazines which paid much better. Faust, studying the market, readily realized that restrictions in the slicks were more rigid and confining than they ever had been in the pulps. Writing for Western Story Magazine, he had to concern himself with such general notions as a pursuit plot, which [editor] Blackwell preferred, or delayed revelation. Writing for the slicks, he realized that the editors sought to dominate a contributor’s mind. Attitudes and ideas were everything. Beyond entertainment, which both pulp and slick fiction alike provided, slick fiction had to deliver an ideological message to readers which agreed with the editorial policies of the magazine and these were dictated by the advertisers and their agencies. Perhaps it is for this reason that so much of the slick fiction of the 1930s and 1940s had become hopelessly dated while pulp fiction from that same period still pulsates with imagination and iconoclasm. Ideology is time-bound.
a booming daily blog that features cool websites, computer tips, and downloads that make you more productive. The aim of MakeUseOf is to guide you through the web and tell you about hot websites that you have never heard of, best software programs, and all kinds of “how to” tips for Windows, Mac and Linux computer users.
It is not a website I read these days, but at some point in the past I would look at it from time to time.
A while back, a developer for their site, James Bruce, wrote an opinion piece on ad-blockers and related software and services. He did not endorse them. The article received quite a bit of feedback, much of which I read. Below are some of the responses I felt were worth sharing.
Today’s advertising model involves intentionally degrading the user’s experience- the user only wants to see the text of the article, the ads want him to see only the ads. And it’s not just displaying ads, but tracking the user’s behavior through “anonymous user data”, a concept which has been debunked. Furthermore, as users we don’t have any control over what “anonymous” data you collect, what you do with it after you collect it, or how long you keep it, or have any way to correct errors. Furthermore, you have no legal responsibility to safeguard any of this data.
I read this article as sympathetically as possible (I don’t want to see anyone’s livelihood crushed) and have followed the replies with interest. Thank you for providing the perspective and forum. I nevertheless, having done so, still feel the matter is extremely cut and dry: if the best motivation a site/author can provide for users to willingly submit themselves to–(i) the perceptual/mental overhead of ignoring ads, or (ii) the overhead of continually re-educating themselves on how much risk s/he may be incurring by exposing her/his browser to ads–is that they ought to do so because that’s how writers get paid, I can’t blame the user for choosing not to. It’s very simple: people will always act in what they perceive to be their own best interests.
You could possibly demonstrate that blocking ads is not in users’ best interests, but if that’s really true, I think the onus is on you to figure out how to make that obvious to them, rather than castigating them for taking what strongly appears to be the easy way out of incurring that overhead. If you’re considering this essay to be that demonstration, I’m sorry to say that I still feel, like many before me in this thread, that the business model as it currently exists seems like a bad deal for both writer and reader. And “if you don’t like the business model, you come up with another one” isn’t a legit response to that: my optimal model is currently to block your ads, and until there is a different transaction model that leaves an even better taste in my mouth, I’m sticking with it.
“We believe strongly in a free content model – whereby we provide free, high quality, full content to you with no restrictions – in exchange for showing you advertising.”
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this sentence demonstrates that there are clear gaps in your understanding of the concept “free content model”. It suggests to me that you don’t realize that *having to deal with advertising is a cost*. Commercials are a cost. Pop-up ads are a cost. Anything that distracts from desired content is a cost. The “free content model” applies only to content which is *actually free*, i.e., without cost. If you can’t afford a site on your own external income, that is not an issue of your readers — it’s yours. In a perfect world we would all like to be paid, stay-at-home internet bloggers but most of us can’t be, and that’s fine. Just like people can’t walk around being philosophers anymore expecting to get paid. There are a lot of jobs that simply aren’t fiscally feasible, that’s just the way things are. No shame in that.
Feel free to paint my words in any light you desire (“pedantic”, “semantics” debate, etc.), but it doesn’t change the fact that ads are most definitely a cost. Sure, any single ad isn’t much, but over dozens of pages loads and several sites visited each day, the increased load time and distraction can add up. Put most simply: if they aren’t a cost, why are people blocking them?
A concerned citizen:
Pure irony. The whole point of advertising is to psychologically manipulate people into buying products they don’t want. This is pretty close to “evil” yet the article attempts inversion to suggest that actually avoiding this is the moral failing.
As for stealing, I know this was intended as hyperbole but the article does strongly suggest the author thinks that way. The fact is sites have chosen a business model whereby they offer free content in the hope that ads will net some user interest and indirect revenue. Viewing the ads is in no way part of the business contract with the user and blocking them is no more stealing than is skipping a page of ads in a newspaper or accepting a free sample of food with no intention to buy the product. Blocking ads is the modern equivalent of changing TV channels during a commercial break.
There’s always an “implied” contract when the party doing the implying knows they could never get the other party to sign any such agreement.
“Selling out isn’t a dirty choice,” argues Gemmell. Except it is. Selling out is a negative term in every industry, and there is no good reason we should pretend it’s a positive in ours. “It’s business,” he continues, as if business has to be this way.
There is an implicit promise in the act of doing business. It is a promise of respect and mutual trust, where the business offers the customer something of value, for which the customer pays money. The free-but-paid-with-advertising model has made this promise blurry, but not absent. When a company sells itself to a bigger company as a talent acquisition, leaving the product—and, consequently, its customers—out in the cold as a result of this acquisition, it is a reneging on that implicit promise.
The lure of lots of money nearly always brings out the worst in people, and its temptation can be hard to resist for anyone. But, it’s a lot easier when you make your core business principles about things other than money—and respect for your customers should be prominently among them.
The implicit promise Faruk mentions isn't about "business," it's about life. The exchange of money in an action doesn't magically make you stop being a person and living in the world. There is no such thing as a "business hat." It's literally a figurative cap. When someone tells you "it's just business," all they mean is that they need to believe in the fairy tale that what happens when they're "at work" doesn't really "count." This is the kind of logic that you hear from 7th graders saying that it's not cheating if the person lives in a different state.
People with a weak regard for principles are often the most vociferous in attacking anyone who dares to behave or believe to the contrary, as it challenges them in a fundamental way. Immediately it's asserted that things "are this way, have always been this way and will always be this way." Trotting out the old "starve" line (Reductio ad Starvation) follows up as a new Godwin's law: as an online discussion of tech and revenue grows longer, the probability an apologist will appear defending any and all actions as the sole bulwark against "starvation" approaches one.
Why does Google want us to feel like home on their pages? Not to bind us to themselves, that’s for sure – they don’t need that; they’ve already got us hooked. When they offer me to “feel at home”, they mean something different. They mean home as opposed to work. What they’re saying is “Relax, have fun. Play around while we work. We are professionals; you are amateurs.”
In his preface to “0 Comments” Geert Lovink noted – it was related to a different subject, namely the CC license, but I still want to quote him –:
“The exclusive focus on young and innocent amateurs that just want to have fun, and the resentment against professionals is not accidental. Amateurs are less likely to stand up and claim a part of the fast increasing surplus value (both symbolical and in real money term) that the Internet is creating.”
It might sound paradoxical, but by encouraging the user to “feel at home” services create more distance between the users and themselves. Simplistic, silly graphics, senseless gadgets, customized pages with virtual puppies and kittens of the day heaped together with CNN news and bites of wisdom from Oprah – all of that subtly serves to show the user his proper place.
“There’s too much noise out there anyway,” she says in 'Esther Dyson on DaveNet' (12/1/94). “The new wave is not value added, it’s garbage-subtracted.”
I wouldn’t bother to ask Esther if she watches television, or listens to the radio. I wouldn’t ask my wife, either. To her, television is exactly what Fred Allen called it forty years ago: “chewing gum for the eyes.” Ours heats up only for natural disasters and San Jose Sharks games.
They drone about serving customers and building architectures and setting standards and being open and competing on level playing fields. But their game is still control, no matter what else they call it.
The ad gardens and noise generation machines last for a while and then die. That's all the Founders want. And with ads serving as the backbone for much of the open web, there's precious few places that exist as oases from noise and its toxic effects.
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good;
All great things bring about their own demise through an act of self-sublimation: that is the law of life, the law of necessary ‘self-overcoming’ in the essence of life, —the lawgiver himself is always ultimately exposed to the cry: ‘patere legem, quam ipse tulisti’ (Submit to the law you have yourself made.)
…it will finally draw the strongest conclusion, that against itself; this will, however, happen when it asks itself, ‘What does all will to truth mean?’
On the Genealogy of Morals (Diethe translation) – Friedrich Nietzsche
Despair differs dialectically from what one usually calls sickness, because it is a sickness of the spirit.…If at any time a physician is convinced that so and so is in good health, and then later that person becomes ill, then the physician may well be right about his having been well at the time but now being sick. Not so with despair. Once despair appears, what is apparent is that the person was in despair…. For when whatever causes a person to despair occurs, it is immediately evident that he has been in despair his whole life.
And finally, on Socrates’ “old quarrel between philosophy and poetry”
The poets have been characterized as making claims to truth, to telling it like it is, that are in fact—contrary to appearances—little more than the poet's unargued imaginative projections whose tenability is established by their ability to command the applause of the audience. That is, the poets are rhetoricians who are, as it were, selling their products to as large a market as possible, in the hope of gaining repute and influence.
The suggestion is arguably that the poets are makers…that they move in a world permeated by making. The word “poetry” in Platonic Greek comes from the word “to make” (poiein), a fact upon which Socrates remarks in the Symposium. Making takes place in and contributes to the world of becoming. Philosophers, by contrast, are presented as committed to the pursuit of truth that is already “out there,” independently of the mind and the world of becoming. Their effort has to do with discovery rather than making…the distinction suggests an interesting possibility, viz. that the quarrel between poetry and philosophy is finally, in Plato's eyes, about the relative priority of making and discovery.
To the extent that I’m involved in the relationship at all, I’m interested in products, not brands. I use a computer for a living; I decided to switch to Mac because I worked out that the build quality would save me money and improve my productivity, not because I love Apple. I buy organic ketchup from Trader Joe because I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and Trader Joe is convenient. If another company came out with a computer that lasted as long, or another ketchup that was made without corn syrup and was equally convenient to buy, I might switch. I’m loyal to values, not brands. The idea that I might stick to Apple or Trader Joe because of an emotional attachment to the brand itself is, again, perverse.
I believe this strongly: ethical companies charge for their services. Display advertising is a legacy economic model, and the brands that control it are gatekeepers. There are better business models out there, waiting to be found, that allow sites and communities to be sustainable on their own terms.
And sometimes the state of the world changes such that sites and communities and activities don't actually need any business model to sustain themselves. Sometimes businesses just disappear. Sometimes they become things that aren't businesses anymore.
Over the past few years the relevance and quality of Google-propagated content has been dramatically decreasing. The culprits are not webmasters, the culprit is simply this Google-crafted web-building Engine that is utterly uncorrelated from the Purpose of quality and creation. The recent Google algorithm changes, meant to push content-farms down its search results, are temporary palliatives that will not fix the problem, but merely attenuate the symptoms. As long as the motivation behind most of the new “content” being produced and uploaded is still dollars obtained through Google-optimization, then the Internet is doomed. One morning the Google guys will wake up to find out that there is no more algorithm tweak to hack to improve relevancy, because the entire Internet has become a content-farm, rehashing the same old mainstream, attention-catching, Google-optimized “content”.
Google's Halting problem is unwinnable in its current state. The tone it set has become a dial tone. As the broken model dominates new systems (Facebook, Twitter) they too will suffer the same fate.
Sometimes when you win, you really lose.
In conclusion, heterogeneity and universalizability.
Or, there's always this:
The bandit, in the forest in Burma, did you catch him?
We burned the forest down.
"It was a very funny thing about Larry," Broder recalls. "He was very adamant about search engines not being owned by commercial entities. He said it should all be done by a nonprofit. I guess Larry has changed his mind about that."
