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Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web (neustadt.fr)
1307 points by livatlantis 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 502 comments

This is a good an informative essay.

However, there's another element of "user-hostile" that I didn't see addressed (maybe I missed it in my haste?) -- that is the websites trying to control exactly how the content is consumed by the user.

It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly). But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!) This I find incredibly hostile, and it makes me eventually abandon that source as a matter of principle. Then there are javascript-jacked sites, sites that are unbearably slow and clunky because of a mix of javascript/ads. I won't mention any specific sites, but I stopped reading one similar to Mired.com long ago for that reason.

This problem isn't just limited to the web though. If you're unfortunate enough to see modern television (or movies, for that matter), it's clear that the amount of content has gone down, the noise has gone up, and the efforts to lock the audience in have increased.

There are some people who advocate avoiding all news and media. I think it's a bit extreme, but it may be more beneficial than harmful.

I'm with you on this. Honestly at this point, if the information is only contained within a video, I skip it and move on[1]. (I usually leave video in the browser crippled, only turning it on when I actually want to watch something.)

[1] The trend of support docs for enterprise software going video is horrible, stupid, and a negative mark when I'm evaluating products. If someone has to spend hours of eyebleed rewinding some bullshit video over and over while writing actually usable documentation for incident response, of course that cost is part of the cost of the product in question.

My office provides a license for Pluralsight. I have found some courses with high quality content and interesting information, and it's really useful to have it all in one place. BUT, especially with programming, I find video to be a really challenging medium. It's so much more useful to scan for things you don't know or context of examples and spend some time digesting, or just playing around with sample code. Not everyone can learn at the same rate and text is great for allowing people to learn at their own pace. I really wish they provided a full text log of video caption instead of requiring the content to be consumed solely in video. Udemy suffers from this as well. I might as well look up the info on youtube.

One thing I loved about RailsCasts was that I could watch the video and then go back to an ASCIICast to actually review the source if I needed to implement something like it. While I don't do rails development anymore I truly miss the days of cutting my teeth on the web with Ryan.

I love the transcripts that Pluralsight provides to go with the videos. I use them after I have watched the video to find the section I'm interested in. I only actually noticed them when another staff member pointed them out to me, but they're available from the course details page.

Oh wow, you're right! I hadn't seen that before, that's exciting. Thanks for the info!

I find the best mix is talks with slides, and that way you can see the slides along with the text (if the text is even needed). Often I'll just go through the slides by themselves without the talk. Good presenters often have slides that can be followed on their own.

With one exception: text editors. Videos on Vim are genuinely helpful, especially those recorded with software displaying keystrokes. You get to see an experienced programmer and his editor workflow, things that he now does from muscle memory and he may take for granted.

Same here. I simply hate sites with videos and no related text content/summary. I’ve noticed that especially news sites are increasingly employing this “feature”. I assume the main reason for this is that can force you to watch the 20-30s video ad. There is no way of avoiding it other than opening a new tab and doing something else for 30s... what a waste of life time

Yes, I noticed it on news sites as well. Every minor article is accompanied by a video, which would be fine if it was an actual video with meaningful content, but it's usually a slideshow with a few quotes, which renders the whole video format useless and doesn't contribute to the article at all.

Of course I understand that they want ad impressions and I'm guessing the shortened attention span of users favors videos over text, but if you want to train users to simply skip those low quality, low effort videos without purpose that's one way to do it.

I still remember the first time I saw a pre-roll ad on YouTube, and the first time I saw one in the mobile app. For years, the thing that separated YouTube from the other video sites was that it didn't have these video ads that got in your way. Then they ran out of new land to conquer and I guess they decided to milk what they had.

What would be a better solution for ensuring the video's producers continue to receive funding to make more videos?

I don't want people who produce videos like that to continue to make videos. I want them to go out of business.

That's not really fair. Those people are simply using the current rules to their advantage to help them make a living.

That is entirely fair. You are not entitled to a business model, especially not to a business model that is malicious.

I don't like this stereotyped answer but isn't this what "move fast and break things" was supposed to be about?

Why did we become afraid to diverge from the norm and trends on the internet? From a consumer standpoint, uniformisation makes content parsing easier in the sense that you know what to expect and how to compare content more readily but why do people not go on a limb and take more "risk" in differentiating content? Why don't we have a glorious mess of different formats and the opportunity to choose medium?

At some point I believe A/B testing and optimising for reachability put a negative pressure on variation from the norm and platform standards, and that's a tragedy of the commons.

> Why did we become afraid to diverge from the norm and trends on the internet?

Because “we” wanted to get rich, or at least make a living.

Well we can't all make a living as authors or librarians. Ads supported this delusion for a while but historically most people trying to live from their creativity/written work (or modernly, video work) have actually starved to death.

If you're in it to get rich or to mke a living exclusively from your art, you better be good enough rather than expecting a sense of duty from your public to subsidise your effort.

Not to say one shouldn't be incentivised to be creative, but just that I do not agree that wanting to make a living makes ads or extracting value from your public by all means ok.

> makes ads or extracting value from your public by all means ok

Certainly not by all means. But it isn't unreasonable to expect that if people gain value from something you create, some of that value accrues to you as the creator.

I make most of my living as a freelance writer, but I just charge other people to write the content they can't or won't.

There is also another problem here: the market doesn't typically incentivize the sort of content we'd like to see created. Long form investigative journalism is hugely expensive, and in a world awash with free content, few people think they should have to pay for it. But do we really want to see that sort of content go away?

The use-case you describe as freelance writer or proper investigative journalism is the one place I expect targeted (and author curated) advertising to be able to pay the bills in the ideal market-fit theory. If as an author and "provider of opinions" you can't convince commercial actors in your niche to funnel value to you, I'd argue you shouldn't be writing non-fiction commercialy.

And in this not strictly commercial writing context, I believe client side mining may be a good form of low-commitment compensation.

I think the point is we don't want them to continue making videos.

Not to be facetious, but I'd really prefer there to be fewer drawn-out videos of the nature described in the posts above. The issue of payment for content is of course real though.

Mining cryptocurrencies while the current tab is in the foreground. (supposing a suitable GPU/ASIC-proof cryptocurrency is available)

What is with the huge percentage of users here that think this sort of thing is okay?

Because the bitcoin bubble has expanded so much and tech people like to think they should all be millionaires now. Greed.

I think it’s ok because I think it’s unreasonable to expect site owners to provide content free of charge: people hate paywalls and ads/tracking because they prevent access to content, add unwanted content and/or infringe on the user’s privacy. An automatic cryptocurrency micropayment system (like the Brave browser’s BAT system, if I understand correctly) could be designed to address some or all of these problems without making it impossible to monetize your content.

So in other words, site owners are entitled to an income?

Pish posh. Not everything on the web is worth paying for. The content that is worth money will draw subscribers, and content producers are going to just have to live up to the fact that not all of what they produce is worth paying for.

Amen. If people aren't willing to pay for your content, then it's literally not worth paying for. You're still welcome to create it and distribute it for free. If you don't care that much, others probably don't either and we'll all be better off with less crap content swirling around out there.

The ad model has left us mired in a suffocating heap of crap content people claim has "value" because they're able to hack the system and get ad revenue from it. But in reality the content is secondary and just an excuse for the ads.

Well, I'm entitled to use my processors as I see fit, which means not visiting sites that try to run bitcoin miners.

It's not my responsibility to make sure some website I go to gets monetized. It's especially galling to me because I spent many formative years providing content to people for free, just because I wanted to and because I had an interest in it. In my personal opinion, all the people trying to ride the wave of monetizing their content should go run off and jump on that "new thing", whatever it is, as long as it's not the web.

> people hate paywalls .... An automatic cryptocurrency micropayment system

and yet they are willing to expend more electricity, at a huge inefficiency, to produce vastly less monetary value to the site. I would rather just pay the 1cent.

Yes the inefficiency in mining coins and the hefty fees impact the game theoretic value of this method but it doesn't mean there is no value in that form of compensation.

If the choice is between a barren wasteland of providers removing useful content from open access or waiting on 1% of users to subsidise the rest or giving the option to users to pay while they're accessing content, I'll take some form of choice to put my hardware to use for a while if thay eventually pays for hosting and a couple meals to the admin.

I think we agree that this does not work at scale but for small operators and some niches, I'm convinced this is a safe option for the siteowner not to have to mess with a payment processor and personnaly identifiable information.

This last point especially might become more important with the EU regulations on the horizon.

The inefficiency makes it too unprofitable to even bother with it for small actors. What am I going to do with the fraction of a fraction of a cent my homepage mines over one year?

I may be in a minority, but I believe the incentives of this method are "better" for the spirit of the open web, and I for one am prepared for the low revenue if it means this ideology may perdure.

The motivation is not to use *coins for their own sake, but that the alternative is getting scarier everyday.

Yeah, the incentives are better, to be sure. Personally, I just don't like the implementation. I see current cryptocurrencies as a huge and completely unnecessary waste of energy. I don't like waste, but the concept of paying with computational resources isn't bad per se, IMO, and definitely better than paying with my attention (and then again with the data the site collected on me).

[0] - in the days of energy crisis, when we can't even switch to safer sources fast enough not to risk cooking ourselves on this planet.

It is rude to use people's property without asking[1]. I blackholed DNS for two sites who do this.

[1] I'd be OK with it if they prominently indicated that, how and why they were being electricity vampires. I still wouldn't use them, but at least it wouldn't be dishonest.

Playing a video without my consent, even if that is an implicit contract (i.e. lead advertising video) to watch content I want, is inherently dishonest.

The goal as always is to divert my attention, sell me something of dubious value or some other equally vacuous purpose.

If it pays the bills for worthwhile content producers to mine crypto currency as a form of micropayment, I think that's a better trade with lower psychic cost.

I have managed to make periods in my life completely free from unwanted content, and they are blissful compared to the never ending attention grabbing bs of the advertising and public relations engines of modern industry.

They are simply a waste of people's time and energy.

If crypto-mining is done openly, of course. It's certainly dishonest if it's not disclosed.

Consider it from the site-owner’s perspective: if I visit someone’s site and if they are using the content on that site as a source of income, isn’t it rude for me to consume that content without paying for it? Ads and tracking have well-known trade-offs cryptocurrency mining have other tradeoffs but, in the end, might end up to be a better option.

Also, I’m conceiving of this more as a web API browsers can implement that sites can tap into than as a chunk of JavaScript that a site pushes to its users. So, arguably, you’d have consented to this scheme by installing the browser and enabling the feature.

Not if you do the equivalent of hanging a sign on the front door saying "please come in". Which I would argue is the equivalent of what you are doing by putting your content on a communication protocol designed to make it freely available.

Indeed, such behavior is reminiscent of one of the oldest tourist scams in the book, no doubt experienced by anyone who has traveled the world in any amount.

That is to say, the mark is offered something for free, usually some trivial trinket, or a photo, or something like that. The mark believes it is for free and accepts it. Once the mark has accepted the "free" item, then the scammer changes tune and implies that they should be paid for this exchange, playing on the marks feelings of guilt, obligations and fairness.

Apparently this is now a respectable internet business model. Hah!

I believe the general thought here is more to have the mining (and content) behind a good old paywall, featuring prominently your different options, with "mine for access" just one of the available options.

Well, implemented that way it would be honest. I'll happily commend people doing that even though personally, I would most likely not use their site (and especially the cryptocoin option, which is a hure resource waste).

Honesty breeds honesty. I disable ad blocking on sites that ask nicely and don't spam with ads too much.

sure and drain the whole battery on my smartphone/laptop while I watch that video? thanks but no thanks.

The browser could throttle the cc mining based on your battery level/power state. In theory, your device could even mine while charging and then distribute the mined tokens later.

Or you could distribute tokens mined from a computer that's plugged in somewhere, or even purchased with normal currency. But I'm not sure I'd want to navigate a web where I'm constantly making purchase decisions with every hyperlink.

so why bother with additional steps (and cryptocurrency) instead of just pay with real money from the beginning? you are suggesting to introduce just additional unnecessary steps.

Some kind of micropayment system would be ok with me, but the nice thing about a system that doesn’t use real money is that it doesn’t factor into my budget in the same way.

how could it not use real money (i.e, it has no monetary value), and yet be an acceptable form of payment?

so I could not get access to content if my battery is low and I cannot mine cc ? or would I get access with "credit" so I would need to return "load" later?

I’m not sure, I’m just sketching out a solution to content monetization that might solve problems with current monetization schemes.

I understand, I just wanted to show that there are lots of implications and it’s not that easy to solve.

That's even scummier than most of the ad targeting stuff out there.

This is going to be very easy to block: disable processing after page-load, block the most popular cryptomining JS scripts...


Yeah personally I learn much faster and better by reading than via most videos. You can't keyword search a video, with text documentation I can keyword search within the page to find out exactly what I'm looking for.

Another problem I have with videos is that I can't go at my own pace---I'm stuck at the pace of the speaker. Some videos I'll watch at 2.5x speed, but the speaker may speed up and slow down at times.

With text, I can speed-read, slowing down at key points as needed. And if it's a text I want to devote more study/attention to, then can print it (which facilitates speed reading as well.)

Exactly. There are obviously use cases for video - which you can't present in text. Visual tours of architecture, nature, machines, etc. - or other kinds of visual information.

But for facts - reading is simply superior.

What sometimes works, if it is wellmade, is a mixed presentation: text, pictures and video, where you can controll the pace of information. But I seldom see something like this wellmade.

It's not just pace, but order. If someone presents information out of the order you need it in a video, it gets really awkward to consume. If text is out of order, you can easily skip around and re-read portions.

I have this problem with books vs movies too. I find all but the best made movies less immersive than books. With books, my brain and eyes are the engine pushing plot forward. I by definition need to catch all that is happening.

I'm with you on this. Honestly at this point, if the information is only contained within a video, I skip it and move on

Same, and I've noticed this trend for quite a while now. Text can always be trivially copied, even by a granny, and inserted into an email or forum. A video? You can have a DRM arms race with video.

Videos also prevent skimming, and demand consumption of all content.

> even by a granny

Please don't use this as a substitute for "novice computer user" and similar. I've encountered people twice my age with grandchildren who are experts, and people younger than me who are novices.

I have found that grannies have a much higher understanding if the terms privacy and 'I have nothing to hide'

Right, they’re notable exceptions to a trend, aka outliers.

Why is reinforcing that stereotype important to you?

“When did you stop beating your wife.”

I never beat her. The question you were aiming for is "Do you still hit your wife?"

It demands a yes/no answer and thus always appears to be an admission of guilt. Your question leaves it open to answer any way you like.

Your answer still works for your formulation of the question, "I never hit her."

It's not that it's a true Catch 22, it's just leading and begs the question.

> Videos also prevent skimming, and demand consumption of all content.

To an advertiser, that's a feature. This is half of the problem.

As someone who reluctantly works in advertising, I can tell you that advertiser's view themselves as God's gift to the internet and think they're doing great things for it. So many people in the industry have drunk the coolaid and honestly, earnestly think that exploiting anyone they can for information just started to to make an add ever so slightly more (creepily) personalised is a good thing.

They need to be put back in their box and have a bunch of their toys taken away. GDPR is a good start.

And that's why I keep repeating that advertisers are enemies of users, and - from the POV of users - malicious actors. They literally benefit from making life difficult for you and wasting the finite amount of time you have on this planet.

This needs to get into people's head - as long as the incentives are so misaligned, there's no chance for peace here.

> But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!)

0:00 - 00:10 Useless video animation

00:10-2:00 "Hey guys welcome to my channel. Make sure to like and subscribe and let me know how I'm doing in the comments. Also make sure to check out [sponsor] and use coupon code [code] for 10% off"

2:00-5:00 Useless personal story about why creator is making the video

5:00-10:00 Useless history of the subject matter

10:00-11:00 The actual useful content

There was always a lot of high quality content on the web, created and shared not with the intent of making money. This still exists but is crowded out by people incentivized to make content to monetize it ie the old publishing model.

This now makes up the bulk of 'content' and is heavily monetized and driven by monetization where the 'content creators' have a more intimate relationship with advertisers and platforms to essentially sell out their audience ie back to the old media model of 'influencers'.

The content is also derivative and repetitive but easier to access and consume. Thanks to the monetization the presentation and production values are higher. There is definitely some decent content produced by this model but it becomes harder and harder to find.

There is a certain desperation to capitalism that infects everything. Sell, sell, sell, make money, forget everything else unless it affects your ability to make money, and it becomes the primary driver.

> There is a certain desperation to capitalism that infects everything

I just quoted you on twitter as I think that expresses very well how I feel. Underlying capitalism is the thought that if you fail you'll starve.

But (and bringing this back to the original topic) the businesses behind the web have gone even further. It's not sufficient to make money, you must make ALL the money you can ALL of the time. This leads to the behaviour as discussed in the article - no regard for how you are treating your customers/fellow human beings, just get rich, and by winning you justify your shitty actions. This is probably nothing new, robber barons have been around for a long time, but it now seems to be standard practice for all businesses, especially web-based ones who don't directly deal with people.

This is what the bulk of Meditations on Moloch[0] is about - under competitive pressure, if you can forgo a value in order to get ahead, you outcompete those not willing to do so. Iterate over it, and you can see how competition gradually throws all values under the bus, until all that remains is the money-making core.