The assumption here seems to be that in order for information to circulate, it needs to be sponsored. The “health” of the internet — the vitality of its ecosystem, the level of activity of users — is contingent on how many people can make a living from using it, and the only viable way to make a living from the information trade is by making it all ultimately into marketing data. The health of the internet, then, depends on the degree to which we can turn thought into marketing through the process of circulating it. “A panoply of companies want to make sure that no step along your Internet journey goes unmonetized,” Madrigal notes, but he seems at pains to defend that as an important prerequisite rather than a sign that another avenue of communication has been thoroughly subsumed by capital.
The question here is about what the internet is for...Madrigal seems to be saying that if we don’t let our use of the internet be monetized by third parties, if we don’t allow our use of the internet to be governed by the logic of commercial media, then the internet will be a failure. It will cease to be a relevant space. But one might argue that the fact that it seems as though we can’t have an internet not fueled by advertising is a sign that the internet is already unhealthy, sick unto death.
“There’s nothing necessarily sinister about this subterranean data exchange: this is, after all, the advertising ecosystem that supports free online content,” Madrigal writes, suggesting that this sponsorship makes the whole system somehow benevolent instead of indicative of a much broader social failure. There’s nothing necessarily sinister about the companies surveilling our behavior and concealing the extent of it except pretty much everything. There’s nothing not sinister about that, including the alibi generated through its association with our access to “free” content. That we think it's free is indicative of our delusion: We are paying for it with personal information that may be used against us in perpetuity. The price is not free and not negotiable. The data-tracking system that has evolved as the internet has entrenched itself in society serves an involuntary system of micropayments. Madrigal’s exposure of it is a great service. It’s just unnerving that it’s linked to these apologies for it. “I wish there were more obvious villains in this story,” he laments. I may be naive, but the villains seem very obvious to me.
Yet when you ask nearly anyone in academics about these degree programs, the overwhelming opinion is that they’re awful. Even the people promoting them seem to agree on that; in my last column I quoted the provost of the University of Michigan talking about his deal with Coursera:
"Our Coursera offerings will in no way replace the rich experiences our students obtain in classrooms, laboratories and studios here in Ann Arbor."
Well, right. Because they are aren’t very good.
I am writing this diatribe for a simple reason. We now have a large amount for money available to start building masters degrees. I am seeking universities who want to work with us, but these universities need to abandon their old models in the new on line space. I would be happy to hear from people who think their university could do that. MIT and Harvard will continue to pretend they are doing something important but free courses are not free degrees and courses never really worked that well in the first place. Students don’t typically attend college because of all the great courses. Universities may like to think that but while a Harvard degree may well be worth a lot, Harvard courses are just a form of entertainment.
As a self-respecting person in his 20s, he also understood that ads, mostly traditional advertising sludge that is the soylent green of huge sections of TV, radio, print and the Internet, are not exactly the worst thing in the world, but still something to run in the opposite direction of as fast as humanly possible.
Question: David, where is all the money going to come from?
Seven-ish years later a horrible idea emerges which technically doesn't fall into the world of traditional advertising, but still is horrible:
"Today you’ll have a new option to Highlight those extra-important posts. For one dollar, your post will stand out in the Dashboard with a customizable sticker to make sure your followers take notice!"
On a grander scale, and also wrapped up in this, is my belief that advertising, as an industry and practice, does far more harm than good in society. And a belief that advertising comes from a deeply unethical place, and that fundamental orientation distorts everything it touches.
When you're young, you look at television and think, There's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It's the truth.
So Steve Jobs is telling us things are going to continue to get worse.
They are getting worse! Everybody knows that they're getting worse! Don't you think they're getting worse?
I do, but I was hoping I could come here and find out how they were going to get better. Do you really believe that the world is getting worse? Or do you have a feeling that the things you're involved with are making the world better?
No. The world's getting worse. It has gotten worse for the last 15 years or so. Definitely. For two reasons. On a global scale, the population is increasing dramatically and all our structures, from ecological to economic to political, just cannot deal with it. And in this country, we seem to have fewer smart people in government, and people don't seem to be paying as much attention to the important decisions we have to make.
But you seem very optimistic about the potential for change.
I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what's happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don't seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids.
The people who built Silicon Valley were engineers. They learned business, they learned a lot of different things, but they had a real belief that humans, if they worked hard with other creative, smart people, could solve most of humankind's problems. I believe that very much.
I believe that people with an engineering point of view as a basic foundation are in a pretty good position to jump in and solve some of these problems. But in society, it's not working. Those people are not attracted to the political process. And why would somebody be?
This is the best thing on Steve Jobs (and Apple) I have ever read. Everything in this interview from 1996 still informs everything Apple does today.
I don't agree with a lot of what Steve says about television, people or elitist views of humanity. I think many of those ideas are wrong and harmful, and caused him (and Apple) to have certain blind spots which are still around. The interview, however, is thought-provoking and funny, even if it's often just gallows humor and the out-of-touchness of all his references to European luxury washing machines, luxury cars and megacorporations put against the ideals of the internet and the web.
3. Often pay walled news sites feature the same amount of marketing noise as free sites. Paying customers are of course more attractive ad targets, but… Paying for news and then dealing with a silly blinking bonanza while reading doesn’t seem like a fair deal.
To be clear: content pay walls are not what we are suggesting. Remember, whether you fly Economy or Business: the result is the same (you travel from a to b), and only the experience differs. And likewise Business Class and Economy class seats on news sites should deliver the same content.
There already is a business class for flying on the Internet, but it involves things like ad-blockers, user scripts, time-shifting software and browser settings. A cleaned up design and experience may become available to some extent, but it will simply push the evil down to the shadows, where things like tracking and data mining reside. If these strategies are unavailable, design and experience will always be the first, second and last thing to suffer. Many traditional entities care about maximizing profits, and users' direct payments alone will never satisfy those who simply want to make more money. True business class means accepting there are some lines that will never be crossed.
Every time a friend shares a status, a link, a like, a comment, or a photo, Facebook has more bait to lure me back. Facebook is literally filled with master baiters: Whenever I return to Facebook I am barraged with information about many friends, to encourage me to stick around and click around. Every time I react with a like or comment, or put a piece of content in, I'm serving as Facebook bait myself. Facebook keeps our friends as hostages, so although we can check out of Hotel Facebook any time we like, we can never leave. So we linger. And we lurk. And we luxuriate. The illogical extreme of content-as-bait are the Facebook games where the content is virtual bullshit.
When criticizing ad agencies, you have to begin at the core—advertising, as it is widely practiced, is an inherently unethical and, frankly, poisonous endeavor that sees people as sheep to be manipulated, that vaunts style over substance, and deems success to be winning awards.
Ad agencies are the new music industry
While I would like to think advertising and marketing agencies can evolve their practices to appropriately engage in user experience problems, I believe that the industry’s DNA simply cannot support such mutations. I’ve witnessed 15 years of agencies flailing (and failing) in delivering good user experiences, so there’s no reason to expect them to change.
Such agencies have been able to hang on because Chief Marketing Officers and other executives are trained to buy marketing services from them, and they see user experience as simply another marketing service. I foresee generational change, when the current crop of CMOs retire, and are replaced by people who grok how things actually work. When that time comes, and it will, ad agencies will find themselves marginalized, as it becomes clearer that manipulation and media buying is not nearly as important as an honest engagement with customers through delightful and desirable experiences.
In case you were wondering, Facebook is an ad agency. Maciej Ceglowski put it more elegantly than me here:
Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.
Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It's as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends...
I’ve been hearing about ‘gamification’ for a while and it irritates me a lot. Gamification gets all the design blogs a-tweeting and is a lovely refrain used at TED and so on, but to me it all looks like “the aesthetic stage” from Kierkegaard applied to technology. That is, turning things into games and novelties in order to mask the underlying valuelessness of these tasks. Where does that get you? A manic switching between refrains. To use a technological analogy, this week it is Flickr, next week it is TwitPic, the week after it is Instagram. No commitment, just frantic switching based on fad and fashion. Our lives are then driven by the desire to avoid boredom. But one eventually runs out of novelties. The fight against boredom becomes harder and harder and harder until eventually you have to give up the fight. There’s a personal cost to living life as one long game of boredom-avoidance, but there’s also a social cost. You live life only for yourself, to avoid your boredom, and do nothing for anybody else. Technology becomes just a way for you to get pleasure rather than a way for you to contribute to something bigger than yourself.
In Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, the alternative to this aesthetic life was typified by marriage. You can’t gamify marriage, right? You commit yourself for life. You don’t get a Foursquare badge if you remember your anniversary. The alternative to aestheticism and boredom is an ethical commitment. (And, for Kierkegaard anyway, ultimately a religious commitment.) And I think the same holds true for the web: you can gamify everything, make everything into Foursquare. Or you can do something deeper and build intentional, self-directed communities of people who want to try and do something meaningful. Gamification means you get a goofy badge on your Foursquare profile when you check into however many karaoke bars. A script fires off on a server somewhere and a bit changes in a database, you get a quick dopamine hit because an ironic badge appears on your iPhone. Congratulations, your life is now complete. There’s got to be more to life and technology than this.
I couldn’t give a shit what the Internet is going to do to L’Oreal or Snickers or Sony or Kleenex or The Gap. They aren’t people. They don’t seek meaning, they seek to sell more blue jeans or whatever. I give far more of a shit what the Internet is doing for the gay kid in Iran or the geeky kid in rural Nebraska or a homeless guy blogging from the local library than what it is doing for some advertising agency douchebag in Madison Avenue.
When I listen to user experience designers, I can definitely sympathise with what they are trying to do: the world is broken in some fundamental ways, and it is certainly a good thing there are people out there trying to fix that. But some of them go way too far and think that something like “delight” or that “eyes lighting up” moment is the most important thing. If that is all technology is about, we could do that a lot easier by just hooking people up to some kind of dopamine machine.
1. I’ve been trying for a while to synthesize some of my thinking and writing about problems with advertising, dominant players in tech and much of the current state of the Internet. It is hard. In the meantime, I’m going to share a post a day for the next few days that is helping to inform this struggle. Today's piece is "Project:Depth" by Joe Moon.
2. IPOs aren’t really important in and of themselves, at least not the way the current system works, but they do give us a moment to sit back and take stock.
3. This “storm” I’m talking about is somewhat akin to what happened when AOL started to be abandoned, forgotten about and subject to increasingly vicious scorn by important parties. More will hopefully become clear after a few days.
So, without further ado, here’s a healthy teaser and link to Joe’s piece,
There are oceans to explore, but we stay in puddles.
The problem of the proliferation of shallow communication is more fundamental than the implementation of currently popular social networks.
Web pages make money by distracting you, either by getting you to look at an ad or by getting you to click on one. As long as advertising drives the web, and advertisers measure success in page views, this isn’t going to change.
There are huge, Lovecraftian commercial forces at work, with a vested interest in keeping our attention spans short, and our feedback loops shorter. These forces feed on ‘eyeballs’ and ‘clicks’ and measure us in aggregate.
Even if only one percent of readers pay any attention to what others have scribbled there on the wall it is still there for those who choose to read on and have a place to discover what others may think about the subject. If you’re not interested, simply don’t scroll down.
a lot of my own Wired story, last month, can be read as a push back against the IPO culture which Andreessen, almost more than anybody else, has managed to create.
“Silicon Valley is full of venture capitalists who have become dynastically wealthy off the backs of companies that no longer exist,” I wrote in that piece, and Andreessen is Exhibit A if you want to look for such a person. His first company, Netscape, lost the Browser Wars and ended up getting sold to AOL. His second company, Loudcloud, was (to be charitable) too far ahead of its time, so it “pivoted” into something called Opsware; eventually Andreessen managed to sell it off to HP. His third company, Ning, was even less successful, and ended up buried somewhere in Glam Media. None of them exist today in any recognizable form; none of them ever made much money; and none of them even really made it as far as building anything approaching a permanent income stream.
The Netscape IPO, in 1994, was in its own way revolutionary. It broke the rules by going public without ever having made any money...For the first time, people in Silicon Valley understood that you could make enormous sums of money just by timing the markets — buying in at a low valuation and selling at a high valuation — even if the underlying company never made any money at all.
Broadcast.com: pictures, videos, words and not even numbers are suited to take this one on. It seems like a practical joke that went horribly wrong, a stunt that backfired, a Springtime for Hitler attempt that never materialized, a drunk dial in the middle of the night that somehow cost 5.7 billion dollars. I'm not sure 5.7 trillion dollars would have seemed any crazier for a deal like this.
The glaring exception is Yahoo's famous purchase of Mark Cuban's Broadcast.com in 1999, which paid nearly $10,000 for each of their 520,000 monthly active users, ten times any other startup. (Broadcast.com skewed the chart so much, I had to leave it off.)
The word you were looking for there is infamous, not famous.
When Mike and I started Instagram nearly two years ago, we set out to change and improve the way the world communicates and shares. We’ve had an amazing time watching Instagram grow into a vibrant community of people from all around the globe. Today, we couldn’t be happier to announce that Instagram has agreed to be acquired by Facebook.
Who turns down a billion dollars? What does the second million will really mean after the first? The 400th after the first 399? I went to lunch recently and was handed back the equivalent of a penny which I intentionally tried to overpay. If you've put yourself in a position where there's no way to know what your value is then you probably made a wrong turn some place very long ago.
Reminds me of that old catchphrase from a little company of my youth, "Think similar."
It also made me think of this,
They think the grosses are proof that people are happy with what they’re getting, just as TV executives think that the programs with the highest ratings are what TV viewers want, rather than what they settle for.
Part of what has deranged American life in this past decade is the change in book publishing and in magazines and newspapers and in the movies as they have passed out of the control of those whose lives were bound up in them and into the control of conglomerates, financiers, and managers who treat them as ordinary commodities. This isn’t a reversible process; even if there were Supreme Court rulings that split some of these holdings from the conglomerates, the traditions that developed inside many of those businesses have been ruptured. And the continuity is gone. In earlier eras, when a writer made a book agreement with a publisher, he expected to be working with the people he signed up with; now those people may be replaced the next day, or the whole firm may be bought up and turned into a subdivision of a textbook-publishing house or a leisure-activities company. The new people in the job aren’t going to worry about guiding a writer slowly; they’re not going to think about the book after this one. They want best-sellers. Their job is to find them or manufacture them.
The big change in the country is reflected in the fact that people in the movie business no longer feel it necessary to talk about principles at all. They operate on the same assumptions as the newspapers that make heroes of the executives who have a hit and don’t raise questions about its quality.
If you're not a subscriber to the New Yorker, you can get one year's access to the entire issue that article appears in for six dollars. Yes, six dollars, despite the cover of said article's issue advertising the price as one dollar. If you're handy, and not willing to pay, (and I'm almost sure you're not), you can probably acquire the article by other means. It's 6500 words, and probably not worth the price, but I think looking at the issues raised through the lens of what's happening with technology in 2012 is very interesting.
So, I joined Facebook today And. I. FUCKING. LOVE. IT!!!!!
8 years have gone by, old friend. You've changed and I have as well. You're now no longer that scummy place littered with ads and annoying people from my childhood. You're no longer a place people go almost exclusively to stalk people who don't love them while you, Facebook, Inc., stalk all your users to push the proper flavor of sugar water to accompany their long, dark stretches of chair-sitting (oh, who are we kidding, bed-laying) while doing said stalking.
You're now a hotbed of radicalism, art, meaning, love, friendship, music sharing and virtual plant sharing. You're everything anyone could ever want in college-kid-created-database-cum-social-network/internet-replacement.
I know we've had our differences in the past, but I now see that I was in the wrong. All you ever cared about was doing the right thing, no, excuse me, BEING the right thing, and I just refused to see it. I couldn't bring myself to letting me love you, to give myself to you completely. Oh, foolish youth! But how lucky I am, now seeing the light on this spring day in April, to see you'll still have me, after all these years, warts and all. I know what you're thinking, that you could have helped me contract those warts years earlier if I'd just have given you the chance. And then you would have bombarded me with drug and doctor ads to cure those warts if I would have only understood that you put ME first, always and forever. Everlasting love, you said, but I couldn't hear it. I wasn't a believer.
Well, honey, you win. You've finally won me over. I love you and I'm so glad you'll still have me.
From WikiPedia: Dungeon - A dungeon is a room or cell in which prisoners are held, especially underground. Dungeons are generally associated with medieval castles, though their association with torture probably belongs more to the Renaissance period. An oubliette is a form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling.
There are no second class citizens in a dungeon. Just prisoners. As far as I can see, one is more likely to be trapped in the BRanch dungeon than any other place since you need to be invited and then locked in through your comments. Thanks, but no thanks. As far as our comment section, pretty arrogant on your part to think that our readers and those who are commenting here are second class citizens. They are vital and very important part of our community. Hopefully when running your community, you are going to find that out soon enough.
Ira Glass: We did factcheck the story before we put it on the radio. But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.
(emphasis added, as it will be below. The following quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the same episode of This American Life.)
Apple really cares about improving things when it comes to their products, you can see it with every yearly iteration. What about the yearly iteration of other things?
Charles Duhigg: So in 2005, Apple created what was called the Supplier Code of Conduct. And the Supplier Code of Conduct said that these are the standards that we expect anyone who’s making an Apple product to abide by. One of those, and in fact that one that’s probably most violated, is that they said that no one should work more than 60 hours per week that’s working inside a factory that’s making an Apple product.
We know from Apple’s own audits and the reports that have published that at least 50 percent of all audited factories, every year since 2007, have violated at least that provision. More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.
From the newspaper that signed on to "enhanced interrogation techniques," let's now explore "harsh work conditions,"
Charles Duhigg: So I think when we talk about the conditions inside where Apple products are made, we can sort of put them into two buckets. There’s basically harsh work conditions; people being asked to work shifts that are too long; people being asked to stand or sit in backless chairs; people being asked to work in plants that are still under construction. Or, people living in dorms that are provided by the companies, Foxconn and others, where they say that those conditions – the living conditions – are harsh. Workers have told us where they are live in dorm rooms where there’s anywhere from 12 to sometimes 20 or 30 people stuffed into a single apartment. So, it’s very, very crowded, very unpleasant conditions. That’s the first bucket of issues.
Shit, what's an extra 20 or 30 hours a week, amirite? It's just time, after all. "Overtime."
Time matters. A lot. Like international treaties a lot:
Nothing to see here! No sweatshop here! All we've got is some "harsh work conditions," that's all. Things are merely "very unpleasant." Y'know, like cleaning a really dirty bathroom!
Nothing like working that 24-hour shift to go back home to your apartment you're sharing with 30 people. That's totally just "how 'developing' nations work." Why hold people to "Western standards" when you can stuff 30 people in a room and work them 24-hours straight!
Language matters. On the proper way to refer to a spade:
Some in the US press have been hesitant to call enhanced interrogation torture because as Paul Kane of the Washington Post explained, torture is a crime and nobody who engaged in "enhanced interrogation" has been charged or convicted.The New York Times terms the techniques "harsh" and "brutal" while avoiding the word "torture" in most but not all news articles, though it routinely calls "enhanced interrogation" torture in editorials. Slate magazine terms enhanced interrogation the "U.S. torture program."
Following NPR's controversial ban on using the word torture and Ombudsman Alicia Shepard's defense of the policy that "calling waterboarding torture is tantamount to taking sides",Berkeley Professor of Linguistics Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out that virtually all media around the world, other than what he called the "spineless U.S. media", call these techniques torture. In an article on the euphemisms invented by the media that also criticized NPR, Glenn Greenwald discussed the enabling "corruption of American journalism":
This active media complicity in concealing that our Government created a systematic torture regime, by refusing ever to say so, is one of the principal reasons it was allowed to happen for so long. The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as "torture" -- even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word "torture" to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries --reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.
There's little wonder that the New York Times didn't create a stir when it reported on conditions in China. Some might say it's because the reporting wasn't particularly sensational or noteworthy, that it showed that the situation on the ground wasn't particularly bad. Maybe so, but no one's going to listen to an organization that's discredited itself, lost moral standing, practiced irresponsible journalism and become increasingly irrelevant or suspect to insiders in many fields it covers and to most of the public more generally. Other organizations? Sure, because you really see those organizations making a splash all the time. I'm sure you all knew about Kony before that video went viral too. Is lying wrong? Yes. Was telling the truth making a difference? Maybe. Slowly. Maybe.
Here's what it looks like to a lot people: all of a sudden a Mike Daisey monologue goes viral and factories conditions maybe start improving. Pressure gets ratcheted up. People start talking about making Apple products in the US or other places. People start caring.
I know we'd all like to think the truth should be enough, but sometimes, maybe, it's not.
But enough of that, let's continue with more from the show:
Charles Duhigg: The second bucket, which is much smaller, is actually safety and life-threatening issues. And what we know about those conditions are isolated incidents that either injured or claimed lives. So, one of the best examples of this was last year within a seven-month period there were two explosions inside factories where iPads were being produced that killed four people and injured 77 others. Both of those explosions were caused by dust that’s created through the process of polishing the aluminum that makes up the case of the iPad. Prior to those explosions, there was a report released by this group SACOM, or Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior.
Ira Glass: Yeah, you write in your article-- you point out that the second explosion happened seven months after the first one. And you quote a man named Nicholas Ashford, who's a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which advises the US Department of Labor. He said, "It's gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected."
He said, "If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It's called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago."
Nice to hear that the explosion bucket is "much smaller." Well, I would fucking hope it would be much smaller! Sometimes people have a hard time hearing how they come across: "Well, sure, there were only 91 instances of underage workers out of hundreds of thousands. That's nothing as a percentage!" Yeah, I would hope so! We don't say, "Oh, listen, we've got 500 workers here, a few get raped a year. Nothing we can do about it. It's like less than one percent!" Who talks this way and doesn't know how they sound?
Finally, let's get back to what Ira Glass seems more than a bit concerned with in this episode: Ira Glass
Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that's kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, "Wait, should I feel bad about this?" As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? And I don't know that I feel so bad when, when I hear this.
Charles Duhigg: So it's not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I'm a reporter for the New York Times, my job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me, let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will. And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again. And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.
And lest you think I've got some anti-Apple ax to grind, listen to this grubby Apple hater:
I think Mike Daisey got Apple and other companies more attuned to the issue--to do the most they can to make corrections. That's my impression about what has happened. His method succeeded.
When an entity exists in an ecosystem, and acts within that ecosystem in a way that is short-sighted, behaving in a way that is actively destructive to the healthy functioning of that ecosystem and the other entities in it (including, in the long term, themselves) -- yes, I believe that that is evil.
So South by Southwest is so ridiculous that FedEx had people there, mostly girls, wearing jackets full of batteries with usb ports, like positioned around their clothes...And she would say things like, "You can jack in to me for ten minutes...I can walk with you anywhere you wanna go." People were leading their battery girls around.
You can't get "informed consent" in a country without real personal freedom. These arguments are pathetic—they're structurally nearly identical to the ones made in the 19th century justifying slavery. The fact that workers take these jobs because they feel they have no economic, social, or political choice, and this is the only path, is not an endorsement of the current system—it's actually a condemnation.
The issue has never been wages. Any talk about wages has always been ignorant at best and intentionally misleading at worst. Pulling out some 15-year old Krugman piece only makes you sound like a horrendous asshole shouting, "Here, look at me! How can I be racist, here's my black friend! Some of my best friends are black!"