(I like to sometimes phrase it as "the market optimizes for creating the most useless thing that you can still trick people into buying".)


[0] - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

meditations on moloch seems to include several false premises. eg, in the fish farming scenario, it neglects the obvious: libertarian pacts are created to recognize property rights, which would yield a libertarian response to defectors - they're stealing productive capacity of the lake, ergo they're initiating a conflict.

Property rights themselves are a coordination problem - i.e. why should one respect the property rights of others when it benefits one to ignore them?

In real world, we solve this the usual way - by having a government enforce them.

I often feel this way about podcasts. Many great podcasts have a 0:30 intro, 1:30 of ads then 08:00 of random babble before getting into 5:00 of the meat of the podcast. The most recent one I can think of is 99% Invisible, though they're not even close to the only ones that do it.

Podcasts are following the same pattern as other media. I think it's a vicious cycle. The medium starts out with a few ads, at a higher price. Once the novelty wears off and people are used to seeing these ads, they can't fetch as much money. So the publishers start shoving more and more in, driving up the ad saturation and driving down the value (and income) from each ad.

I've been listening to podcasts since about 2010, and in that time I've witnessed podcasts that used to be ad-free jump on the Blue Apron / Stamps.com / Dollar Shave Club bandwagon. First they started with a little sponsored ad at the end of the show. Then one at the beginning. Then one commercial break. Then multiple commercial breaks. It's the same downward spiral that television went through and it's absolutely painful to watch it happen and be powerless to do anything. Maybe I should have done a better job of supporting those podcasts; I did donate to many of them. But I envision a time in the future where I'll no longer be able to feel good about listening.

There are podcasts like that, but I admit I am strange because all my favourite podcasts are multiple hours long, getting really deep into the content. Jocos podcasts, which doesn't really have ads other than for his own products, fx are often more than 3 hours, Dan Carlins Hardcore History is typically that long per episode, but often they are also part of a series, like his 5 episodes on the first world war (probably about 20 hours).

This. Exactly this. I don't get why anyone would listen to a podcast with ads and/or bad information density.

I mean, the whole point (and value) of podcasts is to remove the private radio station crap, not to replicate it.

BTW, the German podcast scene is a quite positive example of the directions podcasts can go.

To be fair, a lot of podcasts have ads, but ads aren't what I'm objecting to. The modern web doesn't suck because of ads. It sucks because of the technologies around ensuring you look at the ads, around sharing your behaviors as you look at the ads, etc.

Any podcast player I can imagine anyone would ever use has a convenient way to skip ads, and the neither the presence of the ads themselves nor my decision to skip them degrades the experience of listening to the podcast. My podcast player doesn't demand I look at Forbes' "thought of the day" or disable my fast-forward button in order to play. It doesn't connect to 280 random third-party tracking domains as I listen to an episode. It downloads a file and plays that file for me.

Who really cares that much about ads that don't track you or destroy your experience?

> and the neither the presence of the ads themselves nor my decision to skip them degrades the experience of listening to the podcast

I beg to differ.

I see the ability to skip ads immediately, at any time, as a fundamental user right (and websites that try to deny this right should be prosecute by consumer protection). In other words, this is not the distinction between good versus bad quality. It is the distinction between merely acceptable versus totally inacceptable.

With regard to quality, it is a huge jump upwards if a podcast has no ads at all, nowhere, not even hidden or implicit. It is a really noticeable difference if the whole audio simply doesn't care about pleasing any stakeholder besides its audience.

I cannot agree with this sentiment. You're basically demanding that these creators work for you, for free.

If you choose to skip the ads, then how should the creators be compensated for the content that you consumed?

"With regard to quality, it is a huge jump upwards if a podcast has no ads at all, nowhere, not even hidden or implicit. It is a really noticeable difference if the whole audio simply doesn't care about pleasing any stakeholder besides its audience."

You know what else is a huge jump in quality? Actually being able to continue to do the show.

Nobody is entitled to a business model. If ads don't work for your users, find one that does (I hear people have some success with Patronite these days, for example). If there is none, then maybe it isn't good to try to make a business out of it in the first place.

There's way too much "content" these days anyway, and the worst of it is the one that is done to make money (as opposed to labour of love, or having external funding independent of content's performance - like patronage, being considered a "marketing expense", etc.).

> I hear people have some success with Patronite these days

Moreover, direct donations [1] are working quite well, at least for the popular podcasts. (But then, only the very popular podcasts make a fortune anyway.)

Here in Germany, SEPA standing orders are quite popular for fans to support their favourites.

Also, buying stuff and sending that to the Podcasters is quite popular for some formats (either specialized stuff like high-quality chocolate from people working in that business, or just buying random stuff from a podcaster's Amazon wishlist.)

[1] Well, legally this is still plain income rather than donations, so you still have to pay taxes. Unless, of course, that income is very small and/or you create a non-profit organization around your podcast.

You're saying this like you're entitled to the content, though. You're not. And quite frankly, I find taking the content without supporting the creator to be much, much worse than you consider ads to be.

Either talk about something you care about a lot and do it for the love, or remember you're competing against students doing this for the fun or as an exercise.

> My podcast player doesn't demand I look at Forbes' "thought of the day" or disable my fast-forward button in order to play. It doesn't connect to 280 random third-party tracking domains as I listen to an episode.


There's an easy-to-imagine scenario where advertisers bribe podcast playing software creators to embed these "features" for a cut of the money.

What are some podcasts from Germany (in German or English) that you would recommend?

but main question is how to monetize this content ... it seems patreon is the only option?

Do you mean podcasts in German or by Germans? If the latter, any good suggestions?

Omega Tau - a Science and Engineering Podcast is fantastic:


Long episodes, such as 2 hours interviewing a physicist at ITER are really well done.

And of course: (all German language)

- CRE Technik, Kultur, Gesellschaft https://cre.fm/

- Deutschlandfunk Nova - Eine Stunde History https://www.deutschlandfunknova.de/eine-stunde-history

- Methodisch Inkorrekt http://minkorrekt.de/

- Raumzeit https://raumzeit-podcast.de/

- Logbuch Netzpolitik https://logbuch-netzpolitik.de/ (prefer the episodes where they have guests)

If you're on iOS you should try my Podcast client, SkipCast. http://skipcast.net/ The marquee feature and indeed, the app's name, is for this exact reason. Large buttons make skipping much faster and accurate that other players, letting you get to the content you want faster. It's also got Skip Silence to eliminate extended moments of dead-air.

This is why I stopped listening to back to work. There were useful tidbits, but I didn’t want to wade through an hour of random drivel to get to it.

You forgot the trailer asking you to subscribe, with some clickable areas, and optional "bonus content at the end" :)

Makes it harder to estimate where the information in the video is.

> 0:00 - 00:10 Useless video animation

I'm happy when it's only useless. It's often useless and loud.

That's because it's an unconditioned stimulus (classical conditioning theory). If you repeatedly watch their videos, and like them, you'll start to associate their intro animation with the content you like, and you'll like the intro animation. Later, you'll even come up with post-rationalizations for why it's not quite so loud or useless.

Unless of course you're so turned off by the intro that you bail out before giving their content a chance.

The TED intro (standard series) bmakes me gag now Ten seconds.

Mind, mobile YT doesn't have keyboard sip, but mpsyt does.

Trick: Skip straight to halfway. If the meat is being covered, roll back, else forward.

Binary search works well.

You also forgot the slow unboxing if it's a product review. I mean I guess some people like that, but for me, it's just another point in favor of text.

I read some sports related sites. Many have auto play video that seems to pop up just a bit after you've already started reading.

The video almost always is unrelated (different team, different story) to what I'm already well into reading. This is annoying 100% of the time. It's never useful to me.

Even worse. Some stories will be just a few words and a video. So I go to a site, read, play video.... and that same site's autoplay video will pop up and play ON TOP OF THEIR OWN CONTENT. I don't even know what to think about that, what could they possibly feel they're accomplishing?

Do they visit their own site? Do they feel like shotgunning content at me and having me fight to close different windows is a good thing?

In Firefox, in `about:config` you can set `media.autoplay.enabled` to false to permanently disable auto-play video everywhere. I love it. Now videos only play when I press play. A slight annoyance when watching netflix/etc, but well worth the price everywhere else. If I could whitelist a set of domains to allow autoplay it would be perfect.

Thank you. I hear chrome is going to or maybe has and is going to make a similar option more visible.

I agree, having to hit play is a small price to pay.


I'm convinced nobody at ESPN has tried to use their website in a long time. I remember it not being a dumpster fire of UX once, but that was like 10 years ago.

The only ESPN property I have an interest in is CricInfo, which has been a UX disaster ever since it became ESPNCricInfo.

But it has been an ever-evolving disaster, always finding ways to get worse.

Safari disables autoplay by default.

If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

I don't buy this idea where everything is always imposed on us by evil corporations.

More and more websites using video to me seems more like a proof that people prefer videos over written content. That's why videos usually autoplay, also on YouTube and Facebook: if a person starts watching and listening, it's much more likely that they will stay instead of closing the page.

We have taught things to each other by talking for as long as hundreds of thousands of years, probably more. By contrast, reading has been common among a large percentage of the population only for a couple of centuries.

We evolved using verbal communication, not written one. Written form has, of course, its advantages, but it does not mean that it's the preferred medium for most people.

Videos and audio are also easier to watch/listen to while you are doing something else like cooking, gardening or commuting. There are a ton of contexts where you cant read, but you can at least listen.

That's why even books are converted into audio formats nowadays.

The fact that a small crowd on HN prefers reading is not the proof that video is "user-hostile". HN is rarely the reflection of the general public.

Although I keep reading a lot of online content or books, lately I have consumed a lot more valuable information in a podcast/video lecture format than in a written one.

I do agree that not everything is imposed by evil corps, but hostile products don't necessarily fail by their own: cigarettes and junk foods are just one example of this.

In general I'm not against video content in a web page, as it actually can be a good source of raw data that we can use to understand something in great details, but I would argue that in many cases video is objectively inferior to text: texts are much easier to parse (both for computers and humans) and also some irrelevant information included in the audiovisual format can reduce the entropy of a content (e.g. how a reporter looks like physically).

Cigarettes and junk food are not hostile in this context. We are talking about things that people don’t like but are forced to get anyway.

Cigarettes and junk food are definitely unhealthy, but people love them. So much that it’s hard to take them away from them.

That's a very bizarre definition of love. Few people are happy about their addiction to an unhealthy habit. Don't you think it's disingenuous to talk about user preference without talking about reward hacking? I think the internet is actually worse in this respect because much of it is systematically designed to induce addiction with no upper limit.

Your evolutionary arguments are also pretty bizarre and reductionist. Maybe we did evolve using verbal communication, but we didn't evolve to be schizophrenic voyeuristic mutes without face-to-face nonverbal feedback.

Can we stop framing arguments as "bizarre"? It's unduly personal.

I don't think their arguments are bizarre, and it's better to meet them head-on than to insinuate they're weird.

> We are talking about things that people don’t like but are forced to get anyway.

- Driving: a lot of people drive, very few of them like it or they would learn how to do it properly

- Public transport: 99,99% of people using public transport hate it

- Going to the dentist

- eating vegetables

- taking kids to the pool

and so on…

all of this things are incredibly annoying to many, yet they have not failed

so watching ads is a job?

http://www.empowr.com is a 10+ year old tech company with this as a premise.

In a way, it is.

But I don't understand the connection.

The core of the issue is the proverbial "worse is better"

All the walled garden on the web are optimising one particular feature - engagement - leaving behind many others that are equally important if not more, like user's freedom or privacy.

It's no wonder that investing so much money in getting users to subscribe and use the platform results in an increase of time spent by the users on the platform.

It is orthogonal to the problem highlighted in the original post.

The net effect is so strong that any other platform that tries to enter the market either has to waste a lot of money (if they have them) or use the same techniques that are already in place to sustain their businness

The choice is on the users, but for the majority of them it's not worth it until it's too late.

>I do agree that not everything is imposed by evil corps, but hostile products don't necessarily fail by their own: cigarettes and junk foods are just one example of this.

Cigarettes and junk foods are not hostile -- they are incredibly enticing. What they are is harmful (which is something different).

Video, similarly, whether harmful or not, is very welcome by lots of people who strongly prefer it to reading.

No, it's still hostile, you just don't know it yet.

Just as the Trojans how that big wonderful Horse statue worked out for them :p

What's enticing about cigarettes?

What's not, considering that half the global population looked forward to a pack or more every day?

They're a great way to fidget, they go great with coffee, they look majestic on the big screen, and nicotine is extremely addictive.

Heck, whole movies and books, and poems and songs have been written about them in a positive light. And lots.

If it wasn't for the health concern people would still be smoking on airplanes and there would just be a small "non smoking" area (like in the 70s).

Is this the media consumption version of the efficient market hypothesis?

The argument sounds like, "If Comcast was such a bad company it would have failed on its own already."

Could there other forces at play that would explain how video as a format might succeeding despite not being preferred by users?

Comcast has a monopoly, or, at worst, a duopoly in huge swaths of the country. How is anyone being forced to watch web videos online? There are dozens of alternate entertainment sources, and several high quality news sources that don't use much video.

It's easier to make money from videos than from text, and that's why websites would prefer that. There's not much else to it.

It's also harder to block the ads if they're woven into the video itself (in the form of endorsements / product placement, or in the form of commercial breaks in traditional TV broadcasts). Same with audio. Text-based media can emulate that somewhat, but (IMO) with nowhere near the same effectiveness.

Maybe it’s easier to make money from videos because they people actually like them?

No, the videos are distracting and seize the user's attention for ad delivery.

Imagine that I followed you around all day bumping into you, waiting for you to drop some money and then walk away without noticing, so I could pick it up. That's annoying and hostile to you, but profitable to be with sufficient automation. That's the modern commercial web.

sigh No, no it isn't. Not even close.

The fact of the matter is, people want to be paid for the stuff they create. That's how they're enabled to create more of that stuff. We learned a long, long time ago that people didn't want to outright pay for things. That doesn't leave many options.

Well, you could force people to pay you at gunpoint. There are plenty of options, it's just a matter of how far down the ladder of morally reprehensible alternatives you are willing to go. Actively manipulating people into wasting time to make a buck from your particular diversion-of-many by exploiting their curiosity is already low enough as far as I'm concerned.

We need to discern between unrelated videos for an article or the content being in the video. Because I know that many, many people prefer content in video form (I absolutely hate it and only watch them as a last resort).

Remember that in advertising, they scam each other as much as they scam their users. Videos may or may not be actually more effective, but that's irrelevant if they can be spun as more effective to those who pay for the ads.

People do like them: they have a lot stronger emotional impact than text.

They are also (considered as a single or primary channel) a much worse mechanism for actually effectively communicating anything other than emotion (though they can be a useful accompaniment to text.)

No, because they are easier to produce

Writing an article takes a lot of time

Writing a good one, is not for everybody

But making a video is really easy

I dont know why this was downvoted. I heard this exact thing from coursera teacher and some youtubers - that they found making video was significantly less time then equivalent writing.

I would not say it is really easy for everyone, it would not be easy for me. But it is easy for people accustomed to talk a lot.

I agree. videos of product features are much easier to make than written documentation about those features.

The videos that I speak of are ones that have replaced basic informational articles -- information that might only take a few paragraphs to disseminate, and which allow the reader to quickly glean the content. When given as video, they impose a time and data penalty just for the viewer to either get the nugget of information or to realize there's nothing of value for them. +Edit autocorrect

s73ver_ 6 months ago [flagged]

So write those articles yourself.

Can you please stop being personally thorny towards other users here, like we've already asked?


IMHO how-to's of manual activities are better in video form. Other than that, text form is way better.

recipes are absolutely a lot better in video to get an idea

but when you have to actually cook something, having something in writing with some illustration is much easier

you don't have to start/pause/skip/rewind the video with your greasy hands, you can just skim with your eyes

that's why in a lot of cooking books from the past the recipes take one or at maximum two pages that can be read side by side

I think people don't want to admit that the reading experience on mobile is mediocre-at-best.

There are a lot of folks here on HN and around the web that are upset at Google's AMP cache system, and somewhat rightly so. But at least it is an attempt to make mobile internet less hostile -- at least less in-your-face hostile.

No. I am talking about the physical experience of looking at text on a cell phone screen.

I find it much more enjoyable than looking at a monitor on my desk.

> If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

Video ads pay a lot better than ordinary display ads. 15$ CPM vs 30¢ CPM on my media sites. It's not a 1-1 comparison on UX (you may lose half your reader base and still come out ahead).

If that’s true, doesn’t that mean that dark patterns would not exist?

> If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

That is not the slightest bit true and is in fact the entire basis for the conversation we’re having.

> That is not the slightest bit true and is in fact the entire basis for the conversation we’re having.

Is it? The original article is talking about web tracking, the entire point of which is to give you more of whatever you like. Facebook just gives you more of whatever you click on, so if you're disappointed with the stuff you get on Facebook then probably you're just in denial about your own tastes or identity.


Anecdotal, but I recently managed to reorient my Facebook feed into a more "positive" light.

- I systematically un-followed sources of "negative" content (e.g. stupid, demeaning, cynical, deceptive/disingenuous, etc.) One strike, max two. This included some friends (repeated offenders - lol). No engagement whatsoever with these posts (no 'angry'/'sad' reaction, no display of comments).