Serious talk about labor has always been about the lack of hope, not money. It's been about conditions that are unconscionable and governments that cannot or will not guarantee the basic rights any decent people would demand of the treatment of others.
Conditions and wages are not the same thing. Working conditions and the country you live in aren't the same things either. Not only are employees producing Apple products suffering from poorly enforced working standards, they have no reasonable expectation of changing the situation. In fact, they live in a country that doesn't respect their right to petition the government for better enforcement of existing laws or the enactment of new ones. Nor does said government respect their right to explain their grievances to journalists or directly to the public at large without fear of reprisal.
Factory work can lift people out of wretched situations. No one, NO ONE, who is on the side of equitable labor standards disagrees with that. NO ONE.
That's why this is so disingenuous for Mr. Pogue to print it this way. It's one thing for the writer of the letter, who probably isn't following this situation closely, to be worried that what people are agitating for is the shutting down of factories.
But the fact is that no one has ever been talking about that in this entire debate. In fact, the only time it comes up is as a fear-based talking point, built around the delusion that the very people who want humane working conditions are actually trying to take away jobs.
My kneejerk response is to be cute for you, to be entertaining and witty, and, most of all, to be appealing. This urge to be appealing is a terrible encumbrance to the creative spirit, because it is not about being objectively appealing or complexly appealing, or appealing in ways that point to any kind of meaning.
What we do and create most often ends up being about meeting the perceived needs related to what we think people want and not what their needs actually are or what our own needs might be within that experience, so we are often left creating toothless pap that can be easily digested by the broadest community we can imagine and no one in particular. We try to appeal to the things a community of hundreds or thousands might all agree on like we're all Martha Stewarts selling boring sheet sets. We erase ourselves, and we erase the actual individuals who take part in what we do.
I often feel Apple ads are about putting those lily-white imaginary pasts that never came true onto devices so we can purchase them and finally make our dreams a reality.
Life: always, forever, and still terrific. Now you can make your blue sky bluer.
The dark underside Norman Rockwell never broached too deeply in all those pictures was the inequality, racism, sexism and injustice of the time. Now we can't look at those pictures without seeing those things. Everyone knows what the flip side of Apple's beautiful world is. And like the 1950s, most people would rather not talk too much about it. What will we see when we look at Apple's pictures 50 years from now?
Abandon all hope. You'll just be wasting your time if what you want to do is engage with people who don't want to engage with you.
The whole idea of comments is based on the assumption that most people reading won't have their own platform to respond with. So you need to provide some temporary shanty town for these folks to take up residence for a day or two.
Fly-by-night posts (on your own site) in response to another post are the same thing as fly-by-night comments to a post: meaningless linkrot that no one besides you will ever see. They represent the same lack of attachment, commitment and seriousness that people hate about fly-by-night commenting.
They make me think of this:
Last week Instapaper released a new bookmarklet. It’s nice. It saves articles that have been split across multiple pages.
However it doesn’t work in the way I want the Instapaper bookmarklet to. So I’ve made my own. It’s above. You put it in your bookmarks. When you find an article or web page you want to read later, you click it. And it saves it for later.
There’s one difference. Mine doesn’t save the page, it just pretends to. And that’s good enough.
Don't believe you have to or should start your own site. Don't try to email people who aren't interested in communicating with you. Don't comment (if you even can) if you think no one wants to talk. Open up your favorite text-typing program, type your message and then click on save. Make sure you set the save folder to Trash. This way your thoughts have just about as good a chance of being engaged with by the author than if you send your message into a contact black hole (twitter handle-only pages and completely contact-free pages have abandoned even these black holes and taken the idea of one-sided "communication" online to dizzying new heights.) Sure, the probability of contact is slightly lower, but the advantage is you have absolute certainty about the final outcome of your response. No more waiting games, no more resentment, no more linkrot no one will ever read; just piece of mind and a little bit more RSI.
In summary, the rulemaking record establishes that the specific cognitive abilities of young children lead to their inability to fully understand child-oriented television advertising, even if they grasp some aspects of it. They place indiscriminate trust in the selling message. They do not correctly perceive persuasive bias in advertising, and their life experience is insufficient to help them counter-argue. Finally, the content, placement and various techniques used in child-oriented television commercials attract children and enhance the advertising and the product. As a result, children are not able to evaluate adequately child-oriented advertising.
...advertising directed at young children is per se manipulative. Such advertising aims to promote products by convincing those who will always believe.
Irwin toy ltd. v. Quebec (Attorney general),  1 S.C.R. 927
And I think if other people realized the value of their not-friends, they'd be writing at least some of the time outside of Facebook. We can't know ahead of time who we want to hear from about any post.
Actually, Evan Williams already does know who: not you.
I've never much cared for comments. Probably because I don't care what most people have to say, either about something I've written or something I've read. Of course, I care a lot about what some limited number of people have to say.
I don't read anyone consistently aside from Gruber. I see and read so much stuff that even with great engaging writers, there's a sameness to much of their work that doesn't interest me...until they really knock something out of the park, and then I'll hear about it from someone I follow on Twitter or Stellar.
That’s perhaps a little ironic for a product known for stripping ads toward the end of making “the Web a more pleasant place to read.” Are you suggesting that advertising could be pleasant?
Of course advertising can be pleasant. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been around for two hundred years! I think if a balance is struck where the reading experience is respected then there are all sorts of possibilities. Also – relevance helps. I’m into tech. Show me tech stuff, not soda ads.
I am shocked, shocked to find advertising going on here.
1. If you make a product that strips ads off content and you can't find a way to sustain that product without putting ads back on the content you probably took a wrong turn somewhere important.
2. "Of course advertising can be pleasant. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been around for two hundred years! " has to be one of the strangest statements I've heard in a long time.
3. 'Pleasant' is one of the weasel words like 'tasteful.' These words connote some sort of ugly compromise being propped up with a euphemism. They make me think of this:
Readability? You're readable enough, Hillary.
A piece of art junked up with advertising might remain tasteful, but it will never be beautiful.
I've already got advertisers sitting between me and the content, Readability. I'll take a pass on even more.
Oh, and give me a break with the "show me tech stuff." Apple's not buying ads for you to see because you already buy their shit. But you know who is? Less successful computer makers whose products you chose NOT to buy. The ones who produce things less popular and thus need to advertise more to get more buyers. The exact ads you don't want to see. Tailored ads didn't make anything better in the past because the problem wasn't with the ads, but with advertising itself (something you'd think the maker of an ad-stripping product would understand.)
Still want tech ads? Try listening to any tech podcast with ads. Any one will do because they all have the same ads. Subscribe and you'll hear your hosts talk about Carbonite, Audible and Netflix every week per show for the rest of your listening life, regardless of whether you're a customer or not. Enjoy!
There is no winning with ads. You want to be served far fewer ads than advertisers want you to see. You want information (not marketing not from them) when you do decide to buy or when you want to hear about new things. They want to constantly tell you about ONLY their new thing (and only its good qualities) and drown you in ads that eventually create the desire in you to buy. These two positions are diametrically opposed. They cannot be bridged. The center cannot hold.
Shoving more ads at people who want content for free (and free of ads) doesn't solve any problems, it merely multiplies them. Can't wait for the ad-blocking extension for my new Readability app.
If a woman writes about family and core values and the connections between people it’s considered women’s fiction. If a man does it it winds up on the shortlist for the National Book Award.
For a woman you’re going to get something in the parenting section. Or you’re going to get something in the style section. It’s just really archaic. I just think if there’s not going to be a conscious decision about who you’re reviewing, think about what you’re saying.
One woman from a company called Chickboss explained to me how she was working to pay fair wages to impoverished Guatemalans to make jewelry and such for sale, in order to raise their standard of living. It was an unambiguously noble business plan. The fact that she had to leave Guatemala and come to Hollywood to stand in the GBK gifting lounge and hand free necklaces to Frankie Muniz and Penelope Ann Miller says something very strange about the way modern capitalism works.
I didn't just keep posting to Twitter and Facebook for nothing. There was just enough feedback to keep me posting continually. The key to Pavlovian training is the eventual randomness and pace of the rewards. The pigeon will keep tapping that button until the pellet comes out, even when it happens more and more slowly - in fact the pigeon will increase its effort as the pellets slow. Same thing with status updates?
...Is everyone posting to Twitter and Facebook simply because everyone is posting to Twitter and Facebook?
If you're commodity content to your friends don't be surprised when they don't notice when you disappear.
The seldom-mentioned corollary of having a large number of "friends" is that those same "friends" of yours probably also have a large number of "friends" who will drown away your absence. It's easier to have ten of ten total friends notice when you're gone (100%) than to find ten out of a million (.001%) who actually care.
We take a generation of incredibly smart people who have been rigorously trained to deliver amazing code, running on a massive computing engine, and when confronted with a human being trying to learn something, they try to distract him with games. Can you imagine Google in charge of textbooks? In my children’s time, textbooks will be immersive experiences, complete with Google’s avatars whispering “Psst! Math is hard, let’s play games instead of studying.” Can you imagine Google making eyeglasses? They would obscure anything educational with virtual billboards for dating sites.
the whole point of having values is that sometimes you don't do the most expedient thing or the most profitable thing or the easy thing. That’s what makes them values...
Google (and the Internet) make me sad almost every day.
Google's biggest innovation in the ad space in the 10+ years they've been in it? In the face of ad click-through rates which never left anything asymptotically approaching zero, Google spat in the face of one of the few cultural touchstones common to the entire Internet-using population of the world. People inquire into the new defining characteristics of our new common internet culture that unites us in a world still divided by class, gender, nationalities, religion, language and a variety of other criteria. I'll give you a clue, and it's more than just our ability and desire to kill time talking about and doing nothing: it's our universal, (not near-universal) distaste, dismissal and ignoring of advertising sprayed across our retinas from screens in front of us. Find me a person who says they like ads, click on them, find them useful or beneficial to society and you've either got yourself a crazy person or someone who works for an advertising company (probably masquerading as something else.)
So, what did Google do in response to the fact that NO ONE was clicking on ads and it became increasingly clear that no one EVER WAS going to click on them? They put ads right on top of the Youtube content you were watching and with Zizekianinversionjujitsu "forced" you to click on them in order to actually see the content. Did you catch that? Because if you didn't I can assure you this is some serious ninja kung-fu action. To get rid of the thing you always wanted to avoid touching like the plague, Google started "forcing" you to do the one thing you wanted more than anything NOT to do.
People "choose" free services with ads like they "choose" the jobs they hate. What anyone with half a brain realizes is that people aren't "choosing" ads, but are rather "choosing" not to pay. No one is "choosing" to have their data sold and let companies do with it as they please.
...people say that something's gotta pay for all these great services we have on the Internet and it's your data is how it's paying. But I think there are a lot of people who disagree with that and say that people should have a choice of whether or not to reveal their data and to be tracked. And it's not just that I'm seeing an ad. You know, you turn on the TV and you see an ad, but it's that they're collecting data about me in addition to showing me an ad. And that's what a lot of people find unacceptable. And so it should be the consumer's choice and that if there's some services that really require money in order to make them work perhaps they can give you a choice that you can use the service for free and provide data or maybe you pay a small fee to use the service.
Um, I mean it didn't really bother me once again, because there's other platforms doing this, right? I just, I felt a bit bad because I know Dave Morin and I know the whole team. And the first question was more like: is this going to influence their company in the long run?
Not willing to let any grass grow under its zeitgeisty, metaphoric feet, today the Times notices “Female Comedians, Breaking the Taste-Taboo Ceiling.” Have you heard of this Sarah Silverman person? Because apparently she is rather raunchy. And lest you find yourself wondering how you woke up in 1998, and if so, whether Dawson’s ever going to hook up with Joey, let me assure you, this story actually ran in the New York Times in November 2011. Coming next, a piece on how people are using emoticons. Oh, wait.
"When I saw these sanitary napkins, I thought 'Why couldn’t I create a low cost napkin for [my wife]?'" says Muruganantham. That thought kick-started a journey that led to him being called a psycho, a pervert, and even had him accused of dabbling in black magic.
He first tried to get his wife and sisters to test his hand-crafted napkins, but they refused. He tried to get female medical students to wear them and fill out feedback sheets, but no woman wanted to talk to a man about such a taboo topic. His wife, thinking his project was all an excuse to meet younger women, left him. After repeated unsuccessful research attempts, including wearing panties with his do-it-yourself uterus, he eventually hit upon the idea of distributing free napkins to the students and collecting the used ones for study. That was the last straw for his mother. When she encountered a storeroom full of bloody sanitary napkins, she left too.
Analyzing branded napkins at laboratories led to Muruganantham’s first breakthrough. "I found out that these napkins were made of cellulose derived from the bark of a tree," he said. A high school dropout, he taught himself English and pretended to be a millionaire to get U.S. manufacturers to send him samples of their raw material.
People who have imbibed from their culture that men and business are important and women and the home are slightly distasteful and irrelevant spending their time on inventions applicable to one and not the other....Obviously, I don't consider business a male bailiwick and the home the kingdom of woman, but a whole lot of people do, and a goodly number of them have a massive influence on the allocation of R & D funds and the political narrative than I do. Right this very second, here in the US, we are having an actual, serious, if incredibly stupid, conversation about whether or not women should have easy access to birth control. We are having this conversation because significant humans in our government believe women should not have access to it at all. I'm super excited about that, because it means it's 1965 and we're gonna go to the moon soon.
...Most of us are cooking in kitchens quite recognizable from 40 years ago. The Roomba in the corner of my living room is about the only chore-class object in my house that that same grandmother would not have used in cleaning up after my parents.
As with smoking, it’s easier to not start using the social web than to stop.
You can turn your back on the social networks that matter in your field and be free and independent running your own site on your own domain. But increasingly that freedom is just the freedom to be ignored, the freedom to starve. We need to use social networks to get heard and this forces us into digital serfdom. We give more power to Big Web companies with every tweet and page we post to their networks while hoping to get a bit of traffic and attention back for ourselves. The open web of free and independent websites has never looked so weak.
Is FB a cancer merchant or just simply the devil? You decide!
It SHOULD feel dirty promoting yourself on places like Twitter. Twitter is talking. It coarsens and cheapens our discourse to promote ourselves in person to our friends. Twitter is no different, except someone else records it, doesn't give you a record, then monetizes it. And you get "served" ads during the whole process. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was...
Spamming random people (traditional advertising) is bad enough, but we've somehow become accustomed to spamming our friends and people who somehow "like," "follow" or "friend" us. We've even created solutions, first Twitter (uni-directional relationships), then FB's algorithmic and manual "ignoring of your friends' updates" and then Google's Circles (a combo of the previous two created with almost no innovative element to speak of) to combat all this without just stopping it ourselves, asking others to stop it, or directly stopping "following/liking/friending" certain people.
-- continued from above:
The promise of the open web looks increasingly uncertain. The technology will continue to exist and improve. It looks like you’ll be able to run your own web server on your own domain for the foreseeable future. But all the things that matter will be controlled and owned by a very small number of Big Web companies. Your identity will be your accounts at Facebook, Google and Twitter, not the domain name you own. You don’t pay Big Web a single penny so it can take away your identity and all your data at any time. The things you can say and do that are likely to be seen and used by any significant number of people will be the things that Facebook, Google and Twitter are happy for you to say and do. You can do what you like on your own website but you’ll probably be shouting into the void.
But, I don't blame the Zucks of the world. I blame the standards organizations and the open web community for not rising up and fighting at an even more rapid clip. Why we need to have people like Shuttleworth bring anything "open" to the mass market is just plain sad. The closest we have to that elsewhere in the consumer-facing sphere is Mozilla, and even I use Chrome at this point. I want to use Firefox. I want to love Firefox. Maybe someday again, Firefox.
So, what i meant was: the "open web of free and independent websites" needs a marketing budget or at least a new marketing strategy. Maybe something like they're trying with baby carrots.
Switching to the open web needs to be as simple as getting your friends off of IE and onto Firefox or Chrome. It has to be better, cleaner, backward compatible with all the old things AND have the side-effect (that your friends don't actually care about) of not being in the pocket of someone like FB. We need something like an "eat organic" movement for the open web. Not "I support open standards" or "This page is xxx compatible" ugly-ass buttons on your sidebar, but rather something with bite. Organic food didn't take off because they were "healthy." They became popular because there were enough articles and marketing behind it to make it trendy. Smoking, despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence it could kill you, didn't see declines in popularity till there was a nationwide multi-decade movement to viciously attack it in public, and more importantly, in front of children ad nauseam. Promoting the open web will probably need to be somewhere between these two extremes.
And if it's not interoperable with the old services then it has to be straight-up better, since it can't be cheaper than free and people don't give a shit about open/privacy/(insert whatever good thing you care about here). (I define giving a shit as DOING something about something, not saying "I value privacy" when someone asks you a question.) I think we're more likely to be successful with a movement to let us pay for FB or Twitter than getting people off those kinds of services. But, just look at how most publicly-held corporations respond to their owners' (shareholders') demands. You think it would be any better with users demands?
So, let's all stop saying nice things about Twitter. If we openly spew venom in FB's direction, why not Twitter? Because they haven't put ads in stream yet like FB? Is there any doubt they will soon with no option to opt out?
If current standards are insufficient to the needs of the open web to thrive successfully, or sufficiently user-hostile to prevent greater adoption, then the standards community and the community of the open web just have to work harder on something better. Judging by how awful Ubuntu is 8 years into that experiment (yes, embarrassingly, look-away awful. Look at iOS and try to convince yourself that Ubuntu is on the right track) I have low expectations.
Maybe if more people were working on things like making the email (y'know, actual open standards, remember those?) experience better (or god forbid extending it with new standards and options) like Sparrow (and Gmail before it), instead of making new Twitter clients they could sell for one dollar with slightly more perfect pixels, we would be getting somewhere.
Remember the time there was a guy, what's that guy's name, Bob Stupak or something like that? The guy who owns Go Daddy. And then he shows up, drunk, in the Super Bowl commercial with his shirt half unbuttoned. And he's got drool all over his chin and he tells you to go register your website at Go Daddy or whatever. Couple of years ago he got caught shooting elephants in Africa. You remember when we were kids? When you and I were kids and they would say, "Hey, there's two types of elephants: the ones with the big ears are African elephants and the ones with the smaller ears that look a little clipped are the Indian elephants." And then you can tell the difference between the two. Well, now there's no more African elephants because the guy who owns Go Daddy shot every elephant in Africa. And people got very upset about this because now there's only one type of elephant left in the world. But that didn't stop people from registering their domains with Go Daddy. Even though this guy shot every single one of the African elephants that was left in the world.
And the worst part is, this is the part that gets you, this is the part that will really put a lump in your throat: is that he shot them all from a helicopter. So it wasn't even like they had a fair chance. You know what I mean? Like if you're on the ground and you've got your little elephant gun and you're down there on the ground looking an elephant right in the face, it's like at least the elephant, if you miss, has a chance to stomp you. You know what I mean? Like, it's like a fair fight. Like the elephant's coming at you to stomp you and you're going to try to shoot this elephant and take it down. He shot these elephants from a helicopter...It was a turkey shoot. And he shot every last one of them. And still people didn't stop going to Go Daddy.
Further, the institutions of college athletics exist primarily as unreality fueled by deceit. The unreality is that universities should be in the business of providing large spectacles of mass entertainment. The fundamental absurdity of that notion requires the promulgation of the various deceits necessary to carry it out. The "student-athlete," just to name one. "Amateurism," just to name another. Of course, people involved in Penn State football allegedly deceived people when it became plain that children had been raped within the program's facilities by one of the program's employees. It was simply one more lie to maintain the preposterously lucrative unreality of college athletics. And to think, the players at Ohio State became pariahs because of tattoos and memorabilia sales.
By an order of magnitude, the Penn State child-raping scandal is miles beyond anything that ever happened with the Ohio State football team over the past five years, miles beyond anything that happened with the SMU football team in the 1980s, and miles beyond anything that happened with the point-shaving scandals in college basketball. It is not a failure of our institutions so much as it is a window into what they have become — soulless, profit-driven monsters, Darwinian predators with precious little humanity left in them. Penn State is only the most recent example.
In the end, the need for profit can only ever add unnecessary and unwanted side-effects to our medium of communication, whether it’s omnipresent and invisible tracking of everything we read and say, a visual landscape overrun with advertisements, or software that disappears and takes our data with it once we stop paying rent.
It got me thinking. The advice is just as applicable to individuals too, but harder to follow because most Facebook and Twitter denizens don't have the resources or know-how available to a company, to establish their own presence outside the walled gardens.
Just as hardware prices have become ridiculously low, home networking speeds are fast with massive market penetration, each person owns a wifi router in their house and memory has become absolutely dirt cheap, companies have decided we have to store all our data on their servers and forever be pinging them for our stuff. DSL is set up as a consumption channel. We have ADSL, not SDSL. But even with our crappy asynchronous framework, we're quickly approaching a point where we don't even have to make things synchronous to have enough bandwidth to be our own servers. Who turns off their router at the end of each day? And if they do, why isn't there some super cheap (or free) storage system that serves your pages/information/whatever (Dropbox, Skydrive, iCloud) when someone wants to get information from you, visit your blog, download your photos, whatever. We should have devices that make this one-click. It should be built into our computers, our OSes and our routers. (That's where innovation is, not in making a prettier photo-sharing app.) I shouldn't have to pay Dreamhost 70 bucks a year to serve things for me when I already pay 70 bucks a month to have a fat DSL or cable pipe come to my home. Want to use FB services? You keep that info on your server, which FB can access via an API. You hold your chat logs. You set your permissions. You store your pictures. (Have a billion pictures at super high res? Ok, pay someone else to host them.) Want some new service like Twitter? Pay 10 bucks and you buy a license or some code and install your own Twitter server at home. You set your permissions and interoperability with the network. Why are we all just clients and not equal nodes? Why isn't mesh networking here? Why is white space not here?
We are so far from getting to any of these points that I couldn't be more optimistic about the next 5 or 10 years in tech. Unfortunately, people are too busy pissing themselves for the next resolution size, the return of cd-rom magazines (because what Moby Dick and your 5th grade math textbook were really missing was embedded, zoom-able video clips and 3D charts that spin) or they seem more interested in making replacement knobs for their stove and regressing back to old models like "coding for an OS."
However, when you ask people long questions, with multiple parts, they often end up answering the parts that were least interesting to you. Here’s the full email I sent him:
In your recent post about “finding voice”
You say: ”So forget about comments – it doesn’t matter whether you have them turned on or not. The real question is which one of the many available options you’re going to choose to start writing and owning your voice.”
What’s so important about finding our own voice? Comments and discussion can lead to arriving at some place you want to go. Do we care about the “voices” that led to the UN Declaration of Human of Rights, or the final document that was finally produced?
We want to get to the best ideas and thoughts and plans, but what does that have to do with individual voices? Writing on your own blog can bring you away from the discussion, pushing us all into little silos. I personally felt just that drive with my own blog.
I’m not sure that this method really achieves very much OTHER than helping me to find my own voice. But in my opinion the important thing is that John is exposed to the flaw in his argument and others looking to talk about it (where else would they naturally go to talk about it other than his comments section?) would see this issue. That way they would be forced to think about it and wouldn’t waste time writing the same criticism. If someone goes to write that on their page, how is that helping things? Will I go to all the trackback sites? Should I? How do sites writing independently engage in discussion with each other and not duplicate the same arguments.