- I liked/followed many "positive" pages/communities (notably authors, non-fiction books, self-help or growth-mindset).

- I made a point to like/comment/share "positive" posts and comments (e.g. clever, beautiful, grateful, fair, virtuous, etc.)

My main criteria was quality, above topic. E.g. bye-bye "petty" content even if it's "science" (which I like). I was quite selective, as it's easy to re-sub later.

I stayed unusually long on the site over a few days, to extensively clean/curate my feed.

Within a week, everything changed to suit my newfound tastes: basic feed is great, ads/sponsored content more relevant; it even seems there's been a positive shift in post sentiment selected from my contacts.

My Facebook feed is actually somewhat pleasant now. It fits my mindset of choice (away from the overly critical/cynical/negative individual I used to be in previous years). All it took is a little self-discipline and some manual curating (I've always refrained from liking too many sources, so there wasn't much to deal with).

Microsoft is the worst for providing content in video only form (Channel 9). There have been tons of potentially interesting content posted to HN from Microsoft but I'm not going to sit through an hour long video at work. And they almost never provide any alternative text content (an article) for what's in the video.

Unity is terrible too. The text documentation is terse and barely complete. All the details and workflow information is in video form.

UE4 has OK text documentation that tends to be a bit out date, but when you want to do something practical you pretty much have to watch one of Epics live streams.

Same with Apple. There are some weird behaviors that don’t get mentioned in the docs, yet if you stumble upon the _right_ WWDC video from 2014, it’ll explain everything.

But at least the content is covered by search engines via asciiwwdc.com

Am I wrong or usually channel 9 provides a transcript of the video content?

Apart from the normal Facebook detractors, this is big part of why I deactivated my account. 95% of content on facebook is now in video format. Aside from the reasons you mentioned, it's also a huge drain on battery and slows the responsiveness of the site down considerably.

If I want to see videos, I'll go to youtube or vimeo. Don't force them on me when I'm trying to find quick info.

I cannot remember the last time I saw a video in my facebook feed (in the feed, not directly linked). Maybe your facebook friends were just particularly annoying.

You are exceptionally lucky then. As of several years ago, they autoplay in my and everyone I've seen using facebook's feed all the time, many (perhaps even most for some) of them are ads rather than friend posted content. Fortunately they appear to stay muted until selected, but it's still annoying none the less. This is both via the website and in app (iOS, I'm sure other platforms suffer the same).

There's an option to disable autoplay in the settings.


This setting is not available in my Facebook video settings.

Firefox has an option to disable autoplay everywhere.

Thanks for this, I was unaware, I suspect I am not alone!

I hate the trend to video as well (I can read and comprehend faster than any video can speak), but I wonder if it is just the inevitable result of the continued expansion of who is on the web. Many people in the world are not nearly as literate as HN readers.

I think it is the result of the reduced copyability of video compared to plain text. This makes it easier to monetize video. Since lots of writers don't have a secondary source of income and have to pay for housing/food/loans/etc, they have an incentive to spend the effort to write video scripts rather than essays/articles.

it's because video ads pay better

It's strange that text content needs to be semantic having all kinds of divisions for different kinds of text. Yet video can remain an unstructured unnavigatable blurb of content. It should have semantic stuff like menu, header, footer, h1, h2 or p as well.

PornHub is making some headway there already. Though they are using other tags than h1, h2 and p.

I’ve noticed this thing on social media lately where a single image is turned into like a 10-second video...of nothing but the still image (and sometimes stock background music). This is usually done by low-effort clickbait sites, but I don’t get why.

Better "retention" metrics?

I figure it's harder to download a video from Facebook (for the average person, anyway) than it is to download a still image, which makes it more likely that someone will just share the post instead of saving and posting the image.

Videos might have more weight for the suggestion algorithms or other timeline filtering probably. (or at least they think it's otherwise effective)

Exposure period

>It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly). But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!) This I find incredibly hostile

Isn't that a kind of entitlement?

I might prefer text myself, but it's up to the content provider, who gives me FREE content, to put up whatever they like.

And they have a reason that they put out videos, as they are much more popular with certain demographics.

It's not entitlement, it's just an opinion. OP said they move on to a different source with their preferred format.

Well, entitlement is just an opinion too -- surely it's not an objective fact that someone is entitled (except we're talking about a king, an inheritance, and so on).

Specifically, it's the opinion that something must be a certain way because you want it like that.

Saying it's inconvenient, or that you'd prefer text is an opinion. But that's not what OP said; they said it's hostile. That is an entitlement.

No, entitlement is demanding all sources conform to OP's preference

It's enough having a problem with things others put out (and for free) not being to your specifications to consider it entitlement.

Besides, one can't make actual demands when they have no power.

Yes, I think we cross a line when we begin making demands about the content itself. If you want content created to your specifications, you can produce it yourself or pay someone else to do it.

Video content isn't "user hostile" any more than a movie you don't like is "user hostile".

Video that is deliberately structured to keep people watching without delivering much information is absolutely user hostile. That's why TV is full of shows with bullshit cliffhangers leading up to ad breaks and so on. Stringing users along in order to monetize the content is somewhat voluntary but easily tips into being exploitative.

Not all video is, or is meant to be, about maximizing information density. Mere entertainment isn't "user hostile" if people enjoy it.

Sure, but I thought we were talking about the context of documentary /instructional /information videos.

For entertainment that's fine, I enjoy cartoons, drama etc. as much as anyone.

>Sure, but I thought we were talking about the context of documentary /instructional /information videos.

Even in that context, amateurs and people starting out with a subject, might prefer to have less information density and have things explained in easy steps -- instead of lots of stuff they don't get crammed in 5 minutes.

This was my main reason for leaving Facebook, almost every post in my feed seemed to be a video or an image with text in, why not just type the words instead of wasting all that bandwidth?

Generally the value of the content was extremely poor and very click bait-y. My analogy I use is I see using Facebook like eating junk food when I could be spending that time consuming more meaningful content.

I've probably been off Facebook now for a year and I don't miss it one bit.

>that is the websites trying to control exactly how the content is consumed by the user

You seem to be arguing against the content being served by websites, and by extension, the freedom of the owners of those sites to choose to serve content you don't like. I would agree with you as far as DRM and javascript dark patterns go, when sites try to take control over the browser in ways that are harmful to users' freedom, but if someone wants to serve video or ads (useless as they are) instead of plain text, then that's entirely their right, because it's their server, and they get to decide what goes on it, not you. It's not user hostility, it's merely a decision with which you personally disagree.

Of course, once the response gets to your browser you're free to block, filter or do whatever you like to it, but user freedom is only half the equation here. Publisher freedom is important as well.

It's entirely my right (depending on country) to glare at people, or to offer them a contract that is significantly skewed in my favour in the hope that some of them won't read the small print.

Hostility is not about rights or freedom.

Speaking as someone who works for a site who produces a lot of video content and is trending more that way I can give you a simple reason why.

People consume it more.

They stay on the site longer, they tend to watch more videos than read articles, and they share videos more.

Now obviously the videos still need to be good content but the reason you’re seeing more video content is not because of some nefarious scheme: it’s because content producers see better user engagement with it.

Well, of course people stay longer in the site. You're forcing us to, since skimming and searching is no longer an option.

It's a worse experience, and I avoid that sort of site if at all possible.

Yes, I know you may think that that but that's not based on the numbers I'm afraid.

It can be true for you of course. But if so you're an outlier.

Long story short - we see people actively engage with video content more (ie - they share it, they comment on it, they respond to it more positively, etc etc).

The numbers don't lie, and they're pretty clear.

Article-based/written content isn't going anywhere, but it's not the only delivery stream anymore. It hasn't been for years really but it was contained in YouTube for the most part. But social videos (instagram, twitter, etc) really blew the lid off that and now videos are becoming a whole new and different category of content.

Now obviously sites that just do a 5 minute video full of junk instead of a 3 paragraph article are just that - junk. But that's why I said the video content still needs to be good content. Sites that don't do that deserve to be ignored - and not all sites are good at producing video content.

I work at Bleacher Report and we very specifically craft our videos to be more than what you're describing (they respect the medium and don't replace articles at all). But we're still producing more and more videos because they are extremely popular.

Are you giving people a real choice, though? And to what extent are they just hooked on your eye candy?

Yes, absolutely we are: videos don’t replace written content. We produce as much (or more) written content as before.

They’re complementary content - doing things in a different medium that wouldn’t be as effective (or possible) in written form.

That’s resulting in more positive user engagement and social activity.

More choice in fact.

As much as I dislike it, I don't understand your argument. They're the ones that produce the content and you consume it. They can make it however they want as far as I'm concerned as I always have the choice to be as discriminating or not.

Wow, I'm very surprised by the amount of people here who dislike videos. I absolutely love video courses, and I have learned 60-80% of everything I know about programming through them.

As a specific example, Stephen Grider's udemy courses took me through the process of learning full stack Node/React app development, and it was awesome.

I find it much harder to focus and be productive while reading books, videos (especially with good slides and diagrams) feel way more natural.

I wonder what percentage of people prefer learning from books to learning from (good) video courses. Is this HN being contrarian, or does the majority really prefer text?

I've got to be able to go through it at my own pace, rather than the pace dictated by the video/podcast.

The worst is anything that has terminal commands or code displayed in a video. Screenshots aren't much better, although at least they stay put without having to futz with the pause controls. Text - that is searchable and copy/pasteable - is king [1].

I can do podcasts and videos for other subjects; I've been loving Dan Carlin and the Great War youtube series. But technical stuff is too hard.

[1] Nothing boils my blood like a bug report with a screenshot of a logfile open in notepad, or a very low resolution, downsampled jpeg of the browser JS console... It means you worked harder to give me less useful information

I think there is a large difference between searching for key info you need and trying to learn a bunch of information through a course.

If I want quick information on how to install or troubleshoot something that realistically should only be one or two lines of code, watching someone's youtube video is a very inefficient way to provide that content.

[Note: I am the aforementioned Stephen Grider]

This comment is on point. I am told that many students on Udemy use videos courses as a reference, where they skip through videos to find the exact content they are looking for. I'm sure people do this, but I don't think its an effective use of video teaching.

My goal with videos is to show the entire beginning to end process of building some arbitrary app. Many commenters here on HN are advocates of apprenticeships for learning tech; I view video courses as an easily distributable form of apprenticeship.

I have no idea if it's actually majority - maybe there's just a lot of people here who share the discontent and wanted to add their two cents.

Video instructions are usually directed to people who are beginning their adventure, and in programming I usually need to just skim over some text these days to know what's relevant for me and what not. I guess many people have the same sentiment.

For me videos were insanely useful trying to get into Blender. Something that helped me a lot, but I guess mostly thanks to my 0% knowledge of the topic.

an example of controling how the content is consumed is gifs. gifs work great, there needs not be a replacement for them. one of the beautiful things about a gif is you can save it.

the current web hated that, it didnt have control. they are trying to 'wean' us off gifs through companies like giphy.

how many people cringe when you click on a link on reddit and realize its a link to youtube and you have to watch a commercial for a 30 second video? I am like omg, youtube, close

Same problem with messaging these days.

People increasingly do voice messages.

1. Because messages are faster spoken than written

2. Your "listeners" can't interrupt you, like on a phone call

3. Your messages aren't searchable as easily as text-messages

4. it's easier for people who are driving etc. which is at least somewhat valid

It doesn't help that Google (the owner of the biggest video platform) is giving videos increasingly more power in its search engines.

Sadly a lot of people these days are TERRIBLE at reading.

Consider that as of 1800 or so, perhaps 5-10% of the population were literate. That climbed to 90%+ throughout much of Western Europe and the US by 1900, but the level of education was still low: in the US, a high school diploma was an accomplishment only 6% of the population realised in 1900. That climbed to about 90% by 1950 or so. By contrast, more people have graduate degrees today.

Though the content and quality expressed by education ... has shifted. On the one hand, there's clearly been advances in knowledge and education, but at the same time, those are being presented to a much, much larger share of the population.

I've seen people (children, students, professionals) with widely varying levels of literacy and cognitive skills, ranging from frighteningly high to almost none at all. I think this may be underappreciated.

Or, TL;DR: yes, a lot of people are terrible at reading.

it wasn't required


I'm sorry, but I cannot get behind the idea that a creator choosing to deliver their content that they made in a form they chose can be hostile to you.

Why not? Content creators are not inherently virtuous beings. Many, I would say, are quite the opposite.

I wouldn't, because they could just as easily not make the content, and then you wouldn't have it in any form.

And the greater point there, that you appear to have missed, is that content creators don't really owe you anything, unless you've paid them. Thus, their actions are not hostile to you.

What? That's stringing together a bunch of things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

The primary motivation of many "creators" is to gain more income; to that end, they do not need to produce user-friendly content, they just need to produce content that earns money. That doesn't even require maximizing readership.

Aside from that, whether one person is being hostile to another person has absolutely nothing to do with anybody "owing" anybody else anything. These are two totally unrelated concepts.

No, the idea that something can be "hostile" hinges on the idea that you were entitled to it in the other form to begin with. Someone not providing content in the form you wish is an inconvenience at best.

I could be hostile to you right now, and you wouldn't have even requested anything from me. Hostility has nothing to do with what someone owes someone else.

Have you ever seen the soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Would you say he's not hostile because no body is owed his soup?

I just cannot buy this argument. Comparing the Soup Nazi to someone who chose to make content for you, is just ludicrous. For one, the Soup Nazi actively berated people. Someone making videos because they want to make videos is not doing anything close to that to you.

The worst you can claim a video is, is an inconvenience. That's it. Saying it's "hostile" because you'd prefer text is entitlement to the point of craziness.

To me, content creators using psychology tricks to try and get the value out of me, my eyeballs for advertisers, before I have the ability to evaluate their value to me, the actual useful part of their content, is hostile.

Maybe the soup Nazi was a bad analogy, but how about a car salesman who knowingly sells you a lemon? They could be nice and polite up front and do everything they could to make you feel comfortable with making the purchase. They are still knowingly doing something to benefit themselves at your expense. If it was a choice where one side got a benefit and the other remained neutral I would see it as not hostile, but when it's a benefit for one side at the expense of the other side, it's become hostile at that point

Your analogies are not working. They are not at all on point, and they are not at all relatable to the situation.

I think we don't agree on the definition of hostile. For me, if someone does anything to benefit themselves at my loss, it's a hostile act. There is a spectrum, trying to stab me certainly rates higher than trying to squeeze a few pennies out of a deal with me, but it's still hostile

You're not the only one here that thinks someone describing something as "hostile" means they feel entitled to have it. I don't agree and I don't understand the connection.

Speaking personally, when I find user-hostile content, I simply leave the page/close the window/throw away the magazine. I don't feel entitled to have the content in any way.

However, I do feel entitled to make an appeal to content producers that they try to come up with a way to make their content less hostile. It's just an appeal, though, and they are absolutely free to ignore it.

> and then you wouldn't have it in any form.

This would be a blessing for much of the "content" out there.

Do they owe me anything? Of course not. But if they want my precious, precious attention and the opportunity to advertise to me then they need to play ball my way. Otherwise, fuck them.

So don't consume it, instead of complaining that they're being "hostile" to you. Or, even better, create your own content in written form to compete.

If I could make written content to compete then why would I be watching said video in the first place? The objective of consumption is to learn, but what you advocate only works if one has already learned something.

What about when the video contains exclusive, important trade-related info? Is dismissing someone to go create their own content on exclusive information really a coherent counterargument (or useful strategy)? Do you really want the internet to be even more polluted with more second- and third-source crap than it already is?

Video is creators stroking their egos. The creator is unimportant, only his/her ideas, which internally manifest as words and should be transcribed as cleanly and accurately as possible. Video is an extremely poor medium for most ideas.

All content creators are stroking their egos.

I'm sorry, but I still see nothing "hostile" about them choosing one medium over the other. You might have a slight inconvenience, but that's it.

If you don't like things being in videos, then write written content to compete with it. Otherwise, stop with the over the top exaggerations and feelings of entitlement from content creators.

Like I have the time or desire to compete with most of these yokels. We give in some areas and take in others, that's how the world works. Content creators are not some unassailable gift horse immune from inspection or criticism. People are free to criticize the things I contribute to this world; and my feelings will not be hurt if they do. Perhaps you could learn from this.

Video needs smothering, not competition.

"Like I have the time or desire to compete with most of these yokels."

Then stop complaining.

"Content creators are not some unassailable gift horse immune from inspection or criticism. People are free to criticize the things I contribute to this world; and my feelings will not be hurt if they do. Perhaps you could learn from this."

But you're not criticizing. You're getting all in a tizzy because others aren't doing things exactly the way you want them. You're demanding that your entitlement be fulfilled.

"Video needs smothering, not competition."

Not according to the vast amounts of people who find it just fine. If you wish to prove that another medium is better, then feel free to create competing content in that medium to show it.

So one should just be happy with everything they have, dislike, and cannot change or compete on? How is that a reasonable expectation?

"Vast amounts of people"? Vast amounts of people kill other vast amounts of people, are you ok with that? Vast amounts of people vote for laws that screw over other vast amounts of people, is that cool? A vast amount of people boarded the Titanic, look where that got them...