I’ve been writing tons of posts about this, and not publishing them, but there’s a little bit if you’re interested.
The process of writing exposes your own ignorance and half-baked assumptions: When I’m writing a Wired article, I often don’t realize what I don’t know until I’ve started writing, at which point my unanswered questions and lazy, autofill thinking becomes obvious. Then I freak out and panic and push myself way harder, because the article is soon going before two publics: First my editors, then eventually my readers. Blogging (or tumbling or posterousing or even, in a smaller way, tweeting) forces a similar clarity of mental purpose for me. As with Wired, I’m going before a public. I’m no longer just muttering to myself in a quiet room. It scarcely matters whether two or ten or a thousand people are going to read the blog post; the transition from nonpublic and public is nonlinear and powerful.
To me, this is the least interesting aspect of my question. It wasn’t even really a question I was asking, more just of a rhetorical question to suggest individual voice isn’t that important. I’m interested in the issue of separating discussion from content. It affects not only the readership, looking to engage in discussion:
So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that most people will put two and two together and will find responses to your posts on other weblogs. It isn’t going to happen for most. Period.
It’s true, as Siegler and others argue, that readers can find other ways to comment: they can post a remark on Twitter with a link, they can do the same on Facebook or Google+, they can send an e-mail, or they can write a response on their own blog. But doesn’t that make it even harder for a blogger to find and respond to all of the thoughtful comments, since they will have to check all of those other sources? I think in most cases, bloggers who shut down comments don’t do this — they simply don’t respond.
The open web is full of spam, shady operators, and blatant falsehoods. Outside of a relatively small percentage of high quality sites, most of the web is chock full of popup ads and other interruptive come-ons. It’s nearly impossible to find signal in that noise, and the web is in danger of being overrun by all that crap. In the curated gardens of places like Apple and Facebook, the weeds are kept to a minimum, and the user experience is just…better.
Have you seen Twitter as used by the "broadcast class?" Facebook FEATURES Zynga games. Even MSFT never pushed pure evil shit like Farmville into people's lives. The App store is a dense jungle of crap apps and games. It's a miracle you haven't run into them more often.
How is Facebook's "frictionless sharing" bar with music that you clicked on once to enable and now pollutes your screen like any other cruft or chrome any different than ridiculous browser toolbars that companies have been pushing for years? Sure, ANY user could theoretically go into settings or uninstall or whatever, but what we all know from looking at other people's computers is that shit stays on forever.
The weeds are kept to a minimum. And they're much prettier. And they'll copy your address book without asking. No biggie! THAT'S TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN MALWARE!
Most things ALMOST ANYWHERE are crap.
To the extent that FB is the web inside closed doors it will simply replicate the web outside as there's no way anyone, of any size can regulate a community of users and developers the size of the whole world. Smarter users or users who care to will always find ways around crap and suface the "high quality." To the extent that FB is just IM and email 2.0 for many people, who really cares? People used to sit in Hotmail or AIM or MSN to chat or communicate, who cares if that's now on FB's servers? Does FB messenger somehow have less ads or less clutter than AIM? It probably has more.
Will Apple's App store apps break my computer less than spammy websites that install malware? Probably, but it apparently doesn't stop them from taking all my address book info and doing whatever they want with it. So, we have made progress. Malware can no longer steal my credit card info or delete my files or make my computer not boot. Now it can only do shitty things with SELECT info after not asking for it.
And another thing. John continues:
So, does that mean the Internet is going to become a series of walled gardens, each subject to the whims of that garden’s liege?
I don’t think so. Scroll up and look at that set of values again. I see absolutely no reason why they can not and should not be applied to how we live our lives inside the worlds of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the countless apps we have come to depend upon. But it requires a shift in our relationship to the Internet. It requires that we, as the co-creators of value through interactions, data, and sharing, take responsibility for ensuring that the Internet continues to be a commons.
Wait, what? You mean like this value you mentioned a few hundred words prior:
No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.
How can I live my life in the world of Apple (or someone else) when they won't approve my App?
Well, I asked John about this in the comments to his post. His response:
As far as I can tell from research to date, if you do get in, you can share out. You're right that if Apple says no, you're hosed. Then again, Apple has let a lot of apps in that run counter to its dominance (IE other browsers, Google Voice, etc)
So, basically, we can "apply" those values to the walled worlds, unless we can't. Just like the open web, but not.
And I'm a little concerned that we're essentially doing Walmart, y'know, a thousand, a million times over with the new model in Silicon Valley where we're telling people there's all this barter and reputation economy and all this self-promotion you can get, but your career prospects are reduced because we're making everything more efficient and we're making advertising and promotion into the only monetized information economy components...And so it all becomes about ads or coupons or something like that. And, y'know, the usual response is, "Well, it's not really for free because you get free tools or free promotional opportunities for yourself or whatever it is." But the point is that the type of value you get is within this barter/reputation economy thing and the type of value that people who benefit from being close to the top server get is real money that involves finance and all the benefits of true wealth, which is different. I mean you can't, you can't really, you can do a tiny bit of finance and benefit off of reputation through something like Kickstarter, but it's just little tiny, sort of Horatio Alger-type of events. It's not a real economy. You can't really scale that.
Let me say now that this is not one of those debates about civility online, and the rights of pseudonymous people, and whether it’s your fault you have such horrible commenters and such. I have different obsessions.
And let me also add that now I have touched elliptically on all of those topics, if this was G+ we’d end up talking about those topics instead, also.
This is an allied issue, which I still don’t think people pay enough attention to; which is that if you have seven thousand people following you, a good six thousand of those are going to be people you don’t particularly like. Even if you were Jesus, you can’t love those people. (And actually if you read the Gospels, you can see that Jesus is a pretty good example of this. He spends his whole time going WTF in the comment threads of his own parables. WTF, Peter, did you even RTFP?)
If they comment all over your posts, you will end up hating them, and shortly, mankind.
The problem, as ever, is — how do you pick out the other thousand? Especially when they keep changing?
I firmly believe that one of the pressing unsolved technological problems of the modern age is getting safely away from people you don’t like, without actually throttling them to death beforehand, nor somehow coming to the conclusion that they don’t exist, nor ending up turning yourself into a hateful monster. And that this problem invisibly creeps on people as their level of fame increases. And that the Internets continues to be amazingly good at randomly bestowing non-linear amounts of fame on people, in a remarkably well-distributed way.
I've really got to get back to this whole commenting stuff once I get off this extended open web kick.
This IS a serious unsolved problem. I think while there may be technological solutions, the underlying issues are basically personal and social. I think people first need to think about what and why they're doing what they're doing. Technological limitations (and social norms) in previous ages freed many people from thinking about many issues. Saying "I don't scribble notes in the margin of your book," is the kind of weird grandfathered-in stuff that gets into discussions of writing and existing online. That we keep on dealing with the exact same problems of following, filtering and fame in a way that never solves them reveals either a profound lack of refinement of our tools or a serious failure to come to grips with and think hard about what exactly people are doing (and want to do) online.
Companies nowadays are solving problems for us that we don't know exist and therefore won't pay for. In fact, they may not even be problems at all! Maybe that's why we wouldn't pay for them. And don't give me the Henry Ford line about people asking for better horseless carriages, because we do end up paying. We end up paying with our time and with our information. Say what you will about Apple, and even Microsoft, but you had to buy most of their shit to use it. Stuff like Goo and Foo just keeps on pulling you in deeper and deeper (Sign up here! Don't worry, it's still free!) without ever telling you to think for a second that someone HAS to be paying them big fucking money for all the free shit they give you. I don't think we'll see the consequences, aside from the spiritual and social effects of blanket marketing non-stop, (which we can already see now and have been around well before the internet), for a very long time. It's hard to even predict what they'd look like this far out.
I hope it's not something like this:
When deep space exploitation ramps up, it will be corporations that name everything. The IBM Stellar Sphere. The Philip Morris Galaxy. Planet Starbucks.
One of the reasons why selling ads on websites is so often the business model for websites is because it's really easy and your customers, rather users at that point, don't need to do anything. They can just show up to the website. And everyone who just shows up, which takes no effort except one click, everyone who shows up makes you a penny or two. Where, if you were trying to sell something directly to customers for money, on the web they had to go through payment gateways, they had to type in all their address and billing information, they had to type in their credit card number. They might not trust you with their credit card number if it was a big deal. Y'know, the more barriers you put up there the more people will just say, "Eh, never mind," and they'll abandon buying your product.
So what changed with the app store is Apple already had everyone's billing information from iTunes. If you used an iPhone, chances were good that you already had a credit card hooked up to iTunes. And so you could buy things just by typing in your password.
And Apple made it even more of an even playing field in that whether you buy a free app or a paid app, it's the same process. You type in your password either way. So buying a paid app over a free one is no additional effort. And that changed everything. That for the first time brought very, very easy payment to the modern software world. That more than anything is why there is a business for paid apps of any reasonable size.
The first thing that made things work was what Amazon and Apple discovered long ago: people will pay for things at lower prices and you'll make it up in volume. Stop your crying.
While Marco is right and enthusiastic about Apple making things more pure for sellers and more easy for users, this is not something Apple or Amazon or Google or Facebook should have. This NEEDS to be something anyone can hook into. You shouldn't have to rely on Square or Stripe or Paypal or credit cards. Maybe you'll need banks, but you'll certainly need a new type of system, with open and free specs for everyone, that can keep you from being a slave to holders of payment information. Instapaper does have paying customers, but only through Apple. 30 percent this year, 70 percent next year. TOS nice this year? TOS evil next year. Being able to sell things to people without having to piggy-back on someone else's service, and be at their service, and without inconveniencing your users is something the open web NEEDS to avoid being the sick man of the Internet. And it has needed this for far too long. iOS is the micropayment system that never got implemented. Everything's fine now with iOS, but everything's usually fine at the beginning. (It's only when you break a decades-long Microsoft-esque dominance with something like iOS that everyone can see how much things get held back.)
We do not need to replicate the credit card model online. And where the hell have been banks all this time? Where were they when credit cards ate their lunch?
The web is special and different. There are standards bodies that can actually get shit done in ways that governments sometimes can't. The web is open and free and, more than anything, gives us a second go around to make things slightly better than last time.
Being a good citizen means more than just making money off the system:
...if you pay no attention to how your own town is being governed or your own school district, and you make no effort to participate or to contribute to its being better, don't be surprised when it doesn't turn out as you would have liked. And similarly with the Internet is that people, y'know, the Internet will only be as good or as bad as we, all of us collectively, make it. And so we need to be engaged in its evolution, in its governance, just as we engage in the governance of our democracies.
Given the state of political apathy in America, I'm not too optimistic about civic engagement on the Internet.
In the interview Rebecca seems also far more fatalistic about governments and companies being the powers that be on the Internet. I don't know why that has to be. While governments seem to need a seat at the table, the standards of the Internet consist independently of the companies. I'm with Facebook and Google on this one, if you don't like their terms of service then don't use them. Either don't use them, pass laws to make them change or develop and move to services that are free of corporate control and shitty terms of service.
Lots of talk about the New York Times opinion piece on privacy:
Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.
At first this paragraph struck me. Everyone hates things that "limit people to the roles society expects them to play." That's like a cardinal sin in America. Then I remembered that Facebook has nothing to do with this.
The problem is redlines, not Facebook (or data aggregation.) Calling out Facebook for allowing advertisers to redline is like yelling at convenience stores for selling cigarettes. These advertising redlines that Lori is talking about, that bombard people and helps to shape (or limit) the range of things people think about, have been around for a long time.
What we should be concerned about is not Facebook, or new instantiations of these redlining policies, but about the idea in general. But because there's lots money behind these strategies, it will be tough to get them to change. Until we make that kind of advertising illegal (if that's even possible) or shunned (also pretty tough) there's little hope of stopping advertising that's potentially "limiting." Offer companies a better way that makes them more money and they may take notice. Or move beyond a consumption-based advertising driven culture. It's not that moral shunning never works. It's worked well with tobacco. It's worked somewhat well with the tech and gaming scenes being less horribly sexist sometimes. And it's not that laws limiting advertising are impossible. Drug ads are barred in most of the world. The US has laws against alcohol ads at certain times of the day. It's that money talks. And the more there is the louder it gets.
or why Google couldn't even do what it said it originally wanted to do after going public.
Yahoo launched a service the other day to help us search for apps.
Twitter has no meaningful or useful search.
Facebook search is somehow even less useful than Twitter's.
Google Plus is ruining traditional search.
Apple's attempt at searching for iOS apps (on iOS devices or through iTunes) is a joke.
The app marketplace on mobile phones is growing year after year across all platforms.
Where is the one search company that was supposed to help us search the world's information? Off launching its own Bing of the 2010s.
Instead of adapting to the marketplace and helping us find the things we need across the expanded ecosystem that includes the web, the private-ish web and the mobile internet, Google has gone AWOL. It has decided it can't get deals with companies so it has given up. If the open web is dead, as Google surmises, then traditional Google is dead too and it simply needs to move forward.
But let's think about this. Why possibly could this once mighty and lovable giant of the web now be the company no one wants to partner with? In the quest for continued growth, Google has HAD to expand into newer and stranger markets to satisfy investors. Do investors want a company that answers to its mission or one that returns increasingly high profit numbers? We have met the answer and it is crap. Investors want an entity, regardless of what it does, that returns increasingly higher revenue growth numbers. Period. The lesson to learn from this? Don't go public if you care about a mission.
I'm not just talking about electric cars. I'm talking about things like Maps and Youtube and Android. It's no wonder that it's pretty fucking difficult to get companies like Apple to share their App store data with you so that you could crawl it and make it searchable when you're trying to build a platform to destroy them. It's no wonder Twitter and Facebook don't want to give you data when they both understand that you're actively trying to defeat them. And we're all worse for it.
We didn't NEED Google to do Maps or Blogger or Youtube. All these services were private things swallowed up by the Googlenaut in what was probably an early understanding of the eventual AOL cross-pollination/social-networkization of everything. To big corporations, the odd years were when the free and open web reigned supreme. The normal times are when services like Prodigy, Compuservere, AOL, MSN and later Twitter, Apple, Facebook and Google dominate people's networked world. B to B, not B to C. And good heavens no C to C!
We don't need Google to do self-driving cars. Maybe Google research will create something just unimaginably awesome. But then again they might be like Microsoft research who has pretty much been wasting literally billions of dollars picking their noses. Sure, they drive incremental improvements in productivity and usability and stuff like that, but no jetpacks have come out of there and it's safe to say they never will (unless they're featured in one of their "future" videos.) What we need Google to do is use all that engineering talent and minimal clutter ethos to help us search through and find the information we want. Somehow along the way Google lost their way, believing machines were always the answer (people there have famously went on about machine shit when it's just clear to everyone that they're just wrong) and that by bitching in public about how everyone was leaving the open web and not "sharing with them" something would change. Well, it ain't gonna change. You can't be a competitor to everyone and eat your cake too. It turns out with everyone scared you're going to step onto their turf they're less likely to negotiate deals with you. They'd rather give users of the Internet (including themselves) a shittier life experience, with things that integrate less or are proprietary (FB's -graph initiatives) than deal with you. Some have called this type of problem a strategy tax. I call it the public tax. You give up your ability to achieve your mission (or at least say you fought the good fight) when you go public AND decide you're going to care about satisfying your investors. And if you think Plus Your World is the right direction then you're fucking crazy.
Search is broken. Useful search is over. Thanks, Google.
There's all these things that, yknow, have surprised us, where people generate really amazing, crazy stuff as a group. And I think, yknow, there's more of that in the future. We just have to be careful not to squash it before it has a chance. And I think sites like Facebook kind of squash it because they've already predetermined, like, yknow, what are these very specific ways people are going to interact. And there's not a lot of room for surprise there. That's why, and you see it, it's such a culturally, like, empty place. Everything that's on there is from somewhere else.
But I think the real kicker is the paragraph he has under that:
As more services require a Facebook account to use them, I wonder if it’s set to become the next Microsoft Windows; a popular piece of software that becomes the only choice available. Users of Windows eventually became pray to viruses and malware; will members of Facebook become equally vulnerable?
One: comments like that are least likely to influence the people who are likely to work there.
Two: Facebook is already malware. User-fuckin'-hostile malware:
Violation of reasonable user expectations is a big part of the problem. When you click on a link - you expect to be taken to where the link says it's going to take you. There's something about the way that Facebook's Seamless Sharing is implemented that violates a fundamental contract between web publishers and their users. When you see a headline posted as news and you click on it, you expect to be taken to the news story referenced in the headline text - not to a page prompting you to install software in your online social network account.
That hijacking of your navigation around the web is the kind of action taken by malware. It's pushy, manipulative and user-hostile.
People are worried that Goo is off to become the next big Mo', but Facebook beat them on the malware front. And without having to install even a single actual 3rd party program! Look ma, no hands!
Are 2011 and 2012 the years we'll remember as the years the Internet went bad? Goo destroying search. Facebook destroying sharing. Twitter announcing full out censorship. (Don't worry, you can still read all those censored tweets coming out of Laos written in Lao because you can TOTALLY READ LAO AND IT'S TOTALLY USEFUL FOR THE 99 PERCENT OF THE WORLD THAT CAN'T READ LAO TO SEE INFORMATION WHICH IS ACTUALLY ONLY BLOCKED TO THE FEW PEOPLE IN COUNTRY IT IS RELEVANT TO. THANKS TWITTER!) Do we get unapologetic in-stream ads from Facebook and Twitter this year? Would that be the cherry on top we're all waiting for? Big smiles Sheryl, you're a billionaire!
I don't have any doubt that Hollywood is experiencing some problems transitioning to the new world, at least in the developed world. Given that, well:
If evidence of political corruption, racketeering, and attempts to control the marketplace through government activity reveal dying industries, then real estate is a dying industry too, as well as high finance and numerous others. Considering how pervasive political corruption is in the United States today, almost every single industry in the American economy is dying by Paul Graham's reasoning, except for those few industries which are so new that legislation does not yet exist for them. Agriculture has been dying, by this metric, for at least a hundred years.
Speaking of historical perspective, the Catholic Church experienced a period of extraordinary corruption more than five hundred years ago, during which time popes waged wars, had mistresses, and in some cases even died from sexual exhaustion in the beds of married women. Logically, if political corruption and government thuggery are hallmarks of dying institutions, the Catholic Church must be a historical relic that ceased to exist shortly after this period. However, it kept going another 500 years, and in fact still seems to be around. Not only that, it built nearly every hospital and orphanage in Europe in a period which followed after its apex of corruption. There's a good chance that when humanity colonizes Mars, there's going to be a Martian archdiocese. This is just one of countless examples of an institution which failed to collapse under the weight of its own corruption.
Graham's argument doesn't just operate in defiance of historical precedent, but also in defiance of easily obtainable facts. Studios are seeing tremendous growth today; even though American audiences are shrinking, audiences worldwide are booming. Globalization has been very, very good to Hollywood. Many movies don't even premiere in the United States any more. And as for history, the studios have always been brutally dominant, cynically exploitative, and extremely corrupt, and, despite Graham's argument, were so even during their periods of greatest growth. Why else would writers and actors have unions?
I lived in San Francisco during the late 90s, and during that time, I was acutely aware of a perceived rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles -- but when I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, I discovered that nobody in LA had ever even heard of this rivalry.
Giles is right to say it's stupid to want to kill Hollywood. He wants to get rid of the lobbying. Others, like Marco, seem to want to fix our campaign finance system. Others want a "lobby for tech" that will further push our horrible lobbying system forever into the future.
We already have solutions to these problems: elections. If you have shitty politicians taking money from shitty people to do shitty things then all you have to do is vote in less shitty people. You can work within the parties or outside them. Laws will be worked around. Amendments are impossible to pass, period. The best way to kill the lobbying industry, like Hollywood, is just to ignore it and do something else. You don't need to kill Hollywood to have good content elsewhere. You don't need to kill lobbyists to have a less shitty political system. You just need politicians who won't take a meeting with them. The problem is not with the system. The problem is with the people.
So what kind of medium is the web if the boundaries are so unclear, and if the fundamental question is WWIC? This is from an interview with MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey:
What makes MetaFilter a success?
Matt: I'd like to think it's intense moderation and customer service.
That is the point that I am trying to make. The web is not, despite the desires of so many, a publishing medium. The web is a customer service medium. “Intense moderation” in a customer service medium is what “editing” was for publishing.
This is part of what “feels” so wrong about publishing without comments and discussion. Yes, your site is your site. You get to control every single pixel. Good for you. But a webpage isn’t a book or a column or anything else from the old world. Forever closing your eyes and trying to pretend that you can fit square pegs into round holes won’t ever change that.
I never felt physically bothered when there was no “contact this author” button when I read an article or book offline. I never felt the need or want or desire or right to converse with them in public with their readers or contribute something to an article they wrote. But the web is different. It just is. We bring different expectations and it creates and engenders different feelings and expectations as well. Fleeing to silos like Twitter and Google+ and Facebook is a complicated issue I’ll have to get to some time in more depth. All I can say now is, you get no guarantee or expectation of permanancy or control from things you don’t pay for. Ads and corporate strategies for platforms you don’t have a say in both coarsen and cheapen your presence and contribution there at best and completely derail what you are trying to do there in someone else’s favor at worst.
I know, propose, inspire and build better tools. Complainers are a dime a dozen. It’s also important to get to the root of the problems, to research things before and problems that seem to re-occur. Now is still the research stage.
"Though the journalists all knew readership would plummet if their paper dropped imported content like Dear Abby or the funny pages, they never really had to know just how few people were reading about the City Council or the water main break. Part of the appeal of paywalls, even in the face of their economic ineffectiveness, was preserving this sense that a coupon-clipper and a news junkie were both just customers, people whose motivations the paper could serve in general, without having to understand in particular."
"The article threshold has often been discussed as if it was simply a new method of getting readers to pay, to which the reply has to be “Yes, except for most of them.” Calling article thresholds a “leaky” or “porous” paywall understates the enormity of the change; the metaphor of a leak suggests a mostly intact container that lets out a minority of its contents, but a paper that shares even two pages a month frees a majority of users from any fee at all. By the time the threshold is at 20 pages (a number fast becoming customary) a paper has given up on even trying to charge between 85% and 95% of its readers, and it will only convince a minority of that minority to pay."
There is, I think, a hidden assumption in those who critique the internet overly, for allowing us hang out with people who are like us. I completely acknowledge that that is a real danger. It's one of the greatest drawbacks and dangers of the internet: that we do as humans seem to prefer to hang out with people who believe what we believe, reconfirm what we believe. It's just much easier, simpler and more fun to do that. That is a real danger, so I don't mean to diminish that. However, it's also important, I think, to keep in mind just how much agreement we need in order to have a simple conversation.
So, the old enlightenment ideal was you could take two people who profoundly disagree, sit them down, preferrably in a coffee shop, let them talk honestly and openly and both open to the other side, and if they are at it long enough and are good-hearted enough, well-intentioned enough, they will come to agreement. That ultimately we will come to agreeement.
First of all, I think the net shows that that's not true: that we are in fact never, ever going to agree on anything. And the hope that we will, it's a hope that we have to give up on. We are not going to agree on everything. Even things where other people are wrong, they're just factually wrong, they're not going to change, you're not going to get them to agree. And second of all, that sort of coffee shop conversation is bascially impossible. In order for us to converse we have to be speaking the same language, be interested enough in the same thing, that we're willing to converse, have enough assumptions in common that we're able to meet and move forward. Conversation needs so much agreement. That may be unfortunate, but it is the way conversation is.