If some idiot Youtube personality wants to flap their jaws for an hour, droning on and on about whatever stupid pointless thing in their life is stuck in their craw or whatever, fine. But for information dispersal, unless the video is densely packed with visual content, it needs to be text. Doers all over the world will thank you.

Entitlement is, if anything, forcing poor viewers to sit through a 15-minute life-story-slash-prologue just so they can continue to participate in a Reddit discussion or finish their task or whatever.

> It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly).

And what if some of us want the freedom to watch? Maybe I'm illiterate? Just like you, I could say that putting something in writing instead of a video is 'hostile' if it doesn't meet my preferences.

Talking about 'hostile' is hysterical.

I think we are at a point at a species where, if one can't read, then one really needs to learn to read. It is such a requirement for so many things. Or get a screen reader...

It's fine to make a video, but if your work is serious at all, it should also be in written text. It's much quicker to read than listen to someone talk. I'm sure there are exceptions where video format makes more sense, but, as a rule, it's incredibly stupid.

I can’t understand the arrogance of telling other people that they ‘should’ produce their content in a format of your preference.

When I use should like this, I mean that it's the only sensible thing. They can do what they want. I don't view their content anyway, so it's no skin off my teeth.

Videos articles are far more difficult to make than text articles.

If you make a video, just include the transcript.

There are certainly times when video is appropriate, but I feel like we can all relate to the times that it's not; when someone has a list of 6 things, and instead of just listing them, they make a snazzy video. The video is still text-based; maybe there's an image slideshow as well, but it's effectively the same information in the same format, just spread out over a 2 minute video.

But that's precisely the point. Just like HTML should be written with accessibility in mind, content ought to be provided with accessibility in mind. Obviously if you are going to a video-focussed site a la youtube you expect to watch videos. But what if I want to skim the news and happen to trust a particular organization? It would be ideal to have this information in a number of formate so I can consume their information in a manner best-suited for me. No one is saying "banish all video!", they are simply saying certain areas of information are better presented in text form for many people and it would be nice to easily consume info in that way.

You can always use a screen reader to automatically have it read the text to you, and it works well enough.

I can’t have an OCR system automatically translate a video into text.

Even if you can have it transcribed (which is possible today), videos contain far more information than what is spoken: gestures, emphasis / how words are spoken, body language, objects, diagrams, etc. While skilled speakers may try to mitigate that so that the presentation degrades somewhat gracefully to a transcription, it's by no means a one-to-one translation, and it doesn't always make sense.

While you make a good point about screen readers, there actually are tools that automatically translate a video into text. In fact, doesn't YouTube's "CC" button do that? The translation isn't great, but it's usually good enough and will probably get better over time.

For comparison, this is the output of YouTube’s CC button applied to a video, and the text extracted. Not exactly a readable article.

> extremely pleased to have our first and indeed only genuine superhero you you may have come across know and across the internet as Captain disillusion you've already seen some their fantastic work there you to tell is amazing if you haven't seen it I I personally do subscribe to it they're given there are over quarter of a million other subscribers I am statistically insignificant and you should update I think the number of views on the channel has now passed 15 million so if you could all adjust your booklet accordingly that would be appreciated captain disillusion will be talking to us about heroic feats of YouTube D bunker II so can you please I think we're set put your hands together welcome to stage Captain disillusion hello hi quick clarification I'm not Compton disillusion obviously my name is Alan and I'm an intern at disillusion industries the captain's…

Now here’s the output of a written article automatically turned into speech:


Now tell me, which of them is more usable?

YouTube’s CC button is bad. Seriously, Google Translate is far better, and even that is impossible to understand. Especially when the discussion includes technical terms.

The only time YouTube’s CC button works even slightly okay is if the uploader manually transscribed everything.

"For many of us in the early 2000s, the web was magical. You connected a phone line to your computer, let it make a funny noise and suddenly you had access to a seemingly-unending repository of thoughts and ideas from people around the world.

"It might not seem like much now, but what that noise represented was the stuff of science fiction at the time: near-instantaneous communication at a planetary scale. It was a big deal."

I kind of yearn for the pre-web days... when the primary means of communication was mailing lists and newsgroups, without any commercial interest.

The creation of the web was when it all started to go wrong. Corporations started to flock to it like flies and tried their best to turn it in to an ad-laden, spyware-laden, dumbed-down, one-way broadcasting medium not too far from television.

Indeed, the Web became a juggernaut bandwagon, and got all the attention. Not for nothing. But I always felt the potential of the Internet was neglected as a result. There are other apps, notably MMOs, BitTorrent, blockchain and other P2P things.

I sincerely hope that the “re-decentralization” movement is able to attract hackers and gain steam.

That requires net neutrality. In general I think there's a danger that ISPs become "Web service providers" and refuse anything which isn't HTTP from rDNS-able addresses.

Of course people will just end up recreating TCP over HTTPS to get around these sorts of things, but I don't think we're headed toward a decentralised and opinionated (i.e. not heavily filtered based on traffic analysis) network.

I gave a talk about a P2P Web at PDX node just a bit ago


I disagree slightly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Canter_and_Martha_Sie...

I still remember the day that these assholes showed up and ruined a wonderful thing, and as you can see I'm not really over it.

Where things went wrong on the web, imho, was when business started leaning on people to put graphic corporate branding front and center, encouraging the abuse of things like tables and so on to create something that looked more like a magazine advert. Now, you could argue that such commercial pressures were got people to throw money at the WWW int he first place and rove technological development, and you'd have a point - the early web was pretty dull to look at. I wrote a book on how to use it for consumers around 1994 and every so often I take it off the shelf for a giggle at how primitive it looks in the screenshots. But at that time it was much better curated and the browsing experience was much more rewarding in many respects, although I'm obviously influenced by some nostalgia for a simpler era.

I really hoped to see the semantic web recapture some of the user-centric benefits of the early web, but development on that front seems slooooooow, and my ideas about a graph centric virtual space seem too sci-fi for me to even get meaningful answers from people I've asked.

Ironically the closest thing I've found to the hey-day of the internet(~'99) for me is Ham Radio.

It's hard to explain but it's got the same feel of people who tinker and enjoy technology for the hell of it. With HF you get communication all over the globe.

It's also explicitly non-commercial so it's stayed relatively undeveloped. Granted you'll never see the exponential of communication that the internet unleashed due to limited spectrum but that might be in some ways a blessing.

I generally agree, but while there's still a strong DIY spirit in the ham radio world, especially in the hardware field, I often find myself disappointed by many hams' willingness to surrender control and freedom to proprietary protocols and software (PACTOR, D-STAR, Winlink, Ham Radio Delux, to name a few) in exchange for convenience.

Oh yes, I hate the implementation(love the tech) behind PACTOR. Of course there's also the really annoying symbol rate limit regulations as well.

Thankfully K1JT via WSJT has been doing some awesome open source weak signal work. FT8 is pretty sweet and really exploded recently.

FT8 is remarkable tech, but it’s essentially computers talking to each other. Not the same as person to person through the static noises, which is the old ham way. Refer to the recent discussion/dismay on the Topband (i.e. 160 meters) mail list.

I think FT8 is just one aspect, I don't think you're going to see CW/SSB die off because of it. FT8 has some pretty strict timing requirements for instance that make it hard to use as a portable station.

I think ham radio is split between the people who like the social/contest aspect of it and those of us who like to tinker(and a subset that covers people who like both). 97.1b pretty clearly lays out a mandate to advance the state of the art and I think it's pretty incredible to pick out a message -20db below the noise floor.

Agreed. I have a foot in both camps myself.

But there are two issues: FT8 is just a contact, with maybe a 73, so it’s even more impersonal than contesting (which is extremely popular, of course). Breaking a pileup is pretty much left to the computer, rather than due to operator skill.

And the old timers on 160 who earned their DXCC (100 countries - very difficult on 160) certificates the hard way using CW / SSB aren’t happy with the relative ease of getting an FT8 DXCC award. The ARRL can fix that, however.

Yeah, I think there's a ton of room for FT8 if it can break out of the auto-programmed sequence, I hate that part too. I really wish it would do progressive decoding, it's possible in theory.

Over in the SOTA community we're looking at a few potential solutions. There's nothing in the core FT8 spec that mandates the standard QSO exchange and there's support for free messages(at a max of 13 chars).

As someone with a KX3 I think anyone running more than 10W is at a huge advantage ;). You're right though, the right way is to split the awards by mode/type. That said I find the content stuff just as impersonal and find the relaxed atmosphere of SOTA much more appealing.

That's what makes ham radio so awesome though, it's all fair game. I just hate to see people try to squash things just because it's not the "old way". That part seems really counter to the experimental nature of the hobby.

I think FT8 is a necessary evil at this point. It's good to see problems with a mode basically getting too popular rather than the bands being dead. Some of those users will move to explore new digital modes as they evolve. The future is bright for ham radio.

I think this is to do with the barrier to entry. You have to have a certain level of sophistication to get into Ham, just like you did with Internet in the early days. Then came the long September ...

Facebook, twitter had the same feeling of "exclusivity" for a while. Twitter lasted a bit longer because the capability to compose your thoughts in < 140 chars demanded a certain level of sophistication but then came #winning and shit-posting.

These days I find as a developer even, as that segment expands there's an increasing amount of noise but I've gotten into emacs recently and can appreciate the marked increase in tranquility there. Nobody's trying to make a buck off my questions and answers. Nobody has a commercial (or other) interest in keeping me clueless.

I love the fact that IRC is still alive and kicking. The #django channel on freenode is still pretty active as opposed other communities that flock to slack or gitter.

Technical chat on IRC is still alive and well on Freenode, but non-technical chat has mostly moved on from IRC to other media.


I still recall watching this change firsthand.

When i got my first modem, i was informed of a regional IRC channel on one of the big networks. And from that day onwards i would have my client set to connect to that channel, and fire it up alongside the email client right after the handshake completed.

But at one point the channel died, and the cause of death was twofold.

one part was the creation first generation social media services, and their web based chat rooms.

Another part, and perhaps a bigger part, was that Microsoft made a strong push of MSN Messenger with Windows XP.

This resulted in a more clique style communications form online, as you had to know people and get their account info before being able to contact them. With IRC you joined the channel and that was it.

Subreddits resemble IRC from that point of view - you just need to join the right one.

Kinda, but not as real time.

I recall having on the fly conversations about TV programs on IRC.

Twitter! When it comes to the real time aspect I know nothing better than Twitter.

What makes it so good?

Whatever event happens right now (WhatsApp down? Elections in a country? A TV show running on TV [1]?) go to Twitter and search for it with relevant keywords and you'll find people writing about it.

[1] at least in Germany

In my experience that's a firehose with no meaningful real-time quality metric available. Perhaps there's something I'm missing.

I wholeheartedly agree. It's great as long as the keyword you're searching for is easily distinguishable. Whenever something happens and I want to find out ahead of the news-cycle it's my go to ...

I find it overwhelming. I don't know how to get over that.

I have an IRC channel that myself and a few friends use every day. It’s probably 30% technical and 70% chat. I do wish more people still used it, but I guess most people like chat platforms with fancy features now.

I never got into the pre-web stuff, so I don't know exactly what the differences are. Don't those things still exist? Isn't the comment section of this HN post a form of async, text-only communication?

It's still centralized, and owned and run by a commercial entity that uses it to further their own interests, with a record of its users' interests and opinions.

The capabilities and features of web forums are also really dumbed-down and limited compared to what you could get with the mail clients and news clients of even 20 or 30 years ago.

Yeah, I'm really surprised that most web forum software doesn't even let you sort comments by author, date, subject (which most comments don't have), etc. There were all sorts of useful things that usenet provided. (Not the least of which is kill files for ignoring trolls.)

I think this is deliberate. Have you noticed how google makes it...very very difficult to get results of things in date order? When I've asked people who work there why (often in relation to things where the date information is well-structured, like legal opinions or scientific papers) they always respond with some vague and very obvious bullshit.

Long story short, a lot of the large internet companies withhold or obscure functionality that users really want in order to keep them engaged and sell more ads. We have the technology to do a lot better than we are doing, but capital prefers to manufacture scarcity in the guise of abundance.

> We have the technology to do a lot better than we are doing, but capital prefers to manufacture scarcity in the guise of abundance.

Yes, the tight coupling of progress to profits is becoming very counter-productive. Too many good ideas and products that get killed because they can’t make enough money (and the criteria for “enough” keeps rising unnecessarily and exponentially, i.e. something has to sell in tens of millions to be considered a “success” even if half a million would be profitable.)

We will need to rethink the role of money in human civilization if we don’t want it to become a corporate hell where every action is dictated by how much money it makes.

> a lot of the large internet companies withhold or obscure functionality that users really want

For example, Google only lets you get a few results at the top of their search. What if you want to get the whole 100,000 of them? Sometimes it's important, for science.

I'm surprised there's no way to pay for that access.

Could you expand on that second line a bit? I'm curious what features we're currently missing out on compared to decades past.

From a recent thread on "Why kernel development still uses email": [1]

"This is one of the things that web-based forums have yet to get right. Email (and NNTP news) clients from 20 or 30 years ago are far superior in this respect, because they can intelligently deal with threading and folding. These features alone makes large conversations much easier to deal with than on web-forums.

To add to that, email (and NNTP news) clients even from 20 or 30 years ago have other powerful features that web forums have yet to catch up on:

- kill files[2] (which you can use to filter out unwanted articles/mails based on content or metadata such as subject, user, etc)

- scoring

- user-configurable anti-spam filtering or other "intelligent" filtering (such as bayesian filtering not just for spam/ham, but for interesting/unintersting content)

- tagging not just on a site-wide level but at the client level so each user can tag messages/articles the way they make sense to them

- other advanced filtering and scripting based on any of the above

Web-based forums are just incredibly primitive compared to this many-decade-old technology."

[1] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15373179

[2] - https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Kill_file

I cannot agree more. When one is used to thread and folding for email or usenet, the user experience of web mail/forum seems woefully inadequate.

When I first saw that gmail starts a new thread when you change a subject I did not believe it at first; I thought I have made a mistake in replying. Text-based clients of old (tin, pine, etc.) still outperform current monstrosities by a wide margin.

That's not an inherent limitation of the web or web forums, though - I've seen those features implemented in a lot of them.

And of course, there's nothing stopping anyone from building a web forum and offering an endpoint for third party clients, they just don't, mostly because web forums themselves have more or less been superseded by Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and no one seems to care about them anymore.

The only pre-web feature that web forums can't really implement is decentralization.

the tl;dr is: The user controls the content, not the site.

One of the things we keep forgetting as we move forward is that client-control > server-control.

> One of the things we keep forgetting as we move forward is that client-control > server-control.

I'm not sure if we're forgetting it, as an industry we seem hell bent on removing user control. SaaS, cloud hosting, software walled gardens, invasive automatic updates, hidden software in hardware, etc. We're losing more and more control all the time. Around here it's nearly heresy to suggest the companies run their own servers.

It's increasingly frustrating too as we've shown over and over and over again at how bad the security, user-interaction, pricing and support is for all of those systems. Yet we don't care, because "it's easier".

There's a clear agenda to take back the power and voice that the computers are giving to the common man: http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/coming-war-general-com...

gnus FTW!!

NNTP was often hosted locally to the machine that you were reading on, so browsing it is incredibly fast, so much faster than using a website that it's not funny.

Plus, the clients had things like killfiles, so that one could ignore a troll or a subject (or even fancier stuff, like scoring: maybe a user tends to have worthless comments, but what he says about one subject is really worthwhile).

Usenet and mailing lists are distributed. Web forums (like HN) are not. You can setup your own NNTP or mail server if you wanted, but there's only one place to post HN comments & that's right here, subject to all the pros & cons that entails.

One difference is that HN is hosted on a server under the control of YC.

If YC ever decide to destroy HN they can.

With an HN Usenet newsgroup it'd be distributed across all the servers that carry that group. You could download software and host it yourself.

The sweetspot was mid 90s to mid 00s. We had the benefit of the web without the all-encompassing corporate control. It was a more open and freer place back then. But as the internet got more popular and with more corporate/government involvement, the standards were lowered to accommodate the lowest common denominator.

Less free speech, more control, less privacy and more ads.

I loved the nested discussion of mailgroups. Compared to message boards and forums of today (yesterday? I think they may be passe?) they enabled interesting, meandering discussions. It's the way discussion flows between two intelligent people. Forcing discussion into an arbitrary topic has 2 problems:

* some people are unhappy because they feel constrained * topics are an illusion anyway, people do post off-topic messages anyway, depending on strictness of moderation. People interested by the original topic are annoyed by the inevitable off-topic talk.

Luckily mailing lists and newsgroups still exist, some newsgroups are even still active. (Mailings lists too of course, but they are generally created for a specific purpose)

They exist, as do mechanical typewriters and bulletin board systems, but most people don't use them. The web "won" long ago, and newsgroups and mailing lists are now mostly a historical curiosity.

Also forums for special interests. (Outgrowth of a bulletin board.) Some do not even abuse their data and users.

That web still exists more or less.

If you want to use the web in that way, just remove YouTube, Facebook, etc. from your DNS.

I use ublock origin and privacy badger not because I am worried about privacy but because the internet is basically unusable without it.

Because of this, I don't see many ads. But I have been an amazon customer since 1999 (according to what they say on their website when I'm logged in.) Looking at what they recommend for me, this personalization stuff is crap.

In music, Amazon recommends bands I never listen to like Montrose, Metallica, and the Doors (and to be fair, some people I've never heard of so I guess it is possible that I would be interested in them. Greta Van Fleet? William Patrick Corgan?)

In books, I do like scifi but they recommend a bunch of books with spaceships shooting each other on the cover - not what I have ever been interested in.

In the "humor and entertainment" section of books they do list some books that I would be interested in but, strangely, none of them are "humor" but are all academic books about videogames (which I am interested in). Even here the recommendation engine is very unsophisticated because in between academic books on videogames there are books on the art of Zelda and other coffee table books that I am not interested in.

And the first book in their recommended children's book section is 1984. (and I don't have any kids any way).

If this is the best they can do with 18 years of tracking my purchases then I am not worried.

> In books, I do like scifi but they recommend a bunch of books with spaceships shooting each other on the cover - not what I have ever been interested in.

You're making a huge mistake by judging a book by its cover in this case. The copy of the Foundation series that I had as a kid was very space opera looking too, and I've seen gaudy covers on everything from Dune to Kim Stanley Robinson. For Sci fi in particular, publishers have an incentive to trick a large chunk of the audience into thinking that its Star Wars-y, and there's not much incentive in signaling the things that you or I would get out these books.

I second this. Heck, the Ancillary series has paintings of spaceships as their covers, and they're some of my favorite scifi books in recent memory.

To be fair, you sound like one of the harder people to track accurately.

However, I as well have been "disappointed" by the ability of websites to judge my interests. After reading about cases such as Target, who have "spooky" ability to gauge interest, I was expecting better.

So I searched for a very specific motorcycle jacket with very specific features and now my page is inundated with every clothing item that has the tag "motorcycle_jacket?" That's.... it? The same result I'd get for hitting google with "site:amazon.com 'motorcycle jacket'" ?

There is significant subtlety involved in realizing that if you bought a motorcycle jacket you are very unlikely to need a second one, especially a very similar one, until it falls apart, while if you bought apples you are likely to eat more apples soon.

Similarly, Booking.com recommends hotel room offers in foreign cities where I've been on vacation: it doesn't have any tourism detection and analysis, it just thinks that I'm indiscriminately likely to return to the same places without realizing I visit one or a few major cities in a different country every year and then the museums and monuments are going to stay the same for a while. To be fair, they'd need data about my habits they (fortunately) cannot see to do a good job.

The impression that I got was that Target thing wasn't some spooky self-learning AI product recommender, but rather they had the data to write some special-purpose analytics to detect a specific but common purchasing pattern. Your motorcycle jacket example isn't the kind of thing that would get that kind of special attention.

Really? Because I would expect Amazon to be like "oh fuck, this dude bought a motorcycle! Inundaaaaate!" and start seeing a bunch of ads for Senas, helmets, gloves, etc.

Unless you buy your motorcycle from amazon as well they don't know to send you that.

Target was able to get the spooky results because there is in fact a real correlation: girls who switch from scented products (soaps) to unscented are very likely to buy a maternity clothing in a couple months, and a few months latter baby products. Note that this all starts because then girl was buying scented products at target to begin with, and so the change in habit was the important part.

>To be fair, you sound like one of the harder people to track accurately.

But Amazon, in this case, doesn't need to track other surfing habits, just his purchase history. That history is not affected by privacy addons.

It's really amazing how bad those personnalisation engines are; AI seems pretty stupid for now.

But as I was making the exact same point a few days ago here on HN, someone responded to say that maybe it was on purpose, that if recommendations were too good they would creep us out.

Don't know what to think of it but I found the objection interesting...

another point is that you (the recommender, and, incidentally, also the user) are happy if there is at least one novel and interesting item in the recommendations. This might apply less to music (list) recommendations, but in general that's how I (as a customer) also approach lists of recommendations.

> William Patrick Corgan?

Billy Corgan was the lead singer of Smashing Pumpkins. also has a lot of solo stuff.

seeing the full names rather than stage names of artists can be weird.

apparently he has just released a solo album under his full name. weird. Smashing Pumpkins was never a band I was into but at least this recommendation is somewhat understandable

I have pretty much the same amount of history with amazon (2000) and it's even worse here.

Most of the recommendations are items that I actually already purchased through them ("How about a second electric razor or some more batteries?") or items that I literally was just looking at while browsing ("We recommend these jeans that you just looked at"). Utterly useless.

It's hard to be worse than YouTube.

"Here are some videos you've already watched, mostly that you've already liked, but also a few from the same channel, and even a helping of some you've disliked but which other people have uploaded duplicates of."

And that's Google, the AI experts, with a crapload of data on my viewing and others' viewing habits, including in depth learning features such as length of time spent on videos, liked videos, playlists, etc.

I block far less than you do, but all recommendation engines appear to be crab: I brought a few books on Amazon that could be purchased by middle-aged women and now most of the books I get recommended are romance novels with a vampire, time travel or magic theme - meanwhile what I actually buy is mainly SciFi and a bunch of books about NK.

Come to think of it the recommended movies on Netflix is also crazy, but they may be screwing it towards their own selection.

But lets be honest even when I tell Facebook what my interests are, it can't give useful ads - and even mighty google assumed I was interested in Palaeontology at one point.


"...we have faster connections, better browser standards, tighter security and new media formats. But it is also different in the values it espouses. Today, we are so far from that initial vision of linking documents to share knowledge that it's hard to simply browse the web for information without constantly being asked to buy something, like something, follow someone, share the page on Facebook or sign up to some newsletter. All the while being tracked and profiled."

The author is absolutely right that the _values_ of the web have changed. IMO this is due to the much more vast penetration of the web and the bubbles which have been birthed as a result of attracting very aggressive profit-driven actors. Rebasing the web's economic model on advertising has fundamentally changed the conception of users, and the expectation of enormous profits has steamrolled the egalitarian principles of early web citizens.

I kind of hope that the web will reboot itself in dark corners, away from the mega actors, away from the tracking and surveillance, and the torrent of the current web can keep on going for the masses.

I think you're right, but one issue is keeping the problems of the "web of the masses" from spreading to our secluded dark corners once they pick up traction.

>If you use Chrome as your main browser, consider switching to Chromium, the open-source version of the browser. Consider minimalist browsers like Min (and choose to block all ads, trackers and scripts) to browser news websites.

no love for firefox? or for that matter, any non webkit browsers?

>HERE WeGo for maps (free)

i'm not sure that's any better in terms of privacy

It always astonishes me how many people who are ostensibly against the webkit derivative hegemony won't even consider recommending Firefox. It's certainly a competitive browser, and personally my favourite, and Mozilla does fantastically important work balancing out an otherwise entirely corporate, ulterior-motive laden browser market.

My experience has been that Firefox was unusably slow on OS X and Linux for a long time and they lost a lot of users because of it. Now it is faster but it is difficult to woo people back.

And even if it is faster, there track record shows that they found doing a release that slows down a large portion of users was acceptable. Granted I doubt they still have that attitude, and i think they are more performance based now, but a lot of us left for Chrome and never looked back.

> and i think they are more performance based now, but a lot of us left for Chrome and never looked back.

And you don't have the same problem with Chrome? I've found Chrome to be a terrible resource hog lately, and sometimes I have to kill it to get my computer back to a usable state. And of course, I have to dig through all of the Chrome process and try to figure out which is the one that will take down the rest of them.

> And you don't have the same problem with Chrome? I've found Chrome to be a terrible resource hog lately

I'm OS X and I've had some CPU issues lately if I have a lot of tabs open but overall not nearly as many issues as when I finally decided to give up Firefox.

I actually downloaded Firefox lately and it seems pretty nice. If Chrome gets works I may consider it.

I usually have a few hundred tabs open in Firefox without issue; it seems to do a good job of putting unused/old tabs to 'sleep' until you come back to them.

> dig through all of the Chrome process and try to figure out which is the one that will take down the rest of them

To kill: pkill "Chrome"

To suspend: pkill -SIGSTOP "Chrome" To resume: pkill -SIGCONT "Chrome"

Thank you!

I tried using Firefox for a while recently (over the last month) and still found it unbearably slow as well as downright buggy in the way it handled and displayed certain pages. Was very disappointed by this since I really want to start using it again.

My work doesn't allow the latest version of FireFox, so after months of crashes and general unbearably slowness on MacOS I switched to UnGoogled Chromium. I wish I could go back to FF because I like Mozilla as an org, but it's not in the cards for my day to day.

> My work doesn't allow the latest version of FireFox

How so?

Firefox is OK these days. As a user I couldn't care less about Google offering, specifically because of google. That company is creepy and its core mission is to be even more creepy.

On android, Firefox mobile is by far the best browser, since it allows (some) extensions, and you definitely need one - microBlock origin. No effin' way I am going to use their official browser, web is beyond useless with all the ads.

I think trying to fight a browser engine monoculture is a lost cause. There is no money in building browser engines and it costs a lot of time and money to create one from scratch.

The only reason Mozilla and Microsoft still use their own engine is for historical and technical reasons.

The fact that we are down to just three implementations should tell you were things are headed.

Mozilla is currently working hard on Servo, and regularly merging finished pieces into Firefox.

Microsoft will likely always use their own engine, simply because they are obsessed with proprietary software.

Sure that's how it is today but what if Mozilla runs out of funds? Say they fail to get a lucrative search deal after the current one ends while Pocket fails to pick up the slack.

What if Microsoft doesn't ever get a significant number of users on Edge? Say websites and users alike treat it like Windows Phone.

> what if Mozilla runs out of funds?

That is a very unlikely edge case. If it were to happen, Servo is an open-source project, and would likely still see development.

> What if Microsoft doesn't ever get a significant number of users on Edge?

That is somewhat more likely, but as much as I can hope, probably will not happen. At least Edge renders fairly correctly.

> like Windows Phone.

Windows Phone simply failed to get inertia. Inertia is imperative for proprietary projects to succeed.

I think Mozilla is already cutting projects because they know their next search deal won't be as lucrative as their previous ones. Software development costs money.

Edge came out in 2015 if it doesn't have inertia yet then you have to at least wonder if it's another Windows Phone.

> if [Edge] doesn't have inertia yet then you have to at least wonder if it's another Windows Phone.

I would venture to say that it does have inertia. As a browser, it does not need anywhere near the inertia a new closed platform (Windows phone) does.

If Microsoft plans on using it to get users on to their services then they'll need way more users than they are getting. Otherwise why invest the money in building one?

There are still browsers out there made with love and donations.

Just let Chrome be the browser for the masses.

> ... and Mozilla does fantastically important work balancing out an otherwise entirely corporate, ulterior-motive laden browser market.

Mozilla seems to have become infected with the same ulterior-motive laden evil though. :(

Example happening at the moment:


I wouldn't go by the negative tone of that article. The whole point of the cliqz experiment is to try out a possible alternative to one part of today's privacy-destroying web. You are not going to tracked through an indirection through cliqz anyway, but if i understand correctly, even that is only a way to make prototyping feasible to see whether it's worth proceeding with a fuller, architecturally privacy preserving implementation.

>> HERE WeGo for maps (free)

> i'm not sure that's any better in terms of privacy

Yeah, I would recommend at least checking out OpenStreetMap and any tools that derive their routing and tiles from it first. Of course its usability varies by country (and even by locality!), but that's no different from Google Maps or Apple Maps.

At least with OpenStreetMap I know that my contributions benefit people in general (due to the free software licensing) and not mainly (the shareholders of) Google or Apple.

Also, FastMail isn't any better for privacy, and you have to pay for it to boot. The article was more or less reasonable until the nonsensical recommendations at the end.

FastMail is much better than google mail because it's not fueling google's hegemony over the web. That you have to pay for it means their sustainability is not tied to abusing their users. If you want privacy in the way you seem to mean privacy (end-to-end no-trust async messaging) of course anything speaking SMTP isn't going to be "better for privacy", but those systems largely are incompatible with how 99% of the web wants to communicate with you.

> That you have to pay for it means their sustainability is not tied to abusing their users.

Modern capitalism means taking the money _and_ abusing the users, unless the users leaving from the abuse actually ends up reducing profits.

No email solution will be better for privacy outside of hosting it yourself. I have it set up for my personal email because I thought it was a fun project, but there's no point in pretending that it's realistic for casual email users.

Email without outside encryption like PGP is fundamentally privacy by policy which lives and dies by the reputation and policy of the provider: it seems like Fastmail's is pretty good.

> but there's no point in pretending that it's realistic for casual email users.

Are there any technical reasons why we couldn't have an "email in a box" type setup with an easy gui configuration? I've though of setting up a personal email/dropbox/IM/youtube box and the biggest hurdles I could think of were domain registration, bandwidth (for the youtube clone) and firewall rules. Lack of static IP's is also an issue but that seems solvable.

You can host your email yourself (and there are a couple of email-in-a-box bundles out there), but you will find that reliable deliverability takes surprisingly much effort. (Distressingly much effort.) You can count on winding up on various blacklists, even if you can’t imagine why it would be so; so you’ll need to monitor them with things like MxToolbox, and then manually sort them out—and/or maintain a pool of IP addresses to rotate through (some providers make it very hard to resolve). The big providers are often not fond of low-traffic senders, so you may have difficulty there too. And every so often there will be new hoops for you to jump through—SPF, DKIM, DMARC and so forth; receivers will change their rules and all of a sudden your email won’t get through any more.

Of course, it depends on how you use it. If you send out a newsletter or other large quantities of emails you’re in for much pain, while if you tend to only send individual messages to a comparatively small group of people (and are thus a known sender) you’re likely to have an easier time of it—though you may still have some trouble occasionally.

(I’m a FastMail employee, but I don’t work on the backend side of things at all; I speak from casual experience mostly before FastMail. But I think that all of us that know anything about how hard it is to run your own mail server are ideologically sad about it; if FastMail wasn’t around, I suspect a substantial fraction of us would run our own mail server.)

> Today, we are so far from that initial vision of linking documents to share knowledge that it's hard to simply browse the web for information without constantly being asked to buy something, like something, follow someone, share the page on Facebook or sign up to some newsletter.

I'm a non-user of all things social media. My Twitter account is purely nominal (for pinging company support), and I don't have a Facebook account. As a business owner, my peers think it's bizarre that I don't have a LinkedIn account. The problems this author talks about are chains of our own making. Yes, corporations exploit us, but they exploit human frailties. This problem will not go away, and more "open tech" will not solve it.

It's not unsolvable though. HN is an example of a technology that shapes the rules of the forum in such a way that a top spot cannot be purchased.

Forum design is the new frontier.

>that a top spot cannot be purchased.

you can buy hn upvotes, which is the same as buying a top spot.

I've been active online since 1994. In my opinion, the start of the cellphone era (iPhone and up) was when the internet started it's way downhill.

All sorts of people who weren't online suddenly were there, and businesses took a lot more interest in the lest tech savvy types who've started to populate the internet.

At the same time, these same mobile users saw they could be anonymous and had no learned netiquette unlike so many others before them.

So because of this new-user saturation, the internet became no longer niche and now mainstream, to the detriment of everyone else online.

Yes yes, Eternal September and all that, but were they wrong about the similar assessment back then?

I agree with this author and implemented all his suggestions years ago, both as a consumer and creator of web sites. But sewers like Facebook and ad networks are low-hanging fruit. Search for something on the once-indispensible Google, and, after five or six ads, you will likely see a Wikipedia link. On the fifth page of results will be the professor's .edu page that the Wikipedia article plagiarizes from.

Google succeeded because their pagerank algorithm discovered useful sites. But now those same algorithms promote popular (or Google-profitable) sites at the expense of higher-quality sites (that often carry no advertising). W3schools, anybody? It was probably a natural evolution: the algorithm ate itself, and results that might actually be useful are buried under sites that are popular. I think sites like Wikipedia and Google feeding off each other is a more insidious problem - one with no quick technological solution, like installing an ad blocker.

This is good, but simplistic.

Firstly the downfall in the geocities-web came in many phases:

1. Spam Email Phase

2. Phishing / Nigerian phase

3. Popup phase

4. Autoplaying Flash/ActiveX phase

5. Pagerank phase (forums being ruined until rel=nofollow)

Now google, previously the main gateway to discovery, is pretty much useless for discovering new non-commercial content.

The way this could go away is only from a market shift; deleting your facebook won't bring back geocities. The fact is, if I had a geocities page it'd be undiscoverable due to pagerank, so I have no incentive to publish unless I have another avenue of attention (resume, Hn profile).

Can a non-commercial search engine ever exist? I suppose reddit/HN voting is one semi-successful method of content ranking...

A decentralized p2p search engine exists, though really nobody uses it.


Perhaps a bare bones donation-supported search engine could exist if it implemented the same protocol using WebRTC and served a single JavaScript-powered webpage from S3.

I would not call content ranking semi-successful just because it isn't actively being gamed now - there was a time before Google served ads.

Notice how these all have something in common...

I totally disagree. It is not the web or www that is hostile but many websites and services out there.

I think no one will go back to the old web, although I agree it was an epic experience back then. For me it is totally logical that many people try to find a way to earn money on the internet, and in this economy there is in principle nothing wrong with that IMHO.