During one unpleasant moment after I was fired from the think tank where I’d worked for the previous seven years, I tried to reassure my wife with an old cliché: “The great thing about an experience like this is that you learn who your friends really are.” She answered, “I was happier when I didn’t know.”
Comments are your real audience, uninhibited. They are your co-worker telling you that your hair looks like crap today. That your idea makes them want to vomit and wonder how you ever got hired anywhere.
Perhaps people can't handle the truth, vulgarity and viciousness online because we're so used to not hearing it in our real life. Is public shaming when people say "Hey dickwad, your idea is horeshit!" at a Q&A after a speech really the only thing restraining people? If it is, that's a sad statement about us as people more than it is about commenting systems.
Noticed his RSS link was broken and wanted to email him to alert him of the problem.
Was quickly faced with a wrath so harsh that it is completely indescribable. You can see the screenshots below:
Round 3, Fight!
Maybe if we tailored our commenting systems such that they not only inspired fear into the hearts of commenters, but also took up enough of their time that only the truly interested would proceed, we wouldn't have so many problems. Of course, after making it through the hoops some of those scare tactics and delays could be gradually adjusted. The point is I really like this setup.
I'm still doing research to make a post that will truly contribute to the commenting debate. Some shorter responses may follow, but a longer, genuinely useful one is going to take some time.
Seeing as you go pretty far back in the blogging (and pre-blogging community) do you have any recommendations about key old links or people to contact (if you can remember) about older debates going back into the 90s about "what a blog is" and whether comments should be there? Searching back in time through Google that far back can be difficult. I'm trying to compile a very long list of posts about this as far back as it goes.
2. You often talk about "posting a comment on your own blog." I don't know where this trope came from, but lots of others have taken this stance as well. The argument for this seems to be "you have no right to be on my page and exploit my popularity." The drawback to me seems there is no central location for all commentary and discussion on a post. If people see comments as merely "feedback to the author" then comments will never make sense. Why wouldn't you just demand email for that? If you see comments as an opportunity for people who are interested in discussing a specific post, with you as well, what else could replace comments? Where else would they go to find people interested in talking about that? Forcing people to post on their own site slows or almost prevents discussion. How will someone else interested in discussing your post ever hear about what I have to say (or vice versa) or have an opportunity to discuss it with me unless they meet me in the comments? How is that not putting an unfixable burden on your audience which just wants to discuss that topic with you and others? Am I missing something? Pingbacks? Trackbacks? Linkbacks?
Alex at zerodistraction.com put it this way: "So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that most people will put two and two together and will find responses to your posts on other weblogs. It isn’t going to happen for most. Period."
But as I reflected back on the wonderful, meaningful conversations I’ve had in the last dozen years of this blog, I realized that one of the reasons people don’t understand how I’ve had such a wonderful response from all of you over the years is because they simply don’t believe great conversations can happen on the web. Fortunately, I have seen so much proof to the contrary.
Why are they so cynical about conversation on the web? Because a company like Google thinks it’s okay to sell video ads on YouTube above conversations that are filled with vile, anonymous comments. Because almost every great newspaper in America believes that it’s more important to get a few more page views on their website than to encourage meaningful discourse about current events within their community, even if many of those page views will be off-putting to the good people who are offended by the content of the comments. And because lots of publishers think that any conversation is good if it boosts traffic stats.
I can see why MG's thinking about comments is shaded from his time at TechCrunch. Actually, no I can't as MG appears to be someone with half a brain who has used the internet for more than the past few days and knows that "commenting" isn't limited to the nonsense found on sites that have horrible commenting traditions (Huffpo, Youtube, TechCrunch.) Ben, however, should definitely know better. It's not a "Great question." It's a question that should be obvious to anyone who's ever used the Internet and wanted to comment on something. And as a purveyor of a website which often comments on other things, you would think some "great answers" to that "great question" would emerge pretty quickly. That's why I feel like there's some joke here I'm not getting.
Here's some recent "decent answers" to that "great question." With a bit of search I'll be happy to look up some more great answers for anyone interested. I'll be writing some more here too very soon as well.
The most compelling reason to have comments is that you actually care what other people think...
It’s true, as Siegler and others argue, that readers can find other ways to comment: they can post a remark on Twitter with a link, they can do the same on Facebook or Google+, they can send an e-mail, or they can write a response on their own blog. But doesn’t that make it even harder for a blogger to find and respond to all of the thoughtful comments, since they will have to check all of those other sources? I think in most cases, bloggers who shut down comments don’t do this — they simply don’t respond.
On the other hand, one of the things you wrote in your post really struck me the wrong way. “I want to make it clear that this isn’t a means to discourage conversation; indeed, I hope the opposite it true.” No, turning off comments is unquestionably a means to discourage conversation...
The purpose of turning off comments is to discourage conversation. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that is what you want. But if you really want a conversation, don’t pretend that you are going to get one by turning off comments. You aren’t being honest with your readers or yourself.
And part of Matt's response, though I still recommend you read his whole post:
I think there’s a distinction between a goal (or purpose, as you say) and a consequence. Switching off comments will inevitably reduce the number of responses, but I think that it’ll increase the average value of the remaining responses; that was my point.
I can honestly say that, no, switching off comments wasn’t a means to discourage conversation. There are easier and less conspicuous ways to do that, which wouldn’t raise controversy (such as moving to an all-moderated policy for comments, for example, or insisting on an externally-authenticated login like a Facebook account, and so on).
Matt seems to think turning off comments is superior to moderating comments. I think moderating comments takes time people don't want to spend. Rian van der Merwe put it like this when he turned off comments, at least temporarily:
I’m not turning off comments to discourage engagement disagreement, I’m turning it off to help me sleep better and give me more time for writing...
Again, I think there's little doubt that turning off comments discourages engagement of all sorts. It's bad for lots of other reasons too, but I'll get to that in another post.
Email - Discussion and conversation over email is not in the public. The value any blog post has is that it is in the public. The same reason your public post has value is the same reason comments in public have value. People can see them, they can be linked to, etc. Is this hard to get?
Twitter - Too many issues with Twitter to mention. I'll just begin with the simple fact that like a blog post on "your own site," the commentary/discussion/conversation is divorced from the source/context/whatever. That's if it's even made public to begin with.
1. There's a big difference between being honest and saying "I personally don't particularly care what you have to say" and saying something silly like "If you’re saying something that you think is great, why would you want to do it as a comment on another site anyway?"
2. Comments aren't for everyone or every site. But let's not pretend all commenting is the same. I'd say, just as freedom of speech has exceptions for assholes (yelling fire in a crowded theatre), bile commenting hubs like Huffpo, TechCrunch and Youtube are the exceptions, not the rule, and that they share a huge share of the responsibility for their current mess. (Anil Dash had a little bit to say about this recently: dashes.com/anil/2011/07/if-your-websites-full-of-assholes-its-your-fault.html ) Some people blame the dicks in the theater talking and taking phone calls. Some people blame the theater for not stopping that shit. The good theaters just make sure it doesn't happen. And they don't kick out all the people as a way to solve their problem.
Oh, and because people always say you should propose solutions instead of just complaining and saying why you think you are right, here are some ideas:
Make your commenter approve their writing after a fixed amount of time to avoid things written in haste. It could be 5 minutes, 1 hour, or even one day. When they're asked to approve it before it's submitted to you they could be given a description of exactly what kind of comments are wanted. It could even be a checklist. If they still approve unsatisfactory things, you could block them.
You could have whitelist comment rolls. If someone has corresponded with you over email, or has submitted X number of decent comments, they can be approved for future comments.
You could limit comment length to something reasonable (and longer than Twitter length.)
You could have a moderator.
If you're someone like John Gruber who sells ad space for thousands of dollars a week you could even be a job creator and hire a moderator (or group of moderators)
You could make those commenting approve comments in the moderation queue before they are ever put up if they themselves want to make a comment. Maybe you wouldn't even have to force them. Your readers might just do it of their own volition if they want to have a discussion in the comments. You could even pair this with the whitelist idea mentioned above! If no one (or X number of people) approve the comment after a certain time (maybe 1 day) you'll be given the top one in the moderation queue. If that doesn't inspire others to want to go comment on that (and approve another comment at the same time) then maybe that entry shouldn't have comments.
Instagram seems to start with the oft-quoted recommendation for writers, "show, don't tell." It seems to want to make our biggest decision the answer to, "what hipster filter best defines you and this picture today, dear user?" It takes the Tumblr approach: I am a scrolling stream of pictures, therefore I am. It encourages disposability by making everything a moment to be glanced at for a second, to be something to be given a silly ironic filter (it's not a boring park bench I saw, it's a boring park bench in sepia.)
It's a bridesmaid's dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day, then tossed it. Like a Christmas tree — so special, then, bam — it's abandoned on the side of the road, tinsel still clinging to it. Like sex crime victims, underwear inside-out, bound with electrical tape.
- Fight Club
Well, we're humans. We're more than just walking eyes. We have mouths and minds too. We want to show AND tell. Photography pretends it can only be about capturing a moment, but no one ever said why? A picture is worth a thousand words, but maybe only a few hundred if can you write well. Will I read a hundred words? Sure, if it's someone I care about and they don't write ten times a day. Will it take away from me consuming thousands of people's pictures I don't care about and will forget about two seconds later? Hopefully.
Since when did we become so cold to our friends that we didn't even want to bother to read a few words from them about their pictures or their day (blogs)? I suppose Twitter was supposed to solve these problems, but I find it hard to see why Twitter is any less user-hostile than RSS. Facebook solves everything, but the cost of solving everything is you solve everything poorly.
Back when content like this was found in books the layout of the books was somewhat like the layout of this site (still in construction). I don't remember the Bible selling well because it had a pretty cover or sharing buttons sprayed all across each page.
The content came to you front and center because you were the customer and you were footing the costs.
Content on the web still costs money to produce, but you are no longer footing the bill. Content is now delivered around how the creator prefers, not how you prefer it. Creators used to care about making you happy. Now they care about making their customers (advertisers) happy. Their customers are happy when people get more "impressions" of their ads. This makes the creators happy because they can stay in business. Impressions go up when things get spread around more. So now there are buttons everywhere, fucking up the design/layout/flow/your_experience.
Instead of trusting their audience to install a bookmarklet (which they'll never do) to enable something like sharing on LinkedIn, X by Y pixels of every page from site Z will always be filled with a crap button for sharing to that site.
This needs to go away and get out of your face and mine. I understand that being bombarded with stuff like that is the only way people are going to share things en mass like they are now, but it's all going to backfire, in addition to being an eyesore. You cannot overload a medium forever and expect customers to stay. Radio and TV have done just as much to kill themselves as the Internet and things like iTunes have done.
There should be a universal sharing standard, something that can hide in the browser chrome, maybe in a corner, perhaps in the URL bar (that really doesn't even need to be there in the first place.) It could replace or add functionality to the woefully outdated, underused and poorly designed/implemented Star (Favorite) button.
Of course, this will never happen. It's far too much in everyone's interest to just gunk up a page with shit design, distractions and ads to pay the bills. More people get jobs, more people get paid, more people get to read things (probably things that are produced by 1000 times too many people) and everyone gets a worse experience. I mean do we really need 700 sites on the internet writing the exact same story that comes out of the Verge, BGR, Engadget, Gizmodo, CNET, etc, ever 10 minutes? Do we really even need 3?
This is the problem I'm talking about:
Listening to the Vergecast is actually rather enjoyable
Scrolled down one page:
Sharing buttons aren't evil, but they can be
And this is how to do it better:
How things can be done if you just care a little bit about design, and your audience.