No one forces you to use Facebook, Google or any of the great services available. But people seem to forget that in life almost everything comes with a price. For Facebook and Google you pay with your (more or less private) data. So? If you think it's not a fair deal, simply don't use it! But please don't blame the entire web for that.

The web as it is now has soooo much more to offer than the old web that it is hard to even imagine! A few things I use that were impossible in the 90's, from the top of my head:

  listen music on youtube, learn and use any programming language for free, git, open source, read the latest news in online 
  newspapers from remote countries, buy tickets online, airbnb, online banking, broadcast on twitter, social networks, slack, 
  OS updates, World of Warcraft/games, crypto currencies, etc.. etc...
I'm happy to pay with some of my privacy to any of the services above, it's up to me to decide whether the balance is OK.

Maybe some of these things didn't engage us as much, but it is dubious whether that's for better or for worse. For what it's worth:

> listen music on youtube

True by definition, but listening to and distributing music via computer networks has been going on since the 80s.

> learn and use any programming language for free

There were plenty of resources on that on the web in the 90s and on bulletin board systems in the 80s.

> git

A complete side note since it has nothing to do with the web.

> open source

Many significant open/free software projects started in the 90s. NetBSD/FreeBSD since 93. GNU has been around since 83.

> read the latest news in online newspapers from remote countries

News websites surprisingly existed in the 90s as well. It is speculative to say that their increasing plurality owes anything to the current centralization trend.

> broadcast on twitter

Broadcast on your own personal website. Broadcast in a newsgroup. Broadcast by email. Broadcast on IRC.

> social networks

Bulletin boards. Email. Newsgroups.

> slack


> OS updates

Like, say, Slackware in the mid 90s?

> World of Warcraft/games

On-line, networked games existed before the web and don't really need to rely on it.

> crypto currencies

Again, not really dependent on the web.

THIS I'm tired of people equating the web with facebook.

One factor that might be at play: the user base of the web has probably dumbed down considerably over time. In 1999 you had to have some technical chops to get your modem, PPP settings, ISP phone number etc. all sorted out, and know some arcane URLs to type into the browser to get started with (back when browsers didn't auto-complete the http:// for you). So it probably attracted more intelligent people on average, with nerdy/intellectual interests.

Better browsers, broadband, tech usability improvements, smartphones, easy-to-use websites like Facebook, etc. lowered the barrier considerably. So maybe a lot of this is the influx of "dumb" people who can't be bothered to learn HTML to put up a page, or understand the privacy implications of the 450 surreptitious HTTP requests streaming along as they read their news article. ("dumb" is a little facetious here - in other words just ordinary people not as tech savvy or focused on intellectual pursuits as the web's early adopters).

Honestly attitude like yours are a big part of the issue. Developers love to treat non technical people as dumbasses to ignore at best, or make fun of/exploit at worst.

Maybe try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who works 3 jobs as a single parent and uses their phone to look for new housing when they get evicted or sign up for online classes, instead of claiming broadly that “they can’t bother to learn HTML”. Not everyone is as privileged as the millions of teenagers who have hours and hours of free time every night and access to a computer+internet to learn how to code or the privacy implications of surreptitious HTTP requests.

If developers had spent the past few decades thinking of how to make technologies understandable, open, democratic - instead of insulting 99% of the population like you just did - perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.

I am speaking as a former dumbass privileged teenager/engineer who thought he was smarter than everyone else.

I meant it a little facetiously, and not as condescending to "ordinary people" as it maybe sounded. Like you said a lot of it is just a factor of free time, not having the free time to learn PPP settings and HTML and all that (as I did when I was a teenager). I'm not suggesting that everybody should learn HTML or else they're an idiot, far from it, if someone just wants to focus on writing for a blog, etc. then there absolutely should be tools to make that simple.

One of the laments in the article is the way the web has changed from the early days of simple HTML webpages people put up themselves focused on astrophysics etc., and I think that does speak to a difference of interests and abilities in the web's community over time.

And people do have differences in intelligence, as touchy and controversial a subject as it is. I say that not to make myself feel like some shining genius, I'm not, but commercial interests tend to exploit whatever they can exploit (unfortunately) and the shifting audience of the web likely made it easier to get away with a lot of this stuff.

Yes. The web didn’t get “dumbed down”; it got more diverse. This is a very good thing.

The issue is that technologists insist on making a clear distinction between the “user” and the “developer”. If you hide the number of web requests away in an obscure, borderline illegible, “developer tools” pane, is it a surprise that the average user has no idea about what is going on in their browser? No one is interested about building a browser, or even an operating system for that matter, that focuses on making things understandable, learnable. That is part of the reason why we end up in situations like the ones described in the article.

Regarding differences in intelligence, that is not a particularly relevant point here. People have differences (plural) in intelligences (plural). Even one person has diffferences in intelligences throughout their life at many different scales - I was much better at physics back in college than I am now because I practiced it more, and yet I wouldn’t say I was more intelligent 10 years ago than I am now even though I could solve physics problems faster. There are even pretty big fluctuations in my intelligence in a single day based on how tired/frustrated I am, if I have concerns at the back of my mind, etc. All of these statements aren’t really relevant here, because we have systems that deliberately obfuscate how they work, which is a much bigger problem.

So more "users" should be developers? And some idealized Chrome dev tools should be shown to everybody by default? That's the kind of techy, unix-y shit that turned off average people from the early web in the first place. Turning that stuff off and hiding it is what made things like the iPhone so popular.

Most people aren't interested in learning about HTTP, security certificates, javascript AJAX requests etc., no matter how "learnable" the browsers could make them. It's just irrelevant to chatting with your kids or reading about what happened in the Dodgers game. Geeky tech people will seek that stuff out, average people won't.

As a technical person I agree with a lot of this article. We were moving towards a data centric web for a while but now we're moving towards one where form is more important than function.

But with that said, I would have liked to have seen an article about accessibility have more talk about how the web is not only less accessible now for regular users but also even less accessible than it was before for people with disabilities such as blindness, color blindness, and even hearing loss.

I remember when even some corporate web sites often had a misc site somewhere with something about who built the site, even a picture of the server, a cat.... it was personal. It was very human.

Can we please, pretty please go back to using pages for the majority of web sites? There I said it. You have a web site, not a web app. At least most people do.

Remember the days of semantic markup and the CSS Zen Garden? When you could actually read and understand a web page's source? Now we have these javascript behemoths that are as clumsy as they are stupid.

I have a feeling we are in for a renaissance of simplicity, and its going to start with a page, and end with a page. Pages are scalable. Google has like 50 billion of them. Pages are nice. Now do me a favor and kill off react.js and every walled garden like Facebook.

Can we please just fix them from the inside? If you're an engineer at Facebook, why don't you take it upon yourself to actually do something about this mess?

I started research on making of an alternative search engine. It would not index sites serving ads and possibly e-commerce. I would like to also penalize JavaScript use at least as an option. At the beginning I would use Adblock rulesets like the Easy List - if there is a match I do not index the site. I named it Abracabra.

I hope that this would remove most crap out there with some minor collateral damage. Also that the index would be small enough that a little fish like me could do it without massive cost or infrastructure.

Regarding JavaScript use penalization I have in mind at least lower ranking. Probably for the first version not including them at all would be the simplest thing to do. Some later version could attempt to classify used JavaScript.

I would like it to index information first and not care much about web apps. Sometimes within the information only site there could be a link to a webapp. I’m wondering if it would make sense to distribute whole index via torrent. Then search could be done locally. But for this too make sense it would have to be in an order of, at most, tens of gigabytes. The problem would be to make updates as small as possible and also to not use prohibitive amount of CPU time.

I don't have any monetization in mind as you probably should have guessed at this point. Probably if it would be frugal enough it could run from my pocket and hopefully some donations.

However I’m almost totally green in this area. I started a bit with learning how to index and search with SQLite's FTS5. I don't like dependencies too much and would like to keep the local version option available. So probably typical ElasticSearch and other Java apps are probably too heavy. You can safely ignore technical side of my comment if you know better. If someone is more capable to do this than me, please make it instead of me ;)

I've actually become a bit put off on a lot of "modern" technologies lately. Every website tries to keep you on as long as possible with click bait, every advertiser tries to track your habits, video games just try to upsell you to the season pass, and every webapp is just an upsell to the paid pro version. Heck, even our operating systems are nothing more than data collection points.

In many ways, I feel like technology doesn't work for us anymore, we work to serve technology.

That's without even mentioning the "internet of things" phenomenon, standalone voice assistants, and so on. The advertisers aren't happy just collecting web usage data anymore and now they want into our actual homes.

I honestly don't get it. Some tech-savvy people I know are hyped up about Alexa and technologies like it, speaking to them about it it's like we live in a world where the Snowden leaks never happened. Either that or the interest from exploring new technology is hiding the downsides.

Yelp is extremely hostile to web users on mobile and shoves their app at you, actively blocking mobile functionality. You have to spoof user agent or request desktop site to use their service. So after realizing how hostile they are, I stopped using their service. Wasn't aware of their shady business practices in the past, and I think they've improved somewhat? My main issue with them today is their subverting of mobile web usage.

Similarly, Square Cash hides their login page on the mobile cash.me site. You have to request the desktop site and actually go to cash.me/login to have any chance of using their mobile site. It's fucking crazy.

Twitter and reddit drive me up the fucking wall. Twitter removed most functionality if you aren't logged in and hits you with a popup about once every 0.1 seconds as you scroll but gives up when you close it about 6 times. The mobile reddit site is just straight broken. Images disappear if you click in the wrong place, video doesn't work, can't change search options, posts act like they fail resulting in duplicate comments. Yet they have the audacity to push their shitty app down your throat every other page which is just a webview of the mobile site with the same problems.

These companies will do anything to inflate their user count and get more access to more data to sell. Instagram is particularly egregious about inflating user count. You can make an account without even verifying your email, but you can't log in again or even delete your account without linking a valid phone number. There is probably a 7 figure number of abandoned accounts like that.

Add Pinterest to that list of super annoying services who won't let you even look at anything without signing up/linking up/whatever else they could extort from you before letting you look at a simple picture.

Stop referencing Cambridge Analytica. They grossly overstated their results with intent. Everyone seems to have taken the headlines produced from their first post-US-election presentation as truth, without even bothering to watch that presentation. Because when doing so even the most forgiving would get a sense of screaming suspicion. They brag about taking one Republican candidate (Ted Cruz) from the bottom of 20 candidates to... #3 in the Republican party primary. And then the logic of the headlines continue on to claim that this means with 300 likes they can predict you better than you mother. Candidate #3? I promise you there were as many data analytic companies as there were candidates but the difference is that only Cambridge Analytica came up with the clever marketing pitches to promote their strategy and only they had the guts to promote that strategy even though their pony lost the race. And it shouldn't surprise anyone because good marketing strategy, not good data, lead to such sensational headlines. Cambridge Analytica should be treated with the suspicion provided to all marketing firms, because it is clear when looking closely that this is what they are, and one with a rather shady history full of scams at that:



Stop referencing Cambridge Analytica. The headlines that their marketing produced just happen to fit so nicely in the techno-evil horror fluff stories we all as liberal leftists (myself included) so desperately want to eat. But find better references, please!

Consumer's can't solve this from the ground up. What's needed is to prevent certain kinds of key acquisitions. The law around acquisitions is too permissive in an age of network effects; acquisition laws were fine pre-internet but don't solve their intended purpose anymore. Normally, the market corrects against the biggest players because the biggest players are slow to change culture and their business. But, acquisitions are the mechanism by which the big players are preventing themselves from being disrupted by smaller, more nimble players. If the big players can simply buy up any new comers (who will want a deserved pay-out for their efforts) on the scene, they maintain complete control regardless of what consumers want. Otherwise, any "alternative practices" you try to foster will simply be crushed, if they ever become a large enough threat.

Facebook acquiring Instagram is a perfect example.

Meet HN user megous, his fellow closed-source re-inventing co-conspirators (click a 'comments' link on the search results, then 'parent'), and potential open-source future fans:

λmegous(2016Dec): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13226170

For each use case that is not a free browsing I create an electron app, that never executes any code from the web or uses any external style. It only uses XHR to fetch html pages/json data/other static stuff and then transforms that data and uses it in the custom UI designed for the use case.


Any references to similar projects (whether closed, commercial, or open-source) would be appreciated.

The Web was doomed the moment we let Javascript initiate connections and (less significantly) modify form content.

Not really. It was doomed the moment it stopped being a place for mere exchange of information and messages and turned into a marketplace. It is the profit motive that has given rise, directly or indirectly, to every good and bad thing about the modern web. Unfortunately profit motive is completely amoral. And it isn't going away. So what we need are more restrictions and regulations. And a paradigm shift back to doing more things more enjoyably in meat-space.

Although I agree with your sentiment, having the government step in on behalf of the internet with more regulations seems like a step backwards.

> So what we need are more restrictions and regulations.

Like what?

> So what we need are more restrictions and regulations.

Fully disagree. You cannot legislate this problem away.

Advertising tax, privacy law, monopoly breakups.

Yes, it really has been downhill since then. I wish js apps just had their own protocol and port. js://js.server.tld could open up your js browser and you could use that when it was something you needed. Then you could just trust browsing around the normal web, knowing its just documents.

I completely agree. I've seen similar ideas get shot down here on HN; but I think we need two separate protocols. One for purely documents, and a second for the universal application platform.

Among other implications, it should be much easier for regular people to create content, and applications should be free of the document-focused legacy.

So how about Gopher for documents, and HTTP(S)+HTML+CSS for apps? I think we have the tools already.

If we did that, how would you propose implementing upvoting in HN without js?

Upvoting in HN works without JS already, it just has a page refresh.

And it doesn't even need a page refresh; it could use a 204 No Content response. Potentially an yet-cleverer static browser system could also use 206 Partial Content to replace a portion of the page.

But at that point, it's no longer "purely a document," it's still an app, just one that runs entirely on the server instead of partly or mostly in the browser.

For the web to be just documents, you have to go all the way and remove state entirely. Idempotence all the way down.

I am hoping that http2 crap protocol will attract all the ecommerce nasties and leave http as the obvious choice for static documents.

it's part of it, but to me the issue is when society started to reimplement itself on top of www.

now we get loads of bad news websites, shallow overgrown aesthetic trends pushed as social advances, perpetual ads ..

I'm old enough to remember when our pre-bubble, pre-amazon "web"team found about javascript via the web monkey website with it's animated moving arms! Prior, all interaction was via CGI or SSI. I still remember a web teacher at a university teaching a side course, telling us never to use javascript, and showed the NBA site and others. Then a student raised his hand: NBA uses javascript. And the prof, said, "Oh, I have javascript turned off, so I didn't know".

I kind of think it has more to do with organizations like Facebook vs. some particular technology itself. It's the way corporatists want to control everything in order to create money rivers that flow only to them.

A beautiful little tech-utopia where standards were open and everyone cooperated for the collective good existed for a few glorious years. The geeks had their way for a few years, but the show's over. In my cynical belief there is nothing we can do practically to reverse the trends. Tragedy of the commons, greed, masses following the path of least resistance, etc. will assert themselves just like they do in all other spheres of human society.

I agree with much of this article, but at this point I'm dangerously close to falling into the camp of, "is it even worth it?" I have been using google accounts for almost 10 years, I'm very much locked into that ecosystem. Even if there was a privacy issue, I wonder if it is worth the monumental hassle to leave and spin up my own versions of everything I use.

Thanks to equifax, all my most important information is probably already out in the wild, and thanks to the US government (and how they deal with replacing identifying information) I'm likely screwed for the rest of my life. In the face of that, the harm that google or facebook (which I'll admit to using less and less of) can do to me seems trivial.

Yeah, as a user, I'm a commodity online. But I'll be damned if I'm not enjoying the bread and circuses they use to keep me there. There is little to nothing I can do to prevent anyone from doing anything with my information, so I might as well take advantage of what I've already "paid" for.

You don’t have to do everything in one go; you can migrate out a service at a time and see how it works for you.

I’m more and more convinced of the profitability of this idea I have come up with recently: WebAssembly pages which render their contents via WebGL. Adblocking would become impossible; content providers could disable text copy/paste too!

Brave new world, huh?

I felt a strong urge to downvote you to not give this idea any spotlight. (I didn’t though.)

If this ever happens I will disable WebGL, and if this won’t be possible anymore (corporate interests…), I will invent a web competitor where participants are legally bound to my terms. Terms that will forbid ads, spying and spamming. Misbehaving users will experience increasingly long cool downs for misconducts, which can end in quasi bans (cool downs longer than their life). … One can dream.

I’m glad you didn’t downvote me! The faster we can get this thing going, the earlier we can get a tabula rasa ;)

Until then, keep riding the tiger!

And accessibility would be a thing of the past.

WebAssembly + WebAudio speech synthesis ;)

On the one hand, I'm afraid that what you describe will eventually become commonplace. On the other hand, I wonder why it didn't already happen during the Flash days.

> You become a manipulable data point at the mercy of big corporations who sell their ability to manipulate you based on the data you volunteer.

This might be the best summary of "why the world is fucked" that I've seen.

I think many web apps are essentially closed source taken to the next level. Back when the war was Windows vs Linux, software could still be painstakingly reverse-engineered. This made making open source alternatives easier, as well as compatibility projects like Wine, Samba...

With online services, there's no chance. They can even take copylefted software, modify it, use, and don't release. This is technically compliant with GPL2, but against its spirit. (A)GPL3 was made to combat this. I agree the license is complicated, verbose and very hard to enforce, but at least it's a try.

I think the problem is two-fold: data and software. The article focuses on user data, but it's not hard to believe a culture of closed source breeds a closed approach to user data.

I am ashamed of my generation.

We took a decentralized web full of potential, and we are leaving a wasteland of corporate garbage to our kids. If you used the web in the 90s you know what I am talking about.

Irony: The web page that rails about the web being user hostile is coded so that Safari's user-friendly reader mode is disabled.

To be fair, reader mode is a pile of mostly opaque heuristics and it can be tricky to opt-in/out.

Author here. Is it? It works on my end. Could you tell me which OS/Safari version you're using? Thanks.

Doesn't work for me either (in Safari; Firefox will pull it up though). Based on the (old) Stack Overflow answers, it's probably a combination of the HTML5 header/footer elements, and "wrapper" div ids pulling the "readability" score down.


Safari Version 11.0 (13604.

In case you're getting unsure: it works fine in Firefox's reader mode.

Even on the latest Safari it doesn't work: 10.13.1 (17B48) with macOS: 10.13.1 (17B48)

Nothing about that page seems like it would stop Reader so I filed a Radar about it.

Reader readies Radar regarding Reader regression.

(Please don't continue this. I just had to get it out of my system.)

Works for me with Safari Technology Preview 43 (Safari 11.1, WebKit 13605.1.12), High Sierra 10.13.2b1 (17C60c).

Ok thanks for the replies. I'll go troubleshooting!

Working on Safari 11.0.1 / macOS 10.12.6. Maybe 10.13-specific?

Didn’t work for me either. Ios 11.1.

Works for me Firefox/iOS 11.0

Works for me on iOS Safari 11.0.3

We need web browsers with good local & p2p indexing/search/bookmarking features.

Before I ever touch google, I want my search/address bar to look thoroughly through well organized, locally bookmarked content indexes.

The next stop before Google is indexes I've subscribed to. My friends, family, organizations, libraries, businesses, campaigns, wikipedia, etc.

After that, duckduckgo. If I haven't found it by then, google.

This kind of browser feature could make DAT/ipfs hypertext much more useful.

I’ve found Chrome/Chromium to be absolutely terrible at searching local history and bookmarks. It often fails to find even the simplest of pages which I know I’ve been to recently, while Firefox is capable of digging out pages that are barely in my memory.

It’s one of the things that keep me on Firefox - it’s simply more usable!

(Personally, I’m convinced Google does it deliberately to gain more user attention time on their search service.)

The idea of having subscribed indexes is interesting! I often just want to search Wikipedia. The idea of indexes from friends or family sounds more like “trusted sources”, or the web of trust, or even GPG key verification. You’re saying I trust these sources more because I trust these people more.

I think doing this slightly in the background automatically (vs actively asking your friend for recommendations, or looking at a bloggers recommended materials page) could make the internet safer. It risks creating “bubbles”, but these should be a lot less significant than your own personal (Google) search bubble.

Yes, indeed, there is a strong risk for bubbles. In order to deter bubbles, there must still be a healthy social fabric and network applications that promote and incentivize cross-cultural interaction and knowledge sharing. That's a social, political, design & technical challenge.


I'm imagining the possibility "encrypted queries" between trusted parties. You could allow people to send you a search query that is encrypted in some way such that you couldn't read it, but you could still run it on your local index and send them back a result. Storing not only your own well-structured index but numerous other parties indices as well could be way too expensive. Instead, it makes sense only to maintain a relatively small local index for when you're truly offline. But to allow others to search your index anonymously, perhaps in exchange for the ability to search theirs anonymously. You could let trusted parties search your content without actually revealing their search terms, which may contain sensitive terms, like "cancer" or "schizophrenia symptoms". Maybe this could be done in a way that also obscures who actually ran the query. This sounds like a challenge for zero-knowledge proofs and some kind of anonymous traffic routing system.

In practice, it'd be like a hybrid of anonymous distributed routing and anonymous distributed search.

I had an idea for something like this. I found a fictional device called a memex on wikipedia, and I figured that it would be very easy to implement simply searching your browser cache from the address bar. Obviously the cache will need to be big and persistent, but man it sure would be useful.

This strikes me as rant saying; "For years I loved eating spam. 7 months ago I stopped eating spam. Now I think spam is evil. You should stop eating spam."

The decentralized internet of anonymous chat servers, mail servers, and communication channels aren't dead. Most people simply do not like them.

This is the "it is this way; therefore people must want it this way" argument. It ignores the power of money to manipulate through advertising (or, in the general case, of power to coerce).

To take the specific example of FB, most people don't want to be tracked and advertised to, they just want an easy social space to interact with their friends and family. Sure, they'd probably prefer an ad-free, non-tracking version of FB, but not if it costs them much effort. So, FB's growth hacking, advertising, and critical mass have pushed millions of people into something they themselves would consider sub-optimal (assuming it was explained to them, ofc -- many are plain unaware).

On top of that, the average user simply does not have the knowledge to make an informed decision. Not about what's technically happening, and certainly not about what the long term consequences will be, although arguably no one knows about that.

I use the "mom and dad test". My parents are completely non-tech savvy... by no means luddites... but they know very little of the details.

They seem fairly aware that Facebook and Google probably knows more about them than the NSA. And they don't care - because they can easily snap chat their kids or post pictures to their friends on pinterest. What's more, they sometimes even find the sales ads helpful.

Average users, in my opinion, are reasonably smart.

1. Your parents are outliers, ime

2. That wasn't my point. The question isn't: "Will they put up with sacrificing their privacy in exchange for the value they get?" We know the answer is "yes" to that. The question is: "Would they prefer to get the same service for the same amount of effort and not give up their privacy?" And I believe the answer to that is also "yes." And there is really no reason why that couldn't be the case. FB is not solving a technical problem that only they can solve.

I would love to use a search engine that allowed filtering results by categories such as: personal, unincorporated, forum, news, contains ads, page size, blog, video, slideshow, contains javascript. Search is so cluttered, it's difficult to find small pages with excellent content.

I mention this because it's what obstructs my access to the Web I enjoyed so much before. I don't like reading news from whatever bloated sites news.google links me to, I don't like being redirected 3 times just to read a recipe, or getting movie recommendations in aggregate rather than from a single reviewer that I trust. But search engines lead users to these undesired things, and companies compete to get top search results, and the best way I find good websites is ironically offline.

Pushing of apps onto mobile users viewing sites inside browser has really gone evil. Reddit makes you click 'No, I don't want to install reddit app' or similar at least 3 times before letting you view the content.

Unrelated to that, as a HAM I've long (since 2000 or so) been preaching that if you want to know how internet will be changed by commercial and government interest, look into early radio history - it has many parallels with development of internet: an open, free to publish network primarily ran by enthusiasts that got progressively locked down until you had to be a major player to publish content on it, turned into ad-driven economy etc.

Exploring the early WWW of 20 years ago, I recall a cautionary sentiment to the effect of "This is all free today, but eventually, they'll charge for everything." It's funny how that came true in a way we never predicted: Everything is still "free," and yet everything is also monetized. Rather than a paywall in front of every website, a hidden "spywall" extracts payment in other forms.

They ended up charging for everything after all, only through an indirect and vastly more complex, opaque, and far-reaching system.

This article nicely complements anither one: https://staltz.com/the-web-began-dying-in-2014-heres-how.htm...

Two missing recommendations:

* for those concerned with abusive ads/trackers, try Brave web browser, the browser most committed to privacy

* for those concerned about central chokepoints, start experimenting with 'decentralized web' technologies - the 'Beaker Browser'/DAT ecosystem is doing lots of interesting things; the blockchain-anchored namespaces, storage, or services promoted by Blockstack, Filecoin/Protocol-Labs, etc may soon offer compelling alternatives

I agree with the author, if people would pay for the information they got over the Web then the providers of that information would be open to not selling information about you to people who wished to exploit it.

The challenge though is trust, and of course transparency. Even if PrivacyBook (the mythical anti-facebook product) had paying customers and no tracking, how could you really verify that they weren't selling your information? And of course nation states always have a large hammer when they can put you out of business if you don't hand over data that they deem important.

In some ways DAO's are an interesting response to this, immune to pressure from nation states they may be able to provide a foundation for a distributed service that resists oversight. It might be a viable business plan if you could get more than the tin foil hat demographic to buy into it.

> the page is 3.1 MB in size, makes about 460 HTTP requests of which 430 are third-party requests (outside of its parent domain) and takes 20 seconds to fully load on a fast 3G connection

That's a lot of ad-tracking and ad delivery code. More than that, it's also remarkable that so much of this code is essentially duplicated. It's all user tracking and ad delivery but with each separate company loading it's own "stack" to accomplish the same thing.

It's part of a larger trend from content-centered and user-centered to advertising centered. The problem is not centralization per se but business built on advertising revenue. Facebook is an extreme example - the news feed algorithms are optimized for generating ad revenue and not necessarily favoring news reports that happen to be true.

I went to the "first web page" and saw this link to "etiquette".


Good pointers for making websites. :)

I really enjoyed reading this essay, I've had this uneasy feeling for a few years too.

Most of my browsing habits these days centralise around HN and Reddit, with a sprinkling of RSS feeds via NewsBlur (although most RSS feeds are crap these days - truncated articles etc)

At home I use Pi-Hole to block DNS requests to known nefarious actors, so adverts are generally not a problem.

I can't help but feel that all these concerns are really not that much of an issue to the average user though. From a <insert corporation here> perspective, I'm wondering what their exposure rate is for their ads in terms of traffic - say if 10% of their users block ads - does the company even care that much?

I browse mainly on mobile devices and forward link to interesting articles. Earlier I just bookmarked page after reading and it was fine, but now that linkrot made a mess of my bookmark list I tend to print to pdf.

It is amazing how much thought is put into looks and design of web pages that just ends scrambling everything during printout or just prevents to obtain any meaningful result (ie. imgur)

I look around and see options to share on tweeter, pinterest, tumblr, reddit, facebook. But no print button that would make it easy to archive. It is like articles are disposable and not thought to be of any reference in future (even highly technical ones).

I share a lot of Parimal says in this piece.

Well worth a read if, you too, are finding ways to escape from and minimise the impact of this web-dystopia.

His suggestions are well worth a careful read. I suggest going further. Many of you are quite capable of making your own web based facilities, know people who you can collaborate with... In short you're in a position to actually make your own web environment. An environment that grows your own cognitive abilities, that enables you to learn well, that enables human growth instead of diminishing brain function.

It's a good idea to take control. Shape your own web, don't let it shape you.

I have the same observation and prepare to do something about it. I am in China, the Web is terrible, quite hostile to anyone reading them. If you have the same idea and really want to improve it, welcome to contact me.

It's not because the invention of typesetting lead to massive publication of tabloids that one has to cry on the death of paper. You can watch elsewhere. You're not entitled to watch video or have access to informational and free websites.

Many people here forget that all the things they got for free are often the result of hard work and lot a love from people who do it because they like it. So instead of complaining about the vicious tracking, just support those who build another web.

And too bad if it's too expensive for your activists to make a better youtube.

One important factor of the success of Facebook/YouTube/etc. is that you have an admin every 10k people. Let's say instead of Facebook we have million of people hosting their websites. Then you'd need a lot more admins. A lot more of security issues. Facebook makes super easy for people to put content online and also interact between them. I wish setting up a server and securing a server to host your content would be as easy as creating a Facebook account.

It's all about me, Me, ME!

The entire first screen is some guy blithering about himself. Cory Doctorow says all this, better.

Diaspora would be a good idea if it had any traction. Until then, we're stuck with Facebook.

Google, not so much. Most of Google's services have quite good alternatives. I don't use any service that requires a Google account. With Google reading and censoring what you put in Google Docs, that's probably a bad idea anyway.

Videos (mostly video ads) are the pop-up windows of 2010's. It seems people have memorized that alert(); is bad without understanding what made it bad.

I'm saddened by this because despite agreeing with the essay I know that I'm complicit in it by virtue of working in e-commerce (same could be said of most if not all commercial web ventures). While I like to believe the people I work with respect the privacy of our users I know that the online advertising industry as a whole doesn't - as touched on in the essay. How do others deal with this moral quandary?

This happens because people refuse to pay for anything on the web. And you get what you pay for.

I guess I'm just stating the obvious.

Now 100% sure how to fix this - but it hard problem.

"A website on Doom level design on Geocities from 1999, accessed October 31, 20017 via Archive.org"

Glad to know Archive.org will still be around in 20017.

Brewster Kahle is my hero!

Tl;dr: places are lovely until you get millions of people, thousands of businesses and trillions of dollars in there.

Typical ‘Back then xxx, we must yyy’ talk. No, you can’t, enjoy the freedom of average user to put his personal life on the internet, not think twice, create a market to exploit and exploiter to come. It is the essence of freedom on average, you wanted it for “everyone”.

> Cedexis: a CND/ad-delivery platform

Cedexis is not an ad-delivery platform. It's a multi-cdn platform that allows you use multiple cdns under the hood and picks optimum cdn based on the user's location.

OP loses credibility when making such false accusations just to make their point.

Fair point, that was an error on my part. I've corrected it with a note of the change right below it. Thanks for pointing it out!

In an increasingly capitalist world.

We need to start making 'open web embeedded in this infrastructure'. I mean some open communities (outside facebook) and lists of websites containing useful and true information. Wikipedia helps a lot and I love this ycombinator news..

Maybe Web 3.0 can be a movement to reclaim what we've lost - honesty and transparency in the interaction between websites and users.

Webbkoll ought to offer a badge the same way "Verified by Verisign" did when SSL was new.

Hopefully this kind of backlash makes more people disapprove of bad practices and look for crap-free websites.

Hopefully the internet follows the organic food movement. Too many people tired of crap push for a change.

I love his punch line: "We're quietly replacing an open web that connects and empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. We need to stop it.". How can we stop it ?

I agree the author's view but I have hard time convicting my friends or collaborator to use non-popular alternatives, especially those who are not technical

Do you know, that you CANNOT use any of your google accounts if you turn your cookies off? that is just grossly invasive

What are some companies (and initiatives) that are actively working to protect privacy online?

> [...], stop and think about the consequences of that shit.

Anybody else read it that way? ;-)

Leading by example, the author's site makes no external connections of any sort.

When it comes to programming, video is a pretty difficult platform.

Oh an essay about videos, or wait....

It's weird to me that the author kinda meanders around a few key things without ever explicitly saying them and, in that regard, they kinda muddy the water around their point.

1) He blames the fall of the web on all the people (web designers, UX designers, developers, creative directors, social media managers, data scientists, product managers, start-up people, strategists) that works towards creating it but I think the problem is more the people that have changed the culture around the web, namely that it has to be monetized. The aforementioned "architects of the web" are just there to create content but they're not the ones that need to load it up with tracking codes, tag managers, and DRM. The people that monetized the web are the ones that broke it.

2) The culture of the internet is completely different now and I think it's because the barrier of entry for the internet is so low now. Consider that, up until a few years ago (5-10 maybe, or longer?), it took some amount of knowledge and/or skill to use the internet. Everyone couldn't just jump on the web. You had to know enough about how to use a computer to install the software, you had to be educated enough to connect the hardware and install drivers, and you had to know how to find information. Even more so, if you wanted to contribute to the web, you needed to know some kind of programming language and at least basic HTML, how to get those pages on to a server, and how to connect it all to a domain. It wasn't all just a Google search away from whatever word-vomit is advertised the most and pushed up to the front via SEO and Facebook/social media. Now, anyone can get on the internet. Almost every person on the planet has some access to the web and adding to the bucket of knowledge and data on the web is done via WYSIWYG editors and text comment boxes that require nothing more than the ability to use a keyboard. YouTube comments and Facebook comments are complete shit for the very reason that it doesn't take any amount of effort to post them.

3) Intellectual property on the internet is a mess and, as the article has pointed out, everything is starting to centralize instead of the decentralized web of the past. There is severe bit-rot that happens that didn't happen before simply due to the fact that a YouTube video can now be automatically taken down, without cause, over even the suspicion or false claim that it contains copyrighted content. The amount of content that has disappeared off the internet because of a DMCA takedown is heartbreaking, especially when you consider that a lot of other content embeds it or references it. The web's greatest feature, the hyperlink, is now its biggest downfall because corporations and greedy assholes can take down content just by accusing it of violating copyrights. They don't even have to own it to make a claim. In other words, the ability to rot that content is far easier and more automated than the ability to protect that content. Politicians the world over have done their part to sell us all out and reinforce this negative cycle instead of protecting the backbone of the internet.

All in all, the internet used to be about sharing information. Now it's about cashing in on everything possible and, to the author's credit, he's at least identified that commoditization is a huge part of that problem. It's not the only problem, though. Tracking is a symptom, not the cause.

This is a thought provoking read. I, too, have been meditating over this matter a lot.

Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that people generally adopt one of the 3 camps: * Don't care (that is, most users until their internet slows) * Business of humanity is business. Anyone disagrees with the previous sentence is socialist/communist/hippie/devil-spawn. * "GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH." Ready to leave Google/Facebook/AWS at moment notice.

I mean, it's important to know what bad large firms have brought forth with the internet. But it's equally important to acknowledge what they (and commerce in general) have enabled, as well as what advantages they possess to users in everyday life.

To take a simple example: the article ends with a question: "Do we want the web to be open, accessible, empowering and collaborative? [...] Or do we want it to be just another means of endless consumption[...]?" Look, about 80% of the time, I do want mindless consumption. Maybe a stupid sitcom on one of the streaming service; maybe some cheesy pop over YouTube. I need that. And, you know what, the current arrangement is damned good at deliver that kind of consumption.

Thus, condemning the status quo wholesale is either useless or extremely risky. Look, the status quo is status quo for a reason. How did Amazon get so big? Not because they send out goons to smash windows of local bookstores! They get big because they provide genuine value (large selection, stellar customer service, fast shipping, etc.). Google got so big because they are very very good with organization of information and extremely good with matching customers and advertisement. Apple got so big because they produce(d) beautiful products. Facebook got so big because they connect people together. Uber got so big because they make taxi-ing so convenient (and cheap). These businesses got there for good reasons.

Except the case where you find way to provide the same (or at the minimum almost the same) value with free and open ecosystem, status quo remains. Sure, you can host your own fonts and pictures and videos, but then they will be served from your hosts. Have you invested billions of dollars in gateway to be near your customers? Have you invested many hundreds of engineering-years to test over as many browsers as you can find? And remember, you are probably a power user of the internet. How about everyone else? Does everyone need to learn how to administrate GNU/Linux to post views of the world?

Without providing the same value, revolutions tend to fall short of their promises. Take American Revolution. They proclaimed "All Men are created equal," killed a bunch of people (many innocent), then proceeded to keep slavery anyway. And that's one of the most successful revolutions. French Revolution produced an emperor to replace a king. English Revolutionary failed. Paris Commune failed. Russian and Chinese Revolutions were followed by famines. And so on.

Imagine the internet without Google, Facebook, and AWS. You know what will happen next? Somebody else will become Google, Facebook, and AWS. Look at China: sure, they are independent from Google and Facebook; and they have Baidu and Weibo. Google, Facebook, Amazon, AWS serve important needs. You can't not have someone like them.

In other words: all of these protests are useless and/or harmful without careful consideration of the underlining economics and usage. And I am not sure if anyone has gotten around to figure out an economic model for free web yet.

The part where the author tries to tie Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the user-hostile web is bonkers.

People, you have to understand this: There exists a large number of others out there who desperately want government reformed, want more localized control over their lives, and who voted accordingly. It wasn't some trick pulled on them by corporations or Russians manipulating social media. I realize that may be hard to understand, but it is the truth!

The rest of the article was well-intentioned, but somehow just a bit off. We can't go back to 1999 or 1993, but we can limit the walled gardens and censorship if we want to. But this is important: It's not the freedom-minded people who want to shut down free speech or filter and censor, it is the dyed-in-the-wool Marxist hardliners and the corporatists.

Well, it's both: people thought the whole "take back control" slogan was great, along with the "£350m for the NHS" slogan. It's just that the slogans are empty and there's no answer to the question "control of what, and by whom?" Or any other question related to how this is actually going to work.

The problem of unachievable slogans is hardly a new one but it has got much worse lately. Injecting more lies into the political process is not going to improve this.

"It wasn't some trick pulled on them by corporations or Russians manipulating social media. I realize that may be hard to understand, but it is the truth!"

You're right. That 350mn pounds/week for the NHS is right around the corner.

Brexit was nothing but a huge con.

I'll agree with you on Donald Trump. His terribleness was pretty obvious and open right from the beginning. Nothing we've seen from him wasn't evident during or before his campaign.

>It wasn't some trick pulled on them by corporations or Russians manipulating social media. I realize that may be hard to understand, but it is the truth!

Don't we objectively know this is false? You can dispute the size of the effect, but both Russians and corporations absolutely ran large targeted misinformation and propaganda campaigns for the 2016 election, taking advantage of what you could call the user-hostile web. The intelligence communities, congress, and big tech companies all agree on this now... Your distortion may be a bit more qualified than Donald Trump's daily fabrications, but it still intends to deceive on what is an objective fact all the same.

Let's get real. They weren't large campaigns; Russian firms/orgs (RT, really) hardly spent anything! So far the disclosed numbers are less than a 1/4 million; as opposed to the roughly $6.8 spent domestically.

Billions and billions spent by U.S. actors as opposed to less than a million spent by Russian actors! Russian efforts are immaterial and likely were intended for commercial reasons rather than political ones. (RT wants views!)

I'm getting tired of this obtuseness. Russia had negligible impact and there's nothing out there showing they did. So far what we have is speculation and finger pointing like I've never witnessed post-election.

The disastrous 2016 election is just dragginggggggg outtttt foreverrrrr.

It's clear based on the content of the released ads that Russian goals included increasing the polarization of the US around issues of race, politics, gun control, etc. It's not necessary for these ads to have decided the presidential election for us to oppose that interference in our civic life. And it's made possible by the availability of highly targeted advertising.

Isn't that figure just for promoted content on major websites? The vast majority of their propaganda campaign was through the use of bot accounts and fake profiles, and that was almost certainly the most effective content.

I think you are giving those folks too much credit. Few of the people who voted for Trump could coherently explain the problems you have mentioned, how they realistically impact their life, and how Trump and his ilk would plan to solve them. Instead, inch-deep reasoning and soundbites prevail, and much of it boils down to conspiracy theories. They are happy to wield the power of the state and employ centralized control of things when it suits their pet issues all the same. Donald Trump represents a net intrusion of government into our personal lives and businesses.

It is not as if forces hostile to Trump/Brexit were innocent of buying analytical data. The recent Senate hearings on Russian ad-buys were strangely incurious about, say, purchases from China. Were there any? Would they tell us?

Last time I checked, China was roughly following the policy of "leave our internals to us and we will leave your internals to you".

Are there know cases where China recently meddled with foreign elections/governments?

Taiwan maybe, but China focuses more on good trade relations than political ideology or ethics.

> It wasn't some trick pulled on them by corporations or Russians manipulating social media. I realize that may be hard to understand, but it is the truth!

As much as I agree with that statement I don't think it's necessarily framed like that in the essay but is rather used as a case in point example with quite some validity.

Social media and the whole "attention economy" have become quite influential without people even noticing that influence.

This might just be the culmination of a trend we've been seeing for quite a while already. Afaik Obamas campaign also was quite big data and social media driven, but when he did it that was somehow something "positive" to show how "in touch with the Millenials" he is.

Jonathan Albright: "Who Hacked the Election? Ad Tech did. Through “Fake News,” Identity Resolution and Hyper-Personalization"

The data I present here suggests that before we keep pointing fingers at specific countries and tweeting about companies “hacking the election,” as well as to solve the scourge of “fake news,” it might be good to look inward. By this, I mean we should start the quest for transparency in politics with a few firms based in New York City and Silicon Valley.


Albright is an ex-Googler and director of a journalism centre at Columbia University.

"died-in-the-wool Marxist hardliners and corporatists"

You really trying to equate Marxists and corporatists??? Dude...

Especially when what they really voted for was cutting the corporatists' taxes and regulations. It is one of the greatest tricks of modern propaganda that the super-pro-corporate parties have turned around the hate of corporations onto the, umm, less-pro-corporate party.

One party for the corporations, the other for multi-nationals.

Indeed, the notion in 2017 of a significant set of "died-in-the-wool Marxist hardliners" seems like a fantasy.

> "People, you have to understand this: There exists a large number of others out there who desperately want government reformed, want more localized control over their lives, and who voted accordingly. It wasn't some trick pulled on them by corporations or Russians manipulating social media. I realize that may be hard to understand, but it is the truth!"

Thank you for taking time to consider the effects of media spin and not take everything you read at face value. If more people made the same effort we'd be a lot better off.

If media spin can affect people, why couldn't a corporation or foreign government do the same? I don't understand why the facts that that a large number of people want government reform and that corporate and government forces were spending money to influence the election cannot exist side by side.

> "If media spin can affect people, why couldn't a corporation or foreign government do the same?"

They can. Media spin includes the spin driven by governments, that's why spin doctors exist:


When I say media spin, I'm referring to lies and half-truths spread through the media. I'm not suggesting it has to be the media owners that are doing the spinning.

> "I don't understand why the facts that that a large number of people want government reform and that corporate and government forces were spending money to influence the election cannot exist side by side."

They can. However, what's not commonly considered is that people may have been acting in their own self-interest.

I'm not from the US, and I would never have voted for Trump. However, I can see how the media has portrayed Trump voters, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that the media portrayal is missing the wood for the trees. The main options commonly given for why people voted for Trump is that either they were manipulated by the media or they share some of Trump's negative personality traits.

However, if you look at polls about what people care about in an election, the same thing comes out top time and time again. The economy. It seems that many people don't follow politics that closely, but what they do understand is that it has an impact on the economy, and they care about jobs.

So let's look at this from a purely economic perspective. When faced with a choice between Trump and Clinton, putting personality aside, are there any economic reasons why someone might have chosen Trump over Clinton?

The main message I hope to get across is that if the media you consume is conveniently packaging a set of memes about a subject, you can be almost certain they're missing out on details. Real life is messy and chaotic, boiling down the motives of the general population to easy to consume soundbites is unlikely to accurately capture the thoughts of hundreds of millions of people. That's why it's useful to look beyond the headlines, and look to understand those you disagree with. Partisan biases weaken the health of public discourse. Were there people who voted a certain way because they were manipulated into it? I don't doubt it. However, that's not the full picture.

> The part where the author tries to tie Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the user-hostile web is bonkers.

I also thought it was pretty weak of the author to shoehorn these things in his essay. All politicians/parties use "big data" for their campaigns, don't you think the democrats were doing the same thing? And since he's from France, he conveniently forgot to mention the Macron campaign last spring.

This topic is too important to point fingers like that.

I agree with everything else in the post though.

>The part ... Brexit and the election of Donald Trump ... is bonkers.

For me that was the good part. I like the web, actually like facebook and don't give a damn that people collect data on me to try to show me ads that uBlock then blocks.

Having whole countries screwed by idiot politics however is a problem.

And you think voting for Trump or Brexit will deliver that? XD XD XD

Sorry for being so blunt, but you got played. I remember living in the UK prior to deeper EU integration, and it sucked. Every country had its own standards for modems and used it as a protectionist tool to keep 'foreign' technology out or at least much more expensive. You didn't have real local control, you had much more centralized control that was not structured in the interests of the general public. It was a great number for the politicians: blame anything you don't like on Brussels (even if it is self-evidently good for consumers), take credit for anything you can hang a patriotic label on, and centralize as much as possible so the people in the national government can be the big fish in the small pond, while pretending to be the heroic defenders of the pond against foreign sharks.

you see the same thing in the US - conservative politicians rail against 'big government in Washington DC' while simultaneously passing legislation that limits the ability of municipalities to govern themselves, eg by creating public fiberoptic networks or setting policies that give people more rights than the people in the state capitol wish.

I could also make critiques of liberal politicians who to some extent do the same thing at the city vs. the neighborhood level; I don't want to be partisan. But if you voted for Brexit or Trump because you believed you, the little person with no political power, would be better off then you have been fleeced and told that your political enemies are attacking you with a wind machine.

It's not the freedom-minded people who want to shut down free speech

Oh yes, those nice freedom-minded people who also want to engage in ethnic cleansing and have neo-nazis on speed dial. It's freedom for themselves, not you. See for yourself: create a few sockpuppets, go to /pol/ or wherever you like to hang out, and try expressing some polite mild opinions out of step with the rest of the forum.

PS look into how Cambridge Analytica operates and tell me these people are trying to maximize your freedom. To them you're just a vote and a voice to be harvested. You'll probably hear more about this in days to come as Robert Mercer is frantically re-organizing his financial holdings.

I think the problem is one of economics.

The SV culture made it valuable for startups to amass a large amount of users.

Where as before this bubble started, it was more profitable for development shops to build (and sell) software that anyone can use to host their own site/forum/whatever.

This might not be the entire solution, but I think it would be a step in the right direction:

We need more products that are developed for people to deploy on their own private servers. They have to have some very compelling points that I think are still lacking in many existing solution:

- They have to be really really fast. Nothing in "python" or "nodejs" or whatever.

- They have to be really really easy to deploy. No requiring a separate database server such as mysql. Just use SQLite. Also, no copying over of tons of files. Just a single executable. All other data should live in the database (sqlite file). Maybe have two database files: one for user generated content, and one for bundling application resources (images, etc). I'm not exactly sure what's the best setup, but something along those lines.

- They have to be profitable for people who develop them.

This is more of a cultural issue.

I love open source, but requiring all software to be "free" means that it's much more profitable to create a product for yourself only and try to lure as many users as possible, just like facebook.

To this end, I think something like the physical source initiative makes a lot of sense: if you buy the software, you have the right to make changes to it. But you don't have the right to also copy it and distribute it.

sidebar: lots of easy to enjoy things are implemented in 'slow' interpreted languages. This site, for one.

Which I think is a big mistake, because even if it ends up being used in a low traffic site, it ends up complicating the installation process. Where as a compiled language not only would run fast but also have a very simple setup: just copy over the exe and run it. Nothing to configure. No dependencies to install.

Many applications I've used that come as an exe are hardly that easy to install and configure. Inevitably, something breaks because of my machine's particular configuration. On the development side, building to that magical executable is an even bigger nightmare.

Most packages in python or nodejs? Install and run through package managers just fine.

The more you depend on things to be right in the target environment, the more chances you have of breaking things.

Having a statically linked binary will not always magically solve this, but it's a great step in that direction.

The other step is not relying on any external servers or services, e.g. postgresql, redis, etc.

The rest just boils down to programmer discipline. Never introduce something that can potentially cause a headache to the end user.

If you're building on an interpreted language, you can't really do that. You will always at least require the user to have a specific version of python/node/whatever.

This can get complicated if the user has a different version, so now you have to introduce a virtualization layer that can manage several different versions of the environment. These tools are always annoying to use.

Not to mention that some packages could have native dependencies (e.g. a python library having a dependency on a c library) and this is almost always a source of headaches.

It depends upon the interpreter. I wrote a program for use at work in Lua. The entire program, plus Lua modules it requires, are bundled into a single executable. Nothing to install but it, and a configuration file.

I mean, have you tried running arc? You can fire up arc 3.1 via racket and it runs fine.

I remember playing with it many years ago when I was still naive and at the time had bought into PG's promotion of lisp.

> Many applications I've used that come as an exe are hardly that easy to install and configure.

Python and Node interpreters are EXEs that are NOT easy to install and configure for 95+% of end-users

> Inevitably, something breaks because of my machine's particular configuration.

Indeed. Like a screwed up $PYTHONPATH

> On the development side, building to that magical executable is an even bigger nightmare.

I do not understand.

> Most packages in python or nodejs? Install and run through package managers just fine.

This implies you are familiar with WHICH interpreter you are calling and that you know where it is installed so you can call it.

None of this is easy for end-users.

Echo this.

If there is ever something that looks nice and shiny but will invariably cause me grief in getting working, it is written in some interpreted language (Python seems to be a particularly good at messing with me) that want everything to be in some very peculiar way.

And this trend of every new language coming with its own package manager is troubling me, as it means that developers will be even more lax about documenting their dependencies...

Only if they provide a statically linked binary, which is rare -- especially in open source, where such a thing generally has consequences with your license(s).

The only problematic licenses here are the GNU family of licenses. This is very unfortunate but there's no way around it.

Luckily there are many many useful libraries available with very liberal licenses.

While GNU is restrictive it is an important bulwark against exactly the kind of corporate conquest that more liberal licenses have seen. Much of Amazon's unfortunate domination over cloud services couldn't exist without liberal open-source licenses...

How so? I think it's quite the opposite. The GPL allows you to run your code on a server that clients connect to without you having to give them the code to your server.

This is the only way to profit off of GPL licensed libraries.

GPLv3 was supposed to patch that hole but isn't really seeing much use. With regards to hosted services, yes GPLv2 is quite liberal and prone to abuse

Not really. The AGPL is what is supposed to counter that.

I think Golang has made significant inroads in this regard. For instance with IPFS and Minio. Very easy to just get started with minimal fuss.

I'm not sure what is IPFS or Minio, but as far as I know, the go compiler always produces statically linked binaries that have no external dependencies. This is the default out of the box behaviour.

I used to have a boss who lived his whole life in Russia, and then moved here after his nominal retirement. He used to say this to me, often:

"That's capitalism, baby."


This essay is very informative


You can always make a substantive point (if there is one) without the distracting and uncivil snark, and the guidelines ask us to.



If that's NSFW for you, you need a new W

I'm going to assume that this is a joke.

Talk about silver linings! Trump's victory certainly made the facebook/twitter/instagram liberals see what an obscenity this has all become.

Of course if the dems make a comeback in the midterms, watch them all go into full-blown social-media relapse.

Please don't post this kind of partisan flamebait on Hacker News. We're here to try for better.


my bad

"I quit Facebook seven months ago. Despite its undeniable value"

Cant take this seriously right? You treasure the web, yet you are on facebook.

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